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Mourinho’s dramatic touchline sprint was flash of genius not a triumphant celebration by manager who is now ‘simply the best’

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There was a Jose Mourinho banner at Stamford Bridge tonight that said “Simply the Best” – and after watching Chelsea’s epic fightback to knock Paris St Germain out of the Champions League it is hard to disagree.

When substitute Demba Ba scored his decisive late winner that took the Blues into the last four, the Portuguese manner sprinted down the touchline in a celebration reminiscent of his defining arrival on the global stage when Porto toppled Manchester United in the same competition a decade ago.

Last time we saw an ecstatic Mourinho race miles out of his technical area the game was effectively over with Porto landing a dramatic injury time winner.

by John GubbaThis time there were crucial minutes left and Mourinho clearly bent the rules to pass on all-important tactical direction to his jubilant players. But that only underlines the brilliance of the Blues inspirational boss, whatever PSG may think. This was him doing everything possible to ensure Chelsea held on to go through on away goals by virtue of a 2-0 home win that made it 3-3 on aggregate.

At the end of a week where pundits have been debating which Merseyside boss is the best in the Premier League, following outstanding seasons so far for Brendan Rogers at Liverpool and Everton’s new talisman Roberto Martinez a global audience witnessed why Mourinho is the No.1.

After securing a fifth successive season in the Champions League semi-finals, this time with Chelsea, the master tactician said it all when he explained his touchline sprint was “not to celebrate but to tell Fernando (Torres) and Demba the changes we had to do because we still had three minutes to play and injury time.”

At times his body language this season has looked beaten and lacking passion. But this was a rejuventated Mourniho back at the top of his game.

Many of us poked fun when he was passed over by Manchester giants United and City and returned to the Bridge in the summer, despite his instance that this is the job he loves. Since then Arsene Wenger has watched his title hopes crumble at Arsenal and David Moyes has underachieved in his first season in succession of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Fergie is the greatest British manager we have ever seen. But Mourinho is still making history and staking his claim to be judged alongside the greats.

Right now he is both the “Special One” and the “Happy One” as TV footage beamed around the world of football will rightly underline.

What Mourinho said when he returned to the Stamford Bridge hotseat

1,000-up Wenger richly deserves tribute from Sir Alex Ferguson whatever maverick Mourinho says about Arsenal legend

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The day Old Trafford fell in love with the professor - The Arsenal manager was sent to the stands on 29 August 2009

I don’t care which team you support, anyone who loves the beautiful game owes a huge thank you to long-serving Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.

Whatever Jose Mourinho may think or say, deep down even Chelsea’s maverick manager surely respects the outstanding contribution Wenger has made to the Premier League.

When the two men come face to face in the dugout at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Wenger will be taking charge of his 1,000th match as manager of the Gunners.

It is an outstanding record that looked an impossible dream three seasons ago when his team were crushed 8-2 by Manchester United. It was a result that sparked a barrage of abuse from fans and so-called experts who called for his head. The way the man affectionately known as the professor has stuck to his guns and turned the cirtics around speaks volumes for his character.

by John GubbaDespite consistently losing his best players – Henry, Fabregas and most recently Robin van Persie – Wenger has never abandoned his purist principles in search of a winning formula based on an attractive passing game. For much of this season his team defied the odds by heading the Premier League, boosted by the outstanding early season form of Aaron Ramsey and new record signing Mezut Ozil.

The recent dip in form that has seen tomorrow’s rivals Chelsea take up the running at the top, last month prompted Mourinho to describe Wenger as a “specialist in failure” after the Frenchman commented that anyone ruling themselves out of the title race was doing so out of a fear of falling short – a clear jibe at his opposite number at Chelsea.

It all adds extra spice to the latest Chelsea-Arsenal showdown, a fixture that has been dominated by the Blues during Wenger’s resign with just four wins in 18 attempts home and away.

But the real achievement by Wenger has been the way he has changed the history of the club he has managed for close on 18 seasons. Not just with his trophy haul but by re-branding the Gunners image from ‘boring, boring Arsenal” to one of the most attractive sides in European football.

Many fans were asking “Arsene who?” when Wenger was appointed manager on 30 September 1996. But the Frenchman is now hailed the club’s best ever  manager and his 2003-04 Arsenal side were named the greatest in Premier League history after going for the entire season unbeaten, leading to their nickname The Invincibles.

Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal spans 17 top-four finishes, 16 consecutive Champions League campaigns, two doubles, three Premier League titles, four FA Cup triumphs and six Community Shield appearances. So far his 999 games in charge have delivered  572 victories . . .  a win percentage of 57.3.

Mourino described Wenger as "specialist in failure"

Mourino described Wenger as “specialist in failure”

Critics will point to the nine year trophy drought that prompted Mourinho to muse: “I admire him and I admire Arsenal, because it’s not possible to have 1,000 matches unless the club is also a fantastic club in the way they support the manager, especially in the bad moments and especially when the bad moments were quite a lot.”

Wenger’s legacy – and there is no reason why he can’t carry on for a few more years – is that he  has become synonymous with the club, their move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium and their brand of passing football.

The harsh reality of modern day football is that Arsenal’s lack of silverware for nearly a decade leaves fans divided between those who still trust Wenger to deliver and those who have lost patience with his methods. But let us all pay the Frenchman the respect he deserves as he reached his 1,000 match milestone. The fact that he becomes only the fourth manager in English football to join this exclusive club, along with Dario Gradi and Manchester United legends Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, tells you what a remarkable achievement this is.

Fitting then to leave the final word to Sir Alex because the pair, now friends, had an intense rivalry that included five years when they were not on speaking terms after a match at Old Trafford in October 2004 ended a record 49 match unbeaten run by Arsenal.

“I congratulate Arsene in reaching this momentous landmark,” the Scot said in a statement issued on Friday by the League Managers Association.

“Having also reached the same milestone at one club, I cannot emphasise enough the level of dedication, resilience as well as sacrifice required and for that I have for the utmost admiration.

“Over the years we enjoyed some fantastic battles and you could say we had survived together and respected each other’s efforts to play good football. I always enjoy watching Arsene’s sides – Arsenal play the right way.”

Ferguson, who retired last year after 26 years at United, said playing against Arsenal always presented special challenges “that I burned many hours over the years thinking about. Perhaps the biggest compliment I could give Arsene is that I could never be anything other than competitive with my rival for 17 years.”


Manchester United have youth on their side and rejuvenated Wayne Rooney will help David Moyes prove critics wrong!

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To Be Continued ID

There has been no shortage of  ‘experts’ in the media – not to mention rival fans envious of the Theatre of Dreams – who have spent much of the past two decades predicting the decline of Manchester United. The sudden retirement of the greatest manager in the history of British football and the subsequent appointment of David Moyes as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor gave the prophets of doom new hope.

With the new manager overseeing the Red Devils’ worst start to a League season since the Premiership was born in 1992, the vultures eagerly licked their lips. This United team is “too old”, Moyes “is out of his depth” and talisman “Wayne Rooney wants to leave Old Trafford” were all the media fuelled chit chat that was the talk of  pubs and clubs around Britain and Radio Phone-Ins that feed off the soap opera that surround the beautiful game.

by John GubbaThe chatter so convincing for some observers that the majority of non-Manchester United fans – and even a large percentage of the glory hunters who have never even been to Old Trafford – were starting to talk about the decline of the Empire as if it was a fait accompli.

But the delicious reality for United’s faithful worldwide army of followers is that the doom-mongers have once again got it all hopelessly wrong.

The honest truth is that Moyes has skilfully overcome a difficult start to what  most people have taken for granted is the impossible job of following in the footseps of Sir Alex.

From the start Moyes has told anyone who would listen that Rooney was staying at Old Trafford and was looking fitter and in better shape than he done for years. With seven goals already for club and country this season Wazza is back to form approaching his best and in the countdown to next summer’s World Cup in Brazil he looks like a player rejuvenated and hungry for a new era of success.

As Ferguson’s “Chosen One” only a fool would write off the former Everton manager after six League matches. While the Reds may currently lie six points behind early pace-setters Arsenal, the gap behind neighbours Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur is just one win and pre-season favourites Chelsea are only four points ahead of Moyes men. There is still a long way to go and the sensational full debut of 18-year old Adnan Januzaj with a matchwinning double at Sunderland before the international break illustrates the real strength in depth of a squad that has been built for longevity.

Yes of course there are a number of experienced, older heads at the club in Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick and the unbelievable Ryan Giggs who hits 40 next month. But the truth is that United have an outstanding nucleus of young stars.

There have been youth players making the grade at Old Trafford in every season since the Busby Babes made United great. And the current blend of home grown talent and imported youngsters is no exception.

To suggest that United  are a team in decline because the players are too old is the biggest misrepresentation of the truth by that unrelenting gang of media hatchet men, self-interested critics and so-called experts.

Moyes could easily send out a formidable United team where the veteran of the team is Wayne Rooney at the ripe old age of 27 and the average age is just 23. And I am not talking about fringe players, for example;

David de Gea – 22

Rafael da Silva – 23
Phil Jones – 21
Jonny Evans – 25
Chris Smalling – 23

Adnan Januzaj – 18
Tom Cleverley – 24
Luis Nani – 26

Danny Welbeck – 22
Javier Hernandez – 25
Wayne Rooney – 27

The following subs have an average age of 22:

Ben Amos – 23
Marouane Fallaini – 25
Wilfried Zaha – 20
Nick Powell – 19 (on loan at Wigan)
Jesse Lingard – 20 (on loan at Birmingham)
Michael Keane – 20
Will Keane – 20
Anderson – 25
Shinji Kagawa – 24
Fabio da Silva – 22

Theatre of Dreams - May 2013
As for the old ones how many clubs in the Premier League would turn down the following, even if they do have an average age of  32 including the 39-year-old Giggs:

Robin van Persie – 30
Michael Carrick – 32
Ryan Giggs – 39
Antonio Valencia – 28
Ashley Young – 28
Patrice Evra – 32
Rio Ferdinand – 34
Nemanja Vidic – 32

Roy’s Boys were brilliant against Montenegro and Poland so give Hodgson the respect he deserves for restoring England’s pride

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As an Englishman I am thrilled that Roy Hodgson did what he promised and secured qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. What makes me proud is that Roy’s Boys booked their place in Brazil with a swagger, proving all the doubters and the critics wrong in sparkling fashion. There is even satisfaction at the way an honourable man has made a monkey out of the media who mocked his appointment less than 18 months ago.

Instead of getting behind the new man, the pathetic Sun ridiculed the way Hodgson speaks. It was a cynical attempt to make money out of a headline designed to sell newspapers. It backfired because even their own readers recoiled in embarrassment at the headline-writers’ sick sense of humour. While the Sun overstepped the mark of decency, the rest of the media have never been shy in taking aim at the man in the top job. Many felt vindicated because of a blind loyalty to Harry Redknapp, the man the majority of hacks wanted to be at the helm because he has a flair for giving the media what they want. I must admit I was initially disappointed that Redknapp was overlooked. but I have always given Hodgson the respect he deserves.

john-working240borderAs I wrote a week before the start of Euro 2012: “There is little doubt in my mind that the new England boss is going to restore pride in the top job. And that is just as important (as success) this time around.” Post tournament I concluded: “Not only has Roy Hodgson shattered the myth that managing England in the modern era is an impossible job, he has turned around a team with no direction and no hope into a confident squad with no fear and a fresh belief that nothing is impossible. To claim a quarter-finals showdown with Italy at Euro 2012, Roy’s boys have confounded the critics. Only all-conquering Germany won more points in the Group stages. And in skipper Steven Gerrard England have been inspired by one of the stand-out players of the tournament.”

What makes Hodgson’s success so rewarding is that he has done it his way, learning and moving on from his mistakes and never losing sight of the end goal and his footballing philosophy, whatever the media throw at him.

And it is not just the tabloids who are quick to criticise at every opportunity. Just about every national newspaper has turned on Hodgson and his predecessors whenever they get the chance. While former England player Gary Lineker, a man who is always ready with a putdown but never goes out of his way to contribute anything positive, is just one example of the broadcast media who have become part of the pack that feeds on the game and never shirks from sticking the boot in.

What has made the England job increasingly difficult ever since Sir Alf Ramsey’s heroes won the World Cup at Wembley in 1966 is a media that revels in destruction, confrontation and fostering an ugly blame culture that stifles creativity and self-expression. It is no surprise that playing for England was losing its appeal for an increasing number of players. While big name managers primarily viewed the challenge as a chance to bank a gold-plated pension.

It is not just the job of managing England that has suffered at the beck and call of the media. Just take a look at the Premier League. Only Arsene Wenger, another dignified man with the thickest of skins, has had any significant time in the hotseat. While I am not an Arsenal fan and never will be, I do feel a warm glow of satisfaction in publicly sticking by Wenger when the knives were out, now that he has his team sitting proudly at the top of the Premier League summit having pulled off the transfer coup of the summer in signing Mezut Ozil.

No way to treat the England manager: Roy Hodgson has made the Sun eat its words

No way to treat the England manager: Roy Hodgson has made the Sun choke on its ill-chosen words

What really makes me laugh is the way the media are skilled in turning things round to suggest they were right all the time to shower abuse on the men whose jobs they could never come close to doing if they were given the chance. Martin Samuel, great writer that he is, does just this in the Mailonline when he argues that the critics got it right because they wanted Hodgson to be less cautious and Wenger to spend big. This argument is so simplistic that I almost did myself injury laughing at Samuel’s bare-faced arrogance.

Tell me honestly, how many people sitting in Roy Hodgson’s shoes would have gambled on picking Andros Townsend for England’s two decisive World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland. And how many football managers would have succeeded in persuading Ozil to join their team. Not that team selection and transfer activity is the be all and end all. Tactics and creating an unbreakable team spirit is something that only the most gifted of managers get right.

What stands out like a beacon from this World Cup qualifying campaign for England is that Hodgson has created the type of team spirit that we are more used to seeing at a successful club side. In much the same way that Jack Charlton brought success to the Republic of Ireland with a limited pool of talent during his colourful reign from 1986 to 1996, the oldest ever manager to be handed the so-called “Impossible Job” has already done something that his over-rated predecessor Fabio Capello miserably failed to achieve. He has restored English pride for the fans, the players and the manager himself.

The media critics who did not want Hodgson to get the job in the first place will now become self-appointed cheerleaders until the next bad result or shift in public opinion. But we can only make real progress with a long term strategy. Not the kind of short-term knee jerk decision making that we see at some of our biggest club sides. That is why Hodgson must be given a fair opportunity to build on what he has achieved so far. We owe him that at least for getting England to what will be the biggest World Cup in our lifetime.


Do your homework and sports betting will add an extra layer of enjoyment to the thrill of picking a winner

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When I was a kid growing up my father spent hour upon hour studying form and statistics about sport. He had a great love for horse racing and launched a successful broadcasting career giving racing tips on BBC Radio Merseyside.Never did I get to hear about the losses, and God knows there must have been occasions when the family went short because a horse failed to fulfil its potential. But when dad won big it was good news for everyone, including an army of fans who religiously followed all his predictions.Most famously, Ron Gubba was a big friend of the great “Ginger” McCain, the famous race horse trainer who guided the legendary Red Rum to win the Grand National three times.

I will never forget the excitement of watching Red Rum beat Crisp in one of the most thrilling races ever to win the Aintree classic for the first time in 1973. Knowing that dad had placed a sizeable bet at favourable odds six months before the race, after McCain had urged him to back his horse, was my first taste of what it’s like to back a winner because I had also secretly gambled my pocket money.

Luckily for me, because I have never had the time to study the form, I did not get hooked on gambling on the horses. My weakness has always been football. And as a passionate fan I must confess I have been tempted to take a punt on my team from time to time. As any sports fan will concur there is nothing to match the thrill of watching your heroes triumph knowing that you have also hit the jackpot.

For some it is all about the adrenalin rush of winning and it does not matter what they bet on. Many sports fans I have met even back against their favourite team or individual occasionally to soften the blow of losing. While others are addicted to the thrill of in-play betting. We all like to predict what will happen next and the satisfaction of putting your money where your mouth is will definitely give you a buzz when you get it right.

However knowledgeable you are about horse racing – you can bet on the Aintree classic at Grand National betting  – my advice is never gamble money that you can not afford to lose. Treat gambling as a purchase rather than an investment and you will never fail to enrich your sporting experience.

Oh yes, I almost forgot, dad’s winning bet on Red Rum paid for a whole year’s school fees. So do your homework and, you never know, you could be celebrating all the way to the bookmakers.

COMMENTS: Please give me your feedback on twitter @johnnielegend – and stay in touch @visionsportTV

Nani red card disgrace Real insult: Curse of anti-British referees ruining Champions League and threatens EPL quota

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The history books will show that a goal by Cristiano Ronaldo on his return to Old Trafford earned Real Madrid victory over Manchester United and a place in the Champions League quarter-final. But anyone who watched this epic clash of the giants of world football can have no doubt that a Turkish referee tipped the balance in favour of a Spanish side that was second best over both legs.

The harsh reality is that a hugely controversial red card for Nani has destroyed United’s hopes of emulating the glorious Treble triumph of 1999. And this is not the first time the conspiracy theorists can point to what looks like a blatant case of anti-British refereeing.

Only last month Celtic were on the receiving end of a shocking display by the match official that contributed to their crippling 3-nil home defeat by Juventus. Who can forget the outrageous Rob van Persie sending off in 2011 when he planted the ball in the net for Arsenal against Barcelona a millisecond after the ref had blown for offside. And we all remember the way Chelsea were refused a succession of blatant penalties in their 2009 semi-final against the Catalans.

This time it is United’s players and global following who are left shattered, inconsolable and feeling deprived of the chance of glory in a match that will forever be remembered for one of the worst refereeing decisions in the history of the Champions League. It is always a huge disappointment when a major football match is decided by a controversial decision by a match official. But never has this been more blatantly the case than Madrid’s ref assisted win in Manchester.

The full extent of the damage to English football may ultimately be felt by the whole of the Premier League. UEFA are looking for any excuse to reduce the EPL from four to three qualifiers for future competitions and with no qualifiers for this year’s quarter-finals because Arsenal are already dead and buried in their tie against Bayern Munich, this has been a disastrous season for English clubs.

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Former skipper Roy Keane mischievously argued that the red card was justified in a blatant attempt to wind up his former employers and shamelessly gratify anti-United viewers on ITV. But any rational football fan will agree with Sir Alex Ferguson who furiously protested from the touchline over Nani’s dismissal.

There was no doubt that Nani only had eyes on the ball when he attempted to make contact with the ball in the middle of the park. But Cuneyt Cakir waved a red card in the face of the Portuguese winger after his acrobatic attempt to win the ball resulted in a high challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa. The Spaniard theatrically rolled along the turf and the Turk stunned a worldwide audience by reducing United to 10-men.

Nani Red Card For Karate Kick on Arbeloa - Manchester United vs Real Madrid (5-3-2013)

Nani Red Card For Karate Kick on Arbeloa – Manchester United vs Real Madrid (5-3-2013)

Not only was it a shocking decision that robbed United of a victory that was firmly in their grasp at a time when they were firmly in control of the match, leading 1-nil with 56 minutes on the clock, it destroyed a beautiful game of football. Even though he refused to be drawn on whther or not the referee had got it hopelessly wrong Jose Mourinho admitted:”The best team lost.” And there can be no more honest assessment by a winning manager than that, even if he does have one eye on the ultimate prize of one day replacing Sir Alex Ferguson in the king’s throne at the Theatre of Dreams.

United fans will not forget Mourinho’s humility when it comes to winning the public vote to become Fergie’s successor. Equally, supporters will respect the way former idol Ronaldo was equally apologetic when he struck the decisive blow after an outstanding equaliser by Luka Modric cancelled out the opening goal turned into his own net by Sergio Ramos after a telling ball in by Nani.

All this on the night Ryan Giggs celebrated his historic milestone of 1,000 career appearances with yet another outstanding performance at the heart of United’s midfield. And Wayne Rooney was left on the bench as Fergie pulled off a tactical masterstroke and nullified Madrid with a classic counter attacking display  that worked perfectly until Nani unjustly received his marching orders.

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listen to ‘Former player Paddy Crerand reacts to Man United’s exit from the Champions League’

Below: No penalty: Did the ref ignore Ramos clearly holding back Danny Welbeck in the box?

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All hail the Geordie dream team! Goal-den boy Papiss Demba Cisse has fired Newcastle into Champions League contention

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Geordie Gem: Senegal striker Papiss Demba Cissé another inspired signing

Senegal striker Papiss Demba Cissé is proving another inspired signing


It is about time Newcastle United and manager Alan Pardew started getting the credit they deserve for challenging the Premier League’s top clubs for a place in the Champions League – and pulling off another spectacular success on the transfer market.

Papiss Demba Cisse was snapped up in the January transfer window for an estimated £10 million pound from German side Freiburg. And the Senegal striker has been a roariong success with this afternoon’s double at Swansea taking his tally to nine goals in eight games.

The 2-0 win put Pardew’s men within two points of Arsenal and Spurs who share third place and takes them above Chelsea in the race for Champions League qualification. On this form you have to say that if the FA are looking for an English born manager and they fail to sign up Harry Redknapp, then the Newcastle manager must be a strong candidate.

It is an extraordinary effort by the club in only their second season back in the Premier League. And whatever you think of owner Mike Ashley, who has been guilty of alienating the fans with some massive PR blunders,  in chairman Derek Llambias and manager Pardew he has picked a winning team to guide the Magpies soaring to dizzy heights against rival’s with much bigger spending power .

Cisse is probably the signing of the season. It’s another remarkable success following the capture of Demba Ba who was voted signing of the season by the Premier League managers last term.

I’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: Newcastle United are a bigger club than Chelsea – but it will still be a remarkable achievement if the Geordies can finish above the Blues when you consider the riches of the West Londoners’ billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich.

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Demba Ba - Newcastle's signing of the season in 2010/2011

Demba Ba - Newcastle's signing of the season in 2010/2011

Keegan's Kinhdom - the last time the Magpies were soaring high

Keegan's Kinhdom - the last time the Magpies were soaring high


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Revenge? Roberto Di Matteo has restored lost pride – but Barcelona too good for Chelsea . . . and so are Real Madrid & Bayern Munich!

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Blues skipper John Terry is still launted by Barca's injury time winner in 2009

Blues skipper John Terry is still haunted by Barca's injury time winner from Andres Iniesta in 2009


Winning the Champions League has become an obsession for Roman Abramovich and Roberto Di Matteo has kept the Russian’s dream alive against all the odds by guiding Chelsea into a semi-final showdown with defending champions Barcelona. But the harsh reality is that the Blues are unlikely to feature in next season’s competition unless they go on to win the tournament – and in the final four they are the rank outsiders.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all have a touch of class a cut above the men from Stamford Bridge. Barca, in the semi-finals for the fifth successive season, are bidding to become the first side to successfully defend the European Cup since AC Milan in 1990 – and if they achieve that goal it will add weight to the argument that this is the greatest club side the beautiful game has ever seen.

But the beauty of the world’s most popular sport is you can never take anything for granted. And that is what makes Chelsea’s semi-final with the favourites so fascinating. It is a scenario that suits interim manager Di Matteo because the experts all agree they are the weakest team left in the competition, despite beating Benfica in both legs of their quarter-final.

No one expects Chelsea to go any further and that is what gives  them a fighter’s chance of pulling off a shock because they have nothing to lose. The Blues will also remember how they took Barca to the brink the last time they met at this stage in 2009 and the Catalans were rescued by a last gasp winner after surviving a remarkable number of strong penalty appeals.

I still expect Lionel Messi and his team-mates to progress to the final. But do not be surprised if  Di Matteo’s men push Barcelona all the way in their two-legged contest for the right to play Real or Bayern in the Final in Munich’s Allianz Arena on 19 May.

FLASHBACK: Arguably Chelsea’s greatest European triumph came against Barcelona in 2005 when  John Terry’s header sealed a 5-4 aggregate win and sent the Blues into the last eight of the Champions League. It was the night. Chelsea raced into a three-goal lead in 19 minutes, with Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff on target for Jose Mourinho’s side. Barca pulled two goals back before half-time, Ronaldinho scoring from the spot after Paolo Ferreira handled. Then Ronaldinho  scored a stunning second. But Terry’s 75th minutes strike made it a decisive 4-2 win on the night.


 You’ve got to admire Di Matteo – but success for Abramovich’s sack the manager policy would be bad for football


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How Torvill and Dean still continue to inspire the nation and turn Dancing On Ice celebrities into genuine sports stars is remarkable

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When showbusiness, entertainment and sport morph into one and produce a spectacular show as brilliant as last night’s extraordinary Dancing on Ice Final it is absolutely breathtaking.

It is 28 years since I sat mesmerised along with the rest of the world and watched Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean deliver their flawless interpretation of Bolero in an intoxicating Olympic Gold medal winning display of pure genius that was quite simply poetry in motion.

For the Nottingham duo to keep that love affair with ice skating alive three decades later and inspire the nation with a blockbuster show on ITV that is one of the most popular programmes on British television is another extraordinary feat.

Perfection: Torvill and Dean's Bolero at 1984 Winter Olympics

Perfection: Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's Bolero at 1984 Winter Olympics won the Gold Medal and inspired Britain to fall in love with ice skating

Never has the sport been more popular. And its popularity will surely grow even more after watching celebrities Matthew Wolfenden, Jorgi Porter and Chico Slimani each hit the heights of perfection during an absorbing contest that had all the drama of any major sporting occasion.

It was no exaggeration when judge Katarina Witt, the former Olympic champion from Germany, told winner Wolfenden after he danced the Balero with Nina Ulanova: “I just can not imagine what kind of a world class skater you would have become if you had started (ice skating) as a boy.”

The Emmerdale star was out of this world. But so too were Hollyoaks beauty Jorgi Porter, the runner up with Matt Evers, and X Factor singer Chico Slimani, the superfit 40 year-old who bounced back with three perfect 10s after dropping his partner Jodeyne Higgins in his opening routine. All three skaters delivered one flawless performance that scored 30 and the standard of every single ice dance was so extraordinary it was easy to forget these are celebrities who were all ice skating beginners six months ago.

You can say what you like about Dancing On Ice being nothing more than a popularity contest. This was ice skating of the highest calibre and a sporting duel that truly pushed the finalists to the heights of a competition professionals would have been proud of.

FOOTNOTE: It is criminal that ice rinks like Slough – one of the practice venues for Dancing On Ice celebrities – deny the public the chance to emulate our ice skating heroes by restricting time on the ice to just one night a week. Monday is the only day of the week when you can skate after 6pm at Slough. Absolutely Ice, the owners, should be ashamed of themselves for such a pathetic contribution to the sport that Torvill and Dean made into a Great British love affair.





Last laugh is on Premier League boss Sir Dave Richards after embarrassing fall from grace and his “FIFA stole our game” jibe

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It is hard to take Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards seriously, not just because he is shockingly naive for a man who represents the most successful domestic football competition on the planet, but because he has the aura of a real-life Mr Bean.

For anyone with a sense of humour it was deliciously poetic that the blundering buffoon was caught on film when he tripped into a water feature on his way to dinner in Qatar after insulting the rest of the world with his comments that FIFA and UEFA had “stolen football” from England.

Richards claimed his comments were misunderstood and he has issued a public apology. But the joke was on him at the International Sport Security Conference when he fell onto his hands and knees in a fountain pool. Richards, who denied he had been drinking, also warned his hosts that football fans from England and Germany visiting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar “have a culture and we call it ‘we would like to go for a pint’.”

“My comments on the heritage of the game were intended to be light-hearted,” insists Richards. “They clearly have not come across in that way and I sincerely regret making them and any resulting negativity that may have been interpreted towards Fifa and Uefa. I will be writing to both organisations in these terms.”

Speaking at the conference in Doha, Qatar, Richards said: “England gave the world football. It gave the best legacy anyone could give. We gave them the game.

“Then, 50 years later, some guy came along and said, you’re liars, and they actually stole it. It was called FIFA.

“Fifty years later, another gang came along called UEFA and stole a bit more.”

Richards’ views were challenged by FIFA vice president Prince Ali Bin Hussein, who suggested that the Chinese invented football.

Fall guy: Sir Dave Richards takes a tumble in Qatar

Fall guy: Sir Dave Richards takes a tumble in Qatar