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28 Agustus 2008

Champions League draw

Manchester United will face Celtic in a Battle of Britain in the UEFA Champions League and Fernando Torres can look forward to a return to Atletico Madrid with Liverpool following the draw in Monaco.
Last season's losing finalists Chelsea have been pitted against Italian side Roma, Bordeaux and Romanian champions CFR Cluj.
Fernando Torres will come up against his old side Atletico Madrid after Liverpool were paired with the Spanish side, Marseille and PSV Eindhoven in Group D.
Arsenal will be confident of progressing after being drawn against FC Porto, Fenerbahce and Dynamo Kiev in Group G.
United and Celtic locked horns in the group stages two years ago, with both sides claiming one win apiece in the two meetings, and it will be Gordon Strachan who pits his wits against former boss Sir Alex Ferguson again.
Bruce Rioch's Aalborg and Spanish side Villarreal make up the rest of Group E.
Elsewhere, Group H looks the toughest one to call with nine-times winners Real Madrid, returning Italians Juventus, Uefa Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg and Belarus champions Bate Borisov making up the group.
Barcelona have been handed a favourable draw in Group C, as they face Sporting Lisbon, Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk.
Rome's Stadio Olimpico will stage the final on 27th May 2009.
The first set of matches are due to be played on 16/17 September.
Group A
CFR Cluj
Group B
Inter Milan
Werder Bremen
Anorthosis Famagusta
Group C
Sporting Lisbon
Shakhtar Donetsk
Group D
PSV Eindhoven
Atletico Madrid
Group E
Manchester United
Group F
Bayern Munich
Steaua Bucharest
Group G
FC Porto
Dynamo Kiev
Group H
Real Madrid
Zenit St Petersburg
Bate Borisov

Ronaldo recognised as Europe's finest

Cristiano Ronaldo, the pivotal figure in Manchester United FC's march to UEFA Champions League glory last season, had more to celebrate today after collecting the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year prize at the awards ceremony in Monaco. The Portuguese international forward was also selected as the Best Forward while there was some consolation for Chelsea FC, the side United overcame in Moscow in May, as Petr Čech, John Terry and Frank Lampard were nominated as Best Goalkeeper, Defender and Midfielder respectively.
Sensational season
Ronaldo scored United's goal at the Luzhniki Stadium – his 42nd in all competitions in a prolific club campaign – and although he subsequently missed in the penalty shoot-out, United bounced back to become champions of Europe for the third time. It completed a sensational season for Ronaldo, who finished as the UEFA Champions League's eight-goal top scorer and also claimed the ESM Golden Shoe having struck 31 Premier League goals as United retained their title. The 23-year-old succeeds AC Milan's Kaká as the Club Footballer of the Year and is the second Portuguese international to land the prize after Deco in 2004. As he reflected upon the stars who had previously received the accolade, Ronaldo said: "It's a pleasure to be part of this magnificent group of players. To win this award is great for me and I feel very proud. The Champions League is a great level and to be one of the best players in it is great."

Forward accolade
Ronaldo also becomes the second United player to take home the overall award after David Beckham in 1999, while Ruud van Nistelrooy was voted Best Forward while at Old Trafford in 2003. Asked what was the secret of his success, Ronaldo replied: "Work. I think Manchester had a great season and I scored many goals. I feel very proud to be the best forward as I played as a winger – it is very good for me and gives me more ambition to become better. Thanks to all my team-mates and those that voted for me."
Chelsea cheer
Čech, meanwhile, beat off competition from United's Edwin van der Sar, Manuel Almunia, Manuel Neuer and Pepe Reina to lift the Best Goalkeeper gong for the second successive year and for the third time in total, having also been honoured in 2005. He was presented with his trophy by Peter Schmeichel, the winner of the inaugural prize in 1998. His abiding memory of the season was perhaps his role in the UEFA Champions League final penalty shoot-out. He said: "Of course it was difficult because it was only up to me and the five players who would shoot. But I tried to remember what I had seen from the videos I'd watched and what I'd talked about with other goalkeepers. This is what was going through my mind."

Terry honoured
Terry, who was handed his award by Franco Baresi, had been voted Best Defender in 2005, but was no less delighted about his latest silverware. "For me personally it's an amazing achievement," he said, adding: "To be a great defender you need a lot of attributes – to be quick, strong, good in the air and you also need plenty of great team-mates around you and I'm very lucky to have that." One of those colleagues, Lampard, became the first Chelsea player – and only the second English-based footballer after Beckham nine years ago – to take the midfield plaudits, given out by Sir Bobby Charlton. He said: "It feels very good. When you see the players that you're up against, there are some world-class players there. I've been up for the award for three years now so it's nice to finally win it."

Chelsea warned of Roma threat

Uefa's president, Michel Platini, has warned Roma that the Champions League final may be taken away from their stadium if there is any serious violence when they host Chelsea in their group match.
Roma's games against Manchester United in the past two seasons were marred by serious crowd problems and by knife attacks outside the Stadio Olimpico and Platini said Uefa would not accept further problems when Chelsea visit the Italian capital on November 4.
"We can't tolerate this level of violence," he said. "If we have any more violence we could withdraw the Champions League final from Rome. It's not an ultimatum, just a message that we are keeping an eye on it."
The draw in Monaco placed Chelsea, last season's beaten finalists, in a group that also includes Bordeaux and the Romanian champions CFR 1907 Cluj. The most intriguing draw, however, will see United play Celtic for the second time in three seasons. The holders will also meet the Danish champions Aalborg and the Spanish side Villarreal, against whom Wayne Rooney was sent off three years ago.
After a ceremony that saw Cristiano Ronaldo win Uefa's striker and overall player of the year awards and three Chelsea players - Petr Cech, John Terry and Frank Lampard - pick up the individual honours for goalkeeping, defending and midfield play respectively, Fernando Torres can look forward to an emotive return to his former club after Liverpool were pitted against Atlético Madrid. Liverpool will also face PSV Eindhoven and Marseille.
"It's not an easy draw for us and the overwhelming feeling after Wednesday's game [against Standard Liège] is that we are just happy to be involved," said Liverpool's...#65279; chief executive, Rick Parry. "The tie against Atlético Madrid is the one that stands out and will inevitably generate a lot of interest. It will mean a lot to all the Spanish players but especially Torres."
Of the Premier League sides, Arsenal will believe they face the most testing challenge, taking on FC Porto, Fenerbahce and Dynamo Kiev. But all four clubs will be grateful to have missed out on facing Bayern Munich and Juventus, both of whom were among the second seeds, and United will regard their opening group as a relatively moderate assignment.
"The pleasing aspect is that there will not be an awful lot of travel involved," said United's chief executive, David Gill, looking ahead to a tournament that begins on September 16-17. "Given that our next two league games are away at Liverpool and Chelsea, we're particularly pleased that the game that falls between those two is at home [against Villarreal]."
The Uefa Cup draw will be made here today and Gill intends to speak to Tottenham Hotspur's delegation to see if he can reach a compromise over United's pursuit of Dimitar Berbatov. The delays surrounding the proposed deal are clearly beginning to frustrate Sir Alex Ferguson. "In last week's press conference I said I was less optimistic, and I'm even less optimistic today," said the United manager. "I've no idea what's going on. It's very hard to get communication with some people."
Source: Guardian

Arsene Can Spend £30m - Fiszman

The Gunners are classically the most thrifty of the Premier League's so-called Big Four, as they rarely invest in the transfer market to the extent that Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool do.

While the official line from Ashburton Grove has always been that the funds are there for the mega-money buys, Wenger's consistent miserliness has cast a deep shadow of doubt over the club's actual financial position.

But Fiszman, speaking at the Champions League draw last night, stressed that the manager has full control over how his kitty is spent.

He said: "If Arsene said to us, ‘I want this guy and he’s £30million, can I buy him?’ the answer is, ‘Yes’.

"Absolutely yes. It would be no problem. It’s not our decision who he spends on nor will it ever be. We back him totally."

It is widely believed - and, indeed, has even been mentioned by Wenger - that Arsenal's lack of outlay on players stems from the recent construction of the Emirates Stadium.

The venue, which succeeded the old Highbury ground and has a capacity of 60, 355, was opened in 2006 and cost over £430million.

But Fiszman dismissed the notion that the club are hindered by outstanding construction costs, pointing to the increased revenue brought in by those extra 22,000 seats.

He said: "That’s total c***. Explain how the stadium bleeds us if it’s producing an extra £30m a year?"

And yet still Wenger refuses to spend big, despite the obvious need for an experienced midfielder in his young squad.

After two entertaining yet trophyless seasons, some have suggested that the Frenchman is more concerned with maintaining a stylish brand of football than winning silverware.

But Fiszman insisted: "Absolutely not. We want to win and win badly but Arsène believes in creating teams the way he does.

"There's a dual problem for him. If we were to buy names, you are talking about relatively mature players who need to be integrated into the way Arsène plays. They don't know our style and it also impacts on the youngsters who've been brought through."

Lampard Excited By Robinho Signing

It seems only a matter of when, and not if, Robinho completes a £28million switch from Real Madrid following his public plea to leave the Santiago Bernabeu.

The 24-year-old's capture will cap a summer of significant change at Stamford Bridge. New manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has already recruited Portugal playmaker Deco, and the addition of his fellow Brazilian will make the Blues' attack one of the most dangerous around - on paper, at least.

Lampard is thrilled that Scolari has brought in another creative genius, and he tipped Robinho to take the Premier League by storm.

"He is a fantastic player, I saw a lot of him last season watching the Spanish games," he said in The Sun.

"He has great flair, and something that would be nice to bring into our team.

"We have flair players already but he is another option and he could light up the league."

There are question marks over whether Robinho will adapt to the pace and power of English football - indeed, it is the query that surrounds most big-money imports.

But Lampard is confident that a player of the Selecao star's calibre will have little trouble adjusting.

He added: "He will have to get used to it because it is different to Spain, but he showed he is a world class player both at Madrid and for Brazil, and world class players adapt."

Cup-tied Pavlyuchenko to finalise Spurs move

Tottenham Hotspur hope to conclude the £12m purchase of Roman Pavlyuchenko from Spartak Moscow, despite the fact that he would be ineligible to play for them in the whole of their Uefa Cup campaign.
The striker appeared for Spartak two weeks ago in the first leg of the Russian club's Champions League third-round qualifier with Dynamo Kiev, which they lost 4-1 at the Luzhniki Stadium. He did not play in the return last night when they bowed out of the competition after another 4-1 defeat, a result that saw them drop into the Uefa Cup, where they will start together with Tottenham in the first round, the draw for which takes place in Monaco tomorrow.
The European governing body's rules state that "a player may not play Uefa club competition matches for more than one competing club in the course of the same season", and although one player who has already appeared in its competitions for another club can be registered from the start of the knockout rounds, he cannot if he has been "fielded for another club that is currently in the same competition". Spartak's result in Kiev and their drop in status meant misfortune, too, for Spurs.
Spartak have an agreement with Tottenham for the transfer of Pavlyuchenko who is expected in London to finalise personal terms and undergo a medical. He could yet be joined by his Russian team-mate Andrei Arshavin of Zenit St Petersburg, although the clubs are still to agree a fee.
There was a departure from White Hart Lane yesterday. The South Korean left-back Young-Pyo Lee has signed a one-year contract at Borussia Dortmund.
Meanwhile, Manchester United are hoping to resolve Dimitar Berbatov's protracted transfer from Tottenham by arranging the first face-to-face meeting between leading officials from the clubs. David Gill, United's chief executive, will be in Monaco today for the Champions League draw, followed by the European Super Cup final at the Stade Louis II tomorrow. At the same time, a Spurs delegation, including sporting director Damien Comolli and secretary John Alexander, will be in Monaco for the Uefa Cup draw.
Nothing has been officially scheduled, but Gill hopes to meet Comolli for the first time since United declared their interest in Berbatov earlier this summer. Gill will propose that any deal should include a condition that Tottenham drop their complaint against United for allegedly tapping up Berbatov. United have made two bids for the Bulgarian, an offer of £20.5m followed up by a £25m package last weekend.


Chelsea believe their pursuit of Real Madrid forward Robinho will go "to the wire".
The Brazilian featured, along with summer recruit Deco, on Luiz Felipe Scolari's shopping list when Chelsea's new manager pinpointed the players he wished to bring to Stamford Bridge this summer.
With Deco signed and already impressing in the Barclays Premier League, Chelsea are keen to bring Robinho to England from Real Madrid.
Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon said: "We are ever confident that it will get done but we have always said it will go to the wire.
"We will keep moving it on and we hope that he will be joining us here at Chelsea.
"There were two players Luiz Felipe Scolari identified. One was Deco and one was Robinho and we have already seen the impact Deco has made on the Premier League.
"I think the squad is strong and capable of competing in all competitions without Robinho, but with him it is an added dimension."
Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon insisted last night that he has not given up hope of staving off Chelsea's attempts to sign Robinho.
He told Spanish television channel La Sexta: "Robinho continues being a Real Madrid player and the coach counts on him.
"Those in charge of the sporting side of things want him to continue, and I've always wanted to follow the plans of those who really know about these things."
The transfer window will close after what is likely to be a frantic day of activity on Monday, however Chelsea appear to have no targets other than Scolari's younger compatriot.
There seems little prospect of another Brazilian, Kaka, leaving AC Milan to join the Blues, not least because the playmaker is happy at the San Siro.
Chelsea were linked with a world-record £80million bid for Kaka, but he told Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport: "Me going to Chelsea? I'm staying as a Rossoneri player.
"I should help Milan to win the trophies we're up for this season."
He added: "I've always said I'm happy at Milan and as long as my aims remain the same as Milan's I'll stay here. Until now it's always been that way.
"My goal is to win, Milan's is too. As long as we are like that, I'll remain at Milan."
One player who could still leave Chelsea is Shaun Wright-Phillips.
The winger's agent has insisted the 26-year-old England international wants to stay in London, however his opportunities at Chelsea this season could be limited and Manchester City are very eager to take him back, three years after selling him for £21million.
Wright-Phillips is also believed to interesting Everton boss David Moyes, who has had a quiet time in the transfer market this summer and is desperate to add to his squad with the transfer deadline imminent.
But the winger's agent Wayne Lindsay told "He [Wright-Phillips] doesn't want to join either of them and we are now discussing the next move to see what we do."
City manager Mark Hughes - a former Chelsea player himself - said yesterday: "We're obviously keen to bring him to the club if we can."


Martin O'Neill will not attempt to rush Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry into signing a new contract if he is still with the club when the transfer window closes next Monday.
Barry's agent Alex Black claimed long-time Liverpool target Barry "will not leave Aston Villa" before the current window ends.
That will be a massive relief and a welcome bonus to Villa boss O'Neill who admits he was resigned during the close season to losing the services of the England player.
But O'Neill will adopt a softly softly approach when it comes to trying to persuade Barry to sign a new deal - a topic that was on the agenda before the 27-year-old made it clear last May he wanted to move to Anfield.
O'Neill said: "If Gareth stays with us for the foreseeable future, I will be really delighted. It will be a really big bonus for us. If Gareth is here this time next week, I will be relieved.
"I would have said only a few weeks ago that I was resigned to the fact Gareth would no longer be here - around about the time we played Reading in pre-season and when he didn't come with us to Malaga because I assumed everything would be done that week.
"But as for the future now, let's go one step at a time. That is what I would be looking at.
"I wouldn't want to be rushing anyone into making decisions or asking anyone to do something that no-one is really comfortable with."
O'Neill admits he has never had any doubts about Barry being in the right frame of mind since coming back into the side despite an average performance by his standards in the 3-2 defeat at Stoke at the weekend.
The former Celtic boss said: "Gareth will have better days for us than at Stoke with a bit of luck but Saturday might just have been a culmination of four games in quick succession, the lack of any steady pre-season build-up, and all of those things.
"I couldn't have faulted him in any of the matches he had played for us before that one and it was just maybe everything getting to him at the one time - including maybe that sharpness and fitness that he is still striving for.
"Is Gareth in the right frame of mind? I think he answered that with his performances in the games he has played for us."
Villa are expected to step up their bid to sign Newcastle's want-away winger James Milner who has handed in a transfer request.
They are understood to have had one offer rejected for the England Under-21 player in the region of £9million.
Now they look set to renew their attempts to sign a player who spent the 2005-2006 campaign on loan at Villa Park.
O'Neill thought he had landed Milner two years ago after agreeing a fee for the ex-Leeds star, but Newcastle stopped the deal going through at the 11th hour.
The Villa boss would only say: "I will tell you that we are very keen to try to strengthen our side between now and transfer deadline day.
"I am sure I could get one or two in anyway but it is just adding the sort of quality that I would want - and that is exactly what I will be trying to do.
"Am I a fan of Milner? He was nearly here two years ago. He nearly signed two years ago but it didn't materialise. But I never think anything is done and dusted until anything happens.
"So many things have happened to me as a player and as a manager that I would never take anything for granted. It was disappointing at the time but it was two years ago."
O'Neill is expected to ring the changes for the second leg of the UEFA Cup clash with Hafnarfjordur on Thursday night with Villa holding a 4-1 lead from the away leg.


Rafael Benitez hailed his European lucky charm Dirk Kuyt as Liverpool scrambled their way into the Champions League group stages but lost Steven Gerrard to injury on Wednesday night.
They eventually beat an excellent Standard Liege side 1-0 on the night, and on aggregate, with Kuyt scoring the winner two minutes from the end of extra-time.
Benitez's delight with Kuyt's contribution was tempered by the news that skipper Gerrard will have a groin operation on Thursday and miss both of England's World Cup matches against Andorra and Croatia.
He will also be out of Liverpool's trip to Aston Villa on Sunday, and may miss the home game with Manchester United on September 13.
Liverpool have clearly made a tactical decision to limit Gerrard's loss to the Anfield club by deciding on an operation after last night's game.
England boss Fabio Capello will no doubt be disappointed with that decision, but Liverpool clearly wanted to get the maximum out of Gerrard in the third qualifying round before agreeing to the operation.
Benitez said: "We decided that Steven would play through the pain against Liege and then have the operation. He may not be fit for the Manchester United game, but he certainly will be okay for the first group stage match next month."
Benitez revealed that Gerrard has been playing through constant pain this season.
It was clear that Gerrard was not at his best last night, and he will now go under the knife to make sure he is fit to lead Liverpool into the group stages in September.
"He has a groin problem so he will have an operation and could be out for 10 to 15 days. It is not serious but we need to do it now," Benitez said.
"He has been playing some games in pain, not being 100% fit and we decided that this was the best moment for the operation.
"He had a problem for the first game with Liege, and also when he went away to play for England in their friendly last week against the Czech Republic.
"We talked with the doctor yesterday and today, and it was decided that Steven would play in this match with the pain. But now we will have to get the situation solved."
Of Kuyt's match-winning contribution last night,
Benitez added: "I was delighted with Dirk Kuyt, his goal was a reward for all the effort he puts in for us. He is amazing.
"His work is tremendous, he keeps going right to the end and makes a tremendous contribution to our side."
Liverpool, despite another worrying display, are now in the group stages draw on Thursday in Monaco.
Benitez said: "Obviously there is some relief with the result. We knew it would be a difficult game against a quick, well-organised team.
"The positive was that we played a little better than recently - we want to win trophies but we also understand the need for money."
Liege boss Laszlo Boloni said: "We are very sad after that result. Over two matches we have been the best organised team and we deserved better than to lose like that in the final minutes.
"We have produced a high standard in both matches, and now I hope that can be continued in our league matches and the UEFA Cup.
"I sometimes wondered whether the referee was affected by the fact that we were playing a big team. I felt we should have had a couple of penalties.
"But in the end we created a lot of good situations in both matches and did not make use of them."

26 Agustus 2008

Spurs say £30m for Berbatov or we stick him in the reserves

The game of brinkmanship between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United over the future of Dimitar Berbatov intensified last night when the London club indicated that they would be willing to consign the striker to the reserves rather than sell him to the Premier League champions for anything less than their £30m valuation of him.
Spurs, having rejected United's opening £20m bid for the 27-year-old Bulgarian, are awaiting an improved offer but relations between the clubs are strained after Tottenham complained to the Premier League alleging United had inappropriately pursued Berbatov.
The Spurs manager, Juande Ramos, spoke with the striker on Friday and deemed him not "focused enough" to feature against Sunderland on Saturday, with an attitude that would not "be good for the dressing room and the team effort".
Although that statement appeared to offer United the initiative in their pursuit of Berbatov as they prepared an improved and apparently final bid of £25m, Spurs moved swiftly yesterday to indicate that they were willing to relegate him to the second string, where he would remain even after the closure of the transfer window, should United not offer the full £30m. The Tottenham hierarchy would argue that he was not psychologically ready to represent the first team, leaving him in limbo with two years to run on his contract.
Compromise is still likely to be reached before Monday's midnight deadline, but Spurs are dismayed that no real interest has been expressed in the striker by any other club.
Tottenham's own pursuit of reinforcements will go down to the wire. They are still interested in the Ajax forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the River Plate striker Radamel Falcao, who was watched by their scouts at the weekend. The merits of the Wigan forward Emile Heskey have also been discussed.
There remains the possibility of Andrei Arshavin, the Russia playmaker who has long been targeted by Ramos, moving to White Hart Lane after Zenit St Petersburg secured the Portuguese midfielder Danny - full name Daniel Miguel Alves Gomes - from Dynamo Moscow for a Russian-record £24m. Arshavin was left out of Zenit's side for their win over Krylya Sovetov at the weekend and, despite Tottenham insisting publicly that they had "moved on" in their search for recruits, the 27-year-old remains an attractive target.

Quaresma To Inter In 48 Hours

Quaresma’s prospected move to the Nerazzurri has become one of the transfer soap operas of the summer in Italy, ranking alongside Amauri and Ronaldinho's transfers to Juventus and Milan respectively.

Inter have been chasing the 24-year-old for what now seems like an eternity, as Jose Mourinho hopes to end his summer activity by bringing in a suitable winger for his 4-3-3 formation.

The main problem in closing the deal has been the failure to find a compromise over a transfer fee. However, the Gazzetta today claims that this issue is close to being resolved, and that Quaresma will become an Inter player within the next 48 hours.

Porto are demanding €30m for the wideman, but Inter are only prepared to pay €20m. Thus the Gazzetta says that the Italian champions will take Quaresma on a one-year loan, with the option of making the move permanent next summer for €25m.

Strangely though, Inter president Massimo Moratti did not seem too enthusiastic about Quaresma when asked yesterday about his possible signing.

“Quaresma? You always ask me these transfer questions but, to be honest, I don’t find that player exciting,” Moratti told Il Corriere Dello Sport.

“We have better players in our team who are doing so well.”

Luca Capofranco

Sergio Ramos Wants New Contract

Realizing that the club have the astronomical funds to go after Cristiano Ronaldo and now David Villa and the capacity to offer Robinho a new mega deal in an attempt to entice him to stay, Real Madrid rightback Sergio Ramos is ready to cash in by demanding a significant contract improvement.
According to El Mundo Deportivo, the player’s agent and brother, René Ramos scheduled a meeting with the club directors yesterday to request a raise from €6 million gross to €6 million net per season for his client.
Sergio Ramos was reportedly promised a review of his contract at the same time the club discussed a new agreement with Raúl, Guti and Iker Casillas, but the negotiations never reached completion for the 22 year old versatile defender.
It is no secret that the former Sevilla man has received countless offers from AC Milan and it looks as though he might just use that as a bargaining chip to get his contract improvement.

25 Agustus 2008

Calderón Hails Epic Performance

The Bernabéu club's president was overjoyed with the victory that gave los Merengues their first trophy of the new campaign and showed true determination.

Madrid saw Rafael Van der Vaart and Ruud van Nistelrooy sent off, but they still managed to score three goals in the final 15 minutes to win the encounter and the tie.

"Everyone is delighted with the way that we have won this trophy and it is what makes this club great and it will long be remembered," Calderón said.

"Scoring three goals with nine players will not happen very often. We have shown determination and spirit and that has made me very proud of everything we are doing here.

"The players are natural born winners and they do not know how to lose, it is not in their make-up. It is what makes Madrid so great and we are so happy and proud.

"Everyone has been great and showed great mentality as well as being physically strong. Now we have to take advantage of this and go for the other three trophies available this season.

"There is a feeling that this team cannot be stopped."

Madrid take on Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday evening in the annual Trofeo Bernabéu encounter that was postponed last summer after the death of Sevilla's Antonio Puerta.

Lucas Brown,

Scolari: No Pressure On Fergie & Wenger - Yet

The Blues followed up last weekend's dominant display against Portsmouth with a hard-fought win away at Wigan yesterday, Deco scoring the only goal with an early free-kick.

The west London club thus maintained their status as the pace-setters alongside Liverpool, who were also forced to fight for their 2-1 triumph over Middlesbrough.

However, the rest of the Big Four have not fared quite so well.

The Gunners were both outplayed and beaten by Fulham on Saturday, while United will hope to redress last week's disappointing draw against Newcastle when they travel to Fratton Park this evening.

But Scolari dismissed the notion that Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are already on edge, insisting it is far too early to make such judgements.

"It is only two games - if it was the last games of the season, maybe there would be pressure but now? No," the Brazilian told the press.

"I think teams have time now to lose some points."

Spurs usher £25m Berbatov towards exit

Tottenham Hotspur have insisted it was they, and manager Juande Ramos, who took the decision to leave Dimitar Berbatov out of the squad that lost to Sunderland on Saturday and that it was not the unsettled striker who told them he did not want to play.
Berbatov is determined to fulfil his "dream" of signing for Manchester United and the Old Trafford club, having seen one bid of £20m rejected, are preparing another worth £25m, which they are confident will finally close the deal.
Tottenham value the Bulgarian at £30m and it seemed a strange tactic for them to issue a statement before the Sunderland game, which carried quotes from Ramos, explaining that Berbatov was not... "focused enough" and would not "be good for the dressing-room and the team effort". The statement effectively conceded that Berbatov was lost as a player to Tottenham and appeared to give United the upper hand in the wrangle.
Ramos had picked Berbatov the previous Saturday, albeit as a substitute, in the defeat at Middlesbrough and the player scored twice for Bulgaria in their 2-1 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina last Wednesday. "I believe he was superb [for Bulgaria]," Ramos said on Thursday. "Let's hope he has something left in the tank to help us gain a victory on Saturday." The Spaniard's subsequent meeting with Berbatov, though, ended with the player being dropped from the squad.
Ramos, who said that he did not know whether Berbatov was at the stadium on Saturday, was asked whether Tottenham should not pay him if he refused to play. "You should ask the club," he replied.
It was also put to him that Roy Keane, the Sunderland manager, said he would drive any unsettled player of his to whichever club he wanted. "That's an interesting point of view," mused Ramos. As a result Ramos had only one striker, Darren Bent, against Sunderland. "Of course there are repercussions [to the Berbatov situation]," he said. "We were only able to play with one forward and I had no forwards on the bench to change things."

23 Agustus 2008

Casillas: We Should Facilitate Robinho's Exit

Iker Casillas believes that a quick solution to the situation would be best for both parties, although he affirmed that the "news" won't affect them before their Spanish Super Cup clash with Valencia.
The Spanish international affirmed that if Madrid feel that Robinho wants to leave the club, they "will have to sell him, and they should sell him for a good price for the good of Real Madrid."
Casillas admitted that Robinho's sale would benefit the group "so that those of us who want to be here can have a united group who stand strong," and he added that if the Brazilian wants to leave "we will have to help him so that he enjoys his new club."
In respect to the possibility of David Villa joining Los Merengues, in the case that Robinho moves on, of course, Casillas expressed his "delight that a [Spanish] national team player can contribute to Real Madrid. He is a great player and also a good friend of mine," although he repeated that a decision has to be made by Schuster, Pedja Mijatovic or Calderon.

Ferguson coy over transfer targets

Sir Alex Ferguson has insisted he is not worried by Manchester United's lack of new faces this season. Photograph: Andrew Yates/AFP

Last week Sir Alex Ferguson had a twinkle in his eye and a promise that Manchester United might surprise everyone by bringing in a new player before the start of the season.
Alex FergusonNothing happened. Mikaël Silvestre was unexpectedly sold to Arsenal, but that doesn't really count, and neither does Djibril Cissé snubbing Manchester City in favour of a loan move to Sunderland.
Now Ferguson is shaking his head and saying he is less optimistic about making a signing. 'Maybe, maybe not,' he offers with a shrug, so expect Dimitar Berbatov to be signed before tomorrow's game at Portsmouth in time to make his debut in the Super Cup match against Zenit St Petersburg in Monaco on Friday.
Do not expect Ferguson to switch targets and come back with Zenit's Euro 2008 star Andrei Arshavin instead, because United had the Russian watched several years ago and decided not to pursue their interest. 'He's obviously a good player, but he plays a particular role for his club and his country,' Ferguson says. 'He wasn't what we were looking for, but you have to say he was outstanding in the match against Holland.'
Ferguson may be relaxed about the transfer window closing before a new striker has been secured - 'We won the two main prizes last year and this is far from the worst squad we have ever had' - though should Chelsea add Robinho to their summer capture of Deco and continue their solid start to the season, United fans could soon be moaning about the club resting on their laurels.
'I think they know me a little better than that by now,' Ferguson counters. 'They know I will always try to improve the squad if I possibly can, and they know there is no point buying players who won't do that. The transfer market can be frustrating at times, but I don't think our fans will be jumping off a cliff if we don't sign anyone. I don't think anyone will mind Mikaël joining Arsenal either. He's been a great servant to this club, he's lost his place to Patrice Evra, and after nine years spent at United you have to treat a player fairly.'
Rather disappointingly, Ferguson did not watch the England friendly in midweek - Setanta's studio scouts could be missing a trick there - so he has nothing further to add to the great debate over Wayne Rooney's positional deployment other than the observation that 22-year-olds generally are prone to tiring themselves out running in search of the ball. Rooney himself, ineffective in his last two matches against Newcastle and the Czech Republic, says he does not mind where he plays.
'If we bring in a striker who can help the team score goals that will be fine with me, I'll try to fit in with him,' Rooney explains. 'If we don't, it will be me and Carlos [Tevez] again like last season. Carlos likes to drop in just behind the front man, that's probably his best position, so I'll have to stay further up. I won't have a problem with that, I think it's what the manager wants me to do anyway.'
The manager does not mind Rooney playing unselfishly for the team and tearing around trying to win the ball back, he just thinks he should spend more of his time on the edge of the opposing penalty area instead of on the edge of his own half. 'If he gets to the edge of the box he will make more goals and score more goals,' Ferguson says. 'He'll work that out for himself eventually. He does waste energy at times, but at 22 I don't think that's too much to worry about. It's just a question of channelling his energy and enthusiasm.'
Harry Redknapp may give an immediate debut to Armand Traoré, 18, who has joined on loan from Arsenal, in place of injured Croatia star Niko Kranjcar. He will persevere with 4-4-2, spearheaded by England's Defoe and Peter Crouch.

Scolari brings up the past to drive Chelsea to tedium

One-touch passes, liquid movement and carousel creation seduced the eye as Chelsea's Brazilian manager directed his team to the most emphatic opening-day victory of the Roman Abramovich era. Something more pragmatic may be needed to extract three away points from Wigan in match two.
Dead balls killed Chelsea last season - goal after goal conceded from corners and free-kicks as training-ground preparations were neglected and better organised opponents took advantage. Luiz Felipe Scolari is driving his players to the point of tedium rather than letting such fatal negligence continue.
In the latter stages of pre season, Scolari devoted two consecutive days to training solely on set pieces, doggedly schooling his players on marking and defensive positioning. By the second day, one senior international, accustomed to getting his way with coaches, decided enough was enough, brashly informing his new boss that the team 'had got it now'. Reminding the midfielder that Chelsea had lost 19 goals from dead balls over the past 12 months, Scolari returned him to work. The sessions have continued this past week.
'I know we have problems with this,' Scolari says. 'The staff told me what happened last season. I'm training on this and I'm training many times because we have some different positions for marking now than before. I asked in the meeting before the Portsmouth game if they agreed about some positions. They understood, they trained and they agreed, and we were better in that game than in the training.
'This week we've been training again and they have good positions now for free-kicks, corner-kicks and fouls against us. For sure if we have good positions at these balls we have more chance to win games.'
The same reasoning explains Scolari's request for Chelsea to prise Robinho away from Real Madrid, regardless of the Spaniards' high-priced resistance. For all his pleasure at the manner in which his team controlled the midfield and passed their way to the 4-0 victory over Portsmouth, Scolari is aware such an approach alone will not garner sufficient points to return the Premier League trophy to west London.
A striker who manufactures as well as he finishes and can play through the centre or out wide, Robinho offers the unpredictable - and with it another way of playing. 'We have a system we play and to change this system we need different players,' Scolari explains. 'Now we have one player who isn't a wing, but when he plays on the wing, he plays very well - Deco. You think he's going to cross, but he does not cross. You think he stops the ball, he crosses. That is the style I want in Chelsea for many games because if we have only one system it is easy for the other teams. I like Robinho because his style is different. He tries dribbling many times, he's a different player and we need one more player inside the pitch who makes a difference.'
Though Robinho has tried to force Real into selling him by publicly stating his desire to join Chelsea, the Brazil international will not be at the club in time to play Wigan, whose draw at Stamford Bridge in April helped direct the title to Old Trafford. Muscular and direct, Wigan will test the value of Scolari's set-piece lessons and are likely to pair their newly acquired, bullish Egypt striker, Amr Zaki, in attack with Emile Heskey, scorer last season of their last-minute equaliser at Chelsea.
'I don't think that ended their [Chelsea's] chances, they still had a chance you know,' Heskey says. 'When we went to Stamford Bridge they expected to win. But it's a good mentality we have at this club, we never give up and we always go to the 90th minute.
'I don't know if they fear us, but I don't think they will be that happy to be coming to us so early on. I don't think anyone's that happy to come to Wigan because they know we don't just lie down and give up, not any more. You have to be physical against any of the top four, you've got to try and put them off their game a little bit.
'Chelsea are used to that so much now they just get on with their game. Against Portsmouth they just popped it off with one-touch football and it just looked so nice. We've got our own tactics the manager wants us to apply and we'll try and do that. On our day we are capable of beating them. We showed last year that we never give up.'
They showed it again in a stirring second-half display in their opening Premier League match against West Ham last weekend. The Latics trailed by two goals after only 10 minutes before pulling one back to lose 2-1. But their manager, Steve Bruce, warns his side against such early complacency against Chelsea.
He says: 'Our defensive organisation wasn't there in the first game of the season and it had better be there on Sunday, otherwise we'll be in trouble.'

It Feels As If I've Won The Champions League - Sheva

Andriy Shevchenko made his first comments as a 'new' Milan player. The Ukrainian ace has made his return to the club he played for between 1999 and 2006, when he left for Chelsea. The player compared his satisfaction to winning a Champions League.

"I'm doing well," he said to Milan's official website, "and I'm happy. I had been hoping to come back for a while and already yesterday I imagined this negotiation could end well.

"For me, it's as if I've won a Champions League. There were some complications, but now that everything has been resolved I am truly happy."

Milan initially only wanted the player back on loan, but Chelsea only wanted to sell him permanently. However, it seems the negotiations were unblocked after a meeting between billionaire owners Silvio Berlusconi and Roman Abramovich, and Shevchenko is now a Milan player 100% again.

21 Agustus 2008

Ronaldinho Moving Back To Barcelona

Ronaldinho finally completed his long drawn-out transfer to the Rossoneri last month, thus ending his five-year stay at Barcelona.

The 28-year-old joined the Blaugrana back in 2003, and during his first three seasons at the club, the Brazilian was without doubt the best player in the world, wowing audiences with his silky-smooth skills, winning two La Liga titles, the Champions League, as well as picking up the World Footballer of the Year in 2005 and 2006, and the Ballon d’Or too.

Things then started to take a turn for the worse, the last 12 months in particular, but Ronaldinho still is emotionally tied to the city of Barcelona, and has told his brother-and-agent Roberto de Assis to buy a new mansion in the area he used to live in.

Ronaldinho is well known for his party-loving lifestyle, and while he is not playing for Milan, plans to spend his free time shared between Barcelona and his hometown of Porto Alegre.

The 28-year-old is currently on duty for Brazil at the Olympics in Beijing and will be hoping to lead the Selecao to the bronze medal in their third and fourth play-off against Belgium tomorrow.

Roberto Rossi

Paim Tipped To Succeed At Chelsea

Sporting's highly-rated young attacker has had his differences with the management of the Lisbon club, and Scolari is apparently interested in taking the gifted but temperamental prospect on a year’s loan to see if he can settle in London.

Couceiro, now in charge of Lithuania, has thrown his full support behind the proposed move.

"He is a player with enormous potential, which needs stabilising and let's hope that will come from a new club,"  Couceiro was quoted as saying by Sky Sports News.

"Chelsea is a great club, so it is possible he will stabilise there.

"It is important to train with coaches who can speak your language and with a coach of the level of Scolari."

Paim, 20, is described as possessing bags of pace and dribbling ability, either on the wing or through the middle.

Derek Wanner,

Drogba Out Till October?

The Ivory Coast star, who missed Chelsea's entire pre-season with a knee problem, was only expected to be out for the first couple rounds of the season, but Vahid Halilhodzic's latest comments on the matter suggest otherwise.

"Drogba will not be back before a month, a month and a half," Halilhodzic was quoted as saying by Sky Sports News.

"He has started to run but he will not be available for the match against Mozambique (a 2010 World Cup qualifier, September 5)."

Whether the apparent setback in his bid to regain fitness will force the Blues to dip into the transfer market remains to be seen.

The fact is that Luiz Felipe Scolari has precious few forwards to call upon. Claudio Pizarro has left to join Werder Bremen on loan, while Andriy Shevchenko is expected to follow suit to Milan.  At least Salomon Kalou has by now returned from Olympics duty with the Ivory Coast, but the burden of expectation up-front will continued to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the in-form Nicolas Anelka, who bagged a goal during the opening day romp against  Portsmouth.

Derek Wanner,

I am leaving a strong legacy for England, claims departing Barwick

Brian Barwick is confident Fabio Capello will lead England to success over the next few years after it was confirmed that the Football Association chief executive will leave his post on December 31 following a major difference of opinion with chairman Lord Triesman over the precise nature of his job.
Barwick has a host of credits to his name, although he was also responsible for the farce that accompanied the announcement of Sven-Goran Eriksson's successor and the botched attempt to hire Luiz Felipe Scolari. However, he did get Capello on board and is predicting big things for the future. "I'm convinced that in Fabio Capello, the England team has the right manager and a genuine chance of success," said Barwick.
After the eras of Mark Palios, Adam Crozier and Graham Kelly, Barwick will at least leave the FA free of any stigma of controversy. He may also point to his strong record, which includes building Wembley and gaining agreement for the National Football Centre in Burton, as well as the record TV deals he negotiated, as proof his departure is to the detriment of the organisation.
However, Triesman is a man who clearly likes to get his own way. The Labour peer has made sweeping changes since becoming the first independent chairman of the FA at the start of the year. He was not close to Barwick and felt he lacked the necessary business skills to modernise the organisation. Barwick did not chair the weekly management board meeting on Tuesday. He then pulled out of the presentation party for England's 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic last night with no explanation offered.
"I am sad to be leaving the FA - an organisation it has been a privilege to lead - but I believe it is in the best interests of all parties," said Barwick in a statement. "I have always endeavoured to do my job with passion, decency and integrity, and I believe I am leaving a strong legacy for the future. We have achieved a lot over the past three-and-a-half years: opening the new Wembley Stadium, implementing the structural review and increasing our broadcast and commercial contracts to record income levels.
"The organisation is in better financial health than ever before, and I am also delighted to afhave seen the recent launch of the Respect programme, which is very important to me. I would like to pay tribute to the FA board for their strong support, and especially thank my colleagues at the FA for their tremendous efforts during my tenure."
Triesman also paid tribute to Barwick despite being the pivotal figure in his departure. "On behalf of everyone at the FA, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Brian for the stability and growth that he has brought to the organisation," he said. "Brian leaves with our best wishes for the future and will always be welcome back as our guest at Wembley."
Speculation will immediately begin as to Barwick's likely successor. The Manchester United chief executive David Gill has steadily grown in influence at the FA and his work at Old Trafford is held in high esteem. However, it is hardly likely the current salary of £450,000 per annum will appeal to someone who earns in excess of double that figure. Also, if Barwick thought his wings were being clipped, the role as Triesman sees it is unlikely to suit Gill. A more plausible candidate could be the FA's chief operating officer, Alex Horne, the former boss of Wembley, who had already been handed many of Barwick's responsibilities.

'We are killing Gerrard by playing him left midfield'

Fabio Capello insisted he was pleased with aspects of England's display in last night's draw with the Czechs and sought to justify his selection of Steven Gerrard in an unfamiliar role despite claims, notably by the Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp, that this was one of the worst performances by England in recent memory.
The final whistle prompted boos from sections from the home support, despite England having equalised in stoppage time, with Redknapp using his platform as a TV pundit to declare that their second-half performance was "diabolical". He was left bemused by Gerrard's deployment on the left: "We have one of the finest midfielders in the world in Steven Gerrard. He plays for Liverpool and is like Roy of the Rovers, a colossus. But he's not a left midfielder. He has to be in the centre. We are killing Gerrard."
Capello insisted: "He was not playing on the left, I'm sorry. We played 4-3-2-1. We played [Jermain] Defoe, Gerrard and [Wayne] Rooney and three midfielders behind them. The position he had to play was between the line of the backs and the midfielders. Mr Redknapp has to say something but he didn't play on the left. Sorry. With his movement - he went on the left and to the middle - he moved but he never played on the left.
"I'm happy for the draw because the reaction to the team to the last minute was good, was important. And I think, also, that the first half we played with good football, good style and created a lot of chances to score goals. And the team played together with different style. There was only one thing I didn't like, in the first half: sometimes, when the Czechs had counter-attacks, we suffered. That was the problem. We have to prepare something to combat that problem."
Asked whether he thought this performance suggested England were ready for next month's opening World Cup qualifiers and the game against Croatia in Zagreb, he added: "I think tonight we took another step. I'm happy. I saw a lot of things which I had doubts on, and the players' fitness levels are still not at their best but I think we'll be ready for both the games next month."
His newly appointed captain, John Terry, appeared less convinced. This was the latest sloppy performance from players who excel in the Champions League and Premiership yet flounder on the international stage. "It has been a problem for the past four or five years and it's something we need to address as quickly as possible," said Terry. "I don't know what it is and, as a group, we are trying to put our fingers on it."
Yet those present who made their displeasure known at the final whistle might agree more with Redknapp's assessment. The Portsmouth manager drew support from Terry Venables, now a pundit on TV. "If we were experimenting a bit it would worry me less but that seems to be his team," said the former England coach. "I only thought set-pieces would win us the game."
"That was one of the worst performances I have seen from an England team," added Redknapp. "The second half was diabolical. Some of the players are unrecognisable from those who play in the Premier League. I was full of optimism before the game, but then I saw the teamsheet.
"We keep chopping and changing the manager but the performances don't change and we don't improve. We change the manager, but pick the same players. We keep picking them and they are the best players, but they come here and play for England and don't perform."

19 Agustus 2008

West Ham accept Ferdinand bid

West Ham United yesterday confirmed they have accepted an £8m bid from Sunderland for Anton Ferdinand but Roy Keane knows that persuading the central defender to move to Wearside may prove difficult.
Earlier this summer Newcastle were told West Ham would sell them the 23-year-old, who has declined an offer to extend his current contract at Upton Park. However, that green light was swiftly followed by an emphatic refusal on the part of Ferdinand to even consider relocating to Tyneside.
At that time, though, Aston Villa remained interested in him and, with Martin O'Neill having since looked elsewhere, Ferdinand's options are narrowing and he could be effectively forced to listen to what Keane has to say.
Sunderland's manager - who is able to offer transfer targets extremely lucrative salaries - has turned his attentions to Ferdinand after Sir Alex Ferguson's refusal to sell or loan him Jonny Evans from Manchester United and Younes Kaboul's decision to leave Tottenham Hotspur for Portsmouth rather than Wearside.
Keane also remains in the hunt for a left-back and a centre-forward. On Friday, he had a £9m bid for the striker Benni McCarthy turned down by Blackburn Rovers but may return with an improved offer.
Newcastle United remain in pursuit of Blackburn's left-back, Stephen Warnock, and are also hoping to sign Javier Saviola from Real Madrid on a season-long loan.
The club's recruitment team of Dennis Wise, Tony Jimenez and Jeff Vetere have spent more than a week endeavouring to finalise a deal for the Argentina striker. Wise and company are also hoping to persuade Real Mallorca to sell them another Argentinian forward, Oscar Trejo.

Ronaldo may have to adapt to a drop in adulation

There was a moment before Manchester United's opening Premier League game when, briefly, it seemed as though the club might take an extraordinary gamble and bring Cristiano Ronaldo on to the pitch. After all the usual sponsorship announcements and, United being United, the far-too-enthusiastic welcoming of corporate guests from Saudi Arabia, a table was set up, photographers gathered round and the stadium announcer launched into a player-of-the-season presentation with a difference.
It should come as no surprise that Ronaldo was a notable absentee, despite winning all three of the club's first-team awards. Daniel Welbeck received a silver plate for being the outstanding young performer, Richard Eckersley picked up the reserves award and in ordinary circumstances the winner of the player of the season, as well as the goal of the season and players' player of the season, would have been lapping up the applause. Yet a decision had been made that Ronaldo should sit this one out.
It is unclear who made it, or whether Ronaldo had any say about the matter, but the better-safe-than-sorry policy was understandable judging by the observation in one of the fans' publications, that the player's summer dalliance with Real Madrid had left him "totally alienated from any sensibly minded United fan".
If the fanzines are an accurate representation then it is fair to say Ronaldo is being viewed in a much different light and that, to some, the damage might be irreversible. Red News's editorial describes the man who scored 42 goals last season as "a 23-year-old prima donna". Red Issue's columnists are more acerbic, one branding him a "conniving little shit", another describing the player's pledge to remain as "meticulously devised, all-round face-saving PR guff masquerading as an interview . . . it's easy to be honest and remorseful after you fail to get away with something. Not trying it on in the first place is the difficult, and praiseworthy, bit."
Football fans are notoriously fickle, of course, and when Ronaldo recovers from his ankle injury - his first game is pencilled in at Blackburn Rovers on October 4 - his goals will be cheered much the same as usual. Or certainly it will look that way to non supporters. Other evidence suggests Ronaldo may have to grow accustomed to the idea of not being afforded the adulation he once received. For starters Viva Ronaldo, the anthem of last season, has been adapted to Viva John Terry so that it no longer pays homage to United's No7 but mocks the Chelsea captain for his penalty miss in the European Cup final. When the Ronaldo version was aired in a pub before Sunday's 1-1 draw with Newcastle, it was drowned out with boos and other songs.
What cannot be disputed is that the team are missing Ronaldo at a time when injuries, Nani's suspension, Anderson's Olympics duty, Carlos Tevez's compassionate leave and the Dimitar Berbatov saga have left Ferguson with depleted resources. Ronaldo does not browse the messageboards or subscribe to fanzines but he might have noted there was not the usual rush of autograph hunters when he took his seat. Most simply stared.
Yesterday a member of staff in the Megastore confirmed that there had been a sharp drop in the numbers wanting Ronaldo on the back of their shirts, the most popular name now being Rooney. As Red Issue sums it up: "He [Ronaldo] may be young enough to be forgiven but he's old enough to have known better."

England will not win anything until top players stop buckling under pressure, says Cole

The convening of Fabio Capello's England squad, with the first competitive matches of the Italian's reign a little over two weeks away, drew an admission from Joe Cole last night that players who have excelled in the Premier League and even conquered the European Cup have been guilty of buckling under the pressure when asked to represent their country.
The national team confront the Czech Republic at Wembley tomorrow in their final friendly before the qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup finals begins against Andorra and Croatia next month. It is 14 years since England last failed to reach Fifa's showpiece tournament yet, having imploded in qualification for the summer's European Championship, frustration abounds that a group of footballers once nicknamed the "Golden Generation" have struggled to reproduce the consistency and confidence of their club form so often at the higher level.
While English players have regularly endured accusations that they lack the technical skills of their counterparts abroad, Cole acknowledged yesterday that their greatest challenge is hurdling a "psychological barrier" which has prompted under-achievement. "The main thing for England is that you need players who can play under pressure, who can do it under the spotlight, because you know there's a lot of criticism waiting out there from the public if you fail," said Cole who trained at London Colney yesterday, with only Jonathan Woodgate absent from the session. "You've got to deal with that. That's the hardest obstacle we've got to get over as a team - to learn to play under that intense pressure.
"Maybe some players do it better than others. That's just how it is. England must get over that psychological barrier. Sure, there'll be games when we don't play well, but you need to feel that - even when things aren't going to plan -you're going to win the game. It's something we need to improve on. I wouldn't say that any one player lacks confidence or belief when he puts on an England shirt, but I just think that, while you can improve your technical and fitness stuff, we need to improve our mentality as a team.
"We're trying to do it. We're not burying our heads in the sand. We're going out there and trying to play, getting the ball down and trying to build. We need to stay cool and calm and keep going forward. It's pigeon steps, going forward a little bit every time. The World Cup isn't for another couple of years, so we don't want to be peaking too early. We just want little bits of improvement every time and, by the time we get there, hopefully we'll be in a better position than we are in now: technically, physically and mentally."
Cole's admission that confidence is a problem in the national team comes as eight of the squad are assembled at the team's regular Hertfordshire hotel base representing Manchester United and Chelsea, powerhouses in the Premier League and last season's Champions League finalists. The party also contains another two European Cup winners in Steven Gerrard and David Beckham. Yet, despite reaching the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, 2004 European Championship and 2006 World Cup, England's best players have rarely played with the fluidity or belief that have become trademarks of their club form. Indeed, many have been unrecognisable when wearing national colours.
The new Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, who has eliminated the national team in each of the last three tournaments in which England have competed, has already suggested that English players suffer "mental problems" at crunch times in key games. That has manifested itself most notably in penalty shoot-outs, but Capello himself admitted last month that his biggest challenge was boasting confidence within his squad. "I have to get individuals to play for England like they do for their clubs," he said. "There has been a lack of confidence among players and it's my job to rebuild that. There's a lot of pressure when playing for your country and this has perhaps weighed down too heavily on some players. We need to free them of that so they can play naturally, without fear."
"For me personally, playing for Chelsea and playing for England are two completely different things," added Cole, who earned his 50th cap in May. "International football is different. If you're asking me how I think we can get better, it's about...learning to play under pressure. It's a process and, as a group, it's something we need to improve on. We need to go out there and play freely. Results help that. There's no science to it but we are moving in the right direction."

Wenger calls for Ade support

Arsene Wenger has urged the Arsenal faithful to get behind star striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
The Togolese hit-man ended speculation surrounding his future by signing a new contract at Emirates Stadium on Monday.
He had been strongly linked with a summer move away from North London, with Barcelona and AC Milan expressing an interest in his services.
His supposed demands for a substantial pay rise at the Gunners did little to endear him to the clubs supporters, and he received a mixed reaction during the club's opening game of the new season against West Brom on Saturday.
There are obviously some people unwilling to forgive to forget, but Wenger has called on everyone connected with the club to pull together ahead of a gruelling campaign.


He said: "We have to get behind him and support him because he is a tremendous force and (is of) tremendous importance for the team - you want your own fans to be behind him.
"What happened in the transfer period did not always reflect his deep desire and there was manipulation from agents on both sides, but overall I am positive he will recover."
Wenger added: "Every player needs to feel wanted.
"I think he is settled in his own mind. He has given a lot in the first two games."
Wenger's policy of attracting young talent to the Emirates Stadium showed no sign of abating over the summer, with Aaron Ramsey and Samir Nasri arriving from Cardiff and Marseille respectively.
Concerns have been expressed in the past as to whether a side packed with promise can mount a sustained title challenge, but the Arsenal boss is insistent he has the players at his disposal to be successful this term.
He added: "We are a young side and some more promising youngsters have come through for this season, but they have all got the quality which you need to have if you play for Arsenal.
"If you play at this club you must be ready to play at the very highest level."

18 Agustus 2008

Ballack To Miss Belgium Friendly

The national team captain joins Torsten Frings and Jermaine Jones on the sidelines after suffering phoning Bundestrainer Joachim Löw on Sunday to inform him of his withdrawal.  
Ballack was forced off after just 37 minutes of Chelsea’s opening Premier League fixture at home to Portsmouth.  He picked up a knock to his ankle at Stamford Bridge and was replaced before half-time having earlier created the opening goal.
“The ankle is badly swollen so I’ve been told, but it looks like it has nothing to do with his previous injury” Löw said. 
Ballack missed a large part of last season with ankle problems, but it is hoped that he will be back in time for next week’s game against Wigan.
Germany lost both Torsten Frings and Jermaine Jones at the weekend.  Frings has a slight muscle problem and has been withdrawn as a precaution.  Schalke's Jermaine Jones however has damaged ankle ligaments and could be out for around four weeks.

Calderón: No More Signings

Speaking to Marca just moments before his side’s kick-off against Valencia in the Supercopa at the Mestalla, Los Blancos chief, Ramón Calderón stressed that the club will not engage in any more transfer activities this season and further reiterated that Robinho will be staying at the Spanish capital.
“I have said before that our project to strengthen the squad is complete and I am sure this season will be one where we consolidate our position,” he explained.
“We have a very complete and balanced squad and today (against Valencia), we will see if this is the case. 
The president might have to rethink his decision after watching the defending La Liga champions surrender a one-goal lead to lose 3-2 at the Mestalla on Sunday evening in the first leg of the Supercopa.
One encouraging sign, however, is that Robinho did start and play a majority of the game and Calderón again repeated that the Brazilian will be playing in the white shirt this campaign.
“I’m absolutely sure he will stay with Real Madrid. I have seen him looking happy and animated in the hotel,” he revealed.
“Even the coach has said to me that he is training well and the fact that he will be a key player in the team today proves that,” concluded Calderón emphatically.
In terms of actually completing a signing, Real Madrid have been surprisingly quiet this season in the transfer market by their standards, bringing in only Rafael van der Vaart, former players Rubén de la Red and Javi García and Ezequiel Garay, who looks set to remain on loan with Racing Santander for a season.

17 Agustus 2008

Ferguson prepares for marathon after stumble at first hurdle

Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to play down Manchester United's failure to get their title defence off to a winning start, claiming that his squad can bounce back from a flat opening as they have in the past.
"There are 37 games left, so it is not a disaster and we have shown before we can come from behind," Ferguson said last night. "We lacked width and penetration. It's a handicap maybe and in the context of the season it's not the result we wanted but with the changes we had to make you couldn't be too disappointed."
Last season United began with a goalless draw with Reading at Old Trafford and failed to record a victory in their opening three Premier League games. Yesterday Ferguson's side once again produced an underwhelming performance, against a Newcastle United team they were widely expected to crush and who conceded 11 goals against them last season.
The draw was even more frustrating as international breaks and United's European Super Cup commitments mean that they have only two more league games before mid-September. The absence of Carlos Tevez due to the death of his uncle, in addition to the foot injury that will keep Cristiano Ronaldo out until October, meant that United were stretched even before they lost the England midfielder Michael Carrick to an ankle problem and the winger Ryan Giggs to a hamstring injury. Ferguson also said that the 20-year-old striker Fraizer Campbell, who was making his Premier League debut, was forced off with an unspecified injury.
That left United pressing for an equaliser with two more debutants, the Brazilian teenagers Rodrigo Possebon and Rafael da Silva, trying to open Newcastle up and the left-back, Patrice Evra, playing on the wing.
Ferguson lamented the defensive lapse that allowed the unmarked Obafemi Martins to score. "I did not expect to lose a goal at a set piece to a header from a guy who is 5ft 8in."
But Ferguson, who once again refused to discuss his pursuit of the Tottenham Hotspur striker Dimitar Berbatov, is sure that, with Tevez back and Wayne Rooney having played the full 90 minutes after returning to the team following a virus, his squad will be well equipped to respond in the right manner against Portsmouth at Fratton Park a week today.
"Carlos Tevez will be back for the Portsmouth match next week and Wayne will be much sharper and much fitter and in the second half it started to show for him," he said.
"But unfortunately Campbell also picked up an injury and I had to take him off, so we were asking Wayne to play through the middle when he's really needing games and it was a big ask. I haven't got too many complaints. We did our best with the resources we had available. We were the better team, we had the most possession of the ball but we didn't make it count in the second half."
Kevin Keegan felt his team's performance, with his new signings Danny Guthrie and the Argentinians Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutiérrez all impressing, was good reason for optimism. "We got a point where a lot of people didn't think we could," said the Newcastle manager.
"I've said to the players, if we can come here and do that, we can do it anywhere because this is the toughest place in the league to come.
"We deserved the point because our performance was good and our attitude was spot on. You can't carry anyone here because whatever side Man United put out they are a great side," he said.
When asked about reports that the Newcastle owner, Mike Ashley, has promised corporate fans he will make a "wow signing" before the transfer window closes, Keegan responded with humour. "Now he's said it... I think that with Dennis Wise, Tony Jiminez, Derek Llambias and Mike Ashley, in spite of what everyone thinks, we're working really hard to bring quality players in.
"I definitely want one or two and I don't know what the wow signing is myself and I can't wait to ring him [Ashley]. It's a shame he told the corporate members before he let me and [the assistant manager] Terry Mac [McDermott] know but that's all right."

Jenas gets England call after Carrick injures ankle

Tottenham's Jermaine Jenas has been called into the England squad for Wednesday's friendly against the Czech Republic following the withdrawal of Michael Carrick, who hobbled off at Old Trafford yesterday with an ankle injury which will rule him out for up to three weeks.
Jenas broke his scoring duck for England in Fabio Capello's first game in charge, against Switzerland, and the Italian would have been impressed with the improvement of the midfielder's performances under the Spurs manager, Juande Ramos, which has seen him become vice-captain at White Hart Lane.
The squad will train at London Colney this morning ahead of their final match before next month's qualifiers, against Andorra and Croatia, with the Wigan Athletic striker Emile Heskey back. The 30-year-old, a regular in Sven-Goran Eriksson's side with five goals in his 45 international appearances, last represented England against Russia last September and is one of only three out-and-out forwards.
Capello will have been encouraged to learn that Wayne Rooney, recovered from a virus picked up in pre-season, played 90 minutes for Manchester United in their 1-1 draw with Newcastle. Franco Baldini, his assistant, attended that match, with Carrick's injury prompting the only omission from the squad. "Michael Carrick hurt an ankle, which has swollen up badly," said United's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. "He'll be out for two to three weeks."
The most notable omission was the Portsmouth striker Peter Crouch, who left Liverpool this summer in the hope of furthering his England prospects and boasts 14 goals in 28 internationals. Capello, however, offered the discarded striker some words of encouragement over the weekend. Asked whether he was pleased the 27-year-old would now feature more regularly at club level, he said: "I'm happy for Crouch because now he can play more games. If a player plays only one game a month, it's not enough."

A perfect start but United will not be scared, says Scolari

Luiz Felipe Scolari's initial reaction was one of surprise at the fluidity and cohesion displayed by his Chelsea side as they dismantled Portsmouth so ruthlessly to kick-start his reign in west London. However, it did not take long for the perfectionist in the Brazilian to emerge. "It was the perfect start and more than I expected," he said. "But we'll need more quality in the future if we want to be champions. We'll need more than this."
Chelsea were untouchable yesterday, ripping through the FA Cup winners at will, leaving Roman Abramovich beaming at the effervescence of this performance. In the build-up to the game Scolari had suggested his aim was to recreate a Brazilian style of play and, while it will take time for his methods to sink in, this was a tantalising taster of what might be to come. Frank Lampard departed the turf to declare that the side's first-half performance was "the best football we can play".
"I think the owner will be happy, like the other fans," said Scolari. "He's just one more fan for Chelsea. But the supporters saw a beautiful game and three points. We have to keep this going now. Whether we can every week I don't know but we'll try. We played as a team, closing down in midfield, touching the ball with one-twos and marking well when we didn't have the ball. The full-backs got forward, crossed well and dribbled and we had a holding player in Mikel [John Obi] who gave them the freedom to move upfield.
"Everything we'd worked at in training for the last 20 days we did out there on the field. Portsmouth didn't think we'd play like we did because we were more aggressive than last season. I think they were surprised by our team. They didn't expect us to play more aggressively than last season. But I don't think Manchester United will be scared. They are not our opponents next week, after all. Maybe Wigan [Chelsea's next opponents] might be."
Portsmouth were left seared by the ferocity of it all. Deco was outstanding, dictating play from midfield, and the forward surges from Lampard, Florent Malouda, Michael Ballack and Joe Cole were irrepressible. Nicolas Anelka's bite was also appreciated and his reward was his first goal for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. "That's good for his confidence," said Scolari. "I told him to make people believe in him and he did that."
"They were too bright for us," conceded Harry Redknapp, whose own preparations had been hampered by the sale of Pedro Mendes - albeit with his blessing - in the build-up to the match. "Their movement was too much and we couldn't stay with it. They play from everywhere and we just stood and watched them. I made a rod for my own back by buying two strikers in Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch and I had to play them. They've not come here to sit on the bench but I don't think you can play 4-4-2 here. You get overloaded in midfield and that's what happened to us."
The Pompey manager admitted his charges had defended poorly but, having played Manchester United in the Community Shield the previous week and with the champions due at Fratton Park next Monday, he is enduring an awkward start to the new campaign. Even so he distanced himself from suggestions that West Ham may try to lure him back to Upton Park should Alan Curbishley fail to match that club's expectations this term.
"I've turned down the opportunity to go elsewhere before and I'm happy where I am," said Redknapp. "It's not a case of the grass being greener. It's difficult at the moment. I've lost Sulley Muntari's energy and Pedro would have played today if he was still here but we'll be better than that, for sure. The top four are on another level and no one will break into that group this year. Still, you don't play Chelsea every week. We've got a nice easy game next Monday against United after all."

Brooding Berbatov confronts club about his 'dream move' to United

Dimitar Berbatov has spoken for the first time about his desire to join Manchester United, urging Tottenham Hotspur to allow him to "follow my dream" but insisting that he wants to leave on good terms. The Bulgaria striker hopes the drawn-out transfer saga will be concluded this week, with the two clubs haggling over a fee in the region of £25m to £28m as well as the structure of the payments, and the player's agent, Emil Dantchev, has said he is preparing for the "most important week yet" in Berbatov's career.

"I'm still a Tottenham player, but no one can disagree with me wanting to follow my dream," said Berbatov, who is at present away with the Bulgaria national team preparing for a match against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday. "However, I'm now with the national team, so I just want to think about the national team."

Berbatov was restricted to a place on the substitutes' bench as Tottenham began their season with a 2-1 defeat at Middlesbrough on Saturday, but he insisted he understood the manager Juande Ramos's decision. "It's not a hard period for me," he said. "I still have a lot of friends at Tottenham and I'm not angry about Ramos naming me as a substitute. People say I looked unhappy but if I was laughing when I was on the bench, they would say I was an idiot. Eric Cantona never smiled, but I don't know if anyone ever asked him why he didn't look happier."

If everything goes according to plan, Sir Alex Ferguson hopes to have Berbatov available for their match at Portsmouth next Monday. "I read Alex Ferguson's statement that he wants another striker and I hope that this striker can be Dimitar Berbatov," said Dantchev. "There are still two weeks of the transfer window to go but this is the most important week yet."

The Tottenham manager, meanwhile, cannot escape the issue of the brooding Bulgarian's future however hard he tries. Nowehere was it more apparent than at Middlesbrough when, after a game in which debuts were handed to four signings and Spurs lost an opening-day fixture for the second season running, the forward again dominated the post-match questions. Ramos smiled through most of them, but his eyes told a different story.

He is one fed-up Spaniard, but relief may mercifully be at hand if the Londoners can find a replacement for Berbatov before the transfer deadline. There remains interest in the Russian Andrei Arshavin and other options are now being seriously considered, with a bid for Blackburn's Roque Santa Cruz a firm possibility. Either player would undoubtedly cause Ramos less stress. Asked why he did not start with Berbatov at the Riverside, the manager stumbled to find an answer before delivering one that contained contradiction and lacked sense.

"We went with Giovani [dos Santos] instead because we thought his speed would worry Middlesbrough," said Ramos. "But as Middlesbrough tired we thought it would be the right moment to substitute him and bring on Berbatov." But if Dos Santos' pace is such an asset, would it not have been better to introduce him after the home side tired?

Whatever the explanation, the visitors lacked incisiveness on Saturday. Darren Bent, chosen to play up front on his own, struggled to impose himself and show the sharpness that saw him plunder 13 goals in pre-season. In support, Dos Santos, one of the debutants, was sprightly but is clearly still in the process of adapting, as is Luka Modric, who moved the ball with assurance from the centre of midfield but failed to display his promised talents.

David Bentley had less excuse for his tame showing, but he did at least deliver the cross from which Spurs scored late on, Middlesbrough's Robert Huth connecting to head the ball into his own net. By that stage, however, the outcome was beyond dispute thanks to second-half goals from David Wheater and Mido, and Middlesbrough were deserving winners.

A first opening-day win in seven years was of huge satisfaction to Gareth Southgate, who believes the emphasis he has put on youth since becoming manager in 2006 - the average age of the side that started here was 24 - can help Middlesbrough to unprecedented heights. "We're thinking long-term and the aim is to take this club into the Champions League," said Southgate. "That is the vision and because we cannot compete financially for the top players, the only way we will do that is by giving youngsters an opportunity."

Spurs, meanwhile, still believe they can qualify for the Champions League this season, despite the loss of Robbie Keane and the impending departure of Berbatov. Only time will tell if they can break into the top-four but at least their manager will be able to work with a clearer mind after that Berbatov-shaped cloud has passed over White Hart Lane once and for all.

Klinsmann Defends Decisions

Bayern were held to a 2-2 draw by Martin Jol’s HSV on Friday in the Bundesliga opener and boos were heard around the Allianz Arena following the second half decision to take off fans favourite Bastian Schweinsteiger with 25 minutes left to play.  
Tim Borowski was sent on for his Bayern debut, but it seems the trainer’s decision was not popular in all circles.   
"Bastian is not fully fit and, after an hour, he was having a few difficulties" Klinsmann explained.
"I wanted some fresh legs and knew Andreas Ottl would be able to get a few more touches of the ball in midfield.
"We have all our players at different stages of fitness and Bastian started training particularly late and has even been ill, so has Borowski, who was injured, and Luca Toni and Martin Demichelis have been out longer."  
Miroslav Klose was also taken off and replaced with 18 year old Thomas Müller for his first Bundesliga appearance, which this time saw boos apparently aimed at the German striker for an under-par performance.  
"Miro has played all of Euro 2008 and simply is not at the level that we want him to be at" Klinsmann said.
"This is only the first Bundesliga game and he is probably only halfway ready, but it is normal at the start that we are not working harmoniously."

Wenger Chasing Big Trophies

The FA Cup in 2005 was the last time Arsene Wenger held a major piece of silverware aloft after an extraordinary stalemate lasting 120 minutes resulted in a penalty shoot-out.

Thats not to say his guns have not come close in recent years. Far from it. A Champions League final in 2006 ended in heartbreak for Arsenal fans as Barcelona overturned a one-nil deficit by striking twice. The next year the young guns reached the League Cup final, took the lead again, but two goals from Ivorian Drogba ensured the three-handled trophy would be displayed in the Stamford Bridge cabinet.

Perhaps last year was the most frustrating. After leading the Premier League for five months, an horrific injury during the game against Birmingham, to key poacher Eduardo, put team-mates off their stride and allowed the Blues back into the game. A run of three more draws followed and with that, their title charge was effectively acquiesced.

Speaking to the club's official website, Wenger believes their nearly-ran contender label will transform into title collectors, as he targets a trophy this campaign.

"Every season is a season when you have to win something, but the difference between winning and losing is very small at the moment."

On the prizes he deems biggest, he said: "The two massive trophies are the Premier League and the Champions League. We were close in both competitions [last season]. So let's go and try again. We want to win things. But had we made 70 points and won the Carling Cup people would have said for me it is not satisfying."

"We will not play every year like last year and lose out in the end. We have to reconsider and play exactly the same.

He concluded: "What is dreadful when you are a big club is to be out of the title race in September. That is why it is so important to get a good start."

Wenger will be happy with his sides opening two games of the season, they secured a two-nil away win in the 3rd Champions League round qualifier, and collected three points in the opening weekend of the Premier League.

Alan Dawson