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Real Change Takes Time – How Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea work together to improve facilities for disabled supporters

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During my recent trip to Catalonia, I learned the true meaning of FC Barcelona’s slogan “més que un club.”

“More than a club” expresses the commitment that Futbol Club Barcelona has maintained down the ages beyond the realm of sport.

For many years, this commitment specifically referred to Catalan society, which for many decades of the 20th century lived under dictatorships that persecuted its language and culture.

Today Barca’s magnificent mantra is much more than that, because the club has extended its social commitment to the rest of the planet.

In 2006 an agreement with Unicef was the Catalan’s way of saying that a sports club should not be marginal to problems going on in society, when Barca gave their full support to the plight of children around the world.

Last month – on 28 April 2015 – FC Barcelona began another new initiative when Camp Nou hosted the First International Symposium on Disability and Football. This was a ground breaking event, which I am proud to say my good friend Phil Downs, Manchester United’s Disability Liason Officer, attended as one of the main speakers.

The event was also supported, among others, by Bayern Munich, Chelsea, AFC Ajaz and their respective experts on disability and social inclusion. I was filming the Symposium for an upcoming documentary I am making for Manchester United’s TV Channel, MUTV.

Phil Downs (MUDSA) and Kim Kramer (Bayern Munich).

Kim Kramer (right), who spoke at Camp Nou on behalf of Bayern Munich, and his mentor, Phil Downs.

At the Camp Nou Symposium it was encouraging to hear about the advances made at the participating elite clubs around Europe. What has become apparent since is the true meaning and significance of the opening statement by Phil Downs that “real change takes time.”

Under Downs’ stewardship, since it was launched back in 1989, Manchester United’s Disabled Supporters Association (MUDSA) has made remarkable progress at Old Trafford.
The match day facilities are outstanding and a million light years better than what they were back in the eighties. Hence the invite to Downs to share his knowledge and vision of the future at Camp Nou.

Kim Kramer, the disabled speaker from Bayern Munich, underlined the impact Manchester United’s Disability Liaison Officer has made in helping to shape new stadiums around the world when he described Phil Downs as his mentor, who has inspired him and others to push for better facilities for disabled supporters.

Yet back in Manchester, it is clear to me that the good work done by MUDSA is often handicapped by supporters who put their own interests ahead of the long term goals of the organisation working tirelessly to benefit all disabled supporters.

Take, for example, the case of Martin Emery who has launched a personal campaign against Manchester United because of what he perceives as a failure by the club to accommodate him and his three sons, one of whom is in a wheelchair, on matchday.

Mr Emery was told due to space restrictions, he would have to get another adult to sit with his younger boys, who are aged six and four, while he accompanied Jordan, 18, in the wheelchair section. As a father myself, I understand why all four family members would prefer to sit together. But I think it is a real shame that one disgruntled fan has used the tabloid media to magnify his complaint rather than lend his support to the very organisation constantly working to improve facilities for disabled supporters.

While the media are only interested in highlighting the negative aspects of this story, the truth is that Mr Emery remains welcome to take Jordan to a match at Old Trafford. And I strongly urge him to accept this offer so he can share the match day experience with his son. I would also advise him to join MUDSA and take part in some of the wonderful family events organised for the benefit of disabled supporters held throughout the year.

Over the past six months I have seen first hand how disabled supporters can benefit by working together and sharing social experiences.

As FC Barcelona have demonstrated by hosting last month’s symposium and urging all clubs to take a united approach in tackling how to improve access for disabled supporters, it is clear to me that this is the way forward. By sharing knowledge and ideas, accepting that facilities can be improved and discussing how to make changes thing will continue to get better. The current facilities are not perfect but the advances made and the will to make further improvements are beyond question.

As Phil Downs so eloquently explains, it is all about “evolution not revolution.”

There is a real danger that Mourinho’s ‘boring’ Chelsea can dominate Premier League for rest of the decade

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Not only has Jose Mourinho transformed an ageing Chelsea side into Premier League champions in the space of just two seasons, the truth is that the Special One has laid  foundations that could see his club dominate English football for the rest of the decade.

In election parlance, this has been an almighty swing from the Reds to the Blues.

Since United were crowned champions two years ago when Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Chelsea’s net spending on transfers has been massively exceeded by both Manchester clubs, Arsenal and even Liverpool.  And yet Mourinho has assembled a squad so much stronger than the one he inherited that they are now head and shoulders above the competition.

As Gary Neville so eloquently explained on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, these are challenging times because Chelsea’s rivals all are in danger of being left behind on and off the pitch.

At 222 million pounds Chelsea have spent more on players than any other Premier League club since June 2013. But shrewd wheeling and dealing has recouped 168M, leaving a net spend of just 54M.

Compare that to the net spends of Manchester United – 168M, Manchester City – 115M, Arsenal – 103M and Liverpool – 60M.

On the pitch Chelsea, who finished 14 points behind 2013 champions United,  have wrapped up the title with three matches still to play – 18 points ahead of  the Old Trafford club and 13 ahead of last years top dogs City.

While critics seek to belittle Mourinho’s achievement by labelling his style of play boring, the truth is that Chelsea have the personnel to play  attractive football when they want to. And in Edin Hazard the Blues have an exciting superstar as good as any player in the game behind the top two of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

In his insightful tribute to Mourinho’s remarkable achievement, Neville concludes: “If we’d have said at the end of the 2012/13 season that they were going to abide by FFP, not spend as much as others, have a net spend of £54million, have an overhaul of the squad and turn it into today’s squad, you would say that is an unbelievable performance. He’s reduced the age, he’s won the league, and it is a far stronger squad.”

At 222 million pounds Chelsea have spent more on players than any other Premier League club since June 2013. But shrewd wheeling and dealing has recouped 168M, leaving a net spend of just 54M.

Compare that to the net spends of Manchester United – 168M, Manchester City – 115M, Arsenal – 103M and Liverpool – 60M.

On the pitch Chelsea, who finished 14 points behind 2013 champions United, have wrapped up the title with three matches still to play – 18 points ahead of the Old Trafford club and 13 ahead of last years top dogs City.

While critics seek to belittle Mourinho’s achievement by labelling his style of play boring, the truth is that Chelsea have the personnel to play attractive football when they want to. And in Edin Hazard the Blues have an exciting superstar as good as any player in the game behind the top two of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

In his insightful tribute to Mourinho’s remarkable achievement, Neville concludes: “If we’d have said at the end of the 2012/13 season that they were going to abide by FFP, not spend as much as others, have a net spend of £54million, have an overhaul of the squad and turn it into today’s squad, you would say that is an unbelievable performance. He’s reduced the age, he’s won the league, and it is a far stronger squad.”




May 5th, 2015 at 11:55 pm

Posted in Football

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How Marvellous Macari’s big-hearted signing inspired TV gold and fantasy football script based on true story destined to win awards

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The signed photograph little Lou Macari gave us all for attending his night of nostalgia

The signed photograph little Lou Macari gave us all for attending his night of nostalgia


As a documentary filmmaker who loves the unconventional, I adored Marvellous, a magical tale based on a true story about former circus clown turned kitman Neil Baldwin.

The fact that it magnifies and highlights an inspired signing by my old MUTV buddy Lou Macari – one of my boyhood heroes – is a delicious bonus.

This marvellous drama is a wonderful legacy for a magnificent footballing legend who has a genuine heart of gold and an affinity with the common man that is sadly lacking in so many of today’s so called stars.

Macari movingly says in the film that hiring sacked circus clown ‘Nello’ as his kitman at Stoke City was “the best signing” he ever made while he was manager of The Potters.

It was an inspired decision by a man who has endured so many heartaches of his own, from career threatening courtroom dramas to gut wrenching personal tragedy.

The way the BBC blurred this real story into a truly marvellous piece of television inter woven with fantasy and raw emotion was priceless. If you have yet to watch this televisual masterpiece it is only available on the BBC iPlayer until the end of October. [After that, see below for a link to the full programme on Neil Baldwin’s YouTube Channel.]

Hearing Macari talk firsthand about the film and the true events behind it at a sportsman’s evening in Berkshire this week reinforced everything I already thought about this ex-footballer/manager turned pundit. And more.

Little Lou was the footballer with the huge heart. A gem of a player I used to cheer on from the Stretford End when he was the darling of the Manchester United fans in the mid 1970s. I was there at Wembley in 1977 when Macari’s shot deflected off Jimmy Greenhoff to claim a 2-1 win over favourites Liverpool that won the FA Cup

It was Liverpool’s Bill Shankly who first told Macari he admired him because he was a player with a big heart when he unsuccessfully tried to sign him from Celtic before Tommy Docherty’s razor sharpe assistant Paddy Crerand recruited him for United.

That big heart of gold was all apparent at the Belgian Arms in Holyport on Wednesday night where this pint-sized man who does not drink held his audience in the palm of his hands.

Hearing Lou tell the story of how he was driven down South from Glasgow and ended up sat next to Crerand at Anfield after being offered a ‘”massive” £190 a week contract to play for Liverpool was priceless on so many levels.

Landlord Nick Parkinson, son of famous Manchester United fan and chatshow host supreme Michael, watched on as TalkSport’s Tony Lockwood coaxed a catalogue of inside stories from our celebrity guest.

For those of us who grew up watching old school sporting superstars like Macari this was a rare privilege that future generations are unlikely to ever experience. Can you imagine current stars like Gareth Bale or Raheem Sterling driving themselves on a 400 mile roundtrip on a wet Wednesday night to reminisce with 50 or so football fans. Not only that but he donated the £550 he raised by auctioning off a couple of tickets for a match at Old Trafford to the Stoke Foodbank charity.

Asked what he thought of Sterling being “too tired” to play for England, Macari’s response gave us an insight into how times have changed. “When I played the game it was our responsibility to be fit. If I had told Jock Stein I was too tired to play for Celtic I would have been straight out of the club.”

Equally fascinating was hearing Macari’s tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson “as the greatest ever” manager whose record “will never be beaten” and his comparison to Stein, the man who set him on the road to stardom in the late sixties.

MARVELLOUS: Written by Peter Bowker and directed by Julian Farino is a Tiger Aspect production starring Toby Jones as Neil Baldwin and Tony Curran as Lou Macari. If ever a drama was destined to win awards, it is is this feature-length masterpiece. 

2014 World Cup | Louis Van Gaal’s Dutch courage serves up Krul penalty heroics

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When Tim Krul saved twice in a sensational penalty shoot out win that eliminated brave Costa Rica and earned Holland a semi-final showdown with Argentina, this remarkable World Cup hit another unbelievable high.

It was also confirmation if any was needed that Manchester United have found a worthy manager to fill the hot seat at Old Trafford.

Has any national team boss ever made a bigger call than the one LVG made when he sent Krul on as a substitute seconds before the end of a pulsating extra time that finished goal-less.

It was a master stroke that unsettled the Costa Ricans who scored a flawless 5 out of 5 in their previous round’s penalty shoot out win over Greece.

Well done Krul who had only made two previous saves from spot kicks for Newcastle United. And well done Van Gaal for proving he is both a master tactician and a master of mind games.



Why Manchester United fans are celebrating too


July 5th, 2014 at 11:19 pm

2014 World Cup | How German Bundesliga is out-gunning English Premier League in goal charts | Statistics after 32 matches

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OK – now for some World Cup facts and figures.

In the opening 32 matches every country has played twice and it really has been a goal studded tournament.

A staggering total of 94 goals have been scored in the first 32 matches. That’s just under 3 goals a game.

The most popular scoreline has been 2-1 . . . unpopular in England’s case . . . with no less than nine matches finishing that way. The highest scoring game so far a 5-2 win by France against Switzerland.

 World Cup 14 Statistics Goals 5

Now then here’s some ammunition for that age old argument which is the best League in the world? Top of the this table – is the German Bundesliga – leading the English Premier League by 18 goals to 17 . . . five ahead of the Spanish La Liga 

World Cup 14 Statistics Leagues 5


The Germans League top the goalscoring charts courtesy of the two goals scored by the South Koreans in their 4-2 defeat by Algeria in match 32.


The English Premier League had taken the lead when Nani scored for Portugal in the preceding 2-2 draw against the USA.


Messi’s dramatic injury time winner for Argentina against Iran puts the Spanish La Liga on 13 goals in third place.


Miroslav Klose’s equaliser in Germany’s 2-2 draw against Ghana added one for Serie A


Origi’s late winner for Belgium against Russia also took the French tally to eight.


And there was another Premier league goalscorer over the weekend when Stoke City’s Peter Odemwinge scored the winner for Nigeria against Bosnia & Herzogovena

 Meantime, a look at the clubs with the most goal scorers also puts the Germans on top.

Bayern Munich out in front with NINE goals.

Manchester United second with SIX goals.

Ahead of Spanish giants Barcelona [FIVE] and Real Madrid [FOUR]

But that of course does not hide the fact we’ve only seen two English born goalscorers so far . . Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney. England’s final chance to add to that tally comes against Costa Rica on Tuesday.

World Cup 14 Statistics Teams 4

2014 World Cup | Drama, upsets and goals galore – is this the greatest World Cup we’ve ever seen?

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There’s no doubt about it – Brazil 2014 is already one of THE greatest World Cups we’ve ever seen. And we’ve just been served up another stupendous match involving Holland, the team of the tournament so far.

Neutrals expected a landslide when Australia, the lowest ranked team to reach the finals, went behind early on. But the drama that followed makes this one of the best games in a thrilling opening week of the greatest show on earth.

20 min: It was Arjen Robben  at his explosive best when he tore through the Aussies to open the scoring on 20 minutes.

But 60 seconds later we saw a fabulous contender for goal of the tournament from Tim Cahill. The former Everton and Millwall man unleashed a goal every bit as special as that famous strike by Dutchman Marco Van Basten in the 1988 European Championships

54 min: Even the Aussie fans were pinching themselves in disbelief when Mile Jedinak gave their side the lead after the break.

58 min: But Robin Van Persie  showed his class to put the Dutch level. And Australia missed a golden opportunity to put Australia back in front.

68 min: Then Memphis Depay  caught out Aussie keeper Mathew Ryan with a long range winner that almost certainly guarantees Holland a place in the knockout stages.

For those of us who watch the English Premier League we’re used to seeing plenty of goals, plenty of drama and plenty of upsets. But World Cups rarely provide this much entertainment.

For me it’s already the best World Cup since my own personal favourite in Mexico 1970 when Brazil beat Italy 4-1 in the greatest final I’ve ever seen.  


The future is orange! With Klopp again rejecting United, Van Gaal will be new supremo at Old Trafford and Giggs the apprentice!

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There will be a genuine buzz of excitement at the Theatre of Dreams on Saturday when Ryan Giggs starts what I confidently predict will be another glittering chapter in his remarkable career at Manchester United.

by John GubbaIt will be his first match as player manager and this is not good timing for visitors Norwich City who are in for a torrid afternoon because I have absolutely no doubt that the United stars who drastically underachieved under David Moyes will be bursting to prove themselves.

Following the inevitable sacking of Moyes four matches before the end of the club’s worst ever season in the Premier League, Giggs is a hugely popular choice to take charge – albeit in a caretaker role at this stage.

Twenty-four years ago Giggs was handed his first professional contract as a player  in the week of his 17th birthday. The Welsh wizard has won every honour in the game and embodies everything the club stands for.

Along with the rest of the superstars born in that famous Class of 92, Giggsy has been mentored throughout by Sir Alex Ferguson, a pivotal father figure who gave all his proteges that burning desire to be the best and overcome all odds.

It is exactly those qualities and his proud Old Trafford pedigree that will make him a successful coach and a key figure in the upcoming era that looks destined to unfold under  the new emperor Louis van Gaal.

There are those who believe Giggs already has the charisma and ability to grow into the role of United manager and success on his watch in the season’s four remaining matches against Norwich, Sunderland, Hull and Southampton would strengthen that argument.

But my belief is that future for the Reds is orange!

dawning of a new era at Theatre of Dreams

My sources tell me that Jurgen Klopp was offered the opportunity to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson as manager but turned the job down before it was offered to Moyes. Klopp in my view would be a perfect fit for United and now the opportunity is here again, if he could be persuaded to leave his beloved Borussia Dortmund, he would be a manager the fans adore.

His swashbuckling style and engaging persona, along with his proven track record at the highest level  make him a dynamic manager who would be an irresistible force at Manchester’s top table. But his heart currently belongs in Dortmund and his statements today appear to rule him out of the reckoning.

“Man Utd is a great club and I feel very familiar with their wonderful fans,” Klopp was quoted as saying in the Guardian. ‘But my commitment to Borussia Dortmund and the people is not breakable.”

That leaves Van Gaal. who turns 63 in August,  as the front runner. And clearly the prospect of the Dutchman taking charge after this summer’s World Cup in Brazil when his stewardship of the Netherlands team expires makes him perfectly placed to step in.

The fact that he has already made it known that he is “very keen” on the job at Old Trafford suggests he is confident of being given the nod, even if he has not officially had it already. And that is good news for Giggs because Van Gaal is a manager who always insists on having someone with the DNA of the club within his inner circle.

Like any top manager, Van Gaal will bring members of his preferred management team with him. But expect a role for Giggs. Just how prominent that will be will largely depend on how well he performs in his four matches as caretaker. A good showing will put United’s most decorated player in the rrame for being the new manager’s apprentice and eventual successor.

While United trumpeted Moyes’ appointment as being consistent with the club’s philosophy of long-term planning, turning to a manager in his sixties is not necessarily a short-term fix. Fergie of course remained in charge into his seventies and still has an importance voice in the boardroom.  Giggs learning the ropes as a coach under a new manager with a long track record of success who may well take on the role of director of football could be a winning combination designed for longevity.

There will be many arguments put forward over the coming weeks for other candidates including Jose Mourinho and Roberto Martinez, both of whom would do outstanding jobs at Old Trafford. But life is all about timing. And much that I admire both Mourinho and Martinez, everything points to Van Gaal who can add the fact that he has rejuvenated the international career of United’s injured marksman Robin van Persie to his outstanding CV.

My only reservation about Van Gaal is that his management style and abrasive nature will not make him popular across the board. But that did not hold back Ferguson. And at this stage of proceedings Manchester United need a strong manager who will put the club back on their perch at the top of the English game. Not just winning trophies but playing football to be proud of.

Mourinho could have been that man if he had not returned to Stamford Bridge and declared his undying love for Chelsea. While Martinez, who previously turned down Liverpool because in my estimation he wanted the bigger job at United, has now committed himself to Everton. So my conclusion is that unless Klopp has a change of heart, Van Gaal is the man and Giggs will be his apprentice.

Why experts thought David Moyes was the right manager for Manchester United – but Ryan Giggs is favourite to take his job

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Giggs the red hot favourite

Giggs red hot favourite to replace Moyes

When David Moyes was appointed manager of Manchester United in May last year it was always a question of how long would he be given to find a winning formula.

by John GubbaThe verdict that Moyes was the right man for the job was unanimous when I interviewed a panel of experts including England manager Roy Hodgson on the day the identity of the manager to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at the Theatre of Dreams was confirmed.

But less than 12 months later the bookmakers have stopped taking bets on David Moyes being sacked, after a nightmare first season in charge, and installed Ryan Giggs as the 5-1 favourite to replace him.

Here is what the experts, desperate to see a British manager succeed in the biggest job in club football, said about Moyes on the day he was appointed:

ROY HODGSON: “I think if someone has got to step into these enormous shoes that Sir Alex has left behind and to work in the shadow of such a great man David is right the man to do it.”

ALAN CURBISHLEY: “I’m sure he’s gong to be a great success and I’m so pleased he has been given a chance.”

TONY GALE” “For me David Moyes is a good manager and will be for Manchester United.”

PATRICK BARCLAY” “If you look at the players he has bought in the transfer market his record is right up their with Sir Alex Ferguson.”

UNANIMOUS VERDICT: England manager Roy Hodgson predicted Moyes would be a big success at Manchester United

UNANIMOUS VERDICT: England manager Roy Hodgson told me he was confident David Moyes would be a success at Old Trafford and was delighted to see another British manager fly the flag for homegrown talent

ALVIN MARTIN: ” There is never a guarantee in football. You can be the best manager in the world but if you take over at the wrong time there is always a risk when a new manager is appointed. But I would feel pretty sure that David Moyes is more than well equipped to deal with it.”

Like the experts I interviewed last May, I expected Moyes to grow into the job he was chosen to do by the greatest British manager of all time Sir Alex Ferguson. But the decline under the former Everton boss has been so spectacular that it is now no surprise that the consequences of failure appear to have proved fatal to aspirations of the proud Glaswegian being given extra time in the Old Trafford hot seat.

Where Did it all go wrong?

When former player David May said what so many fans and experts were thinking after another embarrassing 2-0 defeat against Everton at Goodison on Easter Sunday and admitted on MUTV that the new manager appears to be ‘out of his depth’, he was immediately suspended from his role as a pundit on the club’s television channel. But the backlash among fans on social media outraged by May being punished for giving his honest opinion has only fanned the flames of discontent.

The harsh reality, as I predicted  in this column a month ago, is that Moyes’ future was destined to be decided when the owners ask themselves how much they are prepared to gamble on Fergie’s successor getting it right.

The smart money is now on Moyes departing sooner rather than later with Giggs being installed as temporary manager while the board consider their options.

Giggs would be a hugely popular choice to take charge – albeit in a caretaker role – 24 years after being handed his first professional contract as player on his 17th birthday. There is no one who embodies everything the club stands for better than the Welsh wizard who exclusively told visionsport TV what he thought about Manchester United in his first television interview back in 1993.

TONY GALE: "As long as Sir Alex is by his side, albeit upstairs, I think they will have a bit of patience. I think what will be key is going into the transfer market this pre season (summer 2013) and making a couple or marquee signings."

Sky Sports pundit TONY GALE: “As long as Sir Alex is by his side, albeit upstairs, I think they will have a bit of patience. I think what will be key is going into the transfer market this pre season (summer 2013) and making a couple or marquee signings.”


David Moyes & Manchester United | What the experts predicted [VIDEO]:

Why Wayne Rooney is priceless to Manchester United and his diamond studded boots will net one lucky fan a fortune

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collectors' item or work of art?

Signed by Wayne Rooney . . . but are these boots a collectors’ item or work of art?


Wherever you stand in the debate about whether or not WAYNE ROONEY is worth £300,000 a week, the honest truth is that Manchester United could not afford to let their talisman leave Old Trafford.

With the club in transition under new manager David Moyes and facing the real possibility of no Champions League football next season, keeping Rooney on board was a big statement that United still mean business.

In pure financial terms, the £85M cost of keeping Wazza until 2019 was a shrewd investment because the cost of replacing him would have been higher when you factor in both the transfer fee and wages.

When it comes to attracting new stars in the summer the message sent out by keeping Rooney and investing in record signing Juan Mata is a positive one that other top players will appreciate.

In my view Rooney remains truly world class and you have to give Moyes huge credit for revitalising a hugely influential player who had lost his way under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Rooney is still manchester united's biggest asset and revitalisd under David Moyes

Rooney is still manchester united’s biggest asset and revitalisd under David Moyes

Bought for 18K, worth 150K

The England marksman looks destined to become the United skipper and in the summer he will be hoping to make a big impact at the World Cup in Brazil.

He is a marketing man’s dream and the reality is that whatever Rooney touches turns to gold. One lucky fan is set to net a small fortune by selling a pair of his old boots.

Snapped up for 18,000 pounds at a charity auction five years ago, they are now worth 10 TIMES what a sharp-eyed Manchester United fan paid for them.

The Nike boots were worn by Rooney in a Champions League match. But the reason they are so valuable is that artist Luisa Di Marco turned them into a collector’s item by encrusting them with gold and precious diamonds.

The stones that make the boots unique were set by Embee jewellers of London using 31 carats of black diamonds, 10 carats of white diamonds and the number 10 is made from rose gold. The laces are dipped in gold and finished with diamonds on the ends. And both boots are signed by Rooney.

The boots are exclusively being offered for sale by London art dealer Tessa Hardy on her website

If the boots are not sold in the next six weeks the owner plans to put them up for auction at a sporting dinner on the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix on May 24. Meantime. check out my video report below filmed at the fabulous Boulters Terrace Bar 

Embedded with black and gold diamonds by Embee jewellers of London

Embedded with black and gold diamonds by Embee jewellers of London

Art dealer Tessa Hardy with John Gubba and Wayne Rooney's boots - filmed  at the Boulters Terrace Bar

Art dealer Tessa Hardy with John Gubba and Wayne Rooney’s boots – filmed  at the Boulters Terrace Bar

Fabulous 40 is magic number for sporting legends Ryan Giggs and Sachin Tendulkar – heroes united by universal adoration

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here is what Giggsy had to say about his future 20 years ago

here is what Giggsy had to say about his future 20 years ago

On the day that Ryan Giggs hits 40 the world of sport has rightly been paying  homage to one of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen. The Manchester United superstar’s remarkable longevity is not unique. He is the fourth outfield player – and the seventh in total – to grace the Premier League at 40. But none can match the extraordinary level of sustained success achieved by the Welsh wizard.

Just two days before reaching his incredible milestone, the most decorated footballer in English soccer turned in yet another remarkable 90 minute display in United’s outstanding 5-0 Champions League demolition of  Bayer Leverkusen. It was a midfield masterclass from arguably the greatest ever player in the history of the club to demonstrate that he is still hungry for more success.

by John GubbaThe magnificent seven who have graced the Premier League into their fabulous 40s are  Kevin ­Phillips, Teddy Sheringham, Gordon Strachan, Brad Friedel, Mark Schwarzer, Mike Pollitt and Giggs, whose appearance in Germany was his 953rd for United. Even more remarkable is that Giggs has done it for one club, scoring 168 goals along the way.

Almost 23 years after he first pulled on a United shirt as a raw 17-year-old, he still plays with the verve, vigour and guile of a man at least 10 years younger.

It has been an historic month for famous forty year old sporting legends, with arguably the greatest cricketer in history Sachin Tendulkar crowning his majestic career with a spectacular flourish in his final Test Match for India against the West Indies in Mumbai.

An estimated television audience of over a billion people watched Tendulkar crown his 200th Test Match with a dazzling 74 that fell short of yet another century by the only man to score 100 international 100s, the feat he achieved when he scored his final ton against Bangladesh in March 2012.

Fabulous 40 is magic number for sporting legends Ryan Giggs and Sachin Tendulkar – heroes united by universal adoration

The Greatest of them all? The legendary Sachin Tendulkar was hailed as ‘The God of Cricket’ by Time Magazine who also included the Indian superstar in their list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2010.

Like Giggs, Tendulkar can proudly declare that he was still hitting extraordinary levels of achievement at the end of his fourth decade in his chosen sport. And there is at least one other parallel between these giants of the sporting world. Both are true  legends because they are admired by fans of their rivals as much as the supporters of the teams they have graced for so long.

Such is the universal love for Tendulkar that in New Delhi the Pakistan Taliban commander, in a video message widely circulated on social networking site Facebook, has warned the Pakistan media to stop paying tribute to the Indian cricket legend.

“We have been monitoring Pakistani media, including news channels and newspapers, for the past three weeks and got to know how was Pakistani media praising Indian cricketer during his farewell. It was unfortunate to see Pakistani media went to great extent to pay tribute to Indian cricketer by running video clips on TV channels and writing huge articles in his praise. On the other hand, it was sad to know same Pakistani media badly criticised Pakistani cricket team as well as its captain Misbah-ul-Haq. We condemn this move of Pakistani media and expect it will not repeat the same in future,” said the commander in the video.

“Shame for Pakistani media that spoke highly of Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar. No doubt, he has been a great cricketer, but, he`s Indian after all, so stop promoting him,” warned the Taliban leader.

To my knowledge there has been no equivalent plea from the big chiefs at United’s rivals Manchester City or from any other quarter tired of the adoration for Giggs. Watching the old master turn back the years with his latest contribution for Manchester United  in Germany on Wednesday night, it was music to my ears to hear a life-long Arsenal fan pay tribute to the memory of Giggs’ wonder goal in the 1999 FA Cup semi-final replay that shot down the Gunners. And that underlines my point.

True sports fans appreciate greatness, whoever they perform their magic for. It is that respect and appreciation that unites us all. In Giggs and Tendulkar we have been privileged to witness two of the greatest sportsmen of them all.  And that is something beautiful that no tribal jealousy can deprive us of.

The difference is that Giggs is a freak of nature who still has more to give and where it will end is almost impossible to predict.