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Archive for the ‘FA Cup’ Category

Forget politics Paolo Di Canio will be judged by results on pitch – and odds favour clubs loyal to managers

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Huge error or a stroke of genius? It is crunch time for Paolo Di Canio

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The spotlight on the Premier League is so intense that it was no surprise that Paolo di Canio (above) stepped into a media frenzy when he controversially replaced Martin O’Neill at Sunderland. David Milliband guaranteed that when he cited the Italian’s self-confessed admiration of the former Fascist leader Benito Mussolini for his resignation from the board.

The big mistake Di Canio made was being slow to unequivocally declare that he is not a racist. Now that we have all moved on and the battle for survival on the football pitch enters its final countdown, the big question is ‘Has Sunderland’s outrageous gamble on a manager unproven at the highest level been a huge error or a stroke of genius?”

The odds are that Di Canio will fail. My guess is that Ellis Short was banking on the new manager syndrome producing a rapid reaction and a couple of wins to reverse his club’s fall like a stone down the League. But the Black Cats were silenced at Stamford Bridge after taking a surprise lead, and next up is Sunday’s biggest north-east derby in years when  Di Canio takes on Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United at St James’s Park.

This is the pivotal battle that could make or break Di Canio’s quest for survival. While a surprise win would give Sunderland hope, defeat would leave them on the same points as third bottom Wigan having played two games more, with only five matches remaining.

Queens Park Rangers and bottom placed Reading are as good as relegated already and what they have in common with Sunderland is that all three clubs have sacked their managers this season. Of the other teams in the mix, Wigan, Aston Villa, Stoke City, Norwich, Newcastle and West Ham United have all remained loyal to their managers and that is why I believe they will all finish above Sunderland.

Only Southampton in 11th place have prospered since ditching Nigel Adkins in favour of Mauricio Pochettino. Personally I believe Adkins deserved more loyalty after two successive promotions, and it is testimony to the good job he has done that the Saints have marched clear of relegation.

In my book, any team that panics and sacks their manager during the course of a season deserves to be relegated above a club that stands by their man. The mere fact that sacking the manager does not guarantee survival, and the later that happens the longer the odds of success, is good for the game. That is why I hope that Di Canio fails in his mission to save Sunderland. Any political view he may or may not have is irrelevant.

But Benitez and Chelsea challenge theory sacking boss makes it harder to succeed

Meanwhile, there is one club that continually defies logic. Chelsea have made a habit of winning trophies after sacking managers. The longer this continues the more damage billionaire owner  Roman Abramovich is inflicting on the beautiful game. But you have to admire Rafa Benitez for the way he has persevered despite being the most unpopular manager in the history of the club. The Spaniard has worked wonders since deciding he had nothing to lose by standing up against the fans and the owner.

With two trophies still on his radar after guiding Chelsea to the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the Europa League, the additional prize of a top four finish to qualify for the Champions League could yet produce an unlikely treble that would put Benitez in danger of becoming popular with Chelsea fans.

While his opposite number Roberto Mancini will feel under pressure to deliver silverware when Chelsea take on Manchester City on Sunday for a place in the FA Cup Final, there is a feeling that Benitez has nothing to lose because he is out of a job whatever happens in the final month of the season. If that gives Rafa the edge, it will be another hammer blow for job security in football management.

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Bradford, Luton, Leeds, Oldham: Year of the Underdog revives memories of golden days for Cup football

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For those of us over a certain age, the romance of Cup football back in the twentieth century is hard to beat.

In 1970, I remember watching a televised FA Cup Final in colour for the first time when Chelsea and Leeds fought out an epic 2-2 draw at Wembley. Seven years later I was at the famous twin towers in the flesh as underdogs Manchester United beat all-conquering Liverpool 2-1  . . . 12 months after the Red Devils were humbled 1-0 in the final by minnows Southampton.

For me it was always the epic occasions when David beat Goliath in the earlier rounds that made the FA Cup special.

Who that watched the drama unfold will ever forget Ronnie Radford’s spectacular strike for Hereford that took Newcastle to extra time in 1972, before Ricky George delivered the knockout blow for the minnows? Or Sutton United’s famous 2-1 triumph over Coventry City in 1989, just two years after the Sky Blues lifted the trophy? And what about Wrexham’s famous triumph by the same score over Arsenal in 1992? The list of famous cup upsets is endless – and happily those days are not over.

Events this week, especially Bradford City’s historic semi-final win over Aston Villa in the League Cup, are evidence that the magic of the cup will never die.

With the financial resources of the elite so much greater than it has ever been, smaller clubs in the modern era could easily accept that a fairytale triumph against opposition from the top flight is now an impossible dream. While cynics will argue that winning one of the domestic Cups has been devalued by the big clubs focusing on an obsession with the Premier League and qualification for the Champions League.

But that is so far wide of the mark that it is an insult to the millions who dream of watching their heroes pull off an upset. Do not tell me that Liverpool, Spurs or FA Cup holders Chelsea lacked the desire to reach Wembley as they stumbled against Oldham, Leeds and Brentford this afternoon. Or that Norwich City believed they would perish at the hands of non-league Luton Town on Saturday.

There is certainly no lack of desire at Manchester United where Javier Hernandez talked of his dream of winning the treble after the Reds brushed aside Fulham 4-1.

It is remarkable that the likes of Bradford, Luton, Leeds and Oldham have restored the romance of cup football in one extraordinary week that is just as priceless for the game as a whole as it is for the clubs revelling in the glory of their spectacular giant-killing acts.

What makes football in England and Wales special is the possibility that any club on its day can pull off the impossible dream. And that is why this week’s cup shocks and fairytale triumphs are such a great boost for the game.

Below: Man-of-the-match Matt Smith scores his second as Oldham knock Liverpool out of the FACup with a shock 3-2 win at Boundary Park in round 4.

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Thierry Henry’s fairytale return for Arsenal is further proof that playing soccer in America is not the end of the road

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Thierry Henry is one of the Premiership's Greatest Ever goalscorers

Thierry Henry is one of the Premier League's Greatest Ever goalscorers


For anyone who doubted the wisdom of Arsenal’s re-signing of Thierry Henry, his dramatic matchwining return in the FA Cup against Leeds United tonight was the perfect answer.

Personally I found it hard to believe that anyone thought the Frenchman was too old at 34, simply because he has been playing for New York Red Bulls  in America’s MLS since quitting Barcelona and international duty with France in the summer of 2010.

On-loan during the winter break, it was a fairytale return when the iconic Gunner came off the bench and settled the third round tie at the Emirates with the only goal of the game. But this is not just a flash in the pan. Don’t be surprised if Henry continues to make a big impact during this surprise Premier League comeback.

Just like Paul Scholes coming out of retirement to help Manchester United, this is a story of a footballing genius who still has plenty to offer the beautiful game.

In the case of Henry I think it is unfair that English fans and critics wrote him off simply because he has been playing in the under-rated MLS. David Beckham has enjoyed success at AC Milan and extended his England career since he ‘retired’ to America. And Beckham’s Los Angeles team-mate Robbie Keane has been good enough to help the Republic of Ireland qualify for Euro 2012.



January 9th, 2012 at 10:46 pm

FA Cup is still the greatest domestic cup competition in the world – and United hungry to take the trophy off City

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The media are constantly telling us that the FA Cup no longer has the status it used to have – but take it from me it is still the trophy all players want to win.

When Manchester United visit City tomorrow they will be motivated not just by the burning desire to knock their noisy neighbours off their perch.

Ryan Giggs and the resting Darren Fletcher are the only players at Old Trafford who have won the cup. And there is no greater motivation than that for the likes of Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Luis Nani.

The bookmakers have Cup holders City as odds on favourites. But mark my words this is the best time to pile your money on United and after the week he’s just had I’m tipping Rooney to stand up and make the difference.

how Manchester United and Wayne Rooney squashed a ficticious story by the Independent

how squashed a fabricated story by the Independent


January 7th, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Newcastle embarrassed United more than Blackburn because they won easily and now the Reds must bounce back against City

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Losing at home to Blackburn was a disaster, but the crushing 3-nil defeat at Newcastle was far more embarrassing for Manchester United because the Champions were well beaten – and on this form could even struggle to finish in the top four.

United are just three points behind rivals City with 18 matches remaining. But the reality is the Reds must rediscover their form, and they must do so quickly or the  New Year blip will turn into a crisis. The stakes could not be higher when Manchester’s top two go head to head in the FA Cup third round at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

The Cup showdown is the perfect opportunity for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men to answer the critics. But the pressure is on because injuries have taken their toll on a United side that previously won five straight League matches culminating with two crushing 5-0 triumphs before the unexpected back-to-back defeats in this latest nightmare five day spell.

The worry is Sir Alex Ferguson’s men do not have a strong enough squad to paper over the cracks, unless they dig deep and add re-inforcements in the transfer window which is now open.



In the meantime, it is up to United’s big names to earn their money. Wayne Rooney looked out of condition at Newcastle and not surprisingly was benched before the end. Nani is not at his best, and the same goes for most of United’s squad.

There is no doubt Rooney is one of the best players in the Premier League, and on his day Nani is as good as anyone. But reputations count for nothing when the whistle goes. Every success has to be earned and the players owe it to the fans to work harder to find the consistency expected of Manchester United.

Meantime, let’s give credit to Newcastle for their outstanding display of the season. Manager Alan Pardew summed up the night when he said: “We won because we controlled the game in terms of what we wanted to do. We would not let them play. Physically and aerially we had an advantage and capitalised on that. We broke up their play so many times today. We beat the champions 3-0 and probably deserved that scoreline. We have had a great season so far without turning over one of the top teams. Today we had our best team out there and it showed.”


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How fitting that the FA Cup celebrated its 140 anniversary by returning to Maidenhead’s historic York Road stadium

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On the weekend English football celebrates the 140th anniversary of the world’s greatest domestic competition it is fitting that this season’s first round kicked off with at a tie at one of its first venues – York Road, Maidenhead.

Back on 11 November 1871 the ground hosted one of the first four fixtures ever played in the FA Cup when Maidenhead beat local rivals Marlow 2-0.

This afternoon York Road – the oldest continually used ground in the world by the same club – saw Maidenhead battle out a 1-1 draw with Aldershot.

Who would have thought all those years ago that the FA Cup would become the most popular domestic cup competition in the world?

York Road Maidenhead - where Maidenhead beat Marlow 2-0 back on Saturday, 11 November 1871.

York Road - where Maidenhead beat Marlow 2-0 on 11 November 1871.

In a world of modern stadia, Maidenhead’s York Road is a throw back to a bygone era and there are constant reminders of their past and present in the club’s boardroom, with photos and memorabilia dating back to its inception in 1870.

FA Cup Round One
Saturday,  11 November 1871

Upton Park 0-3 Clapham Rovers
Crystal Palace 0-0 Hitchin
Maidenhead 2-0 Marlow
Barnes 2-0 Civil Service.

“This is a club packed with history and tradition and it is great being a part of it,” Maidenhead chairman Peter Griffin told BBC Sport. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest football ground in the world is Sandygate Road in Crosspool, Sheffield. A football and cricket stadium, it is home to Hallam F.C. and Hallam Cricket Club.

Played at Sandygate Road - the world's oldest football ground

Played at Sandygate Road - the world's oldest football ground











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Roberto Mancini promises a bright future at City's victory parade to celebrate FA Cup triumph

Roberto Mancini promises a bright future at City's victory parade to celebrate FA Cup triumph


On the day Chelsea announced their ridiculous decision to sack manager Carlo Ancelotti for coming second,  it was poetic that Manchester City celebrated their arrival as a major force in English football by parading the FA Cup through the streets of Manchester.

While Roman Abramovich acts like a spoilt rich kid who throws his toys out the pram when he does not get his own way, there is a growing realisation that Chelsea is a club in decline and Roberto Mancini’s men are not only emerging as the strongest challengers to the mighty Manchester United . . . City have already arrived at the top table,  and Chelsea’s seat is no longer to be taken for granted.

City have eclipsed the fat cats from Stamford Bridge by winning their first silverware in 35 years and matching Chelsea’s points tally in the Premier League – nine  behind United – in the process. The Blue Moon is rising and it’s not Chelsea’s dreams that are taking off. But the club that replaced them as the richest club in the world. And the difference is that City are building for the future.

The Mirror rightly poked fun at Abramovich's disgraceful decision to sack Ancelotti

The Mirror rightly poked fun at Abramovich's disgraceful decision to sack Ancelotti

With Arsenal disappearing into fourth place it can already be argued that the City of Manchester now boasts the two best teams in England. And with a summer of unprecedented spending by the Arab funded Blues about to begin, it will be no surprise to see both Chelsea and Arsenal battling it out with Spurs and Liverpool for the third and fourth spots next season while the vManchester rivals battle it out for the top prize.

Not since a brief spell at the end of the 60s has the City of Manchester dominated English football and shared the major trophies. But there is a growing feeling that history is set to repeat itself with a new era that could last a lot longer this time around. Mancini has proved himself as a manager who can deliver and if he is given the chance to build his own dynasty at Eastlands there is no doubt the noisy neighbour is the biggest challenge yet to Sir Alex Ferguson’s empire.

Chelsea, meanwhile, must start again with a new manager, an ageing team and the puzzle of how to build a new one around their crazy £50 million punt on Fernando Torres. Sacking Ancelotti 12 months after he won the League and Cup double is a disgrace. And if the new man does not provide a quick fix, the problems at Stamford Bridge may get a lot worse next season.

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A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day - but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City's FA Cup win

A City United by a unique League and Cup double on the same day – but what a disgrace that the Premier League trophy was not presented to the Reds. Were they worried this would eclipse City’s FA Cup win


Welcome to the dawning of a new era with the City of Manchester now well and truly the centre of the footballing universe. And mark my words this is great news for United because there is nothing like a new challenge to keep you on your toes.

In case you needed a reminder the United are still the top dog, it was sweet irony that once again United eclipsed City on the day Roberto Mancini’s men claimed their first trophy in 35 years.

As City beat Stoke 1-0 at Wembley to win the FA Cup thanks to Yaya Toure’s late strike, United fans were already back in Manchester celebrating another Premier League triumph and a record-breaking 19th League title courtesy of their 1-1 draw at Blackburn secured by Wayne Rooney’s penalty.

Does anyone doubt Rooney's dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds' 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number '19' into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

Does anyone doubt Rooney’s dedication to Man Utd now? After scoring the penalty that clinched the Reds’ 19th Premier League title win, Wazza celebrated in bizarre fashion by shaving the number ’19’ into his chest and posting a photograph of it on Twitter.

But this was a day for Manchester to be United in celebration. Not just because the City can proudly boast the unique feat of winning two trophies on the same day. It is great for Manchester to be the undisputed Mecca of fooball. Even Milan can no longer match the glamour of England’s hotbed of football. And the odds are that the new intensity is here to stay.

I remember the end of the 60s when United and City last dominated football in this country. It was great for both clubs. And this time that great rivalry can last much longer than it did back in the days of Best, Law, Charlton and Lee, Bell, Summerbee.

With Liverpool getting their act together under the legendary Kenny Dalglish, what are the odds on the North-West giants occupying the top three positions in the Premier League next season and eclipsing the fading stars of Chelsea and Arsenal.

My bet is that Sir Alex Ferguson’s record-breakers will face a rejuvenated challenge from Liverpool next season as the Merseysiders seek to match United’s 19th League title. When Chelsea frivolously handed the Pool £50million for Fernando Torres Dalglish invested the money wisely and now has a good mix of established stars and exciting upcoming youngsters.

But the real fascination will be how much ground can neighbours City make up on Fergie’s champions after ending their 35 year wait for a trophy to add to their qualification for the Champions League.

There is no doubt City must spend another vast fortune if they want to rival the Reds at the top table. But that will be harder said than done despite their untold riches and their Champions League status.

The reason is the introduction of UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play rules.

Michel Platini has warned that the likes of big-spending Manchester City and Chelsea, and some of Europe’s biggest clubs, will have to ‘face the music’ if they do not comply with the new FFP regulations.

UEFA’s latest figures show that financial problems affecting European clubs are getting worse, with spending on player wages up almost 10 per cent – and increasing at a faster rate than income.

Under their new rules, clubs will face possible bans from European competition from the 2014/15 season if they spend more than they earn in the three years before.

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title - both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

Sir Alex Ferguson hugs Ryan Giggs as United celebrate record 19th title – both have won an unprecedented 12 Premier League trophies

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Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez

Can Liverpool strike back? Kenny Dalglish with Andy Carroll (left) and Luis Suarez


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Giggs celebrates United's opener - and becomes oldest goalscorer in Champions League history

Giggs celebrates United's opener - and becomes oldest goalscorer in Champions League history


Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest regret in football is that his Manchester United side have not dominated Europe the way they have conquered the Premier League – but the way his improving side totally outclassed Schalke to all but book a place in the Champions League Final at Wembley on May 28 surely gave him one of his most satisfying nights.

The genious of Fergie is the way he knows how to bring his side to their peak at the business end of the season. And make no mistake this United side is good enough to rank alongside any of the great sides the master has produced in his 25 years at Old Trafford.

The media have spent all season trying to write off Wayne Rooney following England’s disastrous World Cup in South Africa when United’s marquee player was a pale shadow of his former self. But Rooney is back to his glorious best and adds the priceless touch of a master craftsman to a side bristling with quality in every position.

As Fergie declared after United’s 2-0 demolition of Schalke in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final in Germany “every player was excellent” and the side is “peaking just at the right time”

This was a vintage display by United and whether Read Madrid or Barcelona are destined to be their Wembley opponents, there is no question that there is nothing to fear for a Manchester side hellbent on becoming the club’s fourth champions of Europe.

In the most one-sided Champions League semi-final you will ever see, how the Germans kept United at bay until the 67th minute was a miracle largely down to the incredible performance of goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. But once Rooney unlocked Schalke’s resistence with a delicious Zidane-like set-up that allowed Ryan Giggs to open the scoring and become the oldest player ever to score in this competition, it was only a question of how big the final margin.

Rooney made his mark with the second served up by his outstanding strike partner Javier Hernandez and the Germans – who remember demolished champions Inter Milan 7-3 on aggregate in the previous round – were dead and buried. It was a sign of United’s total domination that Giggs confirmed the team’s disappointment that the margin of victory was not far greater than 2-0. It is never over until the fat lady sings of course, but if United were to fail to  complete the job next week at Old Trafford this would be a turnaround to top any in the latter stages of this elite competition.

For most United fans the big question now is how to get a ticket for the final and what could be Fergie’s crowning glory.

For Sir Alex to triumph at Wembley – scene of United’s historic and emotional first European Cup triumph in 1968, a decade after the tragedy of the Munich air crash – would be yet another incredible high for the 69-year-old Glaswegian. And if he can deliver the Champions League after collecting a record 19th title as champions of England that would be priceless.

The only ray of frustration is that Fergie has been denied the chance to repeat his Treble success of 1999. And the reality is that United would surely still be on for a triple crown if Rooney had not been banned from playing in the FA Cup semi-final defeat by neighbours City.

There is still a lot of hard work to do. And United could still finish the season empty handed. But there is a feeling in the air that this is going to be a special season to rank alongside any in the history of the club.

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Why Jose Mourinho will wait for Sir Alex Ferguson to retire before he returns to the Premier League

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Mourinho wants to be Manchester United boss

Mourinho wants to be Manchester United boss


Jose Mourinho’s declaration that he will return to manage in the Premier League one day guarantees the self-appointed “special one” will be linked with every top job until he is “back home”.

The big question is ‘Where will Mourinho end up?’ The truth is you can make a compelling case for the current Real Madrid boss to take the helm at any of the EPL’s Big Six.  But my belief is that the Portuguese maestro will wait for the top job, and the chance to succeed his good friend Sir Alex Ferguson – for the next couple of years at least.

There is no guarantee Mourinho will even get the job. There is a question mark over whether or not he can deliver the swashbuckling football United fans and their history demand. There is no sign of Sir Alex being ready to step aside as he closes in on the possibility of his greatest ever season in his 70th year.

Yet there is an aura and intoxicating self-belief about Mourinho that makes him absolutely perfect for United. And the very doubt about whether or not he could deliver at the world’s biggest and most famous club is precisely why the man at Madrid has his eyes on Old Trafford.

I’m not convinced Mourinho will get the chance to prove himself  any time soon. Fergie has the hunger and desire to go on indefinitely. And how can anyone follow the most successful football manager in the history of the game? But I can’t think of anyone better equipped to take on the hardest job in football.

When Roman Abramovich forced Mourinho out of Chelsea, he made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. And despite his affection for his time at Stamford Bridge, the devil in Mourinho would give him immense satisfaction to come back to the Premier League and rub the Russian’s nose in the billionaire’s miserable failure to understand that some things money just can’t buy.

With Carlo Ancelotti joining the long list of Chelsea managers failing to win the Champions League, the Italian is vulnerable despite winning the Double last year, because this season will end trophy-less.  As I predicted on transfer deadline day – if Chelsea fail to finish in the top four – Ancelotti will pay the price for the crazy 50 million pound signing of Fernando Torres. He may already be a dead man walking.

Either way do not expect Mourinho to rush back to Chelsea. He has already strongly rejected suggestions he will replace Roberto Mancini at Eastlands, whether or not Manchester City fail to end their 35 year wait for a trophy and miss out on a Champions League place.

Tottenham will undoubtedly make another move for Mourinho – who has previously turned them down on at least one occasion – when Harry Redknapp becomes the next England manager.

He will also be top of the list at Liverpooland Arsenal, should Kenny Dalglish step down or Arsene Wenger finally run out of time.  Arsenal’s last trophy was the 2005 FA Cup and Liverpool have never won the Premier League.

Unless Fergie delivers another Treble next month and decides to bow out in style – and even then I think he will want to carry on – I expect Mourinho to bide his time and remain in Madrid for another season at least.

In the meantime, what are the odds now on my prophecy coming true and Fergie having to conquer Mourinho’s Madrid at Wembley to win the Champions League?

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