Archive for the ‘Premier League’ Category
There are few transformations in sport that can match the way Craig Bellamy has turned from a foul-mouthed rebel to a charmingly passionate footballer who has dedicated the twilight of his career to making history with his hometown club Cardiff City.
It is ironic that Bellamy has matured into an inspirational character and proved that people can change, just like the club he supports has reinvented itself and swapped its colours in the process of claiming a glorious promotion to the Premier League.
When Bellamy completed his return to Cardiff last summer he said taking his boyhood heroes to the top flight would be his greatest achievement. The way Bellamy has played such a pivotal role in making that dream become a reality crowns a fairytale promotion for the Bluebirds, who last played in the top league in 1962.
Promotion for Malky Mackay’s Cardiff comes 53 years to the day since they last won a place in the elite of English football. It completes a remarkable transformation for a club that controversially rebranded from blue shirts to red before the start of this promotion winning campaign.
Malaysian owner Vincent Tan has even suggested he may change the club’s name to Cardiff Dragons in his quest to maximise marketing and revenue potential back in Asia, where red is deemed a lucky colour and dragons are regarded as more impressive than bluebirds.
There is something quite poetic about the way Cardiff’s success in changing their identity and their fortunes is mirrored by the impressive way Bellamy has changed his own character and his image.
Back in 2005 we saw the worst of Bellamy when he sent abusive text messages to Alan Shearer after Newcastle’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Manchester United. Bellamy was on loan from the Magpies at Celtic at the time and was universally shunned for insulting the Geordie legend.
For years the Welsh international divided opinion throughout a colourful and controversial career that took him from Newcastle and Celtic to Manchester City and Liverpool. His regular bouts of surly arrogance often overshadowed his undoubted talent and he did himself no favours when he infamously confronted Liverpool team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club.
But there is another side to Bellamy, who has dedicated much of his time in recent years to his charity work with the Craig Bellamy Foundation, which educates disadvantaged youngsters through a football academy in Sierra Leone. Cardiff fans have seen the best of the Welshman who first caused genuine disbelief in 2010 when he started his campaign to get his hometown club promoted and initially went there on loan from Manchester City.
Three years later Cardiff City’s promotion remarkably means that 10 percent of the Premier League is now Welsh. Rivals Swansea having also celebrated this season by winning the Capital One Cup at Wembley.
Meanwhile, Bellamy’s reformation has coincided with a change in lifestyle influenced by Dr Steve Peters, author of mind-management book The Chimp Paradox, who helped the 33 year-old come to terms with the death of his friend and mentor Gary Speed.
Forget politics Paolo Di Canio will be judged by results on pitch – and odds favour clubs loyal to managers
BY JOHN GUBBA
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.
First of all let me say I have huge respect for both Roy Ferdinand and the current England manager Roy Hodgson, whom I predicted in this column when he was appointed would restore pride in wearing the Three Lions. But like players, managers are prone to making mistakes. And Hodgson has been guilty of failing to use his common sense.
Ferdinand will be heading to Rio one way or another. The betting now is that it will be as a pundit, judging by the impact he has made on Al Jazeera and the fall-out of this latest saga. Whether or not Hodgson makes it there too, with or without the Manchester United defender in the England team, is likely to remain in doubt until October at least. And the shadow of Ferdinand will not go away until England qualify.
It is typical of the media, especially because he plays for Manchester United, that Ferdinand has been singled out as this week’s public enemy No.1 by an array of pundits, ex-players and headline hungry journalists. But this is not his fault and if Hodgson was on top of his job this ridiculous scenario would never have happened.
Hodgson has done himself no favours by naievely walking into a media storm of his own making by the way he has handled his non-selection and subsequent flawed selection of the former England skipper. It was bad enough that the boss made a mess of things in the first place when he omitted Ferdinand in favour of John Terry at Euro 2012. But the re-selection fiasco that has preceded Tuesday night’s crucial showdown in Montenegro could have been so easily avoided with a simple phone call.
As Mark Lawrenson pointed out in the Mirror this morning ”What does the England boss do all week? Are you telling me he could not have called Sir Alex Ferguson or Rio himself and said: “I’m planning to bring you back in the squad. Are there any issues with that?”
Sir Alex Ferguson’s support team at Carrington boasts a sophisticated sports science team that has worked wonders in helping to extend the careers of a succession of star players. The return to form and fitness of Ferdinand is further testimony to the value of a set-up second to none in the Premier League. And it is Hodgson’s job to know what is going on behind the scenes and not use guesswork.
If being England manager simply meant selecting a squad of names and pinning it to the notice board, it would be an easy job that most of us could do part-time. The game has moved on from the days when news of an England call-up was announced to the media before the players, or at least it should have done. Hodgson knew there were potential issues in selecting Ferdinand out of the blue after his public humiliation of the player last year. What is equally worrying is that he alienated Ferdinand in the first place, especially with England being so short of quality in central defence.
As Alan Hansen said in his column in the Daily Telegraph: “If you look at the Premier League this season, it is not surprising that England are so desperately short. The standard of defending has deteriorated to the lowest level I think I have ever seen.”
Managing a national team, especially superstars continually in the glare of media scrutiny, requires many skills, not least the ability to motivate, build team spirit and read situations correctly in order to avoid strength-sapping conflict. My belief is that Hodgson made the mistake of writing Ferdinand off when he alienated him in the summer and now that error of judgement has come back to haunt him. It is a measure of England’s desperate lack of quality at the back that we are still a long way short of replacing the formidable defensive partnership that Ferdinand and Terry once forged.
It was predictable that the media would criticise Ferdinand’s decision to travel to Qatar to sit in a TV studio on Friday night, when he could have been playing in the 8-0 thrashing of San Marino. But there is no way Rio would have made that trip if the medical experts back at Carrington thought it was putting his delicate back at risk. Meanwhile, the reality is that Ferdinand was only needed for the game in Montenegro and if Hodgson had done his homework and tried a lot harder to repair the damage he caused in the first place, maybe this could have happened.
What is indisputable is that Ferdinand has been outstanding for Manchester United this season. The statistics confirm he has been the best defender in the League. His career has been rejuvenated with the assistance of the medical support team who scientifically manage his training programme and advise the manager on the optimum time he should spend on the pitch. Hodgson should have been aware of this and in communication with the United throughout the season. No wonder Sir Alex and Ferdinand were taken by surprise when Hodgson announced his squad on March 14.
Great managers embrace sports science and understand the power of psychology, diplomacy and motivating their players to give everything for the common cause. If England fail to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the way Hodgson has blundered his way through his man-management of key players will be called into question.
Whatever the result of Tuesday night’s crunch encounter in Montenegro with the side that currently tops England’s group, who makes it to Brazil will almost certainly remain in doubt until the final qualification matches are completed in October – and the ordeal will continue to the play-offs if England fail to top the group. My prediction is that England will make it to the World Cup. But if they do, let’s hope Hodgson has learned a few lessons and can avoid giving the media the excuse to undermine morale before the team gets on the pitch.
Michael Owen a former England striker has announced his retirement from football at the end of the season.
Debuting for Liverpool at only 17 years old, before his famous solo goal for England against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup.
Owen, 33, who scored 40 goals in 89 internationals, played for Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle United and Manchester United and is now at Stoke. Including a hattrick against Germany in England’s famous 5-1 victory over their rivals in 2001.
He said: “It is with an immense amount of pride that I am announcing my intention to retire.
“I have been very fortunate in that my career has taken me on a journey I could only have dreamed of.”
He has scored 220 goals in his club career, winning the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup (three times) and Uefa Cup. Owen was named European Footballer of the Year in 2001 – the first Englishman to achieve the accolade since Kevin Keegan in 1979.
“Having progressed through the ranks at Liverpool to make my first-team debut at 17, before embarking upon spells at Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United and Stoke City, not to mention representing my country on 89 occasions, I now feel it is the right time to bring the curtain down on my career,”
Nani red card disgrace Real insult: Curse of anti-British referees ruining Champions League and threatens EPL quota
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.
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.
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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Below: No penalty: Did the ref ignore Ramos clearly holding back Danny Welbeck in the box?
Balotelli: champion who acts like a clown – but Milan’s swoop for Super Mario has robbed Premier League of flawed genius
Whether you consider Mario Balotelli an immature champion with a touch of genius or a clown prince squandering his talents, the truth is the Premier League will be just a lttle poorer without him when he completes his £20 million move to Milan.
It does not matter where your allegiance lies, Ballotelli is box office and his antics on and off the field are guaranteed to entertain. The problem for Manchester City is that he is a maverick who can be a liability just as often as a matchwinner. And with the stakes so high for a club that boasts being the richest in the world, the powers that be at the Ethiad have decided he is no longer a gamble not worth taking.
Jose Mourinho, who worked with AC Milan-bound Balotelli at Inter Milan, famously called him “unmanageable” and described his time working with the Italian as a “comedy.”
Subject to a medical in Milan in the morning, the 22 year-old, who was signed by City for £24 million from Inter in 2010, has agreed a four-and-a-half year contract at the San Siro.
Reports in Italy suggest that Milan will pay £20 million plus bonuses for Balotelli, who will be taking a pay cut to move to the club he has supported since childhood.
The surprise is that Balotelli appears to have been unloaded against the will of manager Roberto Mancini, who has always nsisted he did not want to sell his young protege and only this month said he would give him a hundred chances after their training ground spat at Carrington.
What a huge error of judgement by Newcastle United boss Alan Pardew: hypocrite who manages “wee club in the north-east”
It is hardly surprising that Sir Alex Ferguson’s actions during Saturday’s thrilling victory over Newcastle United and his subsequent reaction to criticsm from beaten boss Alan Pardew has caused a media frenzy. But the truth is that Fergie has hit the target once again with his brilliant response to the ill-judged words of the Magpies’ boss..
When the Football Association confirmed no action will be taken against Ferguson for confronting referee Mike Dean and his assistants before the start of the second half over the controversial way they allowed Newcastle’s second goal to stand, it was a slap in the face for Pardew.
The Newcastle manager made his feelings clear when he announced that Ferguson’s conduct was worthy of a dismissal, adding that Dean will have been “slightly disappointed” he did not take action at the time.
But Sir Alex deliciously put Pardew in his place when he accused him of hypocrisy, describing him as a manager of a “wee club in the north-east” and passionately defended his right to confront referee Dean.
It was pure theatre at his Friday press conference at Carrington when The Boss declared: “Alan Pardew has come out and criticised me. He is the worst at haranguing referees. He shoves them and makes a joke of it. How he can criticise me is unbelievable. He forgets the help I gave him, by the way.
“I was demonstrative but I was not out of order. The press have had a field day. The only person they have not spoken to is Barack Obama because he is busy. It is unfortunate but I am the manager of the most famous club in the world. Not Newcastle, a wee club in the north-east.
“I was demonstrative. I am always demonstrative. Everyone knows that. I am an emotional guy. But I was not abusive. I shouted Mike over. We walked towards each other. I was only on [the pitch] three or four yards. That has been overplayed. The problem for me is that the profile of this club is huge.”
For the record, Pardew was given a two-match touchline ban and fined £20,000 after accepting an FA charge of improper conduct for pushing an assistant referee earlier this season. He was also sent off during the 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur on 18 August when he pushed Peter Kirkup after claiming the ball had gone out of play during a Tottenham attack.
Why Robin van Persie – the missing link for Manchester United’s Comeback Kings – is bringing best out of Sir Alex Ferguson
It is only a matter of time before Manchester United tighten up their defensive frailties and when that happens Sir Alex Ferguson will once again have a team ready to conquer Europe. Do not rule out that happening this season with football’s greatest ever manager hellbent on crowning his career with victory in the Champions League Final at Wembley in May.
In the meantime, the football world can only marvel at the way the Reds have mastered the art of outscoring their Premier League opponents. The Comeback Kings did it yet again when they celebrated the holiday period with a breathtaking 4-3 Boxing Day triumph despite going behind three times against Newcastle.
Javier Hernandez grabbed the glory when he snatched the dramatic last minute winner at the Theatre of Dreams and the magnificent Mexican is once proving he is one of the world’s great predators in front of goal. But it is RVP who is now the main man at Old Trafford and gone are the days when United were over-reliant on Wayne Rooney.
Do not get me wrong. Rooney is still one of the best players in the world and his value to United is priceless. But it is no longer a crisis when Rooney is injured or off form – as he clearly was at Swansea on Sunday. RVP is a rare talent of a different kind and it is no exaggeration to compare his influence on Ferguson’s team to the effect Eric Cantona had when he famously inspired the first Premier League triumph for the Boss back in the early 90s.
It is no wonder that Fergie reacted so furiously when he saw the Dutchman take that blow from Ashley Williams at the Liberty Stadium. In the week he celebrates his 71st birthday there is clearly a spring in the step of the manager who clearly still has that raging hunger for more trophies. And the reason for that is largely due to the signing he this week described as the “missing link.’
Not only is he the missing link. But as his national manager Louis van Gaal also declared this week that 29-year-old Van Persie “has become an even better player at United.”
The Holland boss declared: “Robin van Persie is getting better and better – it’s incredible. He is a super professional player who really knows what he wants from his career and how he will achieve it. I have never seen any player reach Robin’s age and still improve as a footballer. Moving to United has been good for him – and it has been good for Holland.”
It’s no joke: soccer players are at risk of brain damage – that’s why Sir Alex and RVP right to react over Ashley Williams at Swansea
Sir Alex Ferguson is trending on twitter tonight after urging the FA to ban Swansea’s Ashley Williams for kicking the ball at Robin van Persie’s head and claiming it could have killed his Manchester United striker.
Buffoons like Piers Morgan – one of RVP’s biggest fans before he was sold to united by Arsenal – were quick to ridicule Sir Alex, claiming it was a gross overreaction. The former Daily Mirror editor described Fergie’s rant as a “meltdown” and urged followers to re-tweet his verdict that this was the “craziest statement in football history.”
But let’s hang on a minute here before we accept the partisan ramblings of a critic who was sacked for publishing fake photographs of military abuse because this is no laughing matter. The truth is brain damage caused by the impact of the football is a matter of growing concern in the sport and many scientists are trying to get this recognised.
Lying prone on the ground with the play stopped by the referee after a challenge on the edge of the Swansea penalty box, van Persie felt the full force of the ball smashed against his head by Williams.
Fumed Ferguson: “Robin van Persie is lucky to be alive. It was a disgraceful act from their player. He should be banned by the FA. Robin could have had a broken neck.”
United’s furious manager insisted Williams had deliberately aimed the ball at Van Persie, who clearly drew the same conclusion when he reacted furiously. Referee Michael Oliver also saw it that way, booking the Swans’ defender and the Dutchman for his response.
Williams’ claim that it was an accident was not convincing and the video suggests otherwise.
Meanwhile, the seriousness of brain injury caused by the impact of the football is causing increasing concern in the medical profession. In a recent study, Dr. Michael Lipton, of the Albert Einstien College of Medicine states that “repeated heading could set off a cascade of responses that could lead to degeneration of brain cells”.
In his study, he assessed the brains of 32 amateur soccer players and concluded: ”What we’ve shown here is compelling evidence that there are brain changes that look like traumatic brain injury as a result of heading a soccer ball with high frequency. Given that soccer is the most popular sport worldwide and is played extensively by children, these are findings that should be taken into consideration in order to protect soccer players.”
It is widely know that David Beckham can hit the ball at speeds of up to 100 mph. Facts like these and numerous studies are the reason many scientists now believe that brain damage can accumulate from sub-concussive impacts as well as concussions. Sub-concussive impacts are simply impacts to the head that aren’t hard enough to cause a concussion, but still jar the brain a little. Heading the ball qualifies as a sub-concussive hit and today’s impact to the head of van Persie during United’s 1-1 draw in South Wales was an extreme case.
How long before Rafa is waving goodbye?
Who would bet against Rafa Benitez getting the boot long before the end of his interim spell as Chelsea manager? In a job where winning does not guarantee you staying in the hot seat, there is surely little chance of the Spaniard avoiding the axe based on his shocking start to life as the Blues boss.
Benitez got his excuses in before his side surrendered the lead to crash 3-1 at West Ham when he explained his squad was tired. In an unsubtle dig at Roberto di Matteo, he said: ” I’m not here to criticise, but that’s the reality. We will be stronger as a team and a squad if we juggle them.” But blaming his popular predecessor for failing to rotate his squad will not protect him.
Ron Suart, in charge for just 31 games during the 1974-75 season, holds the ineviable record for being the permanent manager in charge for the shortest number of matches at Stamford Bridge. Not counting the single match caretaker role of Ray Wilkins, Gus Hiddink’s three months in temporary charge is the shortest reign under Abramovich. The Dutchman is the only manager to leave by his own choice. Benitez has indicated he would like to extend his 6 month deal. But his credibility has already been damaged after his first 3 matches have produced two goal-less draws and a hammering at Upton Park.
The irony here is that Roman Abramovich, perceived to be chasing the dream of bringing beautiful attacking football to West London, had it all under di Matteo who, since delivering both the Champions League (below) and the FA Cup, was starting to turn on the style when Chelsea hit the top of the Premier League at the start of the season.
The reality is that Chelsea are now saddled with a £50 million striker well past his best in Fernando Torres and a manager who one suspects is also in decline. He may have a contract as interim boss until the end of the season. But Blues fans will never accept the former Liverpool boss, even if he does achieve something at Chelsea, which already looks doubtful. And as we all know the only thing a contract with Abramovich guarantees is a pay-off because the Russian is always liable to wake up one day, click his fingers and send Benitez back to the job centre.
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