by : Chris Sherrard
by : Chris Sherrard
by : Stephen Orford
Sixteen days ago sixteen teams embarked on a quest to become European Champions of 2004 in Portugal. Now, only a quarter of the field remain as we enter the semi-final stage of Euro 2004. While the fractions seem inconsistent, there may be even smaller margins between the final four when looking for a possible winner.
Those usually in the know at times like these are the bookmakers, many of whom make the Czech Repulic favourites for the title. Certainly, they look to have the easier path to the final as they take on Greece in Thursday's second semi-final (July 1), but the Greeks are not to be underestimated. The Czechs may have the sudden and so-far decisive goal-power of Milan Baros in their ranks, but Greece's German coach Otto Rehhagel has cultivated a highly-effective, highly-motivated team unit capable of pulling off minor miracles. For evidence of that we need only look at their opening day upset of hosts Portugal and, for those who believed that was a mere fluke, their perhaps even more stunning 1-0 defeat of defending champions France in the quarter finals on Friday (June 25).
Baros' surge to prominence at Euro 2004 should surprise few. His goalscoring record at international level was exemplary before the competition got under way. He now has 21 goals for his country in 26 appearances putting his strike rate up there with any forward in the world game. It is only when he pulls on the red of Liverpool that his problems seem to begin and, let's face it, that could happen to anyone. Supporting the resurgent red the Czechs have quality all over the field, not least of all in the form of European Footballer Of The Year in 2003 Pavel Nedved. Despite his hairdressing disasters, Nedved has brought his 'A' game to Portugal and has often been the driving force for the team that everybody called 'dark horses' before a ball was kicked. Add to that the sustained attacking threat of Jan Koller up front, and the bewildering return to international stardom of Karel Poborsky and it is easy to see where the Czechs could halt the Greeks' surprise challenge.
Unsurprisingly the Greeks rely on a more defensive approach, with much of the goal-scoring burden falling on the impressive Angelos Charisteas. Good in the air, and with good technique also, Charisteas can worry any defence on his day, and the Czech Republic is a team that has so far shown that their strength lies in attack. If Bolton's Stelios Giannakopolous can prove his fitness in time for the game, he may be able to provide the right ammunition, ably assisted by Karagounis.
Leaving the best until last for the purposes of this article, the other semi-final pitches hosts Portugal against Holland. The Portuguese were on the brink of disaster after that opening day defeat to Greece but recovered well to escape from Group A at the expense of under-achieving Spain. It hardly needs me to tell you what happened next, as they went on to frankly out-play England even if they had to settle for an eventual penalty shoot-out victory. Both Portugal and Holland should provide plenty of attacking flair and it would not be hedging my bets too far to suggest that this might be the more entertaining of the two semi-finals.
Both operate with wide players, and from Portugal's point of view it is perhaps the best chance ever for Luis Figo to crown a great career with an international honour. The leading light in the much-lauded 'golden generation' which won the World Junior Championships in 1991, Figo has never gone beyond this semi-final stage at senior level. In Euro 2000 his side lost out to Zinedine Zidane's golden goal penalty after some neat handling by Abel Xavier. This time, aided by another veteran in Rui Costa and some fine young talent in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco and Maniche, Figo will look to lead his country all the way to glory. The home fans have begun to expect it as their campaign has gained momentum. Failure now would be a catastrophe.
Catastrophe or not, failure for Portugal is just as likely as success when you consider the identity of their semi-final opponents. Holland blow hot and cold like the English weather, but have made it to the semi-final stage regardless. Rumours of in-house discontent and some highly irrational managerial decisions from Dick Advocaat have so far failed to de-rail their challenge. This is thanks mostly to the goals of Ruud Van Nistelrooy who, along with Baros, looks the only reasonable contender for the tournament's golden boot award as top scorer. Supplying him out wide will be the dangerous Arjen Robben soon to be of Chelsea, and Inter's Andy Van Der Meyde. The latter has been less effective as his team-mate, but has the ability to trouble Portugal should he click into gear.
Advocaat's steadfast refusal to offer Van Nistelrooy a strike partner can sometimes lead to problems for the Dutch, not least of which are the debates within the team about the absence of the likes of Kluivert, Makaay and Van Hooijdonk from the start. However if it ain't broke you know what to do, and Advocaat's lone ranger policy has brought Holland to the brink of their first major final since they took the European title in Germany in 1988. They may have looked vulnerable in an early defeat to the Czech Republic in Group D, and may not have set the world alight in sneaking past Sweden on penalties, but this might just be the year that the future finally does turn orange.
And so to my predictions. Having talked up the Dutch chances of glory I am going to stick with them, not only to overcome Portugal, but also the Czech Republic in a final that is sadly unlikely to hit the heights of the pulsating group encounter between the two on June 19.
by : Stephen Orford
Residing as I do in the Merseyside area I am sure that the collective sigh of relief coming out of Anfield was almost audible. The reason for this outbreak of deep-breathing and cheek-puffing was the news that Steven Gerrard has agreed to commit his future to Liverpool rather than opt for a move to Chelsea.
Throughout England's stay in Portugal Gerrard was the subject of speculation that mega-rich Russian Roman Abramovich was all set to pay Liverpool in excess of 30 million pounds for the services of the star midfielder. One media source even went as far as suggesting that new Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez had enlisted the help of several agents to find a replacement, fuelling speculation that a deal was all but done.
And so it seemed that Liverpool were finally deceased as a serious challenger for Premiership honours for the forseeable future. The loss of Gerrard would have been a fatal blow to the Anfield club. His all-action performances in midfield last season were the single biggest contributor to the salvation of Liverpool's season. Inspired by their Liverpool-born skipper, the club finally rescued a Champions' League qualification spot after what had been a dismal attempt to challenge for the title. There are times when money simply cannot fill the void, and Gerrard would have been virtually irreplaceable no matter how many agents Benitez had on the case.
Not only that, the knock-on effect of his departure would probably have seen further catastrophes. Had Gerrard not had what seems to be a change of heart according to earlier media reports, it is hugely doubtful whether Michael Owen would have been seen hanging around the club for too much longer. Now, Owen may yet be convinced that the club does have the ambition to match his own and finally agree a new contract.
The reasons for Gerrard's decision to stay on Merseyside vary depending on which newspaper you pick up. Some suggest that it was a family decision, with Gerrard not wishing to uproot his young family to West London at the present time. Others say that he received death threats from angry fans, although like a David Beckham penalty this seems way over the top. A third and most likely scenario is that he was persuaded by Benitez when the former Valencia coach met-up with England's Liverpool contingent in Portugal. It is thought that Benitez laid out his Anfield blue-print for the future during a meeting with Gerrard, Owen, Jamie Carragher and coach Sammy Lee. This seems to have been enough to influence Gerrard, and could yet be enough to secure a prosperous future for Liverpool.
No sooner had the announcement on Gerrard been made than Liverpool were being linked with another world-class midfielder who did not quite show his wares at Euro 2004. Michael Ballack is thought to be in talks with Liverpool, but with Spanish giants Barcelona also interested in the Bayern Munich man it could prove difficult to agree a deal. The transfer fee and wages would be significant, but the main stumbling block would seem to be trying to persuade Ballack that the north west of England can match the glamour of Spain. Barcelona probably have an advantage in the race for the German's signature in this respect, and the fact that the Catalan club are already in a position to challenge for honours next season after impressing in La Liga in 2003/04. They almost sneaked up on long-time leaders Valencia and Real Madrid at the end of the season, whereas Liverpool were out of contention for the Premiership by Halloween night.
In contrast to Barca's undoubted pulling power, Liverpool's only bargaining tool seems to be offering Didi Hammann as a makewieght in the deal. The former Newcastle United midfielder has long been making noises about a return to Germany, and Bayern in particular. The Munich club may be tempted to do business but ultimately the final decision will surely rest with the player.
For his part, Roman Abramovich will have to look for another club to bully with his gargantuan wallet. Everton's Wayne Rooney is another Chelsea target, and after missing out on Gerrard Abramovich may yet add more names to his wanted list. However, after Jose Mourinho stated that he wanted a smaller squad to work with it seems that the Blues will have to unload a significant number of players before they think about adding to their squad. Damien Duff and Scott Parker were linked with Liverpool as part of the proposed Gerrard deal, but with that now dead those two may have earned a stay of execution at Stamford Bridge. It is more likely that Joe Cole, Mario Melchiot and Jesper Gronkjaer will be among the names to leave the club before the new season gets under way.
Steven Gerrard staying? Jesper Gronkjaer going? Sighs of relief all round then.
by : Alex Wolstenholme
Over the last couple of years, international football has been under the strongest pressure in its history with the rise and rise in power of major club sides and the vast amounts of money flowing into the game.
International friendlies have been devalued by the number of call-offs by players and the amount of substitutions that take place while the clubs, led by the G-14 group in Europe have called for wages to be paid by the national associations while players are on international duty.
Against such a backdrop and after a hard season chasing the big prizes, Euro 2004 would have been seen by some as an afterthought to the big business of the Premiership, Serie A. La Liga and the Champions League.
But the tournament has shown, in a big way that international football is still the pinnacle of the game for those who matter, the players and coaches. Apart from the self-inflicted absence of Rio Ferdinand there is hardly a major star of the European game missing. The matches have been intensely fought at all times and we have seen top stars showing what playing for their country means to them.
Look at Zinedine Zidane after France went 2-1 down to Croatia, gathering the team together for one last push, or Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s devastation at Holland’s defeat by the Czech Republic. These are multi-millionaire players who have won major honours in their careers. Any move by the big clubs to stop players playing for their countries wouldn’t go down too well with them.
It’s also nice to see a tournament that isn’t dominated by talk of money in an age where every Premiership place is worth half a million pounds and a goalless draw in the Champions League can give a club a lottery style payout from UEFA. No one is nave enough to think the winning team won’t reap the benefit of a commercial jackpot but that isn’t the primary motive in doing so.
Closer to home, the impact of international football is easy to see. The ‘papers are dominated by it, flags are waving in the streets and people are watching in big numbers. Attendances at England matches since they were taken `on the road` have been unbelievable, even for some very run of the mill friendlies.
Unfortunately, the cost of Wembley means that all games need to be played there in future but hopefully the much-improved facilities will mean we don’t see a return to the days of friendly internationals played before a ground barely one third full.
by : David Hulott
Such was the long, drawn-out manner of Claudio Ranieri's dismissal from Stamford Bridge, it was beginning to look as though he would see out the remaining three years of his contract almost by default. Eventually one of Roman Abramovich's lap dogs worked up the courage to inform the amiable Italian that his P45 was in the post, thus bringing an inevitable conclusion to his tenure as Chelsea boss after months of silence from the powers that be in the boardroom.
Once the deed was eventually done, it seemed likely that Ranieri would take some time out for recuperation and reflection, rather than immediately rush into accepting the first job offer on the table. It's safe to assume that his financial settlement from the Blues left him in a position whereby he could afford to be reasonably selective as to where he went next, without having to worry about having enough money to put Ciabatta on the table.
In the event, not only did Ranieri have the sympathy of just about every football fan in the country, but he was also back in work within days, having agreed a three-year deal with current Spanish champions and UEFA Cup holders' Valencia, replacing the Liverpool-bound Rafael Benitez. At first glance, it seems that Ranieri has landed on his feet. Not only was he returning to a club where he had coached previously (winning the Copa del Rey in 1999), but in stark contrast to most vacancies that only crop up after a string of poor results, Benitez left the Mestalla very much on a high.
With hindsight though, that may turn out not prove to be quite so beneficial as it first appears. Benitez will be a hard act to follow, having had Valencia punching well above their weight during his three years at the helm. With the club also heavily in debt, they are prone to bigger (i.e. wealthier) clubs poaching their better players. No sooner had Benitez been installed at Anfield than Roberto Ayala, Pablo Aimar and Vicente were all rumoured to be following him to Liverpool. Ruben Baraja, Santiago Canizares and Mista are all similarly sought after.
On the plus side, recent events at Valencia mean that Ranieri should at least be in a position to sign the players he actually wants, rather than having his squad chosen for him. Former club president Francisco Roig recently ended a long-running power struggle by selling his shares to Soler family, which in turn led to the dismissal of the club's sporting director, Jesus Garcia Pitarch, whose interference in transfers had long irritated Benitez.
Italian internationals Stefano Fiore and Bernardo Corradi have already been strongly linked with moves to Valencia, with their club side Lazio still deeply in the red and owing the Spaniards £10 million of the £29 million deal that took Gaizka Mendieta to the Italian capital in 2001. As a consequence, the Spaniards would only have to pay Lazio somewhere in the region of £3 million for the pair. Ranieri is also rumoured to be returning to his homeland to sign Parma full-back Emiliano Moretti. The Italian U-21 international is seen as cover for 39-year old Amadeo Carboni, although Valencia's opening offer of £2 million is £1 million short of Parma's valuation.
It's to be hoped that earlier press speculation that linked the club with moves for Jesper Gronkjaer, Michael Reiziger and Ian Harte is wide of the mark if Ranieri isn't too undo all the good work of his predecessors (Hector Cuper's role shouldn't be forgotten).
There are other ominous signs, with Real Madrid finally adopting something that resembles a sensible transfer policy and Barcelona's form in the latter half of last season suggesting that they will be a real threat this term. Deportivo La Coruna also look strong contenders for La Liga, with bids for Andres D'Alessandro and Maniche among others said to be on the cards.
As things stand, he is already in something of a no-win situation. Should he be able to maintain the success of recent years, many will point to the fact that he has merely inherited a winning team. Should he fail (he will surely be expected to deliver another top four finish and a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League as a minimum requirement), then public sympathy may not be quite so forthcoming as last time.
by : Chris Sherrard
Martin: That’s what I call an invitation.
Andy: At 25/1 we have former Bolton target Rivaldo to enter proceedings and feign an injury ala World Cup in Japan.
Andy: Control yourself man! And at 50/1 we have odds of actually using his feet instead of his usual clubbing fists wielding around in people’s faces.
Martin: That’s never going to happen. Why change a winning formula especially up against Ferguson? Well the noise is astonishing. Let’s not hang around much longer and get down to ringside for the all important ring introductions.
Ring announcer: Ladies and gentlemen… boys and girls… it’s Showtime… Lets get ready to rhumble! Introducing first hailing from Scotland and representing Manchester United, wearing the home strip of the reds, weighing in at a hefty 16 stones and standing tall at 6ft, it’s the country’s most successful manager ever, Sir Alex Ferguson!
Fergie bursts through the entrance curtain with a face like thunder and storms to the ring while his theme music ‘Anarchy in the UK’ blares around the stadium to the fans excitement.
Ring announcer: And introducing his challenger hailing from England and representing Bolton Wanderers, wearing the white strip, weighing in at a whopping 15 and a half stones and standing 6ft tall, it’s the ‘Clubber’ Big Sam Allardyce!
The Bolton fans go wild as their boss races down to the ring with his trusted monkey to the sound of Christian Aguleria’s ‘Fighter’.
Martin: What a reception Sam is getting from his fans but will this be the last time they see him in action?
Andy: I hope not. I love that monkey. However, if Fergie can use his boxing skills which he’s learned over the past 12 months then Sam could be in trouble but as one of the trotters said…
Martin: You plonker!
Andy: Not Derek Trotter you fool. One of the fans Kamara interviewed earlier. “Big Sam doesn’t know what he’s doing so who can Fergie defend against that”?
Martin: Yeah he’s got a good point.
The bell rings.
Martin: It’s time for action. Who is set to face Arsene Wenger? I know both of these men would love to get their hands on the Frenchman but who wants it the most? Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.
In the ring Fergie and Big Sam stand eye to eye and stare straight into each other’s eyes.
Martin: Both men are looking to psyche the other out but they both appear to be made from steel. Not one of them looks likely to budge.
Andy: Well they’d blinking better or this is going to be worse than Big Brother!
Suddenly Big Sam’s adopted monkey jumps into the ring and climbs onto Fergie’s shoulders. Quicker than Ronaldo’s party piece Sir Alex grabs the monkey and slams it to the canvas to the dismay of the Bolton manager. The crowd boo as the defenceless monkey struggles to its feet.
Martin: I can’t believe he just did that. As if Sam didn’t need an excuse to kill him anyway.
Andy: I wouldn’t want to be in Fergie’s shoes, that’s for sure.
Big Sam crouches down to the canvas and cuddles his monkey before turning round, springing literally out of his boots, and grabbing Fergie by the neck, throwing him over the top rope. The Bolton fans go wild as Sam gets the upper hand.
Andy: What a move! If this carries on this way this could be THE most action packed and gruesome brawl in history.
Outside the ring Sam begins stomping on Sir Alex and the fiery Scot is obviously is some distress.
Martin: Somebody might be rolling in it now. Sam has used his feet for possibly the first time in this whole competition.
Andy: And at odds of 50/1 as well…
Allardyce drags the motionless Ferguson back into the ring and pins him into the corner of the ring before whistling for his monkey.
Martin: The monkey’s revenge!
Andy: Isn’t that a film?
Martin: Well knowing the movies that you like to watch there probably is!
The monkey limps into the ring and pulls up the sleeves of his shirt and begins to shadow box.
Sam: Monkey! Here… Now!
The monkey sharpens up and hurries over to Sam. Sam whispers in his monkey’s ear and grins.
Andy: What has he told him to do?
Martin: Whatever it is the monkey seems pleased.
Out of nowhere the monkey lands with a huge right-handed square on Fergie’s jaw almost breaking the Scots neck.
Andy: Whoa! What a punch.
Martin: Obviously he has been watching Allardyce sparring. That was clinical!
Allardyce taps his monkey on the head and sends him out of the ring to a hero’s reception from the Bolton fans.
Andy: If ever anything happened to Big Sam that monkey is an adequate replacement.
Martin: Yeah actually I can see the Bolton chairman trying to talk to him now!
Andy: We haven’t seen Vernon Kay or his beautiful wife Tess tonight yet.
Martin: No you’re right. I wonder what could have happened to them. They don’t normally miss a PMB when Sam’s involved.
Out of nowhere Vernon and Tess push their way to the front of the crowd and scream at Sam.
Vernon and Tess: Sam! Sam! Come here Sam… Tess wants to kiss you!
Sam Allardyce spins round like an Olympic ice skater and love hearts replace his eyeballs.
Andy: The lucky bar steward! How does he manage it?
Martin: Girls… they’re all liars. They say size doesn’t matter yet they all love Big Sam. Co-incidence?
Sam jumps out of the ring and steps up to Tess sizing up the lovely lass before clenching lips with the blonde bombshell.
Andy: Jammy …
Martin: I can’t even look. I’m gutted!
Meanwhile, back in the ring, Ferguson has come round and slowly stumbles to his feet.
Fergie: What the…?
Ferguson rolls out under the ring, picks up a steel chair, and heads in Sam’s direction.
Andy: This is going to be nasty!
Ferguson swings the chair and aims at the back of Sam’s head but Sam ducks and Fergie slams the steel chair straight into the face of the pregnant Tess.
Martin: No way! Fergie has just smashed a steel chair into the face of a pregnant woman. Not only has he abused a monkey tonight but now this. Is there any association that doesn’t want to attack this brut?
Andy: I can’t believe he just did that. That was shocking!
Fergie stands in disbelief as the sell out crowd hold its breath in response to what Vernon and Sam will do. Vernon suddenly jumps the barriers only for Fergie to throw him back into the crowd. Big Sam stands up to Fergie and the pair of them slug it out as the crowd becomes vocal once more.
Fergie finally floors the big man to the amazement of the Bolton fans and Man Utd skipper Roy Keane bursts down the ring ramp before jumping into the crowd and tearing Vernon Kay to shreds.
Andy: It looks as though United have the advantage now.
Martin: Big Sam is up against it now. The writing is on the wall for the big man.
Fergie rolls out of the ring and under the ring apron.
Andy: I tell you something. Have you noticed the state of Fergie’s skin?
Martin: Not really.
Andy: He’s got such a harsh skin it reminds me of leather.
Underneath the ring a chainsaw can be heard starting up.
Martin: What like Leather face from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
They both look at each other as Fergie comes running out from under the ring wielding a chainsaw and hideous looking mask.
Andy & Martin: Arrrggggghhhhh!!! It’s Leather face!
The Old Trafford crowd cower in fear as the Scot runs wild around the ring. Big Sam wakes up and sees Fergie buzzing around the ring and frantically stumbles to his feet.
Big Sam: What the…?
Fergie suddenly stops and crazily crawls into the ring swinging at Big Sam.
Andy: Move it Sam!
Big Sam manages to dodge the mad man much to Fergie’s frustration but Fergie throws the chainsaw at Sam and slices him in half. Blood squirts everywhere as the chainsaw drops to the floor chopping off his right foot and left leg, followed by both arms.
Andy: This is like a nightmare.
Martin: I didn’t think anything could beat the horrific scenes of the last semi final but Fergie always has to go one better.
Andy: Count Fergie out at your peril. He will never lie down and die.
Martin: Poor Sam! He’s not half the man he use to be.
Andy: To be honest he’s not even a quarter of the man. He’s in pieces!
Fergie picks up the runaway chainsaw and holds it aloft in the air and the blood thirsty United fans cheer as their gladiator books his place in the final against his old nemesis Arsene Wenger.
Martin: Let’s forget the gruesome events that we’ve just seen and look forward to the final. Arsenal V Manchester united. Arsene Wenger V Sir Alex Ferguson. The Premiership’s two most successful managers, face to face, in a battle to the death.
Andy: The past masters V the young pretenders to the throne. It is the clash PMB will ever see. The Origami king against the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is going to be horrific. I can’t wait!
Big Sam’s monkey climbs back into the ring and picks up the remains of his master before fleeing the arena. Fergie stands in the middle soaking up the admiration from the United fans.
Martin: Make sure you are here for the final of finals, Premiership Manager Brawl. Who will be the sole survivor of the competition that 18 managers have already died trying to win? Tune in on July 17th when the winner will be crowned.
Andy: Until then fight fans… sleep tight!
In the same way that Gareth Southgate fell at Wembley and David Batty in France, Darius Vassell now finds himself the latest victim of England’s penalty hoodoo. Dodgy surface or dodgy ref, England find history repeating itself in such a way now that no end to the cycle of near misses seems close. But is there an alternative to the dreaded shoot-out?
The curse of penalty kicks is one which has struck not only the national team of England of late. Holland have choked from the spot on more than one occasion, as have Italy. Is it a case of, as Roy Keane regularly says, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’? I think it’s more than that, it’s now become a psychological burden. And every time an England player misses in a decisive shoot-out at a major championship the pressure on the next set of players to step up for their country becomes even greater.
England’s players must have welcomed a penalty shoot-out, after a match they looked so close to stealing, like they did Rooney’s untimely injury. You could almost sense their heads dropping as the final whistle of normal football went. Those with the memory or the inclination would have been recalling Southgate in 96 or Pearce’s tears in 1990. They would have been frantically pleading with themselves ‘not me, oh please not me’. The only certainty when it comes to a penalty shoot-out is that it will, for someone, be ‘me’.
It’s the cruel nature of sport that for every team that wins, someone else, some other group of supporters and coaches and players will go away as losers. England’s progression in this year’s tournament at seemed to be unstoppable, not even the late kick-in-the-teeth handed out by the sublime boot of Zinedine Zidane could temper the soaring expectations of a nation. That England couldn’t get out of their own half of the field for almost the final 45 minutes against Portugal is another story. No one can be in any doubt that to depart from a championships at this stage is cruel on a country which had the best player and top scorer among it’s ranks. Paying the penalty is something English fans have grown accustomed to in recent tournaments, that doesn’t make it easier for them to take it in.
But what other way is there of deciding such a match? Many people express a dislike for the penalty shoot-out but not many can suggest a viable alternative. If you extended extra-time until someone scored you could be there all-night, or until the less tired side scored. Free-kicks competition, rather than penalties? Not going to be as exciting. I think one option could be reducing each team to five-a-side at the end of extra-time if the scores remain level. That would leave much more space on the pitch and consequently further opportunities for a deciding goal. The burden of expectancy would not be forced, therefore, on individuals. Rather five players would be able to assume a collective responsibility between them. No scapegoats would be made and no new stars for Pizza Hut would be enlisted.
It’s difficult to see how the men who make the decisions at FIFA and UEFA regard the shoot-out. They probably feel it is the only option. After-all, only countries who lose out in a penalty shoot-out will deem them unfair. Portugal will certainly not be cursing the decider, right now. Neither will Brazil who profited in 1994 or Germany who have so often benefited.
Darius Vassell doesn’t deserve to be the man who sent England home. It’s more accurate to regard Portuguese keeper, Ricardo, as that. For now, as it was in most major international competitions that England’s players have been at since Italia 90, the three lions have been silenced from the spot. There doesn’t appear to be any other way for them to crash out, though.
by : Chris Sherrard
A series of strong performances from Wayne Rooney has led to his international manager, perhaps hastily, comparing him to the great Brazilian forward Pele. While that may seem a ludicrous assessment to those of a certain age, there can be little doubt that the Scouse sensation has illuminated Euro 2004 like no other. But Pele? Surely it is too early to be saddling Rooney with such an act to follow.
The recent records of football are full of players who promised so very much but were instantly likened to an all-time great or burdened by that indeterminable pre-fix ‘the new…’. But there are some legendry players of whom there can only ever be one. There can only ever be one George Best (sorry landlords). There can only ever be one Diego Armando Maradona. And there can only ever be one Pele. Maybe there will only ever be one Wayne Rooney, and that is how he would prefer to be described, rather than as a reincarnation of an old hero.
Comparisons are understandable, if often tedious, in football. Manchester United once had a suavy dark-haired winger come through their ranks who would beat full-backs for fun and run all-day. Instantly, almost before he was given a chance to show his potential was real, Ryan Giggs was being labelled the ‘new George Best’ and expected to maintain an unreachable standard for the rest of his United career. The pressures of modern football are such that great players are less appreciated than their predecessors of the sixties. If Ryan Giggs had have come along in the early days and Best in the 90s, it may well have been the Welshman regarded as a legend and the better player.
Football nowadays is crying out for heroes, for new superstars. A promising young player only has to turn in a couple of good displays and he is hailed the game’s best new player. That brings unbelievable pressure and how the player reacts to it is never predictable. Wayne Rooney appears to be level-headed enough to be able to handle all the demands which will now be placed upon him. His sheer enthusiasm for the sport will stand him in good stead when the going gets more tricky, as it will. But calling him the new Pele, or even whispering the two names in the same sentence, is unfair on the Everton youngster.
If he is continually linked with the Brazilian then anything short of matching his achievements may be regarded as a failing on Rooney’s part. Let’s not forget that Pele truly was a phenomenon. Probably second only to Maradona in the all-time lists. No one should be expected to get even close to that level in the modern era, when the game is tougher with more games and better defenders.
But Rooney and Pele are different players, for a start. The young Englishman, despite his goals in Portugal, is not a natural goalscorer in the vein of Pele. He drops deeper than the Brazilian, goes looking the ball and running at defenders. Pele was more of a box man who needed goals like he did Oxygen. The two share a physique, an exemplary technique and a precocious beginning to their career - Pele was a year younger when he set alight the World Cup in Sweden 1958. They also share a competitive, fiery temperament so it is natural that comparisons will be drawn. But Pele was a one off, and there will never be another.
It is unfair, but expected, that a player barely two years into his professional career is being hailed as the finest player since Pele. But let’s give Rooney a few more years and a few more big tournaments before we go aligning his achievements with that of one of the greatest players ever. He is almost unquestionably the best 18 year-old footballer in the world at present but the key to greatness is in maintaining that level in the face of stern challenges. Rooney has yet to be faced with a suitable volume of trials to fairly assess his standing in the wider picture of the beautiful game. Only then can he be held in such elevated esteem.
by : Colin Illingworth
Martin Tyler: Hello and welcome to the jam packed Theatre of Dreams, Old Trafford, for the most important match of Sir Alex Ferguson’s life as he battles the competition’s surprise package Big Sam Allardyce. The Theatre of Dreams could be one big nightmare if Fergie cannot overcome the might of ‘The Clubber’ tonight. The whole country has been talking about PMB following the semi final massacre between Arsene Wenger and Claudio Ranieri, and Fergie and Big Sam will have to go some to beat the level of barbaric exploits they reached.
Andy Gray: Hello fight fans. Yeah Wenger Vs Ranieri was the most gruesome brawl this competition has ever seen. It was that bad I ended up staring at posters of Luke Chadwick to get away from the brutality. It really was that ugly!
Martin: Fergie has been one of the bookies favourites right from the start but Big Sam has totally surprised everybody. He’s the only qualifier to have made an impact in this competition.
Andy: And what a fighter he has proved to be. He destroyed Peter Reid in the qualifiers, stole his monkey, which we should see tonight cos everybody loves a monkey, and steamed past everyone who has stood in his way.
Martin: Who’s to say that he can’t reach the final?
Andy: Er, Sir Alex probably. If ever there was going to be a battle of the heavyweights this is it. Both men are over 15 stones and truly define the term fighter. They never know when to give up and will fight to the very death which means we have a right slobber knocker on are hands.
Martin: What have I told you about watching that American wrestling? … Anyway this huge Old Trafford crowd are in a fervour and the 30,000 Bolton fans who have made the trip over tonight are creating a great atmosphere in support of their boss.
Andy: Well to be fair the United fans are also making a fair sound too… those prawns are making a right crunchy noise!
Martin: No doubt Roy Keane will be out soon to sort them out. However we have recalled our intrepid reporter Chris Kamara for tonight’s clash of the titans and sent him out on to the streets on Manchester to gauge the fans opinions of this massive brawl.
Kamara: Here I am standing with a crowd of Manchester United fans, lads, how do you see the fiery Scot Fergie getting on with the competitions surprise package Big Sam.
United fan 1: Well I must say I was a bit confused when I saw the advert saying Fergie V Big Sam because I thought what on earth is Fergie doing fighting Sam Dingle from Emmerdale? Surely he doesn’t have shares on the Rock of Gibraltar as well!
Kamara: No it’s not Sam Dingle he’s fighting… its Bolton’s manager Sam Allardyce.
United fans together: Oooohhhhhh.
United fan 1: Oh right. Well in that case Fergie has got nothing to worry about has he.
United fan 2: Yeah give Allardyce his dews I mean to get this far in the competition is superb but he’s now going to take on THE MAN in the Premiership, Sir Alex. He can’t compete with the games most successful manager.
United fan 3: Yeah even though he is older than the Titanic he can still fight. Just ask David Beckham!
Kamara: Ok lads’ thanks for your time. Now let’s just head over here and grab a few words with some Bolton fans… Excuse me lads, presumably you’re all here for the big bash Fergie V Allardyce. How do you think things will go?
Bolton fan 1: It’ll be tough but Big Sam has showed his fighting credentials throughout this competition and he won’t want all his past efforts to go to waste to exit tonight. Like his theme tune he is a fighter and we will see that again.
Bolton fan 2: The biggest thing in his arsenal is his unpredictably. Nobody knows what he is about to do. I doubt he does himself half the time! And if he doesn’t then how can Fergie possibly plan to defend against him?
Kamara: Thanks lads, well the fans are split but there is one thing that they do agree with… this will be a titanic tussle which will be talked about for centuries to come. Back to you at ringside.
Martin: Thank you Chris for not screaming down the camera like a madman like you normally do. Andy: Maybe that last kick-in he received sorted him out.
Martin: If it doesn’t he’ll be sure to get another! Anyway the fighters are chomping at the bit so Andy if you could give us a brief run down on the latest betting please.
Andy: Certainly Martin. The bookies have predictably gone for the safe option again by making it too close to call. Fergie is at 1/3 and Big Sam is at 1/2. However money is to be made with these money-spinning offers from all leading bookmakers. For Roy Keane to come down and smash up a few prawn sandwich eating fans you’ll get very good odds of 15/1.
by : Stephen Orford
Despite my lower leg paralysis my knee is about to jerk in reaction to England's exit from the European Championships last night (June 24). Though on the surface it seems like another glorious hard luck story for England, dig a little deeper and you will find that Sven's men got exactly what they deserved from the match. Nothing.
It seems that no lessons were learned from the opening group game against France, in which England resolutely defended a 1-0 lead for an eternity, only to let it slip at the last. It was a simiilar story in the same Lisbon stadium against the hosts, as Helda Postiga officially removed himself from the missing persons list to notch the all-important equaliser. From that moment on, watching that game as an England fan was exactly how I imagine it would feel to be on death row after committing a heinous crime. We were simply waiting for the inevitable to happen, to finally be handed our punishment for the crime of footballing negativity.
There were certain circumstances which could be said to be slightly mitigating. The loss of Wayne Rooney after less than half an hour with a broken foot did little to help England as an attacking force. Also, there are football experts from every corner of the globe who are still trying to work out how Sol Campbell's last-gasp goal was chalked off by referee Urs Meier. Goalkeepers have long been a protected species, but in Meier Portugal 'keeper Ricardo seemed to have his very own personal armed guard.
Rooney's replacement, Darius Vassell, proved lively when he was involved in the game but all too often he and striker partner Michael Owen were isolated figures. At times they were so far ahead of an ever-retreating midfield that they would have needed mobile phones to communicate. Added to this was the fact that both are small men, and although Owen's goal came about as a result of an aimless hoof up the field by David James, several attempts to repeat the trick were doomed to failure. Vassell's misery, and that of the nation, was complete when he missed his spot-kick in the traditional England penalty shoot-out failure.
Hindering our hopes even further was mad-cap coach Sven Goran Eriksson. Not only did he impose on his team the tactics of a terrified man, but he also made personnel changes which gave the team no other option than caution. The enforced loss of Rooney apart, his substitutions were again mystifying as first Paul Scholes and then Steven Gerrard were withdrawn from the action. In fairness, Gerrard's replacement Owen Hargreaves was one of few players to attempt creativity in attack, while Scholes' role was filled by Phil Neville. A man with a history of European Championship disasters, Neville was last seen trying to clamber on to Rui Costa's back before the Portuguese veteran thrashed an emphatic shot past the statue-esque David James.
At that point England showed a commendable level of fighting spirit, miraculously rescuing themselves from defeat when all looked lost. Frank Lampard did not turn in one of his more glittering performances of Euro 2004 against Portugal, but his late strike ensured that England at least had a ticket for the penalty lottery at the end. However, there was always an air of resignation about the whole affair, and it was no surprise when the glove-less Ricardo saved Vassell's spot-kick, and that following another skied effort from the hopelessly under-performing David Beckham. Rubbing salt into the wounds, Ricardo followed up his penalty-saving heroics by smashing the ball past David James to send the home side into a semi-final with either Holland or Sweden.
And so 'our time' has passed once again. Even today, having had the evening to think about it, Eriksson is refusing to accept that his negative tactics played a part in England's demise. All the talk is of hard-luck stories and heroic efforts in defence. It is true that England defended stoutly, particularly Ashley Cole. However, even he had a tendancy to give the ball away as soon as he had won it from the ever-threatening Ronaldo. It is this failure to hold on to possession and present a realistic attacking threat throughout the games against both France and Portugal that have ultimately cost us a chance at glory. It is perhaps most galling to note that this is a side capable of playing dominant, attacking football to great success as they showed against Croatia only a few days previously.
My knee well and truly jerked, I can only now join the rest of the England fans in transferring my thoughts to qualification for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. What price another penalty shoot-out exit to the hosts?
by : Chris Sherrard
The battle on the pitch for the European Championships is well underway, now, but off the field of play, in the studios and gantries, another battle is raging. TV wars is again pitching ITV against BBC at international level. The prize? Just to be considered (well) behind Sky when it comes to covering the national game. It’s an interesting, if slightly familiar battle. Des or Gary? Motty or Tyldesley? Off button or mute? Here we rate how the two sides fare.
Hosts - In the presenter’s chair, as usual, its super-smooth Des Lynam against England’s golden boy and silver-haired fox Gary Lineker. Des has done it all before, and it shows. He is so relaxed at times it seems he might nod off. Bit too relaxed for me, though, so perhaps it is the right time for him to take his manicured moustache and go and chat up young fillies in the Costa del sol. Lineker has grown into his leading man role at the Beeb and it shows that he has played at the highest level. In reserve, Ray Stubbs is assured while Gabby Logan gives us something other than Terry Venables’ grin to look at. BBC - 4 (out of 5); ITV - 4 (out of 5).
Pundits - ITV, in a move from past tournaments (Gazza? As a pundit?), have enlisted people who actually know a bit about the game. The old hands remain - Tel and Ally - and they are ably supported by the interesting views of Robbie Earle, a veteran of a World Cup, Gareth Southgate, veteran of a number of big tournaments, and Andy Townsend, veteran of numerous hair dying sessions, oh and a World Cup. I like Robbie and Andy, they are not so long removed from the game as to be out of touch and Southgate has proved interesting when wheeled out for the England matches so far. Ally McCoist, lovable and funny as he is, does not give as much of an insight as the others, but then again, I suppose he’s not there to. The BBC’s pundits infuriate me. Sorry lads. Alan Hansen, big man, big mouth, seems to think that he is the only one with an opinion worth listening to and brashly proceeds to talk all over his so-called colleagues. It displays a basic lacking in manners from the Scot. Hansen has these pretty couplets of attributes that he unfurls (‘pace and passion‘, ’technique and temperament’, chas and dave’, that sort of thing) and it annoys me. Ok, it just annoys me. And Peter Reid should not be allowed anywhere near a television studio, or anywhere where football is being discussed by grown-ups. His idea of how the game should be played died out when Maldini was a lad. Cesare Maldini that is. I have to say I like Jamie Redknapp as he clearly talks sense and Peter Schmeichel, when not being shouted down by Hansen, makes interesting points. But I always feel like yelling at the big Dane ‘look, you are bigger than Hansen, you were a better player, you’ve won this tournament, tell him to shut up for just one minute and let someone else speak‘. He hasn’t done that, yet. Wee Gordon Strachan was brought into the Beeb’s squad, clearly, to provide a comedic value and he has his moments but Ian Wright should stick to presenting prime-time, barely memorable programmes and leave football to the thinkers. BBC - 2; ITV - 4.
Commentators - It has to be said, and I feel the time is right to say it, John Motson is a poor commentator. Yes, old Motty, national institution and all that. Should be in an institution, if you ask me. You didn’t? too late now. I have always felt he is over-rated, never understood why he is so highly considered. Ok, he fires out the facts but when it comes to commentating on the game, as it will invariably do if your job is a commentator, then he is sadly lacking. I don’t want to be talked down to in such a condescending way as Mr Motson feels it is his duty. We are not stupid, so it’s about time he spoke to us like the adults that we all aren’t quite. Over on ITV, Clive ‘they always score’ Tyldesley has being doing a good job for a number of years now and is, for me and many others, the best commentator on terrestrial telly. That’s why we can forgive him triumphantly jumping the gun before England had secured the victory over France in their opening game. Peter Drury is skilled as well and Des’ pairing beat Motty and Davies hands down. BBC - 2; ITV - 5.
Analysts - Well what have we here? Bobby Robson and David Pleat against Mick McCarthy and Mark Lawrenson. Only Robson brings any life to the proceedings and is the only one who you really believe when he suggests something. Lawro, the man who has Alistair McGowan to thank for giving him a personality, does know the game but never offers anything out of the ordinary while McCarthy, the media-hating Irish Yorkshireman, does not suit being on the other side of the media. Stick to managing and moaning, Mick. David Pleat is a strange one (I know you are well aware of that one already, Spurs fans). He knows an incredible amount about all the players on show. You listen to him. He wheels out some lively stats and facts. The trouble is, he can’t hold your attention long enough to let what he is telling you sink in. Give it a go, though. Let Pleat enlighten you. BBC - 2; ITV - 4.
Well, the Beeb have a lot to do if they are make anything other than the football on next season’s returning Match of the Day interesting. They should make a brave move and elbow Motson and Hansen who have been on easy street too long, now. Give Motty’s gig to the talented radio men like Alan Green or Mike Ingham and let old Hansen get on with playing golf and washing his hair. Final score: BBC - 10; ITV - 17.
by : David Hulott
With Celtic having finished 17-points clear of Rangers in the past season, it’s not surprising that the bookies have priced them up as hot favourites for a repeat performance next term.
However, even at this early stage, the current prices fail to take account of a number of factors. The biggest one, of course, is that Celtic have now parted company with goal-machine Henrik Larsson. As if that weren’t bad enough, he has left on a “Bosman”, which for a club with a shortage of cash is hardly ideal in their search for a successor. Attempts to sign veteran Rivaldo look to have come to nothing, while fellow Brazilian Marcio Amoroso is both injury prone and temperamental.
The core of the team is also one that is rapidly passing its sell-by date, with Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon, Alan Thompson, Jackie McNamara, Stanislav Varga, Johan Mjallby and Rab Douglas all over 30, while Paul Lambert is hanging up his boots and John Hartson’s back troubles may still prove problematic, despite surgery. Young striker Shaun Maloney and defender John Kennedy are long-term injury absentees, while Liam Miller is leaving for Manchester United in the close season.
In addition, there remain doubts over Martin O’Neill’s future, with his name invariably linked to every major club south of the border, whether or not a vacancy exists. With the future of Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford looking less than secure of late, a move to join Miller in Manchester can’t be ruled out (he’ll surely go somewhere sooner or later?).
For their part, Rangers are already well into their squad rebuilding after a desperately disappointing season, during which time they lost all four league games to their Old Firm rivals and were also dumped out of the Tennents Scottish Cup at the hands of O’Neill’s men.
To date, Alex McLeish has already signed Monaco striker Dado Prso, French international centre-back Jean-Alain Boumsong, veteran midfielder Alex Rae from Wolverhampton Wanderers and Livingston defender Marvin Andrews, all without spending a penny on transfer fees (which is just as well given their own perilous financial predicament). Dundee striker Nacho Novo has long seemed set for a move to Ibrox, despite interest from Celtic among others, while Southampton’s Kevin Phillips has long been a target. In addition, a new midfielder has also been promised, with McLeish apparently keeping a close eye on developments at Euro 2004.
There are a number of departures to take into account. Christian Nerlinger, Emerson, Ronald and Frank de Boer. Michael Mols, Henning Berg and Nuno Capucho have already left, while Fernando Ricksen, Craig Moore and Mikel Arteta also seem likely to move on.
Even so, the new recruits look hungrier for success than those leaving and at odds of around 2-1 available at this stage, in what is realistically always going to be a two-horse race, Rangers look well worth a punt.
by : Stephen Orford
They say you can never write the Germans off. Well, now you can actually if you like. When asked before Euro 2004 got under way for a 'dark horse' I nominated the Germans. That I should think of them in that category, rather than in their traditional place among the tournament favourites is a reflection of how far German football has fallen in recent years.
With last night's (June 23) 2-1 defeat in Lisbon against what was essentially a second string Czech Republic team that dark horse has fallen at the first fence. Germany may now have to face up to the idea that they are no longer among the elite in football's new world order, and they face an unenviable task in trying to recover in time for the 2006 World Cup Finals on home soil. Germans expect success from their football team, and another early exit in front of their own fans will not be tolerated.
There is already a casualty from their failed Euro 2004 campaign. Coach Rudi Voller has already resigned after Marek Heinz's unstoppable free-kick and Milan Baros' individual effort put his team on the plane back home. The German FA will now have to choose his successor very carefully, and the emphasis will have to be placed on once again producing good home-grown players. The number of foreigners currently employed by Bundesliga clubs had to have had an effect on the national team during recent years, a lesson that other nations including England might do well to learn.
Germany's achievement in reaching the final of the 2002 World Cup, great though it was, seems to have merely been papering over the cracks. Those cracks were clearly demonstrated in Portugal, particularly up-front where Germany looked hopelessly short of a goal threat. They relied heavily on VFB Stuttgart striker Kevin Kuranyi to plough a lone furrow up-front, a man who was way down the list of leading goalscorers in the Bundesliga last season. He failed to score a single goal at Euro 2004 and that, together with the very sparing use by Voller of Miroslav Klose and the hopelessly spent force that is Fredi Bobic, was a telling factor in the German demise.
Far too much responsibility was placed on the shoulders of Michael Ballack. They Bayern Munich midfielder has been suffering from a loss of form since his move from Bayer Leverkusen, and despite rare touches of class like his opening goal against the Czechs, he could not provide sufficient spark to save his team from their fate. With Bernd Schneider used to equally minimal effect in both central and wide midfield, and Didi Hammann still steadfastly refusing to enter into opposition territory it was left to newcomer Bastion Schweinsteiger to provide the midfield drive. His lack of experience ensured that he could only have a limited impact, although he looks a bright prospect for the future.
There is cause for optimism at the back, where Germany's full-backs looked assured in defence and threatening in attack, particularly Philipp Lahm on the left-hand side. Oliver Kahn is an ageing but undoubtedly brilliant goalkeeper who could go on until the next World Cup, while Christian Worns turned in some excellent performances also. Despite all of this, in the final analysis the Germans lacked the imagination in attack to propel themselves to the business end of Euro 2004. With no need for World Cup qualification, Germany will have plenty of opportunities to blood new talent if they can discover any before their big test in 2006. However, two years is a very short time in which to turn a team of also-rans into possible World Champions. Perhaps too short.
Although, you can never write the Germans off.
by : Chris Sherrard
Wayne Rooney has gone from not-very-well-kept local secret to superstar striker this month and almost inevitably has been linked with money-spinning moves to Chelsea, Manchester United and countless other venues, as a result. His club, such is their financial position at present, may have no alternative but to cash in on their golden boy while he is at his hottest.
David Moyes and his chairman, Bill Kenwright, must have been dreading their young star having such a blistering tournament for his country and that’s not merely because Moyes is Scottish. They will have known that the prying, coveting eyes of the richest and most powerful clubs in world football would be firmly fixed on events in Portugal. None can have missed Rooney’s contribution.
Already, talk of massive bids sailing through the fax machine at Goodison Park are rife. Bids for Rooney are inevitable now. That leaves Everton with a conundrum the like of which Richard Whitely could only dream of throwing up; sell their best player or rot at the bottom of the table again? For the Toffees it is that simple. They have been struggling with the same cash-crisis epidemic which has afflicted a lot of clubs in this country. A once mighty club, it is perhaps telling that no-one is surprised anymore when they are flirting with relegation, as has been the case more times than not lately. Something has to change if they are to get back some of the pride which has been lost.
£30 million or more which seems to be the most realistic estimation of Rooney’s worth at the minute would go a very long way in a club like Everton. It would give Moyes the opportunity to bring in a handful of much-needed defenders. He could afford a creative midfielder and a tricky winger. He could transform a side which has been going nowhere, fast. Selling Wayne Rooney would be an incredibly difficult decision to make, but it could mean the difference between success and failure.
Many will argue, with some justification, that Everton’s best chance of achieving anything again lies with Rooney in the side. In an ideal world, that is what would happen but with no money to spend how are they going to build that team? In Rooney’s position, the Toffees are not so badly off. Tomas Radzinski and Kevin Campbell are able strikers whilst the signing of Marcus Bent for under £500,000 is a good piece of business. They also have James McFadden in the squad, who should go on another level this season, given the chance.
Everton will have to be realistic. Selling their star player to Chelsea or Manchester United would not be as catastrophic has it once would have been. They are no longer in contention with the big sides, they have their own battle to fight further down the table. An injection of cash would help significantly.
Wayne Rooney, a dye-in-the-wool Blue, would not relish the prospect of leaving the club he has supported all his life to start a new career in pastures new at such a tender age. He would want to be at Goodison when the good times start to roll again. The trouble is, without the money from his sale, that could be quite a way off. The most likely scenario is that Everton will fend off all bids for Rooney this summer and see how the new campaign goes. If they are no further on by next May then they will be forced to bow to the inevitable and let the teenage superstar leave. That’s where the dilemma comes in; his price is rarely going to get higher than it is this summer. That leaves the decision makers in the blue half of Liverpool with plenty to ponder in the forthcoming weeks.
by : Stephen Orford
There was no second gunman on the grassy knoll. The British Intelligence services were nowhere near Portugal. No brown envelopes were found in Porto, nor was there any sign of Don King and his crazy barnet. This being the case, how can the idea be entertained that last night's 2-2 draw (June 22) between Denmark and Sweden was somehow pre-arranged in order to eliminate Italy from Euro 2004?
The vagaries of UEFA's rules on qualification from the opening phase groups dictated that a high-scoring draw between 'The Scandinavian Two' would see Italy flying home regardless of their own result against already eliminated Bulgaria in Guimaraes. With no positive result achieved in games between Italy, Denmark and Sweden throughout the group it all came down to the number of goals scored between those three in their head-to-head matches. Matches against Bulgaria then became irrelevant to all intents and purposes, meaning that any score draw higher than the 1-1 achieved by Italy against Sweden would see both Nordic Neighbours through to the quarter finals at Italy's expense.
With only two minutes to go of a full-blooded encounter an horrific error by Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen provided the opportunity for Mattias Jonsson to make Italy's nightmare a reality. That they scored an ultimately pointless winner only seconds later against Bulgaria through Cassano served only to deepen their depression. Cassano's facial expression as his celebrations were savagely cut-short by squad members relaying the bad news may yet become one of the enduring images of European Championship history. In fairness, Cassano was one of the less guilty Italians, having emerged as one of the brightest stars in their ranks in deputising for the disgraced Francesco Totti. However, even he could not save his nation from their fate. Cue the endless bleating and quite disgraceful accusations that have followed today (June 23).
Leading the furore of disapproval is the ridiculously named Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Far from feeling sympathy with his Danish shot-stopping counterpart Sorensen, Buffon chose instead to declare that the 2-2 draw 'makes you wonder', further suggesting that he was 'embarrassed, not for myself but for them'. This is a suggestion which is so absurd that is almost leading me to question why I have taken it upon myself to pen this piece at all. If all goalkeeping errors were treated in this manner then poor old David James would spend much of his life embroiled in Bruce Grobbelaar-style court cases. That he is not is down to the simple fact of life that mistakes happen. Anybody who, as I did, witnessed the whole ninety minutes of the Denmark v Sweden match will find no reason to question the result, such was the passion and commitment with which the game was played. Both sides appeared desperate to beat their near Neighbours, thus claiming the group winners slot for the quarter finals. In the event, that honour went to Sweden while Denmark face a tricky quarter final against in-form Czech Republic. The idea that they would agree to pre-arrange that fate is too daft to laugh at.
In truth, the Italians have failed to live up their billing throughout the tournament. A toothless performance in their opener against Denmark was followed by failure to kill off the Swedes. It is here that the Italians should begin their inquest, rather than investigating the possibility of quite impossible match-fixing elsewhere. It all went wrong from the moment Totti chose to deposit his saliva in the direction of Denmark's Christian Poulsen, thus earning himself a three-match ban. That we will not see him again in Euro 2004 has to be one of the finest examples of footballing karma in recent times. At a time when UEFA were not prepared to make an example of him, events have taken their course to prevent him from re-appearing. It would have been simply a travesty had he been able to return to the Italian ranks and provide a moment of skill to take his team to the title.
In addition to Totti's failures, Christian Vieri has fared almost as badly. His repeated insistence on missing the target with free headers led to criticism from the Italian press even before the final group game against Bulgaria. This in turn led to reports of a row between the Inter striker and conspiracy theorist Buffon. All of which caused Vieri to get extremely steamed up, telling anybody who was prepared to listen that he would not be talking to the Italian press again. How long that promise will last is open to question, but he may not be around the national team for much longer anyway. In the overhaul that will undoubtedly follow another national disaster, Vieri may well be one star with whom Italy decide they can now do without. His form against Bulgaria hardly improved when, brought on as a substitute, he missed yet another headed opportunity.
He always wanted to open the bowling for Australia anyway.
by : Chris Sherrard
So, alas, the fiery Italians have been made to pack up their alice bands and jet home to revel in their conspiracy theories and hard-luck stories. But if they are honest, they will know that they did not do enough to progress from a group which had looked from the moment it was drawn as a mere stroll. Their exit heralds a new dawn in international football, where the dull, careful approach of Italians is replaced by lively, breathtaking forward football. Can the Azzuri cope?
A group which they shared with Sweden, Denmark and Bulgaria looked on paper to be no trouble for Italy. It was thought they would barely break sweat en route to the quarter-finals. But one by one, they have seen their star men desert them and that, combined with the outdated negativity, has conspired to dump Italy on their tanned posteriors. And a good job it is, too.
This competition, one which has seen exciting young talents like Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo raise fans from the edge of their seat, deserves to be contested by teams with a spirit of adventure about them. Trappatoni’s side had all the attacking endeavour of a sisterhood of nuns. He packed his midfield with ball-winners, but, once Totti fell foul of the law, they had nobody to present the ball to. Del Piero, a once entertaining competitor, has been nowhere close to international class for well over five years now. But it was to those two that the Italian nation was looking for inspiration. If spitting at opponents and flattering to deceive was what they wanted then they will have been delighted.
Where was Italy’s Rooney? Or Henry? Or Ronaldo? Antonio Cassano is a close as they had but he falls short of the high standards set by his peers. Christian Vieri was forced to plough a lonesome furrow for the majority of his country’s three games. He had no supporting runners, no telling crosses to attack, no chance of glory. When he looked behind him for support, what did he see? Not blistering or tricky wingers. Ball winners. And plenty of them.
Italy’s width was supplied by their full-backs - that in itself is a testament to their reliance on not conceding. The days when the Italians can come to a major tournament and sit back, soak up gallons of pressure and hit their opponents on a deadly counter-attack are surely behind us now. The game has moved on. Dribblers are where it’s at now. Without such a player, the Azzuri could be sunk.
It’s good for the tournament that a boring, insipid side like Italy are no longer competing. They almost bored their way to the title four years ago, but for Del Piero’s missing master class. For them to get any further this time would have been a travesty to the sides who came out and tried to win their matches rather than avoid defeat. Sweden attacked from the off. Denmark got the ball down and tried to play their way to the next round. Even Bulgaria came out and gave it a go against Italy, despite being out of the running and with nothing more than pride at stake.
It can hardly have come as a surprise to Italy to have crashed out. Against the Bulgarians they played as though they had something to protect, like they normally play. They were the team who had to win, they were the ones who had something to prove. Instead they sat back and attempted to punch their way to victory from the ropes, as per usual. They should have attacked from the off, left the match between the Scandinavians to the Gods.
Few can have sympathy for a team who starts a match as if they are already one up. Their defensive mentality is locked in the past and based on old glories. They must update themselves, and keep up with the continental neighbours, otherwise it could be quite a while before the streets of Rome and Milan are toasting a national team success again.
by : David Hulott
It's admittedly very early to be thinking about pre-season bets I know, but keep an eye on developments at Boston United in Coca-Cola League Division Two (the division formerly known as Nationwide League Division Three).
Having returned to the managerial hot-seat after serving an FA ban, Steve Evans has already signed Derek Lilley (three-year contract), Any Kirk (two-year contract) and Austin McCann (one-year contract) on Bosmans. The former joining from Livingston, the latter pair from Hearts, despite interest in all three players from other SPL clubs.
They did appear to be favourites to sign Steven Boyack, another on a free from Hearts, but lost out to Livingston, while another audacious bid for another of the Edinburgh side's out of contract stars, Scottish international midfielder Scott Severin, came to nothing after Aberdeen stepped in.
Lilley (who was an abject failure at Leeds after signing from Morton for £500,000 in 1997) averaged almost a goal every other game for Livingston last season. There may be a well documented lack of funds in the SPL, but it still think it says much about where Boston are aiming that they are paying higher salaries than the Scottish clubs (Evans is a Scot, which might have some relevance to the deals going through?).
Ironically, they've put a new wage structure in place that saw veteran midfielder Tom Bennett take a £50,000 per year pay-cut, so they don't seem to be doing anything to put the club in any serious financial peril. David Noble (22-year old former Arsenal, Watford and West Ham midfielder), who joined on a free in March, has recently signed a two-year deal.
Evans now appears to be concentrating his search for new players south of the border, with Stuart Byrne (a left-sided defender or midfielder recently released by West Ham United) in talks with the club. Former Arsenal youngsters Dene McDonald (striker) and Dorian Small (right-back) have also impressed in trails and will report for pre-season training next month and the manager is also hoping to bring young Chelsea midfielder Steve Watts to York Street on a season-long loan.
The decks have been cleared with the club releasing Mark Angel, Stuart Balmer, Ben Chapman, Steve Croudson, Stuart Douglas, Matt Hocking, Dene Cropper and Jermaine Brown, while Graeme Jones has left to take up a coaching role at Darlington College. It has to be said that none of them will be considered irreplaceable.
Results seemed to pick up a little towards the end of last season after Evans return as boss and there is also talk of them moving to a new out of town stadium (something should be confirmed this month). A further indication of a new level of ambition I would suggest. The best price I've seen available at present is 25-1 at Skybet. If they continue with the present calibre of signings, that will come in quite a bit.
I wouldn't get too excited as yet, but they are certainly worth monitoring over the next few weeks I would suggest and could even be worth an e/w punt at this stage.
TIP: a small e/w punt on Boston United for Coca-Coca League Division 2 could be give some long-term interest - 25-1 (William Hill).
by : David Hulott
Often put up as an example of what can happen as a result of clubs spending beyond their means, few have suffered as badly from the financial effects of relegation from the Premiership as Sheffield Wednesday.
Relegated from the top-flight at the end of the 1999-2000 season, the Owls suffered a second demotion three seasons later. That fall into Division Two ended a particularly bad year that saw them lose their parachute payments from the Premiership, as well as the money from the collapse of ITV Digital. There were times when a further relegation looked to be a distinct possibility last season, although Chris Turner’s side eventually finished three points clear of the bottom four in 16th place.
The campaign ended amidst an acrimonious battle for control of the club, with the ever-controversial Ken Bates (said to be willing to invest £10 million of the money he made from the sale of Chelsea to Roman Abramovich last summer) trading insults with current Wednesday chairman Dave Allen. With the club apparently in debt to the tune of £26.5 million, any new money would obviously be welcome, although the board have claimed that it will need £30 million to buy the club in order to pay off the current directors and the entire debt.
It appears that Allen has decided to back Turner (Bates has already vowed to replace him as manager) with hard cash in the transfer market this summer, possibly as a means of trying to sway public opinion his way in the wake of further pressure from Bates. Whether that will be possible after the revelation at the club’s AGM that Allen and his fellow directors are making 6.25% interest on loans they have made to the club (which were earlier believed to have been interest free) is another matter. There has been further controversy over plans to sell the club’s training ground, with doubts being cast on Allen’s claims that this will bring in £10 million.
In terms of the playing squad, Turner has already cleared the decks, releasing no fewer than 13 players at the end of last season, and is rapidly rebuilding for the coming campaign. Already signed up are veteran former Southampton midfielder Chris Marsden (Buscan Icons), David Lucas (Preston North End), Guy Branston (Rotherham United); Jon-Paul McGovern (Livingston), Lee Bullen (Dunfermline Athletic), Paul Heckingbottom (Bradford City), Glenn Whelan (Manchester City) and Patrick Collins (Sunderland).
The manager has stated that he wants to bring in two strikers before the new season gets underway and has already linked with a number of proven goalscorers at this level. Blackpool’s Scott Taylor, Stockport County’s Luke Beckett, Bristol City’s Lee Peacock and Notts County’s Paul Heffernan look the likeliest candidates at present, any of which would surely help them surpass last term’s pitiful total of 48-league goals (the lowest in the division).
The one major sign for optimism at the club is the continuing excellent support upon which they have been able to count. With league crowds at Hillsborough averaging well over 22,000 last season, the Owls were comfortably the best supported team in the lower leagues. Unless significant progress is made towards a promotion bid over the coming months, the fears are that attendances could dwindle below that break-even figure. Were that to happen, coupled with a lack of fresh investment, administration would surely beckon?
The choice between Bates and Allen doesn’t appear to be a particularly attractive one, but after years of financial mismanagement and woeful results on the pitch, it is apparent that things quickly need to change at Hillsborough.
by : David Hulott
COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL PREVIEW
BOCA JUNIORS V ONCE CALDAS
Argentinean giants Boca Junios look to secure their fourth Copa Libertadores title in five years against Colombia's Once Caldas, who feature in South America's most prestigious cup final for the first time in their history.
Boca will be looking to put the tie beyond the Colombians in the 1st leg in La Bombonera on Wednesday 23 June (1:00 a.m. Thursday 24 June BST). They will be aware that the underdogs made the final after holding Brazil's Sao Paulo to a 0:0 draw away from home in the semi-final, before scoring a last minute goal to secure a 2:1 victory in the return game in the Andean city of Manizales.
Boca secured their place in the final after a characteristically volatile semi-final win over their bitter Buenos Aires rivals River Plate, going through 5:4 on penalties after the tie finished 2:2 on aggregate, with River Plate taking the game to spot-kicks with a goal four-minutes into injury time.
Carlos Bianchi, the revered coach of Boca, will be without suspended duo Carlos Tevez and Fabian Vargas for the home game, both sent off in the 2nd leg against River Plate, while midfielder Raul Cascini is also ruled out (still suspended from the semi-final 1st leg). The absence of star striker Tevez (red carded for imitating a hen in celebrating a goal in the semi-final 2nd leg) is a potentially massive blow. Even so, they can still rely on the likes of defenders such as Colombian international Luis Perea (set to move to Atletico Madrid for around £2.5 million) and Nicolas Burdisso (a transfer target of Inter Milan and Palermo). Veteran Diego Cagna and Javier Villarreal (who scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out) are both likely to start in midfield, while Guillermo Barros Schelotto is likely to be the main attacking threat.
Once Caldas are aiming to be only the second Colombian side to win the competition, following on from Atletico Nacional in 1989 and have got to the final having conceded just nine goals in 12 games. As well as Sao Paulo, they've also eliminated another Brazilian side in last season's finalists' Santos along the way. They will be looking for a similarly inspired performance from keeper Juan Carlos Henao as produced in the semi-final, while their key outfield player will be Arnulfo Valentierra. Their hopes will not have been helped by the loss of prolific Argentina-born striker Sergio Galvan Rey to MLS side MetroStars at the end of March, after eight years with the club.
Even without several first choice players, Boca's experience of the big occasion should see them go to Colombia with an advantage from the home game. Prices are very hard to come by at present, but the 2-5 available at Bet 365 and
Sporting Bet for a home win in the 1st leg is tempting, as is the 7-1 for a 1:0 win with
by : Stephen Orford
And so yet again Spain have failed to deliver. Their failure to get out of what looked a distinctly modest Euro 2004 opening round group is yet another calamity for the country which claims to have the best domestic league in the world.
Rubbing salt into wounds that must already be stinging to high heaven is the fact that they were eliminated from the competition by the hosts, and Iberian neighbours Portugal. Their 1-0 defeat last night (June 20) followed promising performances in beating Russia 1-0 in their opener, and a 1-1 draw with surprise package Greece in which the Spanish could reasonably claim that they desserved better. However, international tournaments of the like of Euro 2004 are not a place for 'ifs', 'buts' and 'mabyes'. Thus, the wait goes on for Spain to win a major international trophy, something which they have not achieved since 1964.
In the final analysis Spain didn't do nearly enough to overcome Portugal in that decisive third and final Group A game. For almost an hour it seemed as if both sides were trying to lull each other inito a state of unconsciousness, such was the lack of true ambition on show. The game turned on Nuno Gomes' fine piece of skill and decisive low shot, and in the remaining half hour Spain could not find an answer. They huffed and they puffed, hitting the woodwork on two occasions, but they did not seem to display the air of a team desperately fighting for its Euro 2004 life. There was almost an acceptance of the inevitability of their impending failure as they meekly left the door open for Greece to qualify in their place.
Their half-hearted efforts included a particularly inept performance from Fernando Torres. The young Atletico Madrid striker was mystifyingly given a starting berth ahead of the more experienced Fernando Morientes for the crucial clash. Thereafter, he spent much of his time taking wrong options in attack, displaying poor ball control and wayward finishing. When it seemed that he had finally got his act together he was denied by the foot of the post after slipping a low shot past Ricardo in the Portuguese goal. Clearly, the loss of his golden mullet had been a bad choice. It was almost as if the strength of the man had been drained as his 80's-style locks were replaced with a more severe-looking shaven scalp.
Torres inclusion was one of several 'interesting' selections by Spanish manager Inaki Saez which, while not altogether responsible for their untimely exit, could not have helped their cause. The form of another Atletico man, Joseba Etxeberria, had been a feature of Spain's early promise in the games against Russia and Greece. However, he was left out of the side in favour of Joaquin of Real Betis, who flattered to deceive throughout. There was more tinkering to be found in midfield, where Ruben Baraja was replaced by Xavi Alonso to litte effect. Indeed, the Spanish midfield seemed to lack real bite throughout the tournament, something which will need to be addressed if they are to challenge on the world stage in 2006.
Amidst all of this, undoubtedly the most abysmal disappointment to Spanish fans must have been the form of their great talisman Raul. The Real Madrid striker was almost anonymous from start to finish at Euro 2004, failing to hit the net in a manner which would have made Ade Akinbiyi blush. In fairness, the service into Spain's record scorer was modest in the extreme, but Raul is usually a player capable of creating chances for himself. His willingness to get on the ball and make something happen was sadly not in evidence in any of Spain's Euro 2004 matches, and he more than most will be leaving Portugal wondering whether he could have done more for the cause.
And so another major tournament is prematurely robbed of the talents of not only Raul, but stars like Vicente, Valeron, Joaquin, Etxeberria, Casillas and Helguera. For his part, coach Saez signed a two-year extension to his contract before Euro 2004 which was thought to ensure his continued stewardship of the team at least until the World Cup finals in Germany in 2006.
On the back of another lame exit from the dance, the Spanish press might just set about altering that prospect.
by : Chris Sherrard
Francesco Totti, the saliva-dispensing Italian, should have been kicked out of the whole tournament by UEFA. Their decision to restrict his suspension to three matches could backfire dramatically if Italy can progress from their group.
Ethics and manners in football at the highest level seem to be vanishing quicker than you can say ‘jolly well done’ and Totti’s viciously ugly attack on Denmark’s Christian Poulson served to highlight the nastier side of the game which is progressively coming to the fore. It wasn’t an instant reaction from the Roma man. He clearly looked, thought and then acted in a cold and clinical way. Walk on and continue with the game? Nah, I’ll gob on a fellow professional’s face, thanks.
Europe’s governing body should have had the guts to kick Totti out of the tournament. What place do perpetrators of acts like that have in the continent’s showpiece event? I think UEFA feared getting offside with the Italians in the way FIFA has in the past and players like Ahn Yung Wan did in the last World Cup. You see, Italians like a scapegoat. Never will Italy fail in a major event. They will be conspired against by referees and hosts and dumped out of tournaments when they are clearly the best side. The powers that be in Zurich couldn’t face being held responsible for any failings by Trappatoni’s side.
By restricting Totti’s absence from Euro 2004 to three games, they have handed Italy a real chance of success. The forward will be due to return to the side for the semi-final and final should his nation get there and there is no reason why that won’t be the case, despite a less than convincing contribution so far. Totti, Italy’s attacking linchpin, the man to who a nation had been looking for guidance and goals, will come back fitter than everyone in the competition. He will come back fired up and with something to prove. He will be eager to show he is deserving of all the attention he receives in his homeland. He will want to erase the spitting episode from the memories of spectators and replace it with magical football.
Totti the player is obviously an entertainer. He is one of the players who made their way to Portugal with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. A true football superstar, he was to ‘take Italy in his hands’ and bring them the title as his national team manager said before the tournament. Totti was meant to prove the difference between the agonising failures of the past and a return to the top of the sport for the Azzurri.
By all accounts, however, he is not a very bright man. How else could you explain why he spat in an opponent’s face? In one of the biggest sporting events in the world and with the eyes of the globe upon him, a clever man would have realised that any unsporting acts are going to be spotted, discussed and punished. Totti has no excuse for what he did. If anyone is going to be used to a bit of pushing and shoving from opposing defenders it is an Italian, surely. Is the treatment he was so incensed at receiving from Poulson not what he faces week in, week out in Serie A? Niggling fouls and macho aggression is what Italian defenders do best (or worst, whichever way you see it).
That is why there can be no excusing the behaviour of Francesco Totti. And why UEFA copped out when they only gave him a three match ban. Proper examples should be made of such actions. Already, copy-cat spitters are springing up such as Switzerland’s Alexandre Frei. Although his was not as blatant and cold an act as Totti’s, the intention was the same. Spitting is a horrible thing for any footballer to do towards a fellow professional. Kids watching eagerly from their homes will see a hero like Totti doing that and go out into the playgrounds and the streets and think that such an action is ok because such a great player does it. And they will see that he can be back for the latter stages, the business end, of the tournament and think ‘what is the big harm?’
Proper examples should be set by the players, and proper punishment should be handed out by UEFA. Otherwise assaults like Totti’s will become commonplace.
by : Antony Melvin
This was the kind of game that England like, difficult but beatable opposition who can’t play too defensively. Remarkably, for modern football England picked 1-11 – suggesting that this was the line-up (with the possible exception of Rio Ferdinand) that Sven would always have picked.
by : Alex Wolstenholme
Ring announcer: And introducing his opponent, representing Chelsea, wearing the home strip of The Blues, weighing in at 11 stone and standing tall at 6ft, it’s the wily Italian, the Ruthless ‘Claudio Ranieri’.
The Chelsea fans go wild for their former manager as he storms through the curtain like a runaway train as his music ‘On Your Own’ by Blur fills the airwaves.
Martin: What a noise. I can hardly hear myself think. This is going to be talked about for centuries.
Andy: What’s it going to be like once this contest has come to a head?
Martin: I dread to think.
Ring announcer: And introducing tonight’s special guest referee…
Andy: We have a guest referee?
Martin: This is extraordinary.
The Highbury crowd falls into a hushed silence.
Ring announcer: Pierluigi Collina!
Andy: This is huge.
The crowd go wild as the Italian referee strolls down to the ring with his icy cool exterior.
Martin: The most respected referee of all time is here officiating a PMB. Superb.
Andy: But hold on a minute. Collina’s Italian.
Martin: Yes… oh so is Ranieri. Could this be a stitch up by Claudio?
Andy: I don’t think he’d go that far but it will soon become apparent during this brawl.
The bell rings and Ranieri and Wenger lock horns in the centre of the ring in a battle of strength.
After a few moments pushing and shoving Ranieri pushes Wenger flying into the ring post.
The Chelsea fans cheer.
Martin: What a show of strength by the wily Italian.
Wenger pulls himself up and locks horns again. Again Wenger is thrown into the ring post like a child.
Chelsea fans cheer again, mocking the Arsenal fans.
Andy: Wenger needs to change his game plan. He can’t beat Ranieri for pure strength.
Wenger though picks himself up and goes to lock horns with Ranieri but just as they’re about to lock Wenger boots Ranieri right in the Balearics!
The Arsenal fans celebrate like they’ve won the title again.
Martin: That was out of order.
Andy: Martin… anything goes and if a boot in the nether regions is what is called for then so be it.
Arsene turns to his fans and flexes his muscles to the wild admiration of the Gunners support. Ranieri is on the canvas with tears running down his cheeks. Wenger doesn’t seem to care though as he pounces on him and lets fly with a devastating combination of left and rights, splitting Ranieri open.
Martin: Arsene is definitely showing his fighting side tonight. I’ve never seen him this extreme.
Andy: He certainly wants to keep hold of his unbeaten record for the season.
Wenger crawls off the Italian with blood splattered on his face and crawls under the ring.
Martin: What is he doing? Claudio’s at his mercy. He shouldn’t be giving him time to recuperate.
Wenger pops his head under the ring apron and pulls out a pad of A4 paper to the wild cheers of Arsenal fans.
Andy: Oh deary me. Who are we going to see tonight?
Martin: Some people at home could become very rich people if he makes a copy of somebody on the bookies hit list.
Andy: And ultimately make Ranieri a corpse in the process.
Wenger furiously begins folding and twisting sheets of paper like there’s no tomorrow when suddenly the crowd shriek as he reveals the identity of his creation… Freddy Kruegger!
Martin: No way! This can’t be real. He only comes out in people’s dreams.
Andy: Of course it’s not real. It’s a paper version ya crazy fool!
Freddy famously rolls his right blades and lets out a dirty crackling laugh before storming into the ring. Ranieri looks at the horror creation and shrugs his shoulders.
Ranieri: I’ve worked with Mr Abromovich. He’s twenty times scarier than you!
Ranieri runs at Krueger and tackles him down to the ground before tearing at the paper model.
Andy: Ranieri’s tearing strips off Freddy… literally!
Wenger looks on in disbelief as Ranieri decimates his evil creation. Ranieri, still pouring with blood from earlier, turns and stares at Wenger with pure hatred in his eyes. Wenger turns to stone in fear as Ranieri jumps at him from the top turnbuckle.
Martin: High flying action! That’s the first time we’ve seen something like that in PMB. Obviously Ranieri is pulling out all the stops in this fight to survive.
Andy: Collina has been very quiet so far.
Martin: He has hasn’t he?
Ranieri throws a series of punches at Wenger’s head cutting him wide open before searching under the ring for something.
Andy: No way, you’re not going to tell me that he is an origami king too?
Claudio emerges with a sledgehammer to the delight of the Chelsea support. Arsenal fans stand silent in shock as the loveable Italian turns psycho in front of their eyes.
Ranieri lifts the sledgehammer up above his head ready to smash Wenger’s legs to pieces when Roman Abramovich runs down behind him with a steel chair.
Martin: What is he doing? Has he not caused Ranieri enough grief these past 12 months?
Ranieri senses something behind him and swings around to see his former boss standing there. Claudio smiles like he’s just won the lottery as Roman drops the chair and holds his hands up to say ‘sorry’.
Andy: What a coward! Go on Claudio. Let him have it!
Ranieri duly obliges and smashes Roman’s head right off his shoulders into the Arsenal fans who begin throwing the Russian’s head around like a beach ball.
Andy: This is absolutely shocking… but so entertaining!
Ranieri turns round to end Wenger but standing in his way is Pierluigi Collina. Collina tries to take the sledgehammer off of Claudio but the Italian manager refuses.
Martin: What is Collina doing?
Suddenly a piece of paper falls out of Collina’s shirt.
Andy: What was that? You don’t think?
Martin: Collina’s a creation of Wenger!
Ranieri believing the same thing runs under the ring and pulls out a can of petrol. He throws it over the Italian referee before throwing a match at him. Collina furiously shakes his hands at him pleading for him not to do it but it’s too late as he goes up in flames.
Martin: This is unbelievable. We thought Ranieri was the brains behind making Collina referee. It turns out that Wenger had this planned all along.
Andy: Is there anything this Frenchman won’t do to win?
Martin: I’m not sure but that has just fuelled the fire in Ranieri’s belly now.
Ranieri spots Wenger hiding behind the ring announcer and throws himself at the French coach. Ranieri knocks seven bells of sugar out of Wenger before smashing his skull with the ring bell.
Martin: We’ve commentated on a number of brawls but this is the most gruesome bout I have ever seen.
Andy: Yeah and keep them coming. This is superb entertainment!
Martin: You sick, sick, man.
Suddenly a man is seen running down the ramp entrance.
Andy: As if the temperature in here wasn’t hot enough… It’s the new Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho!
Martin: Ohmigod! Not only has he taken the job he loves now he wants to take his life.
Mourinho grabs a steel chair and smacks it over Ranieri’s back forcing him to fall to the floor. Jose grabs Ranieri by the throat and screams at him.
Mourinho: You question my abilities? I’ll question your fighting abilities shall I? I’ve won the Champions League and Uefa Cup back to back. You couldn’t even win two matches back to back.
Jose spits in Claudio’s face and punches him to the ground to the disgust of the Chelsea fans.
Martin: This is appalling. Not only was Ranieri treated like dirt from the Chelsea board now he’s facing it from the new manager.
Mourinho continues stomping and hitting the blood soaked Ranieri with the steel chair. Jose stops his assault and turns Ranieri over, lifts his arm up three times but Claudio doesn’t have the power to hold his arm aloft. Jose digs under the ring and pulls out a body bag.
Andy: No it can’t be. This was never in the script. What happened to Claudio giving the Chelsea fans a good send off? He wasn’t meant to leave in a body bag. Not at the hands of Mourinho anyway.
Jose lays out the bag and gently rolls Ranieri into the middle before slowly zipping it up close.
Martin: Ranieri’s dead… he’s gone.
The whole stadium falls silent and weeps for the loveable Italian.
Andy: This is shocking. I wouldn’t even treat my worst enemy the way Ranieri has over the past 12 months. I’m stunned.
Martin: I don’t know what to say. I really don’t.
Jose walks over to the blood soaked Wenger and just stands above him.
Mourinho: You can wait until next season. If PMB was on next year you can guarantee I would win it because I am the best at everything, you hear me, EVERYTHING!
Out of nowhere the stadium falls into darkness and a silhouette figure can be seen heading up to the skies.
Andy: It can’t be. He’s dead!
Martin: Claudio’s spirit is in the sky… and he’s smiling.
The crowd look up to the sky as Ranieri laughs to himself.
Ranieri: Hello fight fans. As you can see I have passed away but my spirit will always live on thanks to you the Chelsea fans and fans of the Premiership. I wanted to say bye to you before I went but Roman wouldn’t let me, then that fool Jose showed up and cut my life short but hey that’s fine. I’m on my way to heaven now and Roman will not be there to annoy me. Chelsea fans, you meant the world to me and without your support I could not have carried on in that poisoned chalice. I thank you for your support and I hope that you are rewarded with silverware soon because you deserve it. In the mean time I have to go but rest assured I’ll be back. Jose you won’t escape the ghost of Claudio Ranieri.
With that Ranieri waves and disappears behind a big cloud. Chelsea fans begin to cry and Mourinho storms off in a hurry looking worried.
Martin: What a semi final. It’s had absolutely everything.
Andy: Wenger may not look like a winner but he is. He’s booked his place in the final and his unbeaten record is still intact. Only Sir Alex Ferguson or Sam Allardyce can stop him from the clean sweep.
Martin: You can find out who will be facing Arsene in the final in two weeks time when Fergie and Big Sam go head to head.
Andy: They’ll have to go somewhat to beat tonight’s clash, possibly the best PMB ever.
Martin: We’ve said our goodbyes to Claudio and Wenger has booked his place in the final. Join us in two weeks time to find out who’ll compete in the final only here on Premiership Managers Brawl live and exclusively on www.squarefootball.net TV.
Andy: Until then fight fans stay safe.
Amidst all the talk of Portugal’s `Golden Generation` facing their last chance to win major international honours, Euro 2004 is also something of a last chance saloon for those players who have been the mainstay of the Dutch side in recent years.
For all the accolades bestowed upon them, the likes of Kluivert, Davids, Seedorf, Stam and Frank De Boer (with Dennis Bergkamp and Ronald De Boer already retired from international football) have massively underachieved in the orange shirt over the last decade.
Defeats to Brazil in the 1994 World Cup Quarters and one stage further four years later and a defeat on penalties in the semi-finals of Euro 2000 mean the Dutch have failed to reach the final of a major tournament since winning the European Championships in 1988.
Worse than that was the failure to even qualify for the 2002 World Cup and now a lacklustre build-up and opening game has heaped more pressure on Dick Advocaat’s team.
It’s too easy to say that internal divisions between the players have undone the Dutch on the big occasion. The total football team of the 1970’s had equally strong-minded characters (more so in the case of Johan Cruyff) yet managed to reach two World Cup finals.
Equally it cannot just be that the Dutch (or the Portuguese for that matter) simply don’t posses the character of supposedly inferior sides such as Germany to win major honours.
It could be that Holland’s players and coaches over that period have just not been good enough and that their reputations outweigh the abilities that they actually posses. Maybe Germany were the better team against Holland on Tuesday night because they had better players and better tactics.
That explanation won’t be good enough for the romantics in the game and on its edges who prefer to see it as a symptom of national character but that doesn’t explain why Italy have been successful when Spain haven’t or why Germany have succeeded where Holland (or England for that matter) have failed. The notion of the heroic failure may be part of the English psyche as a whole but surely it makes no difference to someone like Sol Campbell or Steven Gerrard when they are playing a game of football.
It may be to Holland’s benefit in future tournaments that they have not been nominated as the `chosen ones` of World Football, destined to pick up major honours at some point in the future. Better players may come through with a better manager and, although they mot be as well known to the rest of the world, they may be a better team.
by : Stephen Orford
The speculation surrounding the appointment of a new Liverpool manager was disappointingly short-lived.
Almost immediately after Gerard Houllier's departure it became apparent that there was only one realistic candidate for the post. Despite calls for a British manager to be given a chance to take on the Premiership's most venomous poisoned chalice, the Anfield board chose instead to target Valencia coach Rafael Benitez.
Fresh from winning his second La Liga title in three years, thus well and truly breaking the traditional Spanish stronghold of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Benitez stepped down from his position. Benitez also managed to bring a slice of European success to Valencia before his departure, guiding them to their UEFA Cup final victory over Marseille. It is on these achievements that the Liverpool hierarchy have deduced that Benitez is the man to rediscover former glories in the red half of Merseyside.
The only doubt would appear to be the style of play. Having just replaced one dour, defensive-minded foreign coach the fear is that Liverpool have appointed another. It is fair to say that Valencia were hardly cavalier in their approach under the Madrid-born coach. However, those who witnessed Valencia's destruction of Liverpool in the Champions' League in 2002 might be encouraged. Benitez' charges passed Liverpool to death in a manner that was reminiscent of some of the great Liverpool teams of years gone by, and the board have clearly taken note.
The trouble with the philosophy of keep-ball would seem to be that the Premiership does not quite lend itself to long spells of possession for possession's sake. Packed as it is with 'good competitors' operating at break-neck speeds with their 'good engines', the Premiership is a place in which a more direct approach to the game usually prospers. England's palpable failure to pass the ball accurately against France at Euro 2004 showed that possession is not a high priority for English players, but that is another article in itself. In addition, Liverpool currently do not have the calibre of players to make their opponents chase the ball for ninety minutes. It is hard to imagine the likes of Diouff, Cheyrou and Biscan stringing 20 passes together against a bewildered and tiring Arsenal for example.
Another, perhaps more xenophobic fear is that Benitez will turn Liverpool into a mini-Spanish or Argentinian national team in the way that Arsene Wenger has introduced more than a flavour of French-ness at Highbury. Benitez, who also guided Extremadura and Tenerife to promotions into La Liga before his Valencia heroics, has denied suggestions that he will raid his former club for the next generation of Liverpool players. Links with Ayala, Aimar and Baraja have all been played down by the new boss who insists he has no firm transfer plans at present. However, those who doubt the merits of this policy should he implement it should look at how successful it has been for Wenger. While it is true that few Spanish or Argentinian players have lit up the Premiership in its short history, the same could have been said about French players pre-Wenger, with the notable exception of Eric Cantona at Old Trafford.
One of Benitez' first tasks will be to persuade Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen that their immediate futures lie at Liverpool. Gerrard has, according to chief executive Rick Parry, already expressed concerns about Liverpool's ability to challenge for honours. Owen on the other hand, has been leading the Liverpool board and the fans a merry dance about his future plans for longer than it has taken Tottenham to appoint a new manager. Securing those two players' services for a few more years at least will be absolutely key to Benitez' chances of success.
One thing he will have on his side is time. Liverpool is among the most patient of clubs in terms of the time it allows a manager to achieve his objectives. For now, whatever their reservations, the Liverpool fans will no doubt get behind Benitez as he attempts to drag the club into a more illustrious period in their history.
He'll be fine as long as he does not mention the words 'five year plan'.
by : Colin Illingworth
Martin Tyler: Welcome to the sold out Highbury for an all London clash that’s got the footballing world on its feet. Arsenal V Chelsea… Wenger V Ranieri… it could only be Premiership Managers Brawl!
Andy Gray: It’s the semi finals of the most electrifying competition this side of Euro 2004 and what a clash of the titans we have in prospect. The loveable Italian has just been sacked from the team he gave everything for while Wenger is still boasting about his unbeaten record last season.
Martin: But there is such a history between these two and old scores will want to be settled. Wenger has been seething with Ranieri since Chelsea ruined the Gunners Champions League hopes while Ranieri will also be desperate to show Mr Abramovich that he is a fighter and can do a job in the Premiership.
Andy: One thing’s for sure, we’ve got a right fight on our hands tonight and blood will almost certainly be shed by these two warriors.
Martin: And the prize waiting in line is to be in the final of the competition that Premiership managers have literally been dying to compete in… Premiership Managers Brawl. We’re down to our last four fighters but by the end of this we will know who has joined the likes of Gerrard Houllier, Graeme Souness, and Chris Coleman in the PMB burial ground, and who has the chance of becoming the King of PMB.
Andy: Some people say that going out at this stage in any competition is worse than defeat in the final but if they get beat tonight they can’t go home and analysis what went wrong, oh no. They’re going to for an exclusive meeting with the Grim Reaper.
Martin: Well this crowd is almost at fever pitch already and the fighters haven’t even left their dressing room yet. So let’s quickly run down the latest betting figures please Andy.
Andy: OK, well as you can imagine at this stage of proceedings the bookies have understandably called this thing too close to call making both fighters at Evens, the first time this has ever happened in this competition. However they are desperate to get your money and some of the bets on show today are there to make you spend your hard earned cash, and a few are seriously worth a gamble. At 12/1 they have the origami challenge. You’ll remember last time that Arsene destroyed Graeme Souness with a combination of boxers from years gone by through his art of origami well they have offers on people who Arsene may decide to use tonight. Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan is in there, as is the Terminator star Arnie, and former James Bond baddie Jaws.
Martin: Whoa, all the big names are in there.
Andy: They are indeed. There is also a list of other potential surprises on the website. Other bets on offer also include Gary Lineker getting involved to help his former Grampus Eight boss at 25/1 and this is a huge outsider but one that not only Chelsea fans would like to see but the whole of the Premiership, Roman Abramovich entering the ring only to be killed by Claudio Ranieri. That’s 100/1.
Martin: I don’t think Roman has the balls to show up here tonight. You don’t become a multi billionaire if you haven’t got a brain.
Andy: I don’t know he sanctioned the purchase of Juan Sebastian Veron didn’t he?
Martin: Well as you can see for the first time ever in this competition the officials have decided to give away fans half the stadium and as you can hear the atmosphere is intense. So lets get down to ringside for the all important ring introductions.
Ring announcer: Ladies and gentlemen … it’s Sssshhhhooowwtttiimmme … Let’s get rrrrrreadddddy ttttoooo rhhhhuuuummbbbllllee!
Andy: I love this competition but I can’t wait until it’s over so I don’t have to listen to his over exuberance. The man’s a fool. Go back to America!
Martin: He’s English!
Andy: Go to America anyway!
Ring announcer: Introducing first is the host, representing Arsenal, wearing the home strip of the Gunners, weighing in at a lean 11 stone and standing proud at 6ft tall, it’s the one, the ONLY, Mr Perfect himself, Arrrrssssseeeeennnneeee Wwwwweeeeennnnnggggeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrr.
The clock end of Highbury stands to its feet to welcome the clubs finest manager as Chesney Hawkes “I am the one and only” booms out of the PA system.
Andy: What the hell is he doing playing this mince? He obviously isn’t very superstitious. Everybody who has changed their entrance music in this competition goes on to hell.
Martin: Which to be honest we feel like we’re in listening to this!
by : Jason Walker
So with Euro 2004 just days away it is time for another know all writer to pitch in with his predictions – me. As much I love England and dream of our boys triumphing in the July 4th final I just can’t see it happening. For me you simply can’t look past the Italians this summer, they are full of world class players in every department and they have had there share of bad luck in recent tournaments, now there time will come. Just look at the talent within their squad, Totti, Fiore, Nesta, Inzaghi, Buffon, they are a supremely talented side and although they are renowned for their slow starts they always get to the latter stages.
In Group A you’d expect host nations Portugal to qualify as winners with either Russia or Spain behind them, my instincts tell me Russia. Spain are not a team for the big stage.
In Group B France will qualify as winners courtesy of a opening match victory over England whilst our boys will finish second behind them.
Group C will see my tournament favourites Italy qualify ahead of Denmark, the Danes are always fiercely under-rated yet they are a team full of hard working players who won’t lie down.
Group D, being touted as the ‘Group of Death’ will see the Czech Republic win the group ahead of the Germans. Now I don’t see the Czech Republic as being the outsiders, they will be in this year’s final and deservedly so. How can a team that has won this tournament previously, been to the final just eight years ago and qualified through their group unbeaten be considered outsiders, they are one of Europe’s top teams so there success will be no surprise.
A Quarter- final pairing with England will prove too much for the hosts, the likes of Figo and Rui Costa are past their prime whilst the likes of Beckham, Owen and Gerrard aren’t. England to progress to the semi-finals.
France will cruise past Russia in their quarter final with ease.
The third quarter final should see Italy face Germany, while the Germans can never be written of, a big, big team like the Italians will prove too much.
Expect an Azzuri victory in this one folks.
The final quarter final will pit the Danes against the Czech Republic and although this will be a tough encounter I expect Nedved and co to progress to a semi final date with the French.
The Italians will sadly end England’s involvement in this competition with a semi- final victory.
Whilst the Czech republic will knock out an overrated French side to book a July 4th date with Italy it will the Azzuri who finally lay their ghosts to rest with a crowning triumph in the final.
Most Overrated Team: France
Most Underrated Team: Denmark
Player to watch out for: Tomas Rosicky
by : David Hulott
Having bounced straight back to the Premiership at the first time of asking, West Bromwich Albion manager Gary Megson's priority in the season ahead will be nothing more than to ensure that the club now stabilise in the top-flight, rather than continuing to yo-yo between the top divisions.
Such is the ever widening gulf in both class and cash between the Premiership and the ridiculously re-branded Coca-Cola Championship league, that any club winning promotion from the latter is almost automatically quoted at odds-on for immediate relegation 12-months later. Survive the first season (so the theory goes) and the club can then progress along the lines of Charlton Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and Birmingham City in establishing themselves among the elite.
Megson's side has built a reputation for being dour and difficult to breakdown, although they are widely regarded as lacking the requisite guile or firepower to be anything other than difficult to beat at the highest level of the domestic game. Their soporific performances may have worked a treat in the Nationwide league, but it's doubtful whether they will be able to pull off similar results using the same tactics come the big kick-off in August.
There has been talk that the Baggies have as much as £25 million to invest in new players during the current transfer window. This sounds more than a little optimistic (an innocent assumption that all the TV money from Sky will be put towards new players perhaps?), although it does appear that Megson has been granted some fairly substantial funds with which to bring in the players needed for the forthcoming campaign. This in itself is very different to the last time they secured promotion, when the board made it abundantly clear from the outset that there would be no expensive additions that would put the club's long-term stability in jeopardy.
So far this summer, Danish international Martin Albrechtsen (for a club record fee) and Leicester City's Riccardo Scimeca have moved to the Hawthorns, while Birmingham City's Darren Purse also looks set to join after the two clubs agreed a fee for his services. There's little doubt that all are capable of doing a decent enough job, but the three of them are defenders (although Scimeca can also play in a midfield holding role) and W.B.A.'s priorities for new players surely lie at the other end of the pitch? It's therefore a tad worrying that the only forwards I've seen linked to date are Paul Dickov (who opted for Blackburn Rovers), Kanu (wages would be a major stumbling block) and Marcus Bent (one of those players seemingly destined for a career moving from one relegation candidate to another).
It's never been easy to attract proven goalscorers to a struggling Premiership club, especially given the fierce competition for such players, let alone the transfer fees and salary demands involved. However, unless Megson can find a strike pairing capable of 25-goals plus between them, it's difficult to see much improvement on two seasons ago, when a paltry 29-goals saw them relegated with just 26-points.
The current striking options don't augur particularly well, with Rob Hulse, Geoff Horsfield, Lee Hughes and Scott Dobie unlikely to figure anywhere near the top of next season's list of most prolific Premiership marksmen. If the club is to have realistic ambitions of retaining their status, Megson could do worse than look to the likes of Robert Earnshaw (Cardiff City), David Johnson (Nottingham Forest) and Ricardo Fuller (Preston North End) from the Coca-Cola league. Dundee's Nacho Novo scored regularly in the Scottish Premier League last term and might be worth gambling on, while PSV Eindhoven's Mateja Kezman has failed to attract the anticipated offers and could probably be tempted to the West Midlands for the right package.
With the rest of the squad looking the equal of many of their peers in the Premiership, it will probably come down to who is leading the line next season as to whether or not W.B.A. will be able to retain their status this time round. Megson's decisions as to who comes in over the coming weeks will have a major bearing on the Baggies impact over the course of the next nine months. His own job may well depend on the outcome.
by : Antony Melvin
With the appointment of Rafael Benitez as Liverpool manager there is something of a break with tradition for one of England’s most traditional clubs. Liverpool have never employed a coach before, they have always had managers. A manager controls a club from top to bottom; Paisley would negotiate wages with players, Houllier helped decide the landscaping at Melwood – such was the depth of involvement of these men.
Benitez is different, he is a modern European coach. He may come up with some transfer targets, but he will also be comfortable with the clubs owners (in this case the board of directors) buying or selling players with or without his involvement. This should allow the board to clear the decks at Anfield and move on the dozens of French speakers that were acquired during the Houllier years – players and coaches.
But as he is a coach and not a manager he will be concentrating on improving the first team, looking at tactics and opponents – getting the most out of what he is given. This is where Houllier’s legacy will become clear.
Houllier may have been found out as a coach, he was unable to create a great team from a large squad of talented players. If Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger had been given the same group of players they would probably have created a title winning side – or at least got close.
But where Houllier was talented was in the administration and development of the whole setup of the club. Houllier brought the training facilities and player development into the 21st century and a million miles away from the matey, playboy club that had been allowed to fester under Dalglish, Souness and Evans. The foundations for a historically successful club to become great again were re-created by Houllier. If he was not the man to then make Liverpool champions – that was not his fault, his mistake was in not recognising this self-evident fact. He was tailor-made for a European style general managers role – but sometimes a clean break is a good idea.
Benitez took on Hector Cuper’s Valencia team in 2001 and created a title winning side, we’ll ignore the side issue of the UEFA Cup as it is now so devalued. That despite the incredible spending power of Real Madrid and Barcelona (echoes of Chelsea and Manchester United there) he was able to develop such a sense of kinship among the players that La Liga was won again in his third and final season.
Under Benitez Liverpool are likely to win the title within 3 seasons, he has that much quality. Whether he turns likely into actually is one of life’s unknowns – but Liverpool fans again have hope. Indeed most Liverpool fans now cannot wait to get Euro 2004 over with because then the real business of building a title winning side can begin.
The big threat to Liverpool is the success that Benitez should enjoy will eventually bring Real Madrid knocking, Benitez played and coached in Madrid and has deep seated links to the club. Benitez is a great coach to have, while Liverpool have him, but as Valencia were quickly abandoned so too may Liverpool. Benitez is a coach, and coaches – unlike managers – do not develop clubs they develop their careers. Benitez should bring the title to Anfield and he is just as likely to leave in the wake of the success. This is the market that Liverpool have now bought into.
by : David Hulott
Turn on the TV or radio or turn to the back pages of any newspaper on any given morning these days and chances are that Chelsea will have their name linked with another multi-million pound bid for some exotic name from overseas. With Euro 2004 now in full swing, the rumour mill is sure to go into overdrive in the coming weeks. Basically, any player who puts in a reasonably decent performance in Portugal will automatically be regarded as being worthy of a visit from Pini Zahavi and Peter Kenyon, with the promise of untold riches should they opt for a move to London.
Even so, amidst all the talk of comings and goings at Stamford Bridge in the light of Jose Mourinho's appointment as successor to Claudio Ranieri, the one player whose career may gain most from the managerial change is Joe Cole. Judging by the formation and style of play Mourinho adhered to at Porto, the former West Ham United player could have a leading role in the Chelsea midfield next season, operating as either a Deco or Carlos Alberto figure as the link between the midfield and attack.
There is continuing speculation that a move for Deco may be imminent, but given Mourinho's tendency to opt for a lone striker (Didier Drogba would be ideal for the task) supported by three from the midfield, this would still leave a job for Cole. Were Sir Bobby Robson's former right-hand man to stick with the system that brought him so much success with Porto, Cole could feasibly line-up alongside the Portuguese international and Frank Lampard in a midfield five, with two holding players holding the fort behind them.
Any such move could prove equally beneficial to England, as it would allow the player (perhaps England's most naturally gifted midfielder at present) to play to his strengths, rather than being stuck out on the left wing or being asked to continually track back. It may well even be a position he will be able to fill in the national side, especially were Sven-Goran Eriksson to depart in the coming weeks if our trip to Portugal fails to live up to expectations. It's doubtful whether any other manager would stick quite so religiously to the 4:4:2 upon which Eriksson is so insistent.
There's an argument that Cole flatters to deceive, failing to do the basics and that he is really just a luxury player. There also has to be a very real possibility that, should Deco be signed, then a move away from the club could swiftly follow for the Islington-born playmaker, with a loan move to Everton frequently put forward. The competition for places in the Londoners’ midfield is already intense, so he may well feel his interests are best served elsewhere.
The jury is unquestionably still out as to whether or not Cole will ever fulfil his promise as Paul Gascoigne’s heir apparent in the England midfield. It would be a shame if he weren’t given every opportunity to stake his claim under the new regime at Stamford Bridge next term.
by : David Hulott
As far as conspiracy theories go, I must confess that my one trails way behind the likes of Roswell, September 11 and the death of Princess Diana on just about every level. However, I’ve been wondering ever since the deal that took Alan Smith from Elland Road to Old Trafford last month whether there might be more to the transfer than meets the eye.
Put this down to a Leeds United fan in denial if you will but, basically, I can envisage Manchester United launching a bid for Wayne Rooney after Euro 2004, with Everton accepting an offer of somewhere in the region of £15 million + Smith.
Such a deal makes sense on a number of levels, in that it would help ease the debts at Goodison Park and allow the club to justify the sale in claiming that they will not only raise a large wad of cash, but also replace one young England international forward with another. In addition, Moyes would probably be given an additional few million to bolster his sorry looking squad. Sir Alex Ferguson will gain a top quality player to excite the Old Trafford faithful, Rooney will get a move to a club with realistic hopes of winning some silverware (without the need to move away from his family), while Smith would be guaranteed a starting role and might just be able to lessen the vitriol coming his way from those in Yorkshire who once worshipped him.
My doubts as to the real reason for Smith’s move to Manchester arise from a number of factors. To begin with, Toffees’ boss David Moyes was apparently only given a paltry £1.5 million by the board with which to strengthen a patently inadequate squad over the summer. There has been little to suggest that this figure is untrue, given that the club has been linked with players who would either be free or cost only a minimal fee, such Jermaine Wright from Ipswich Town, Dominic Matteo from Leeds and new Blackburn Rovers signing Paul Dickov from Leicester City. Strange then how Everton seemingly found £7 million to bid for Smith just before he crossed the Pennines. I may have missed something, but I’ve yet to see Moyes linked with other players of similar value since then? Was the “bid” for Smith merely a smokescreen for later developments?
Secondly, speculation continues to build that Ruud van Nistelrooy could be on his way out at Manchester United, despite Real Madrid claiming that they have no interest in signing the player (where have we heard that before?). Such a move would almost certainly lead to Sir Alex Ferguson signing a high-profile striker (there’s a strong argument that he needs another such striker whether or not the Dutch striker goes).
The third factor is that the Red Devils are increasingly seen to be losing out to the London duo of Arsenal and Chelsea in terms of star names. With all due respect, the summer signings to date, Smith and Gabriel Heinze have done little to address this. A few glamorous signings to appease the prawn sandwich brigade are surely needed if the Theatre of Dreams is to live up to its billing?
Such a deal wouldn’t be unique, replicating as it does a move involving Clive Allen and Kenny Sansom back in the summer of 1980. Allen was sold to Arsenal by Queens Park Rangers in June that year, before being swapped for Crystal Palace left-back Kenny Sansom (the Gunners’ real target) two months later.
If I’m wrong, please erase this from your memory. If I’m correct, please contact the editor of www.squarefootball.net, as I’m sure that we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement for a spot of individual star-gazing at very reasonable rates! I wonder if David Icke needs an assistant?
by : David Hulott
If there was a prize for gallant runner-up to Arsene Wenger as last season's Manager of the Year, then surely nobody deserved an evening at a glitzy award ceremony and a little something to go on the mantelpiece more than Sam Allardyce?
After the unexpected cash windfall from their 8th place finish in the Premiership, added to a trip to the Millennium Stadium for the Carling Cup final defeat to Middlesbrough, Allardyce is now setting out to establish the club in the top half of the table. As ever, his transfer targets appear to have been lifted from the 1994 World Cup Panini sticker album and the current PFA list of those out of contract at home.
Big Sam has already been active in the transfer market in the weeks since the season’s close, with the signing of former Leeds United striker Michael Bridges, while Birmingham City’s Senegalese midfielder Aliou Cisse and Tunisian defender Radhi Jaidi are both set to join in the near future. There has also been a longstanding interest in Everton defender David Unsworth, a player who looks a fairly typical Allardyce signing.
Bridges certainly fits meets the criteria expected of a Bolton Wanderers employee, in that his career appeared to be going nowhere after four years of injuries that saw him appear more on the treatment table than in any first team line-up. If Allardyce can transform Bridges' career in the way in which he has helped Kevin Davies rediscover his best form over the past year, not only will Bolton have got themselves a bargain, but Allardyce's reputation as a miracle worker will surely see him fast-tracked to sainthood.
These might lack the glamour of some of the other names linked with a move to the Reebok this summer, although I would suggest that the falling through of the protracted bid to sign Rivaldo was a blessing in disguise. Given the Brazilian’s woeful form over the last two years and the problems in dealing with his entourage of agents and advisors, it's difficult to see what benefit he would have brought to Bolton aside from shifting a few shirts? It was always difficult to see quite where he would fit into a team with Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff anyway.
Many observers will point to Allardyce’s ability in getting the best from big name veterans from foreign parts, although it should be noted that he has had the occasional failure (Mario Jardel is the obvious name that springs to mind). Even so, my feeling is that Rivaldo would have been little better than his chubby countryman, given that his motivation appears to be purely a financial one. How else do you reconcile his services being touted around the globe in the hope of starting an auction, coupled with the feeling that he seems happy to play out the remaining days of his career in Qatar (the Home Guard of world football)?
Chairman Phil Gartside, a life-long supporter of the club, has backed his manager in the transfer market, although he has stressed that they will continue to bring in players on free transfers, short-term contracts and loan deals. Gartside has been a somewhat outspoken critic of the goings on at Elland Road and the like and has pledged to adopt a prudent approach, rather than following the road of multi-million pound deals that has seen other clubs plunge deep into the red as a consequence.
While this has to be applauded, it also makes it difficult to see quite how much further Allardyce can take the team. The very nature of the Trotters' transfer strategy makes it difficult for them to plan for anything on a long-term basis, while their own financial predicament makes it unlikely that they could turn down any substantial bids for players.
With so many of the squad in the twilight of their careers, it must also be a constant source of worry for the manager in having to try and attract new players to the squad on such a limited budget. This is especially so given that the majority of clubs throughout Europe are now forced to adopt a similarly pragmatic approach to squad strengthening, as opposed to the spendthrift days of the recent past.
Their hopes will be raised with Florent Laville and Ricardo Gardner expected to be fit for the start of the new season, having both missed much of the last campaign through injury. However, the big problem in turning the club into one capable of challenging for honours is probably the lack of striking options. A less than inspiring choice of Davies, Bridges and Henrik Pedersen is indicative of a club whose policy in the transfer market doesn't enable them to compete for the top-notch forwards required to challenge the elite.
It seems unlikely that Bolton will be capable of surpassing last season's exploits, although they look capable of securing another mid-table finish and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them embarking on another cup run. It might then be a question of how much longer will they be able to retain the services of Allardyce?
by : Julio Smith
Another major tournament kicks off, another Spanish team carries the weight of expectation upon its shoulders. Though perhaps this time it is hope rather than expectation providing the burden. For it has become rather nave to actually expect a Spanish side to deliver on its immense promise, after 40 years of disappointments. With just one major honour in its history, the 1964 European Championships, the Spanish have come to be known in England as “perennial under-achievers”. A rather hypocritical assertion if ever there was one, rendering that whole pot/kettle fiasco quite insignificant. But it is time for the talented Iberians to finally show their undoubted quality on the big stage.
The popularity of the La Liga coverage on Sky over the seasons has allowed the British public to develop a real affinity with its players and style. There are no more secrets in top-level football nowadays. We are familiar with the players, we are aware of their talents. Perhaps for that reason, people tend to think of Spain when a major tournament comes along. Will this be the year?
In Iaki Sez, Spain have a manager used to winning. His remarkable success at youth level, which includes the World Championship at Under-20 level in 1999, made him an intelligent choice to take charge of the senior side. He has worked with many players from the current squad already, and has formed a close bond with them. Whether these bonds will make it harder for him to drop certain under-achieving individuals from his team could determine Spain’s fortunes in Portugal.
Golden boy Raúl is currently playing so poorly, that even a shadow of his former self should be ahead of him in the pecking order. He is being picked for name alone, while the magician Juan Carlos Valern patiently warms the bench. Rubn Baraja is another whose place is in doubt. Tired and clueless after 30 minutes against Russia, both the solid Xabi Alonso and creative Xavi deserve the central midfield berth more than the Valencia man.
The tendency of Sez to pick the spine of his outfield team in pairs (Albelda/Baraja, Raúl/Morientes) rather than individuals could count against him. Beside these doubts however, lay many positives. Carles Puyol is one of the best defenders in the world right now, David Albelda is a rock at the heart of midfield, Vicente is probably the best wide man at the Championships while Morientes is in supreme form. Whether the positives will outweigh the negatives remains to be seen. Will this be the year? Perhaps, but don’t bet on it.
by : Antony Melvin
Far too much emphasis has been placed on the timing of the French goals. If England were going to lose that match then surely it is far better psychologically to believe that they should have won the game (and can hold onto that thought) but were denied by a couple of rash decisions by England players. If France had been winning 2-0 and England got a late consolation goal then it may well have resulted in England bombing out of the tournament either in the group stage or the first knockout round. Such would have been the psychological damage.
But England played well and if they tired at the end, if they were forced to defend it’s nothing any other nation would have done differently. If Italy had been 1-0 against France they would hardly have defended any more stoutly. The run of the ball can sometimes be cruel, footballers make bad decisions especially when they are tired or fresh substitutes who are not used to the pace of the game. But the team performance was so good that it would be churlish to concentrate on those late mistakes.
The defending was resilient; there is a case being made to restore John Terry at the expense of Ledley King, but King had a wonderful match and it would seem odd to replace him when his pace and power were so vital against France. Terry will be lucky if he gets his place back.
In midfield the English four were fabulous for an hour, passing well and finding colleagues, maintaining possession and creating chances. It was no surprise that two of them combined for the goal. There seems to be an orchestrated campaign by Arsenal fans to undermine the position of Paul Scholes (can’t begin to think why) – and they may get their wish as he was injured on Sunday night. But his passing almost set Owen and Rooney in, and when he was withdrawn England’s forward momentum collapsed. The last 25 minutes was tortuous as England missed Scholes passing and Rooney’s aggression.
Up front Rooney was fantastic, he is twice the player in an England shirt that he is in an Everton one. He seems to be lifted by playing with and against better players. Something he and his advisers will note with some sadness if Everton endure another season loitering about in the lower reaches of the Premiership. If Everton cannot surround him with adequate players he may well, regretfully, decide to move on. If Everton have really pursued him to Portugal to sign a contract extension they will surely return unfulfilled.
By comparison Owen was anonymous and starved of possession, he doesn’t seem to have the extra dimension to his game to go and get the ball. Owen looks very one-dimensional alongside Rooney. Vassell was a live-wire and must be pushing Owen very hard for starting place, Vassell is as quick, he works defenders harder and has a decent scoring record. Owen is obviously of a higher class, but can England afford to wait for him to hit form?
England can now face Switzerland and Croatia confident of beating both and facing a winnable game, probably against Spain to reach the semi-finals. From there it would be a case of whoever gets the lucky breaks and the big performances from their best players. Maybe England have used up their bad luck, and in doing so have strengthened the belief in many people that they can win this tournament.
England can’t play France again unless they both reach the final – perhaps then England can get the lucky breaks they are due after Sundays disappointment. I think the game had dual benefits of the dampening of expectation whilst simultaneously building confidence. And for these reasons the English management team will be secretly pleased.
by : Chris Sherrard
Dutch footballers are among the most technically gifted in the continent, if not the world. Each generation of supporters in the Netherlands has had a group of players worthy of great renown. From the twice World Cup runners-up of Cruyff, Rep and Neeskans to the European champions of the 1988 side which featured the supremely gifted van Basten, Gulliet and Koeman, Holland has given the football world much to smile about. There have been other individuals, like Dennis Bergkamp, who could rightly be regarded as among the finest players in the history of the game. Now, as the current side prepares to go into battle once more, a handful of new young players are set to take their place in the football radar.
Heading the new breed of Dutch superstars in the making is the Ajax midfield pairing of Rafeal van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder. The former is already a great player, surpassing his potential and performing with great maturity and composure for his club and country this season.
Van der Vaart, still aged just 21, has such leadership qualities that he assumed the captain’s role at the Amsterdam ArenA this season. In truth he is the Dutch league champions’ driving force, their inspiration and focal point. Rumours that his exit from Amsterdam, where he is a superstar, is imminent has been heightened by the player himself declaring an interest in greater tests such as Spain or England. He is almost assured a starting place for his country where he should feature as a supporting forward to Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy. Van der Vaart could also, if asked, play in a deeper lying midfiled role. But if he were to run out in that position it would mean that Sneijder was not available and that would be bad news for Dick Advocaat, the international manager.
Sneijder has only just broke into Ajax’s first team but has made such an impact that it was impossible for Advocaat to overlook him. His most impressionable display to date, in the second play-off leg against Scotland, underlined how much he is needed by his country. He has already bagged a couple of goals but it is Sneijder’s all-round contribution and effective, forceful running and passing which has been most significant. He is a player the Oranje supporters love to watch, someone who combines attacking and defensvie credentials in the ‘total football’ mould of the past masters.
For me, Advocaat must build this Holland side around van der Vaart and Sneijder. The Ajax pairing, together with some of the other gifted young players adorned in orange, can use this tournament to build a team which is capable of realistically challenging for, and even winning, the World Cup in Germany two years from now. But they will need to find a breed of defenders from somewhere if that is to happen. Jaap Stam, their only world class defender at present, has pledged to leave the international scene come the end of play in Portugal. His absence leaves a hole as wide as Amsterdam’s canals to be filled.
For this tournament, Advocaat has a bit of juggling act if he is to perform the impossible and keep the whole Dutch squad happy. Fulham’s keeper, Edwin van der Saar, will stray between the posts, of that there can be little doubt. In front of him, Stam should be joined by midfielder, Philip Cocu, as the alternatives to the new Milan man’s partner are inadequate, as Bouma proved against Ireland recently. Gio van Bronkhorst, the Barcelona man, must play at left-back and, in the other full-back position, the best option continues to be discarded Barca star, Michael Reizeger. He has hardly played this season for his club but remains the only real option for his country.
If that defence is, admittedly, certain to come under threat, then deploying midfield terrier, Edgar Davids, just in front, no further forward, would provide suitable cover and break up some of the attacks which would have otherwise caused Stam and his mates serious consternation. Just ahead of Davids is where I would play Sneijder and where he is most effective. He could link defence and attack with his passing and moving and would feed an appetizing front-line which is sure to get goals.
So far, this Dutch side is a four-one-one and I would complete it with a three-one formation. The three - Arjen Robben on the left, Andy van der Meyde on the right and van der Vaart through the middle - would scare the life out of any opposition defence and, with Germany first up, should get plenty of practice at terrorising defenders early on. Advocaat has plenty of good strikers at his disposal but the king-pin of his side must be Ruud van Nistelrooy. He is a goalscorer and, having missed every other big tournament which Holland has qualified for, will be desperate to show the world just how prolific and dangerous he is. Malky’s brother, Roy Makaay, should be van Nistelrooy’s back-up but the pointers from the warm-ups are that the coach still likes Kluivert, despite his lack of goals or, apparently, enthusiasm. Makaay offers options as an out-and-out striker as well as a deeper lying forward and his track record in big European competitions provides good pedigree. For van Nistelrooy, the crosses from the constant and accurate supply-lines of Chelsea new-boy, Arjen Robben, and Inter Milan’s van der Meyde, should be enough to keep him awake at night dreaming of all those goals he will be confident of bagging.
This Dutch team has, in Sneijder, van der Vaart and van Nistelrooy, three players with a lot of talent to show to the football world. If they are given the chance and the support Holland could go close to clinching the top prize in Portugal’s tournament. And, if they can find a few defenders, the World cup could be next.
by : Chris Sherrard
Now that the dust has settled on Tottenham Hotspur’s managerial appointment, the task for new man Jacques Santini is a clear one - get Spurs challenging for trophies.
The White Hart Lane outfit have been the laughing stock of English football for a while now. First there were the top players like Rivaldo and Morientes who balked at moving to the club, then the intransigence with regard to the appointment of the managers who were supposed to be on their way. One by one, the likes of O’Neill, Ranieri and Trappatoni were deemed to have snubbed the top job at the ‘other’ North London club. Now it seems the tables have been turned with a top man being given the manager’s job and world class players appearing to queue up to join the Tottenham revolution. Ronaldo is the latest superstar to declare an interest in what’s happening down at the Lane.
It seems incredible that the current manager of defending European champions, France - the clear favourites to regain their title this month - has been tempted to leave that job in favour of the extremely hot seat at Spurs. But it shouldn’t be such a surprise. As I have said before, Tottenham Hotspur is a club with massive potential, needing the guidance of a top manager. If Santini proves to be the right man then the Spurs faithful will be celebrating silverware in the near future.
He has not got to make too many changes to the playing squad. A couple of experienced heads and perhaps a top notch defender and the good times could be back rolling again. Already brought in, has been Leeds keeper Paul Robinson and that is a good move. Every top club in the modern age needs at least two top stoppers to battle it out for the number one shirt and, in Robinson and Kasey Keller, Tottenham now have that.
At the back, there are a few rough diamonds which the new manager could shine into gems. Steven Carr has been stagnant for a number of seasons now, partly due to injury and partly due to lack of motivation. Renewing his appetite for the club would be a good way for Santini to begin his reign. Ledley King will be boosted with maximum confidence after forcing his way into England’s European Championship squad and could become a focal point of Tottenham’s back line. Others who have went off the boil, like Dean Richards and Antony Gardner, could be recharged by the new manager. He will need to bring in an experienced, classy defender to supplement those existing charges, but Santini will know that and will most likely use his stay in Portugal with his nation to check out potential targets as well as lead France’s defence of the title.
In midfield, key to regeneration is the full fitness of club captain, Jamie Redknapp, and Welsh international, Simon Davies. Both of these struggled with lack of fitness last season but, after a full pre-season under their belts, should be back in working order for the new campaign. Michael Brown hasn’t done it since joining from Sheffield United last season and Santini will be looking for an Edgar Davids-type player, like Edgar Davids, for the centre of the side. With the phasing out of older players like Darren Anderton and Christian Ziege, a lot of experience has been lost but that’s about all that will be missing without them. The new manager needs some bodies in to make up the numbers and provide support for what should be a strong first choice side.
And in attack is where Tottenham are strongest. Jermain Defoe is a player on the up, and one who will most likely be among the top scorers in the league if given a lengthy run in the team next season. The form of Tottenham’s other forwards is encouraging. Helder Postiga did not have a good first season in this country but he remains a member of Portugal’s international squad ahead of some talented individuals. He has even hit the net (really) in one of their warm-up friendlies and is clearly a better player than many give him credit for. But his opportunities may be limited again come August as Ireland’s Robbie Keane has showed himself to be vital to any side he plays for. The goal he scored against Holland in Amsterdam recently seemed like one from a player at the start of a season, not one just finished. Freddie Kanoute’s future is somewhat questionable. He is undoubtedly a talented forward who scores goals and links the play magnificently at times. But Santini’s appointment has cast his prospects into serious doubt. Kanoute fell out with his new manager while at Lyon and then turned his back on Santini’s France in favour of Mali. Tottenham would like to keep him but whether their new manager is so keen remains to be seen.
All in all, Spurs can be delighted by the credentials of the man they have picked to lead them. He could be starting his job on the crest of a wave after the European Championships. What is certain is that no-one will need to tell him about his compatriot up the road by the name of Arsene - the man he must close the gap on.
by : Chris Sherrard
Ok France are the reigning European champions and only lost their World Cup crown because of fatigue and complacency. And, yes, they do possess the two best players in the game right now, in Henry and Zidane. They are the bookies’ favourites and we all know, to our considerable cost, how rarely they get it wrong. But, I believe France are beatable. In fact, England could beat them in the opening game.
Look at that defence for a start. Barthez had his moments in English moments (all eccentric) but has been on the move this season and under pressure from Lyon’s Gregory Coupet for the number one shirt. In front of him, Marcel Desailly, the captain and supposed rock of the French back-line is a shadow of the great player he once was. Gone is the composure and resolute yet finesse defending he once gave us. In it’s place is a stuttering fallibility which has seen him deposed in the Chelsea side, and as captain, by England’s John Terry.
It appears clear that French manager, Jacques Santini, will persist in picking Desailly and that will have Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney high-fiving in delight. Neither of England’s front two will be even remotely fearful of facing the French skipper. Rooney could run rings round him all day and all night at the minute. Owen, too, will know that his own pace and sharpness makes it something of a miss-match at that end of the pitch.
Santini, even at this very late stage, appears uncertain about who will fill the other centre-back position. Chelsea’s William Gallas was tried there last year and Manchester United man, Mickael Silvestre, filled in for some of the qualifying games with some success. Those two both provide much needed pace alongside the lackingly-legged Desailly. But neither has great experience at international level. One alternative to the projected problems through the middle of France’s defence is to partner Desailly with the sublime Lilian Thuram. They have played together in a number of the warm-up games and looked more settled than any of the alternatives but playing Thuram there deprives France of one of the world’s best right-backs and is that something they can afford? If he was to move into the middle, Bayern Munich’s Willy Sagnol would fill in on the right and provides an adequate, if not quite top notch, replacement.
We all know about the qualities of the French going forward but Zidane does have an occasional off-day, on the basis that he is still only human, and England can cross their fingers and toes that he goes walkabout when the two teams meet in Lisbon. It’s not very likely that he will fail to get inspired for France’s first game, having missed the opener in the last World Cup, but he will come up against an England defence more talented than he probably realises. He will know all about Beckham and Scholes but should overlook the qualities of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, England’s in-form midfielders, at his considerable peril.
Gerrard won’t let Zidane or Pires, or whoever he is in direct competition with, get the better of many exchanges without knowing full well about it. And going forward, he will present a massive threat to Desailly’s uncertain defence.
Desailly won’t need to be told about Frank Lampard’s capabilities. He has witnessed all this season, from behind or, on more occasions, the sidelines, the constant threat which Lampard poses. He will carry the fight to the gallic champions, a fight which is sure to be a closer run one than many expect. If Sol Campbell can keep Highbury team-mate, Thierry Henry, quiet - an extremely difficult assignment - then England could well get off to the best possible start.
Which of France’s reserves should hold much fear for Eriksson’s men? Not Steve Marlet who was a flop at Fulham. Sylvain Wiltord? Not much to panic them there. Olivier Dacourt holds no hidden threat either, nor too Louis Saha. Rothen and Pedretti have had good domestic campaigns but are vastly inexperienced at international football.
When Sven Goran Eriksson sits his England side down before they run out to take on Santini’s side, he will tell him that they have nothing to worry about in France’s back four. He will say that if they can close down the threat of Zidane and Henry then they will find it hard to get close to England’s goal. He will inform Rooney and Owen that they have the beating of Desailly every time they want it. He will tell his men that England can beat France. Because they can. All that’s needed is real belief.
by : Ashley Michael
It is an English tradition for the announcement of the squad for any international tournament to be met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. “Where is Gazza?” the people cry (or something similar). For Euro 2004 Sven Goran Eriksson has decided to ignore this tradition, possibly because he is Swedish, and has picked exactly the same squad as almost every TV, radio and newspaper pundit. Is this conclusive proof that he knows exactly what he is doing? Not quite.
Sven knows his best XI, although it does include injury victim John Terry, but a question mark still hangs over the best way to deploy the midfield. The diamond system, adopted after the shocking 2-2 draw at home to Macedonia, seems likely to be axed in favour of a flat midfield four. The real reason for this is not so much to do with tactics as Sven’s desire to start with Frank Lampard in midfield.
Replacing Nicky Butt with Lampard certainly makes sense in terms of form. Lampard has just enjoyed a fantastic season with Chelsea while Butt has been sat on the Manchester United bench casting envious glances in the direction of Phil Neville. Unfortunately, from a tactical point of view it is not so straightforward.
The recent friendly against Japan was proof that you can’t have your cake and eat it. Lampard played in the Butt role at the base of the diamond and England spent the vast majority of the match trying to get the ball back. A lesson learned, Eriksson switched to a flat midfield for the game against Iceland and England strolled to a 6-1 win. Is this conclusive proof of the better system? Again, not quite.
The diamond is still a viable system for England but it needs specialist players at the top and bottom. The role behind the strikers is only really suited to Paul Scholes and Joe Cole, although Kieron Dyer or Wayne Rooney could play there. Frank Lampard simply cannot. Ditto the holding role – Nicky Butt and Owen Hargreaves can play there, Lampard cannot. The other two ‘normal’ midfield places will go to Beckham and Gerrard. The result – Frank Lampard gets to sit next to Ian Walker.
When Lampard did play the holding role England looked good with the ball, as you would expect from a team playing with four intelligent midfielders floating around. Unfortunately without the ball they looked a mess. Japan are a decent side but they are nowhere near the likes of France, forcing Sven to make a big decision: whether to change Lampard or change the system.
The change of system for the Iceland game left England without a natural ball-winner in midfield, a potential problem but not necessarily fatal. It also forced David Beckham to play wider on the right and put him into crossing positions far more regularly than when using the diamond. The real plus point, though, was the decision (albeit somewhat forced) to use Scholes on the left.
He may not like playing there but Paul Scholes is the best option England have for their problem position, having played there numerous times for Manchester United. He can still drop inside and collect the ball and did so expertly against Iceland, setting Michael Owen away on four separate first-half occasions. He can also get ahead of the strikers when the ball is on England’s right. And who better to find him with a pinpoint cross than David Beckham?
France use a very similar system with Zidane operating from a wide left position, drifting in towards the centre when the mood takes him. The difference is that the French use two holding players, Vieira and Makelele. England will feel that, given enough possession, they have better attacking options in midfield. The real questions are whether they will get this possession and whether this will be enough to counter the threat of Zidane, exactly the sort of job Nicky Butt was born to do. Without Butt stationed in front of the back four there is no clear idea of whose responsibility he (Zidane) is.
Eriksson may yet regret making the change from the diamond, his solution to the old question of whether to fit a system around your best players or to select the best players to fit the system. By choosing the former he is giving Frank Lampard the chance to shine. Would it not be better to see a whole diamond shine?
by : Colin Illingworth
David Beckham is undeniably one of the highest profile footballers in the world. He plays for one of the biggest clubs on the planet, married to a Spice Girl (would have said singer but that would have been like calling Gary Neville a footballer), admired by youngsters around the globe, a favourite with the tabloid press, more hair styles than John Burridge had clubs, and can generate more money than Bob Geldolf and a Live Aid concert.
Yet despite all of the hype surrounding David Beckham there is one thing that he should not be called and that is the king of cool. Lets be honest who on earth believes that somebody who speaks like the illegitimate love child of high-pitched squealer Joe Pasquale could ever be cool?
There’s only one man who possesses the credentials needed to be crowned the King of Cool and that is mr va va voom himself Thierry Henry. The Arsenal and France striker has it all. The looks, the dress sense, the accent, the skills, and the ability to conduct himself like a true gentleman off the field. The Gunners number 14 is that cool you could dump him in the Sahara desert wearing hiking gear and he wouldn’t break a sweat!
Unlike Becks he is not a publicity-seeking puppet. For the majority of the time he lets his feet do the talking but when he does speak you listen because he is such a knowledgeable and intelligent guy. Obviously Chelsea fans will be quick to point out that he wasn’t exactly that intelligent when he poked himself in the eye with the corner flag while celebrating a goal! However, that aside, who else can have, not just one but TWO, names as old as Jimmy Hill in Terry and Henry and make them sound cool? Henry Cooper, Terry Christian, Terry and June! I don’t think so.
His disciplinary record is also something not to be sniffed at. Henry has only been yellow carded eight times and sent off once since joining the Gunners back in August 1999 while Becks has seen red twice this season alone for Real Madrid. The latest coming when he called the assistant’s mother a whore! And who can forget when the red mist descended back in France 1998 against Argentina? Beckham is a loose cannon. Although Henry can lose it occasionally (against Danny Mills last season and with Lauren against Man Utd when his team mate failed to pass to him in the last minute which would have surely resulted in a match winning goal) he is almost unflappable. Remember the coolness of his penalty against Leeds on route to notching up four goals? Beckham will never have the courage or conviction to do such a thing, not even in training, but when Henry does lose his rag it is arguably because he feels that he has been deprived the chance to benefit the team and fans who idolise him.
Some will argue that the England skipper is unquestionably cool because he can make anything he wears look good. Well I’m sorry but any bloke who thinks its cool to wear a sarong in public is already inside the Big Brother compound clapping his hands like a demented seal! If you’re going to wear women’s clothes do it in private!
Even Henry’s off field activities are a class above Becks. Look at their adverts. Henry in a club playing the drums with animal from the muppets in attendance oozing charisma asking ‘Hey Bobby… What’s the French for va va voom?’ Compare this to Beckham walking around a new Spanish villa taking pictures and sending them back to the chuckle brothers, I mean Neville brothers. And don’t even get me started on those affair allegation and his mysterious texts.
Henry is a natural showman whether it’s in front of a packed stadium or a camera.
Despite all of my Becks bashing I will give him credit for giving the nation a glimmer of hope of succeeding. After all if somebody who thinks that you need a passport to enter transfer negotiations can become a national institution, and make millions in the bargaining, then everybody grows up believing that they can succeed in this crazy world.
However when it comes to crowning football’s King of Cool there is only one contender and that is the Premiership’s top marksman. So bow down my friend and join James Dean, the coolest actor ever, and The Fonz, the coolest television character ever, to be crowned the coolest footballer ever.
by : Chris Sherrard
Forget your Terry Henry with his va-va broom and anyone else who lays claim to the title. The real ‘King of Cool’ contest begins and ends at the door of Beckingham Palace. Step forward England’s captain and football’s untouchable superstar, David Beckham.
Becks is genuinely the man who has it all. Looks that make women melt like a Magnum in a sauna, money, cars, glamour and footy skills most players can only dream of. Oh and a famous wife. He has managed, although somewhat shaken in recent months, to maintain a calm and fulfilled family life in the full glare of the world. It takes a special man, a seriously cool man, to absorb some of the salacious headlines which have been written about Beckham of late. The Londoner has emerged virtually unscathed from the publicity. Then again, did you expect a cool customer like him to do anything other than that?
Let’s remember the summer of 1998. England crash out of the World Cup to Argentina and Beckham is sent off, guilty of nothing more than impetuousness and letting a vindictive, Oscar-deserving opponent get the better of him. Beckham returned to this country as something nearing a national hate figure. But the papers who published dart boards with his head as the bullseye and the fans who bayed on the touchlines for his blood were soon forced to rethink their opinion of him. From that day until now, we have seen a master class in coolness. He won over his critics in a manner which has become his epitome.
At the time Henry was sporting an incredibly dodgy moustache and chugging up the wing for Monaco, David Beckham was well on his way to claiming his crown as the ‘King of Cool’.
How many men could get away with all those hairstyles? How many could get away with leading their country into a World Cup sporting a mohican? Henry couldn’t. Then again, Henry couldn’t lead his country full stop. It takes a certain type of footballer to captain a nation. They must have the passion of the fans to go with the skills and ability. They must be able to go out there, stand on the turf and inspire a whole country by singing the anthem and wearing the shirt. Beckham fits that bill, Henry does not. Becks has made God Save the Queen and the Three Lions cool. Never mind Rule Britannia, it’s Rule Beckham come international time.
And another thing; I defy anyone to convince me that Henry’s name and number on replica shirts will ever outsell Beckham’s. In every part of the world, outside of North London naturally, Beckham 7 and Beckham 23 can be seen emblazoned from the backs of the white shirts of men and boys. He has single-handidly made Real Madrid a completely marketable commodity all around the globe. He did what Figo couldn’t do, or Ronaldo or Zidane or Raul. Beckham is the one they all want, not any of those others and certainly not Thierry Henry.
If the debate concerned purely footballing abilities (with footballers? heaven forbid) then I would be forced to bow to the blatantly obvious and concede that Henry is better. Arguably, only Zidane could out Top Trump his compatriot on that score right now. However, we are talking about cool and for that only Beckham can fit the bill. In fact, he fits the bill for everyone from advertisers to fans and will no doubt continue to do so for the remainder of his career, however long that may be. Everywhere you go around this planet, the image of David Beckham will beam down at you. That is simply because he is the coolest man in the world right now. Above Brad Pitt and George Clooney, cooler than Johnny Depp and Colin Farrell. And certainly, unquestionably, lets not kid ourselves, cooler than Thierry ‘corner-flag’ Henry.
by : Steve Heald
Andy: They’ve paired their wits against each other in every major competition this season and Arsene has come out on top most apart from that famous Champions League exit at the hands of Claudio. Ranieri has finally been sacked after fighting the bullet all season and proved his battling credentials by killing off Sir Bobby Robson and Fulham’s Chris Coleman. This is Ranieri’s last chance to prove his credentials to the Russian tycoon Abramovich.
Martin: This is the one that Wenger has wanted for weeks. Another London derby and should be an explosive situation when those two meet up in the ring. And finally we know the final pairing but if you could do the formalities please Robbie.
Savage: Certainly … Number 1.
Martin: Sir Alex Ferguson. The boss who has had more fights than Mike Tyson will be up against …
Wise: Number 2.
Andy: Sam Allardyce. The Clubber has surprised everyone the way he has reached this stage by brushing people aside like thin air, and remember he is the only competitor left who had to qualify for this competition back in October.
Martin: Hold on a minute … I hear that there is some fighting being reported backstage.
Andy: Lets get a camera crew back there.
The camera points at Savage and Wise. Savage is glaring down at Wise before suddenly he kicks the Millwall player manager square in the face forcing him to fall backwards on the floor. Savage then jumps on him and unleashes a series of left and rights at Wise’s face.
Savage: That’s for Callum ya little pounce.
Andy: Why it’s all kicking off here. Apparently Wenger and Ranieri are tearing lumps out of each other backstage and Allardyce and Fergie are copying suit.
Martin: They can’t wait to get the job done!
More security guards rush in to separate the warring factions but they in turn fight the security guards away.
Martin: It’s ultimate chaos! Do they not realise what is at stake here in the next round?
Andy: Of course they do. That’s exactly why they’re fighting.
Suddenly the studio audience get in on the act and begin throwing chairs about and throwing punches.
Martin: Flipping ‘eck. This has resulted in a riot.
Andy: I told you we should have never picked Savage and Wise to do the draw. Trouble follows them everywhere.
Martin and Andy cower under the commentary table as chairs and blood fly over their heads.
Martin: Well there you have it. Wenger V Ranieri and Ferguson V Allardyce. Only two will reach the final. Make sure you tune in to www.squarefootball.net TVs exclusive coverage of this competition in a fortnights time when Wenger or Ranieri will book their place in the PMB final.
Andy: Yeah that’s Saturday 19th June followed by Fergie V Allardyce on July 3rd. Until then fight fans keep your head down and your eyes peeled.
05/06/2004Nearly as stupid as St. George flags look dangling on the side of cars is the view that England will win Euro 2004.
There seems to be a very dangerous level of optimism surrounding the national side as it embarks on it’s voyage to Portugal. Not since Ally’s army sailed off to Argentina in 1978 has there been so much hyperbole about a home nation appearing in an international tournament, and we all know how Scotland performed once they arrived in South America for that world cup.
In a tournament England have traditionally behaved dismally in it’s hard to see why people are getting excited about the idea of an England win. Except when we were the home nation in ’96 our record in this tournament is dismal. One only has to think back to the last European Nations competition 4 years ago to recall how low we all felt with the level of performances back then. A good core number of that side will be back again this year to re-perform for the national side. Delving further in time, thinking of Italy ’80, Germany ’88, and Sweden ’92 only serves to send a shudder down
the spine of the open minded England fan.
“Ah!” You say. “The players from the 2000 tournament still in the England side were young lads then. They are in the prime now…” Oh good. Gary and Phil Neville. What a wonderful example of the star studded side and the experience we carry into the France game at the weekend. Steven Gerrard and David Beckham. Top quality undoubtedly, but now that Eriksson has tinkered with his midfield does he know how to get the best out of his main men?
Michael Owen, and…Emile Heskey? Owen should be OK but tell me will there be a greater lumbering centre forward on view in Portugal this summer? (OK, excluding the whole of the Germany forward line)
No, the truth is we aren’t going to dominate this tournament the way the optimists tell us we will. However, looking on the bright side I don’t think we will be an embarrassment as we were in previous campaigns. I feel we will do enough, in the typical English way of battling our way through, to probably fall in the knock-out stage, probably to the host nation. Maybe even at the expense of the pretty boys from France. Much has been made also about their much-vaunted squad but I have a sneaky suspicion we will see a similar fate happen to the Frenchmen as happened in the last world cup. As per two years ago, Viera and Henry join up with the squad following a gruelling but successful Premiership campaign. Much is expected of these two, but probably too much, and it’s hard to see which of the older players can still perform at the highest level required when you are the big name favourites. For me that could see Croatia stealing our group. They have the strength and the skill to deal with both England and France, which could see them pushing England into second place. Our robust game will make life hard for the French and I can see us edging this one.
So why can’t we win Euro 2004 if we can get past the French you may ask? I feel hustle and bustle may be enough to inflict damage in the group stage but once the games become one-offs and we have to go the extra mile to carve out victories I feel we will be once again found lacking. The number of injuries suffered to the defence is a cause for concern, though ironically nearly every nation seems to be entering the competition with at least one key defender missing. As mentioned previously though, you worry about the lack of quality when the Nevilles are considered the best option, or Ashley
Surely it would have been preferable for Eriksson to push Cole into the midfield position, hence solving an old thorn in the side, and prefer Wayne Bridge at left back? Bridge is reliable and a better natural defender than Cole, this would have settled the defence and midfield considerably. Eriksson has tried this tactic but I feel he hasn’t given it enough time to bed in.
The main worry for Eriksson is employment of the midfielders at his disposal. The coach is keen to utilise Scholes, Gerrard, Beckham, and Lampard which means two out of the four at any time are playing in a position they don’t want to be in. For me it’s got to be a flat four, enough of diamonds and christmas trees, with Gerrard and Lampard providing the grit and guile in the central positions. The manager should remind his captain that actually his best position is wide right. Scholes is an excellent substitute to call on if required.
Up front everyone is hoping Rooney can be the sensation of the tournament. I feel Darius Vassell could be a star man, the time is right for him I believe to explode onto the scene internationally.
At least one position we are sorted with is in goal. David James has had so much practice playing for Man City that his concentration and alertness are tip top. I feel he needs to remain that way if England are not to disappoint.
Steve’s Euro 2004 prediction: ITALY
by : Alex Wolstenholme
Despite the absence of Brazil and possibly Argentina, this years European Championship may prove harder to win than a World Cup for Europe’s top sides.
16 teams are taking part and a case can be made for at least half of those lifting the trophy come the end of the tournament. France, England, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Italy all have a chance (and you can’t write off the Germans!). Even those sides such as Sweden, Denmark and Russia who aren’t fancied to win, can make life very difficult for their opponents.
Every World Cup has its ‘Group of Death’ but if they can avoid it, the fancied European teams can count on at least one and possibly two fairly comfortable group games to ease them into the competition. Germany’s nerves were certainly settled by their 8-0 win over Saudi Arabia at the last World Cup, a luxury that won’t be allowed them with an opening clash against Holland at Euro 2004.
Similarly, England versus France and the closing game in Group A between Portugal and Spain are massive clashes.
FIFA’s desire to make the World Cup a truly global event is the correct thing to do but does give rise to some lop-sided groups with some very strong European teams left behind while qualifiers from Asia, Africa and North America take their place.
Any side making it to the Euros will have had to get past some pretty tough teams in qualifying. Latvia for instance, widely regarded as whipping boys for Portugal came through a group containing Sweden, Hungary and Poland as well as a play-off with Turkey.
This, together with the pace of the tournament (it’s all over in 23 days) with only three days off between games means there is very little time to recover from a bad first result.
by : Colin Illingworth
Martin Tyler: Hello and welcome to squarefootball.net headquarters for the eagerly awaited draw for the semi final of this great competition Premiership Managers Brawl. The competition premiership managers are literally dying to be in. With me for this special occasion is my commentating partner Andy Gray.
Andy Gray: Hello there. I’m so excited. Four men left and in just a few moments we’ll find out who will be squaring up to who and there’s no easy options left. In the mix we have the Premiership’s greatest manager Sir Alex Ferguson, current Premiership champions boss Arsene Wenger, the Premiership’s most talked about manager Claudio Ranieri and the huge surprise package of the season Big Sam Allardyce of Bolton Wanderers.
Martin: It’s the cream of the Premiership left but only two of them will survive to have the chance of being crowned the Premiership Managers Brawl Champion of Champions. They all have a point to prove and Arsene Wenger has already stated that he wants either Ranieri or his old sparring partner Fergie.
Andy: Well the bookies have Fergie as clear favourite at 1/3 with Ranieri and Wenger at 2/1. And the outsider is Big Sam at 4/1. Of course they could all change when the draw is made.
Martin: Well all four fighters are here in the studio today, being kept apart by our team of crack security guards, and here to pull the balls out of the bag are two of the games great antagonists Robbie Savage and Dennis Wise. Welcome lads.
Savage & Wise: Evening.
Martin: Obviously you are here to make the draw but what have you thought of the competition so far.
Savage: It’s been great. The last time I saw so much blood and guts was when I went into the referee’s room that time.
Martin: Okay then, way too much information there.
Andy: Do you know what … I feel a little sick!
Savage: I think you’ve mistakenly put an s on that last bit and why are you touching Wisey anyway?
Wise: Why shouldn’t he? Just because I’m smaller than a Great Dane doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be allowed to mingle with celebrities.
Andy: Oh Dennis, you’re making me blush.
Wise: Actually, I was talking about Martin but never mind.
Martin: Yes well Dennis, are you a fan of PMB?
Wise: Definitely. It made me wish there was a competition like this in the Nationwide.
Andy: There is, it’s on the pitch!
Martin: Of course you were involved in a very unsavoury incident at the Walkers Stadium when you helped defeat Micky Adams of Leicester.
Wise: Well everybody knows what happened with myself at Leicester and I felt I had to get my own back. Obviously we were disappointed not to make the play offs this year and reach the Premiership but at least Leicester have come down so I’ll get to wreak more havoc.
Martin: Well the balls have just arrived would you just like to place them in the hat and give them a swirl Robbie.
Savage: Of course.
Andy: For those of you looking out for your boss here are the important numbers to look out for.
1 is Sir Alex Ferguson. 2 is Big Sam Allardyce. 3 is the recently departed Chelsea coach Claudio Ranieri, and last but not least number 4 is obviously Arsene Wenger.
Martin: Okay, Robbie. You’ll draw the home team and Dennis you’ll draw the away. Are you ready?
Savage & Wise: Yep.
Martin: Okay lets have the first number.
Savage delves into the purple bag and after a few seconds fiddling about pulls out a ball.
Savage: Number 4.
Martin: Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger. Made his way here defeating the likes of David Pleat and Graeme Souness. He is in devastating form and has a huge advantage in being an origami king. And he will be facing…
Wise pulls out a ball.
Wise: Number 3.
Andy: Former Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri.
A big woo comes up from the studio audience.
by : Chris Sherrard
03/06/2004After Gazza in 1990, Michael Owen in 98 and Phil Neville at the last European Championships, England could have another young player about to set the football world talking. Everton’s Wayne Rooney is ready to go from rough diamond to football superstar. Right now.
This championship provides Rooney with an opportunity to fulfil some of what has been spoken about him for a couple of years now. His arrival on the club stage wasn’t as long in the expectancy as that of Owen or Joe Cole, but it’s abruptness heralded a new star for England fans to gloat over.
Gascoigne at Italia 90 made the world sit up and take notice of a highly talented boy wonder from England, so too Michael Owen in France 98 where the transformation from brilliant youngster to world beater was confirmed. This is Rooney’s big chance. His chance to show off. His chance to terrify continental defences in the way his cross-town rival Owen did six years ago. And he certainly has all the tools to do so.
This is not a great time for defenders in Europe. Holland have only Jaap Stam, Italy are minus Maldini, France have a rapidly-declined Marcel Desailly and an out-of-sorts Lilian Thuram while Spain never had a defence to start with. Not many other countries at Portugal 2004 will be able to have complete confidence in their back line. Players like Rooney can capitalise on this and stamp their authority all over the tournament. Certainly the prospect of facing the French defence, which also contains Barthez, an ageing Lizarazu and either Gallas or Silvestre - two players Rooney has already come across - should hold little fear. In fact, it will most likely have him rubbing in hands in expectation.
Although goals have not always flowed in the blue of his club, Rooney has been brilliant when playing for his country. He has combined some of the youthful exuberance and thrust with an eye for goal and the execution to match. His record of 5 goals already in England’s white is an impressive statistic, especially considering the strike-rates of the other forwards in Eriksson’s squad, Owen aside. And despite the goals, it could still be argued that Wayne Rooney is not a striker, more so an attacking forward. He drops deeper than, say, Owen, and likes to collect the ball and run with it rather than wait for a supply line all the time.
Rooney also knows when it’s time to chip in with a spectacular effort. His second goal against Iceland in England’s last match before the tournament was magnificent and unstoppable. If he continues in that vein, his confidence will soar, opponents will sweat and more praising headlines will be written.
Like a lot of his continental peers, much has been said about the boy Rooney and this is the tournament he will be expected to show why. From that angle, he is in the same boat as the likes of Fernando Torres of Spain and Rafael van der Vaart of Holland. European fans and writers will be keen to see what the big deal is about these players, why so much has been written. Rooney can show he is fully deserving of all the plaudits he has received.
No doubt a good tournament will have clubs banging down the door to the office of Everton manager, David Moyes. And Moyes can expect to have to fend off bids from far and near because interest in Rooney is almost inevitable. For me, only one club could afford the Everton teenager right now. Chelsea with all their cash would see him as an investment for the future as much as anything else. It’s hard to see how the Toffees could feasibly turn away any bid of £25 million or more. For a club like them, it is the chance to build a new team - something which is clearly needed at Goodison Park. If it was left to the player, himself, no moves away from Merseyside would be on the agenda in the near future. He will feel that he has still got a big job to do at Everton, the fans - of which he is a big one - need a team they can be proud of and Rooney will be desperate to be one of that side.
Whatever way you look at it, Euro 2004 provides Wayne Rooney with a big chance to make himself a household name across Europe. Fans in this country have seen what he can do for a couple of years now. The time is right for the rest of the continent to be let in on the secret, as well.
by : Stephen Orford
It is only six years since Croatia shook the football world by finishing third in the World Cup in France. Hard to believe then, that going into Euro 2004 they are not expected to get out of the first round group. This is partly due to the presence of England and France in Group B, but also to the decline in Croatian football since the likes of Suker, Prosinecki and Boban illuminated the national team.
Since that third place finish in 1998, Croatia have not progressed beyond the first stage of any major tournament. They were desperately disappointing in both Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, a downturn of form which has seen expectations fall accordingly. This time around, their opening fixture against Switzerland will be crucial if they are to have any chance of reaching the knockout stages of Euro 2004.
The man in charge is Otto Baric. Baric took control after that early World Cup exit in 2002 and is a controversial and quite eccentric figure. He has pledged never to select a homosexual to represent Croatia's football team, a view which is not altogether politically correct. Fortunately, since there are few professional footballers who are openly gay, he is unlikely to be faced with a moral dilemma involving any of his team's stars. Quite apart from that, the team doesn't seem to have any stars in any case. The modern Croatia relies heavily on defensive organisation and counter-attacks. There is a dearth of midfield flair in their 4-4-2 formation, leading to a definite safety first approach.
The defence is the team's strength. It includes Serie A stars Igor Tudor of Juventus and right-back Dario Simic of Milan. On the left of the back four, Boris Zivkovic is a man who has recently been turning out in the Premiership for Portsmouth. Tudor's centre-back partner is most likely to be Robert Kovac of once mighty Bayern Munich. It is a disciplined, tough unit and with the passing skills of Tudor added into the mix, can often be a starting point for what creativity the team has. Behind them, Stipe Pletikosa could be a potential star of the tournament, and has a reputation as something of an expert at saving penalties. This might be useful should Croatia reach the knockout stages, but that seems unlikely.
It is in midfield, an area where real creativity should lie, where there are serious problems. None of the expected first-choice midfield four ply their trade at glamorous clubs. In the engine room are Niko Kovac of Hertha Berlin, alongside Giovanni Rosso of Maccabi Haifa. The burden of creativity falls on those two unspectacular players, and there is little cause for optimism down the flanks either. Ancona's Milan Rapaic is advancing in years and Dario Srna of Shakhtar Donetsk can hardly call himself a superstar.
Up front there are likely to be two familiar names. Dado Prso has taken the Champions' League by storm this year in Monaco's run to the final, and scored four times in an astounding 8-3 win over Deportivo La Coruna early in the competition. However, even he was only deemed good enough for a place on the bench in the final. He is set to join Rangers this summer, where he will find it markedly easier to score goals than he is likely to in Portugal. Partnering him could be another of Harry's mob from Portsmouth, Ivica Mornar, although another Ivica, Mr Olic of CSKA Moscow, might just get the nod ahead of the balding Pompey man.
Coach Baric turns 71 two days before the clash with England, a game which he has made noises about winning. He bases this assertion on his side's performance in a friendly earlier this season against the English team at Ipswich. The fact that he fondly remembers this 3-1 defeat and looks upon it as a source for optimism perhaps speaks volumes about Croatia's chances at Euro 2004. Look for them to be heading back home after the first group phase. It is unlikely to be a particularly happy birthday for Baric.
by : David Hulott
The appointment of French national coach Jacques Santini at Tottenham continued the current vogue for foreign coaches in the Premiership. Having spent nine-months searching for a successor to Glenn Hoddle, there’s a feeling that Santini was just about the only name left before real desperation set in. How much longer would it have been before chairman Daniel Levy was forced to call upon Chas ‘n’ Dave to rekindle the magic of 1982’s “Tottenham, Tottenham” FA Cup final single by taking on the coaching duties at White Hart Lane?
These days the opportunities for a young British boss to make the jump to the top-flight, having served their apprenticeship in the lower echelons of the Football League, are becoming increasingly rare. Even Manchester United has looked overseas in bringing Carlos Quieroz back to Old Trafford as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson. Would the Ferguson of 20-years ago warrant the merest consideration were he to apply for the top job at Old Trafford in today's market? I would seriously doubt it.
Southampton may have plucked Paul Sturrock from Plymouth Argyle, but there were few home based coaches who were even linked with the vacancies at Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham (Martin O’Neill and, to a lesser extent, Alan Curbishley, aside).
There’s a definite feeling that Premiership chairmen are basing their appointments on a combination of a few decent results in Europe and having a more exotic name than those of the average Coca-Coca League manager. If Latvia make the semi-finals at Euro 2004, what price Aleksandrs Starkovs being linked with a move to the Premiership on the back of a handful of games?
All this follows on from the trend of a few seasons ago, when appointing recently retired star players was seen to be the way forward. Once the tactical acumen of Bryan Robson and co. became apparent, that idea was, thankfully, swiftly put to rest.
Everything is now geared towards achieving instantaneous success, with clubs looking to appoint evermore high profile coaches in the rush for a place in the Champions League and the associated riches (although these rarely warrant the expenditure on said coaches, players and salaries).
Supporters must take their share of responsibility for this continental drift. When faced with the prospect of Ronnie Moore or someone with an alluring name, a dodgy French accent and a CV that speaks lovingly of their time at the French academy at Clairefontaine, there are few who would opt for the Rotherham United boss. If Ronnie wants a crack at the big time he'd be well advised to start watching old episodes of 'Allo 'Allo, chain-smoking non-filter Gauloises and getting one of those long black leather macs that are becoming increasingly obligatory if you want to be taken seriously as a coach these days.
The argument put forward is frequently that a top foreign coach can attract the best players from overseas. There may be something in that, although I would suggest that a hefty pay cheque goes quite a long way towards enticing the vast majority of those found plying their trade in the Premiership.
It's also often argued that the likes of Curbishley and Sam Allardyce have never won anything, conveniently overlooking the fact that they are employed at clubs working with but a small fraction of the resources available to their more illustrious rivals. The counter argument is that although Gianluca Vialli did reasonably well with Chelsea, he was an unmitigated disaster when working on a limited budget at Watford (although he still spent heavily for a club of their standing).
As with all fads, this one will soon give way to something else. For the long-term good of the domestic game, let's hope that a few boardrooms start to put a little faith in some of the young British managers making a reputation for themselves in the lower leagues. Failure to do so could lead to a very long wait for next English-born national team manager.
by : Alex Wolstenholme
After a decade of wrong appointments and false dawns, Tottenham’s appointment of Jacques Santini may well be the start of a bright new era at White Hart Lane.
Spurs aren’t suddenly going to win the league but at long last there seems to be a proper plan in place that might one day allow them to do so.
The recruitment policy at White Hart Lane has been haphazard to say the least over the last few years both on and off the field. George Graham, Christian Gross, Dean Richards, Sergei Rebrov, Ilie Dumitrescu, and the list goes on. Whether it has been picking the right man at the wrong time or the wrong man altogether, Spurs have done it.
Now though, Tottenham have a Director of Football in Frank Arnesen who is comfortable in that role and not simply a frustrated manager as David Pleat and so many others (Dave Bassett, Ron Atkinson and Kenny Dalglish to name but three) have been at British clubs. They also have a coach with experience at the highest level who is comfortable working with a Director of Football, eliminating the conflicts that have weakened Spurs in recent years.
Santini’s main asset is that, in his own words he has `improved every team he has taken charge of`. That is certainly true of a French side who were torn apart by fatigue, poor tactics and internal strife at World Cup 2002. Santini has simplified the tactics, listened to the players and been rewarded with a 100% qualification record.
Equally important, if Martin Jol is appointed as number two to Santini is that a line of succession for the future is being put in place. Jol is known to Arnesen and looks a good bet to be Spurs boss after Santini with the Frenchman providing the kick-start to the revolution that only a big name can bring.
It’s not a case of starting from scratch either. Spurs have the stadium and the crowds and also have the nucleus of a very decent squad, including some of the Premiership’s best young players.
Success isn’t guaranteed of course. If it were then every club would be following the same pattern. What Spurs have done though is give themselves a chance of success by having all elements at the club pulling in the right direction.
by : Alex Wolstenholme
After shocking Turkey over two legs to reach their first major finals Latvia will have to do it all over again after being drawn in the obligatory `group of death` for the tournament proper.
Latvia only became an independent nation in 1992 after the break up of the Soviet Union. Reaching the finals of Euro 2004 is by far the biggest achievement of their football team since then and is all the more remarkable considering that football is something of a minority sport in comparison to basketball and ice hockey.
Despite a number of injuries over the last 18 months that have seen his appearances reduced both for club and country, Southampton’s Marian Pahars will be in the squad that goes to Portugal. Although he is the most (and probably only) famous name to British fans, Maris Verpakovskis is the man who did most to get Latvia to the finals. The Dinamo Kiev striker scored the winner against Turkey in the play off first leg and then got the vital equaliser in Istanbul to level the scores on the night and put Latvia ahead on aggregate.
Andrejs Stolcers is currently on Fulham’s books while Aleksandrs Kolinko, Vitalijs Astafjevs, Andrejs Rubins and Imants Bleidelis have all plied their trade in England at some point over the last few years. The squad is largely based around the three major clubs in Latvia, Skonto Riga, Metalurgs and Ventspils.
In the qualifying stage, Latvia came within a point of pipping Sweden at the top of the group; a goalless draw in the last match between the two sides ensuring Sweden qualified automatically. Latvia started the campaign off in style with a 1-0 away to the Swedes and then recovered well from defeats to Hungary and Poland to win in Poland and hold Sweden to a draw and claim second spot.
Much depends on the first game against a Czech Republic side who are well fancied by a lot of people but have flattered to deceive before. If the Czech’s have half an eye on their game with Holland four days later then Latvia have the players to cause an upset. After the Czech Republic it is Germany in Porto and Holland to finish off.
At 150/1 to win the tournament and 40/1 just to top the group Latvia are the biggest outsiders of this and many a European Championship. Whatever happens in Portugal though will not diminish their achievements so far.
by : Alex Wolstenholme
Fiore (attacking midfield)
Totti (attacking midfield)
Del Piero (attacking midfield)
Vieri (striker forward)
Squad (as at June 1 - subject to change before June 2)
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus FC)
Francesco Toldo (Internazionale FC)
Angelo Peruzzi (S.S. Lazio)
Christian Panucci (AS Roma)
Massimo Oddo (S.S. Lazio)
Fabio Cannavaro (Internazionale FC)
Alessandro Nesta (AC Milan)
Matteo Ferrari (AC Parma)
Marco Materazzi (Internazionale FC)
Gianluca Zambrotta (Juventus FC)
Giuseppe Favalli (S.S. Lazio)
Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan)
Gennaro Gattuso (AC Milan)
Simone Perrotta (AC Chievo Verona)
Cristiano Zanetti (Internazionale FC)
Stefano Fiore (S.S. Lazio)
Mauro Camoranesi (Juventus FC)
Marco Di Vaio (Juventus FC)
Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus FC)
Antonio Cassano (AS Roma)
Francesco Totti (AS Roma)
Bernardo Corradi (S.S. Lazio)
Christian Vieri (Internazionale FC)
01/06/2004The first surefire bet of Euro 2004 is that one of the pundits on BBC or ITV, when covering Germany’s first game will assure us that `you cannot write them off`.
The German press and people however have already done so and Rudi Voller’s side go into the tournament knowing they have to come through it’s most difficult group if they are to prove people wrong.
Last month’s 5-1 defeat to Romania in a friendly could have been excused as a one-off but Germany were also unimpressive in the qualifying stages. Despite topping the group and ending up unbeaten they were held to a home draw by Lithuania and struggled to beat the Faroe Islands.
Oliver Neuville is not included in the squad, Carsten Ramelow has retired from international football and Sebastian Deisler came back too late from injury to figure meaning a definite shortage of star names.
At the back and in midfield though, Germany have a solid base. Oliver Kahn has made a couple of high profile errors in recent years but remains a big game goalkeeper while his Bayern Munich team-mates Michael Ballack and Jens Jeremies are top notch midfielders.
It is up front though that the Germans have struggled for a good while now. Aside from Miroslav Klose’s five goals against Saudi Arabia, the side reached the World Cup Final in 2002 on a couple of goals from midfield and the inclusion of the ageing Fredi Bobic shows how thin resources are, although Kevin Kuranyi though did impress in the Champions League for VFB Stuttgart this season.
On Voller’s side are three things. Firstly the squad almost all play in the Bundesliga, at a high standard week in week out and do have a sense of togetherness with their lack of star names that previous German squads have lacked and that other squads in this tournament may lack.
Secondly there is Germany’s formidable record in both this competition and all competitive football almost since time began. They have won the European Championship three times and in 1980 and 1996 did so with squads that were considered to be in the process of rebuilding for the future. The bulk of the current squad defied the odds again two years ago to reach that World Cup Final when all around them other big name teams were blowing their chance.
Thirdly, and connected to their formidable record is the fact that their group opponents will not fancy facing the Germans. Holland in particular, despite having better sides on paper have often struggled to beat them. The two sides meet at the start of the tournament in a game as important and as big as England’s clash with France.
by : Chris Sherrard
by : Chris Sherrard
by : Ashley Michael
Sven Goran Eriksson’s judgement seems to be called into question fairly often these days. Firstly there was his bizarre decision to name Ruud van Nistelrooy as man of the match in the FA Cup final and then came his comments about his home nation Sweden, tipping them as dark horses for Euro 2004.
The current Swedish side (like so many before them) is efficient in a way that must bring tears to German eyes but dull in a way that brings tears to everyone else’s. They strolled through a qualifying group full of awkward (as opposed to difficult) fixtures, winning in Hungary and Poland and putting the mighty San Marino to the sword. Their only defeat came in their final, meaningless (to them) game, Latvia sneaking the win that enabled them to scrape into the playoffs. Sweden had long since qualified, a distinctly no-thrills campaign for a distinctly no-thrills side.
Sweden are built on solid foundations – an organised back four sitting in front of excellent young keeper Andreas Isaksson. In front of the defence is a workmanlike, disciplined midfield with Anders Svensson (or his highly promising understudy Kim Kallstrom) as playmaker. The only real goal threat, however, comes from Freddie Ljungberg and therein lies Sweden’s biggest problem.
Despite Arsenal romping to the title Ljungberg has had a poor season, suffering with injuries and a lack of form. He was the most substituted player in the English top flight after being taken off some twenty times, a telling statistic. With Ray Parlour a long term absentee Arsene Wenger had little option but to stick with Ljungberg but the team’s excellent form could not hide the Swede’s problems.
Two years ago at the World Cup Ljungberg, suffering from a long-standing hip problem, was a shadow of the player who had dazzled in the Premier League. Without his energy and aggressive running the Swedish front two found themselves somewhat isolated. The team remained as hard to beat as ever and advanced past the group stages without ever really looking threatening. With Ljungberg seemingly a long way short of his best the same problem looms for Sweden in Portugal.
Another problem area for Sweden is the front two, one that has been only partially solved by Henrik Larsson’s decision to come out of retirement. The only other realistic options are Marcus Allback and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Allback has made a negligible impact at Aston Villa this season due to injuries (rather than the form of Peter Crouch) while Ibrahimovic seems to be one of those players forever on the cusp of greatness without taking the next step. Euro 2004 is the chance for him to try and live up to his description of himself – brilliant.
Larsson will find things a little different from playing at Celtic, no longer being surrounded by creative players, but he remains a class act and Sweden’s best chance of progress from a group that offers a definite chance of making the second round. Their opening game against Bulgaria is a must-win before they face the superior (both defensively and offensively) Italians. The final game against a lively Denmark side may well end up as a playoff for second place.
Sweden overachieved in Japan and Korea, winning the ‘group of death’ almost through sheer stubbornness, but their methodical approach is not the sort to bring tournament success. Expect them to work hard and defend sensibly but to be edged out for second spot by Denmark, conclusively proving once and for all that Sven doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Squarefootball prediction: Ljungberg and Ibrahimovic to disappoint, Sweden to crash out at the group stage.
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