Blackburn face fire sale as 10m deadline is missed: NICK HARRIS

Blackburn face fire sale as 10m deadline is missed

Blackburn”s stunning victory at Old Trafford will not alleviate fans’ concerns over the club’s future.

Rovers have not paid Barclays any of the 10million the bankers wanted by December 31 to allay fears of a funding crisis — and it is inevitable that Rovers will embark on a player sell-off in this month’s transfer window to raise cash instead.

The astonishing 3-2 win was achieved with Blackburn’s youngest ever Premier League starting line-up (average age 23 years and 320 days) and could even strengthen co-owner Anuradha Desai’s resolve that a young team, guided by Steve Kean, can stay up.

Sales talk: Venkatash Rao (right) and brother Balaji may embark on a player sell-off

Sales talk: Venkatash Rao (right) and brother Balaji may embark on a player sell-off

The club’s star assets include 21-year-old Canadian winger Junior Hoilett, the Congolese centre-half Chris Samba, 27, and French midfielder Steven N’Zonzi, 23, and it is expected that one or more of those will be disposed of, with others sold or released.

Inside Sport revealed the Barclays cash demand last month, the 10m being requested both verbally and in writing.

Sources say the club’s Indian owners, the Rao family, who own the Venky’s poultry conglomerate, want to use the club’s own resources rather than any new cash injection to keep the club going for now.

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A sell-off strategy has already been heavily hinted at in Blackburn’s accounts for the year ending June 2011, which were sent this week to minor shareholders.

The accounts acknowledge that the club need ‘significant’ funding to stay afloat between now and June 2013, and while Venky’s say they are ready to pay bills, it is the ‘net proceeds of any player trading’ that remain the first-choice option for cash.

The accounts raise more questions than answers in some places, including why Rovers made a player trading loss of 13.8m during a financial year in which they only signed two players on a permanent basis: Ruben Rochina from Barcelona for €450,000 (just less than 400,000 at the time) and Mauro Formica from Newell’s Old Boys for 3.2m.

Clubs typically ‘amortise’ transfer costs, or in laymen’s terms, pay them over the term of the player’s contract, at least for accounting purposes. But amortisation of buys from earlier years does not come close to explaining the full 13.8m.

A chunk will be agents’ fees, though how much is impossible to tell. Official Premier League figures show Rovers spent 4.2m on agents’ fees in the year to 30 September 2011, a different 12-month period to Rovers’ accounts.

Fees: Blackburn

Fees: Blackburn”s purchase of Ruben Rochina earned the Spaniard”s agent 1.6m

Inside Sport revealed in August that 1.65m alone went to the agent in the Rochina signing. I can disclose that agents were due 500,000 from the Formica deal and earned commission from summer purchases including Yakubu and David Goodwillie.

Those summer fees are not included in the accounts to June. And it is understood that on top of agents’ fees that are included in the accounts, Blackburn spent a sevenfigure sum on non-agent consultancy fees in the financial year.

The club have declined to comment.

SPOTY needs an Olympic boost

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year show attracted the fewest total votes of the phone-in era as well as a year-on-year ratings slump — but it is expected to bounce back in December, with betting already open on who will win in London Olympics year.

The only non-Olympian in the top 10 in the lists so far is Andy Murray, currently third favourite behind heptathlete pin-up Jess Ennis (5-1 fav) and distance runner Mo Farah (8-1).

Then come a string of GB Olympians hoping for glory – Becky Adlington, Victoria Pendleton, Tom Daley, Ben Ainslie, Mark Cavendish, Sir Chris Hoy, Paula Radcliffe and others – before some golfers and Formula One drivers appear.

Up for the cup: Sports Personality of the Year 2011, Mark Cavendish

Up for the cup: Sports Personality of the Year 2011, Mark Cavendish

With respect to Murray, history suggests an Olympian will triumph in SPOTY in 2012 whatever the Scot achieves, although a Wimbledon-Olympics double would set the cat among the pigeons.

Hoy (2008), Kelly Holmes (2004) and Steve Redgrave (2000) were the SPOTY winners in the previous three Olympic years, and the shortlists in those years were chock full of Olympians.

Cavendish’s recent victory came via 169,152 votes, from a total cast of 341,959. That was down by more than half on 2010’s total votes of 698,000, while the last Olympic year had 718,000.

Inside Sport thinks you could do worse than place a few quid each way on swimmer Fran Halsall (a potential Olympic swimming star with a personality, too) or David Beckham (going for gold and the housewives’ vote), both available at 33-1 or longer. For now.

Up for grabs now: James Ellington

Up for grabs now: James Ellington

For Sale

A British athlete who will do well just to reach the London Olympics is sprinter James Ellington, who put himself up for sale on auction website eBay before Christmas.

The 26-year-old Briton ran the 200m at the world championships in Daegu but missed out on the semi-finals with the 24th-fastest qualifying time.

Various setbacks have meant that he receives only limited Lottery funding and he has no sponsors. Hence his appearance on eBay.

Ellington attracted one bidder who offered 32,500 and others at around 30,000 to help fund him until the summer in exchange for promotional opportunities.

‘We’re not sure all the bids were genuine but we’re confident some were and I hope to pin down the winning bidder shortly,’ he tells me. A deal with a corporate bidder is expected imminently.

Robin van Persie says he loves London

Van Persie: I love London and watching my kids grow up here

Robin van Persie has given his biggest hint yet that he wants to stay at Arsenal when his contract ends in 2013.

The Arsenal captain, who Saturday finished one shy of equalling Alan Shearer”s 36-goal tally for a calendar year, has yet to sit down with Arsenal to talk about extending his deal.

It has encouraged Manchester City, who hope to sign him in a 30million deal at the end of the season.

Van the man: Van Persie celebrates his goal against QPR

Van the man: Van Persie celebrates his goal against QPR

Londoners: Van Persie and wife Bouchra

Londoners: Van Persie and wife Bouchra

And, though Arsenal are ready to offer Van Persie a club-best 150,000-a-week deal to keep him, Van Persie will not hold contract talks with chief executive Ivan Gazidis until the summer, and he has previously spoken about his frustration at the club”s failure to win major trophies.

But the Holland striker, who has two young children with his wife Bouchra, has revealed that his ideal future would be to remain in London.

He said: “We love the life in London and I enjoy watching my kids grow up here. They grow up like the English kids with good manners and values of England.

The place where welive, just outside the city, is fantastic. We have everything we want.

“The English people are so incredibly polite where I live. People are nice here. That makes life a real pleasure.

“My children have become more English than Dutch. They have taken up the culture and values of England.

“It makes me melt at times when I see how well my children are doing here. When Shaqueel has half-term with school, he does not want togo back to the Netherlands any more.”

Van Persie has also paid tribute to Arsenal fans in an interview with a Dutch newspaper, saying that listening to them chanting his name is among his biggest thrills.

Golden touch: Van Persie scores his 35th Premier League goal of the year

Golden touch: Van Persie scores his 35th Premier League goal of the year

“That is the biggest compliment I could wish for,” he said. “Arsenal fans are real lovers of the game.

“They don”t miss a thing. I like the banners, everything they do. When I come on to the pitch, I hear them chant.

“At Arsenal the fans so want me to do well. And that gives me a kick. That”s what I do it for. As a thank you, I want to give them so much in return in matches.”

Despite the departure of team-mates and friends Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy, Van Persie says he is confident about the club”s future.

“No player here is bigger than the club. Arsenal will always come first. Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp used to be the players who people came to the stadium for.

Hero

Hero”s return: Tony Adams salutes the Emirates crowd

“They thought there would be nothing once they had done. But here, at Arsenal, everyone can see that young talent grow into new stars.

Look at Theo Walcott, look at Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. Young players are given the opportunity to grow and develop.”

Van Persie took over the captaincy at Arsenal when Fabregas left for Barcelona last summer and has already been compared with legendary Gunners skipper Tony Adams.

“I feel flattered but Tony Adams was by far the best captain Arsenal have had. If he could return in some capacity, I will be the first man to support this. He is the perfect example of a born winner.”

Roberto Mancini trusts his players to win the title

Mancini trusts his City slickers to go the distance for a title celebration

Roberto Mancini and his players saw in the new year with a midnight toast at the team’s hotel in the North-East, with the Manchester City manager happy to confirm his resolution for 2012 is to win the Premier League.

There was even a quip from the increasingly relaxed Italian: ‘I always hoped that one day in my life I’d be in Sunderland on New Year’s Eve!’

In just two years, Mancini has transformed a club riddled with dressing-room division into genuine title contenders. They should end the first weekend of the new year top of the table if they beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Make us No 1: Roberto Mancini

Make us No 1: Roberto Mancini”s new year resolution is to win the Premier League

Mancini, whose arrival after Mark Hughes caused outrage, does not feel the need to be falsely modest about his achievements or coy about what he wants to happen next.

‘My ambition for 2012 is to be on top when we finish this championship,’ he says. ‘We were there after we started the season and I think we deserve to be there.

“It usually takes three or four years to build a team like Manchester City. But we have done this very quickly. The players have been fantastic. I trust them. If they continue to give 100 per cent we can be champions and it’s only our second full season.’

Dealing with egos: Mancini has bought harmony to a dressing room full of characters

Dealing with egos: Mancini has bought harmony to a dressing room full of characters

Contradicting his image as a disciplinarian party pooper, Mancini allowed his players a drink to toast the new year. It is hard to believe that his arrival in December 2009 was met with hostility by fans and certain players alike after the way predecessor Hughes was sacked.

Half the players used by Mancini in his first game, a 2-0 win against Stoke City, have left — Robinho, Craig Bellamy, Shay Given, Martin Petrov and Stephen Ireland among them. Even Carlos Tevez is frozen out.

The high-risk strategy has worked with City winning their first trophy since 1976 by lifting the FA Cup in May and they have collected 45 points in 18 games to lead the league table.

‘It was my job to make Manchester City a top team but it’s not always easy to change a situation very quickly,’ added Mancini. ‘Sometimes you need time
to change some players, to take good players.

“I remember two years ago when we were talking about players, it was difficult to sign Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Sergio Aguero, all of these important players. Now they are here. That’s the most important thing.’

To win the title, of course, Mancini will have to get the better of his rival across the city, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson is famed for his verbal jousting with opposition managers like Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez. The more threatening a rival, the more likely Ferguson is to indulge in mind games.

A supportive Fergie phone call to Blackburn manager Steve Kean just before Liverpool and United played them may have been coincidence but the ultra-cool Mancini, a veteran of three Serie A titles with Inter Milan, is adamant he is unmoved by any funny business.

‘We should only think about our game, not what Fergie or the other managers say. That is not important. We have respect for him, for United, for all the teams, but we are strong enough to just look for the title.’

Arsene Wenger wants Wayne Bridge on loan

Wenger considers Bridge loan for injured Vermaelen at Arsenal

Arsene Wenger will consider this week whether to make a move for Wayne Bridge as on loan cover after Arsenal”s Thomas Vermaelen limped off with a calf strain in Saturday”s 1-0 win over QPR.

Arsenal now have Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos out as well as Vermaelen.

Midfielder Francis Coquelin filled in on Saturday but Wenger said: “It would be stupid for us to drop points because we don”t have a left back.

Loan star Arsene Wenger is considering making a move for Wayne Bridge

Loan star Arsene Wenger is considering making a move for Wayne Bridge

“Vermaelen has a calf strain. It”s serious enough not to play on Monday or against Leeds [next Monday] in the FA Cup and we now have three left backs out.”

Wenger also confirmed that Emmanuel Frimpong will be loaned to Wolves for the rest of the season.

“The reason is that Frimpong is in the position of Wilshere,” said Wenger.

Injury concern: Thomas Vermaelen limped off against QPR

Injury concern: Thomas Vermaelen limped off against QPR

“He has the level to play, he has Song in front of him, and he is somebody who needs practice. Mick McCarthy told me he has a good chance to play at Wolves.”

HMRC to investigate footballers and club perks

Taxman blitz on super-rich footballers: HMRC investigates secret perks given to stars and their families

Premier League stars and their clubs are being investigated by the taxman over the secret perks enjoyed by players and their families.

Investigators from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs have interviewed finance directors at Britain’s richest clubs to establish the extent of benefits lavished on footballers.

Officials from HMRC’s High Net Worth Unit – which usually targets the tax affairs of those worth 20million or more – have also sent out a questionnaire to at least 24 leading clubs demanding details of free holidays, luxury accommodation and other gifts.

Roman holiday: Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard and ex-fiance Elen Rives enjoy a break on one of owner Roman Abramovich

Roman holiday: Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard and ex-fiance Elen Rives enjoy a break on one of owner Roman Abramovich”s yachts

Information provided by the clubs will then be cross-referenced against stars’ individual tax returns to assess whether players could be liable for any unpaid tax or if clubs could be forced to make additional National Insurance contributions.

The probe raises the prospect of clubs having to disclose the full array of benefits received by England stars such as Wayne Rooney, who commands a 13million salary, and John Terry, who earns 7million.

HMRC investigators refused to reveal which clubs they had already targeted. Spokesmen for Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham all declined to comment.

An HMRC spokesman would not reveal the full details of the document sent to leading teams, entitled The Football Clubs Employment Issues Questionnaire.

But he confirmed that it had been compiled to establish how clubs officially account for the benefits received by stars.

A source said: ‘We are not talking about a few low-cost gifts. These people are multi-millionaires.

Rich man

Rich man”s plaything: One of Roman Abramovich”s yachts. An HMRC source said the agency was “not talking about a few low-cost gifts”

‘We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it was going to bring in a lot of money.

‘It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you work in the UK you are liable to pay tax on your UK earnings.

‘Employers are required to deduct tax from your earnings.’

He added: ‘If HMRC feel there are discrepancies or there are answers they are not happy with it could trigger an investigation.’

The sort of perks that may attract the Revenue’s attention could be first-class flights, holidays, company cars, use of club credit cards, health care and private security. He said the team of inspectors would even look at whether clubs declared tax on payments made to players for appearances on the football clubs’ own TV stations.

The Revenue says its investigation has been prompted by ‘intelligence’ about non-disclosure of benefits.

In the past decade, players such as Rooney, Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have joined the ranks of Britain’s wealthiest.

In 2007, Chelsea’s Terry was given a two-week trip aboard a 72million yacht belonging to club owner Roman Abramovich. Terry’s teammate Lampard has also been pictured on another of the Russian oligarch’s yachts with his former partner Elen Rives.

Two years ago, Lampard was said to have used Abramovich’s box at the O2 Arena in London to watch pop singer Beyonce Knowles in concert.

In the money: Footballers such as Manchester United

In the money: Footballers such as Manchester United”s Wayne Rooney – pictured with his wife Coleen and son Kai – now rank among Britain”s wealthy elite

Many Premier League clubs own properties for new signings to move into when they arrive in the UK. It is believed the arrangements could allow the players to live rent-free while they search for accommodation. There is no suggestion that any of these players or clubs have avoided paying tax or are involved in wrongdoing in any way.

Under HMRC rules, benefits for the stars are likely to be taxed at the 50 per cent rate of income tax payable by those earning 150,000 a year or more. Clubs are also liable for National Insurance contributions on any expense or benefit given to employees, which is usually calculated at 12 per cent of the market value of the benefit in kind.

Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, said: ‘There is a vast array of benefits for football players which would not happen for ordinary employees but they are all taxable. Holidays, some gifts, medical care, cars, mobile phones, meals, accommodation; all these would be taxable as benefits.’

However, he said HMRC may find its rules difficult to enforce as players and clubs dispute what exactly constitutes a benefit in kind.

Bobby Barnes, deputy chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, said: ‘Throughout the Premier League I really don’t think that there are many owners who are putting yachts and holidays at the disposal of players.

Controversial: A spokesman for Chelsea

Controversial: A spokesman for Chelsea”s John Terry declined to comment on the player”s tax affairs

‘Many Premier League players have a lot of perfectly sensible holiday accommodation of their own. Most players have accountants and specialist financial people who help players file their tax returns and can advise them on benefits.’

Asked about the HMRC investigation into perks, a Premier League spokesman said: ‘Benefits-in-kind payments are not something we are aware of, so obviously we can’t comment on them.’

Two years ago the Premier League brought in rules that make clubs report details of their PAYE systems. It is understood that these have not uncovered problems concerning tax paid on benefits.

The HMRC said: ‘In these difficult times we are determined to make sure the well-off pay their way.’ The Revenue’s High Net Worth Unit, dubbed the Affluent Unit, was founded in 2009 to focus on 5,000 of the country’s top earners. In its first year of operation the unit clawed back 85million in unpaid tax.

A spokesman for John Terry confirmed he had used Abramovich’s yacht but said his tax affairs were private and so he was unable to discuss whether Terry’s stay amounted to a taxable benefit.

A spokesman for Lampard said: ‘All of Frank’s tax affairs, both personal and business, are up to date and have been submitted annually to the Revenue and have been approved.’

Manchester City need a big lead to hold off United: Gary Neville

Now City must seize their moment, they”ll still need a big lead to hold off United

It is a year to the day that I decided to quit professional football after being given a particularly torrid time at West Bromwich Albion on New Year’s Day. The very next morning I walked into Sir Alex Ferguson’s office and told him, and nothing I’ve seen since then makes me think I made the wrong decision.

Because this season has been the most absorbing and entertaining Premier League contest I can remember. Saturday’s astonishing result at Old Trafford only confirms my view. And though part of me would love to be a part of it, when I look at my position of right-back and see Kyle Walker raiding down the flanks at White Hart Lane, or Micah Richards powering down the wing at Manchester City or Phil Jones and Chris Smalling doing the same at Manchester United, I know I made the right decision.

Players used to retire, become pundits and say how things were much better in their day. But I honestly think the reverse. A new generation of players has emerged in the last few months and, with the influx of top-quality stars from abroad, they are making this possibly the best Premier League season ever.

Hot streak: Manchester City are top of the Premier League with a game in hand - but they will need all the advantage they can get going into 2012

Hot streak: Manchester City are top of the Premier League with a game in hand – but they will need all the advantage they can get going into 2012

Never before have so many points been accumulated by the top-six teams at this stage of the season. Only the year in which Chelsea won the League, in 2005, comes close.

That statistic tells you that the top six is stronger than it’s ever been and though it looks like it may come down to a duel for the title — Tottenham are hanging on in there but have to feel the title will end up in Manchester — the strength of the chasing pack is unparalleled. The fact two teams out of Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool will miss out on Champions League football, something that would have massive implications for the clubs in question, is an intriguing sub-plot to the title race.

That strength in depth is why we had so many bizarre results and attacking games in the first quarter of the season: Tottenham 1 Manchester City 5, Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2, Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6, Chelsea 3 Arsenal 5. I think all those teams genuinely thought they had the best team in the Premier League and when you feel that, you try to steamroller the opposition as you’re convinced you will score more than them. That, of course, leaves you more open defensively.

In recent matches between the big teams, we’ve had a return to normality, with clubs being a little more cautious and treating opponents with more respect. But the early season bravado made for some of the best games we’ve seen.

Goal-fest: Manchester City thumped Spurs 5-1 at White Hart Lane

Goal-fest: Manchester City thumped Spurs 5-1 at White Hart Lane

Of course, you can criticise the defending and you cannot ignore the fact both United and City have gone out of the Champions League. But if we’re talking about the strength of the Premier League as an overall competition, you can’t match it. That’s why it’s the most-watched in the world.

Clearly the Spanish league has the best team in the world in Barcelona and, in Real Madrid, another team that I feel could still beat them in La Liga and the Champions League. But it’s beginning to resemble the Scottish league, with two sides so dominant that the rest don’t get a look in, and that’s not something we’d want to see in England. Blackburn’s 3-2 win over United only goes to show the competitive nature of the Premier League, with bottom beating joint top, an extraordinary reversal.

And at the bottom of the table, it seems more intense than ever. I can’t remember a game that appeared to have so much riding on it so early in the season as Blackburn v Bolton before Christmas. Any team from Stoke down could be relegated and there’s going to be an almighty scrap for survival.

For clubs like Wigan and Blackburn, local Lancashire clubs that I grew up near and would visit when watching Bury as a boy, you can sense how vital these months ahead are. Should they go down, you’d imagine they might not return to the Premier League for a long time. As for the title race, it couldn’t be set up better. United would never want to lose any title but the teams they would least like to concede the Premier League to would be Liverpool or Manchester City.

Fighting chance: Yakubu scores Blackburn

Fighting chance: Yakubu scores Blackburn”s opener in the stunning 3-2 win at Old Trafford

And though Roberto Mancini said this week that he thinks the clash between the two on April 28 will be the D-Day that decides the title, I think D-Day is actually March 3. That’s when United play Tottenham at White Hart Lane and it will be the end of a particularly tricky run of fixtures in the next two months of the season for United, in which they have to face Arsenal away, Chelsea away and Liverpool at home.

City’s fixtures in January and February are considerably easier. Once United get past those games, their run-in is much easier than City’s. Their last 11 games of the season are: West Brom (H), Wolves (A), Fulham (H), Blackburn (A), QPR (H), Wigan (A), Aston Villa (H), Everton (H), Manchester City (A), Swansea (H) and Sunderland (A). Other than the City game, United could take near to maximum points from those games.

It means if City are to win the League, they need to exploit United’s defeat on Saturday. They have the chance to be six points clear by the time United play next. They need to seize that opportunity now, as United head in to a run of tougher fixtures, and stay ahead of them up to March 4. Because after that day, if United are back level with City, they will feel the Premier League is theirs for the taking.

Sir Alex will never give up, it’s his job for life
Life sentence: Sir Alex Ferguson is hooked on football

Life sentence: Sir Alex Ferguson is hooked on football

It was 6.45 on a Sunday morning and I had slipped into the training ground at Carrington to pick up my boots because that day I was travelling to Lilleshall to do my coaching badges with Ryan Giggs.

Just four days previously United had lost the Champions League final to Barcelona in Rome and, for almost everyone at the club, it was down time at the end of the season and the training ground was empty.

Or so you might expect. But when I parked my car, I could see another parked nearby and in an office there was a light on. It was Sir Alex Ferguson. That tells you everything you need to know about the man. Four days after a Champions League final defeat, early on a Sunday, he was already planning for next season.

On Saturday he celebrated his 70th birthday and people inevitably begin to talk, again, about his retirement. But the job is his life and no one at the club would want him to stop because he is so integral to the team’s success.

I just cannot imagine a day when Sir Alex is sat in the directors’ box next to Lady Ferguson as some sort of honorary president looking down on another manager with his team. He will never give up.

Patrick Collins: Kenny Dalglish needs a few home truths not more flattery

Dalglish needs a few home truths… not more flattery

The match was over, the points were secure and Kenny Dalglish was screwing his face into a smile. The inquisitor from Sky TV assessed the manager’s mood and served him up a slow full toss.

‘Did Andy Carroll do everything but score tonight’ he inquired. Dalglish grunted a few unrevealing platitudes, and the deferential tone was set.

Now, Dalglish is not the only Premier League manager who prefers to deal with docile flattery. In truth, most of them favour the kind of questions which are accompanied by a tug of the forelock.

Elephant in the room: Kenny Dalglish continues to defend Andy Carroll and his 35m transfer fee

Elephant in the room: Kenny Dalglish continues to defend Andy Carroll and his 35m transfer fee

But during a year which has seen Liverpool make qualified progress while spending money on an unprecedented scale, Dalglish has behaved with a prickly defensiveness which smacks of paranoia.

The Carroll issue is an obvious case in point. The world and his brother know that 35million was an outrageous amount to invest in a player whose ability was unproven and whose attitude was questionable.

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They know that it was spent because the deal had to be done before the transfer deadline and Liverpool’s pockets were bulging with the 50m they received for the sale of Fernando Torres.

Above all, they know that Carroll has done little or nothing to justify that fee in the course of an unproductive year: 35m for a striker who does everything but score

Naturally, we should expect the manager to defend his man but Dalglish has done so with thin-skinned surliness.

Carroll had been at Anfield for a matter of weeks when Dalglish complained about ‘negative’ questions. From there on, almost every reference to the player has been greeted with the same defensive hostility. It was as if Dalglish suspected that his own judgment was being questioned.

And that would never do. And yet there are questions to be asked about his decision to spend a total of some 50m on Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing. Do they really represent value for money, are they really men capable of lifting the side to a new level

It would help if Dalglish did not treat simple discussion as rank impertinence, if he did not regard mild dissent as personal affront.

What

What”s your problem: Dalglish has behaved with a prickly defensiveness which smacks of paranoia

Which brings us, of course, to Luis Suarez. The Liverpool striker was charged with making racially offensive comments.

Which brings us, of course, to Luis Suarez. The Liverpool striker was charged with making racially offensivecomments. The case was heard at length by an independent commission, chaired by a QC.

The player was found guilty and received an eight-match ban and 40,000 fine. An initial reading of the commission’s findings, published on Saturday night, suggests a scrupulously thorough and balanced process with an apparently appropriate sanction.

Yet through all this, Liverpool FC’s stance has been that of the affronted victim. Long before they saw the detailed findings, they called the decision ‘extraordinary’ and ‘incredible’.

They impugned the character of Patrice Evra. They allowed players and manager to parade in ‘supportive’ T-shirts, a piece of imbecilic posturing.

Flashpoint: Luis Suarez received an eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra

Flashpoint: Luis Suarez received an eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra

Dalglish himself plumbed the deepest depths when he tweeted: ‘Let’s not let him walk alone.’ It was a cheap and demeaning attempt to evoke the tradition of a great football club in the service of one who had been found guilty by the FA of a serious offence.

For Liverpool are certainly a great club; indeed, they are an institution created by remarkable men and sustained by extraordinary supporters.

In the past, and most particularly inthe wake of the Hillsborough tragedy, Dalglish has shown an impeccable awareness of the dignity and stature of the institution.

Support: Liverpool players donned controversial T-shirts the day of the Suarez verdict

Support: Liverpool players donned controversial T-shirts the day of the Suarez verdict

All of which makes his current conduct more difficult to explain. His close friends — golfing partners,for the most part — speak of his warmth and ready wit. Yet publicly, the ready wit too often congeals into feeble wisecrack.

Thus, when asked about a poor tackle by a Newcastle player on Friday evening, he responded with: ‘I didn’t see it. If it was a bad one, I’m sure the FA will take appropriate action.’

Again, the snide smear when a little humility would have been in order. And it is all a great pity because the man has so much to offer. He was a wondrous player, one of the best our game has seen, and his managerial record is resoundingly impressive.

He could yet offer his game a singular example by studying the contents of the commission’s findings and accepting them without recourse to smart jibes or self-serving objections.

I hope that is his chosen course, andI hope that somebody of consequence at Liverpool advises him to take that course. For flattery is a dangerous diet; high time that Kenny Dalglish was told a home truth.

The Cork clown has a head for stupidity
Head boy: Stephen Ireland showed his class in the win over Chelsea

Head boy: Stephen Ireland showed his class in the win over Chelsea

If Stephen Ireland didn’t exist, then we should surely have to invent him.

For the Cork man, who guided Villa towards that remarkable victory at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, is the eccentric’s eccentric; he has spent his entire career living out the public’s dimmest perceptions of a professional footballer.

You may remember his jaunty hairpiece, worn with blithe disregard for inevitable mockery. You will certainly recall the saga of his ‘dead’ grannies.

In an effort to get out of playing for the Republic of Ireland, the bold Stephen reported the death of his maternal grandmother. When that was revealed as a distinct exaggeration, he explained that he had been referring to his paternal grandmother.

Guess who popped up with an indignant denial of that little tale

Anyway, Ireland has not lost his taste for the bizarre. Last week, his girlfriend posted a picture on Twitter of our Stephen posing barechested, with a shisha pipe in one hand and a drink in the other. His manager at Aston Villa is of the old school.

‘I don’t know what he was doing,’ said Alex McLeish. ‘I don’t know what that stuff is. For all I know, he could have been blowing bubbles.’

He added, a tad superfluously: ‘I have to say, it’s not my world.’

Roberto Mancini, one of Ireland’s former managers, once remarked that Stephen ‘needs to change his head’. Given time, I suspect McLeish might do the job for him.

Not so much: Earlier he attracted headlines for being snapped smoking a shisha

Not so much: Earlier he attracted headlines for being snapped smoking a shisha

Kean shows why Rovers have stuck with him

There have been times these past few months when Steve Kean seemed almost anxious to be given his cards by Blackburn Rovers.

His persecution has been cruel, loutish and quite relentless. I cannot recall a football manager ever suffering such concerted personal abuse.

And not just from those elements who scream their dullwitted insults from the seats at Ewood Park, but from people who ought to know better; the rent-a-quote former players, the jobbing pundits, even the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who, with staggering pomposity, announced that he had been ‘extremely patient’ but that it was time to ‘ask Steve Kean to leave’.

Rovers return: Blackburn

Rovers return: Blackburn”s win at Old Trafford should earn Steve Kean a reprieve

Through all this, Kean has retained his dignity and his self-belief. I do not suggest Saturday’s victory at Old Trafford means his problems are at an end.
But his preparations were skilful, his players fought and scrapped for him and his reward was well-earned. Of course, there will be tough times ahead but on Saturday Steve Kean proved that he is worth the loyalty his employers have shown. We wish him well.

PS…
Honoured: Former Aston Villa chairman Doug Ellis

Our congratulations to Doug Ellis (right), the former chairman of Aston Villa, sacker of countless managers, subject of a thousand hostile crowd chants and now, at 87, knighted in the New Year Honours.

‘I’m so humble,’ says Sir Doug. ‘I can’t believe it.’

I am not convinced about the humility, since Doug has never knowingly undersold himself. But I suspect that a few of those unforgiving ex–managers will share his disbelief.

Wayne Rooney axed by Sir Alex Ferguson over Boxing Day dinner with Coleen

Rooney axed over Boxing Day night out: Ferguson fury as United star enjoys dinner with Coleen

Wayne Rooney was sensationally axed from Manchester United’s squad for the Premier League match against Blackburn after a bust-up with manager Sir Alex Ferguson that throws the controversial striker’s Old Trafford future into doubt.

United crashed to a 3-2 home defeat by a team who had started the day bottom of the Premier League table after Rooney, 26, was dropped for what appears to have been the most innocuous of reasons — going out for a Boxing Day evening meal with his wife, Coleen.

Rooney’s team-mates, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson, joined them, along with their respective partners, and the party of six dined in Manchester and celebrated United’s 5-0 win over Wigan earlier that day.

Watching brief: Wayne Rooney observes as Manchester United lost to Blackburn at Old Trafford

Watching brief: Wayne Rooney observes as Manchester United lost to Blackburn at Old Trafford

It is understood that Rooney, Evans and Gibson were overheard discussing the evening during training on Tuesday morning, saying what an enjoyable time they had had. Word of the night out reached Ferguson, who was 70 on Saturday, and the manager hauled Rooney into his office to voice his displeasure.

United, like all clubs, have strict rules about players’ behaviour and there appears to have been a massive gulf in perception over Monday night’s activities.

The trio of players were ordered to do extra training on Wednesday — their day off. Rooney was then told on Friday night that he would be dropped for the Rovers fixture. He has also been hit with a six- figure fine, which has left him bemused and furious at what he sees as a huge injustice.

Fractious relations: Sir Alex Ferguson and Rooney exchange pleasantries during last season

Fractious relations: Sir Alex Ferguson and Rooney exchange pleasantries during last season”s Champions League quarter-final

While the rest of the United squad spent Saturday morning getting ready for the lunchtime kick-off against Rovers, Rooney, Evans and Gibson were told that they would be doing more extra training instead. Rooney later watched the game from the stands.

Rooney has always made it clear that he wants to play every match for United, even when selected out of position. But the astonishing developments of the past few days now throw his future at United back into doubt.

Signs of lingering tension in the Rooney-Ferguson relationship have resurfaced over the past few weeks, not least when Rooney made a joke about his boss at the club’s annual quiz.

A players’ team, including Rooney and Evans, beat a United staff team led by Ferguson. During a game of charades that formed part of the quiz, Rooney had to act out the film, Bend It Like Beckham, and mimed his former team-mate, David Beckham, having a boot kicked in his face by Ferguson, at whom Rooney also pointed.

Can you guess what it is yet Wayne Rooney points as Sir Alex Ferguson before holding his eye (below). Ferguson (bottom) offered an icy stare but took the joke well

Can you guess what it is yet Wayne Rooney points as Sir Alex Ferguson before holding his eye (below). Ferguson (bottom) offered an icy stare

Can you guess what it is yet Wayne Rooney points as Sir Alex Ferguson before holding his eye (below). Ferguson (bottom) offered an icy stare but took the joke well

Can you guess what it is yet Wayne Rooney points as Sir Alex Ferguson before holding his eye (below). Ferguson (bottom) offered an icy stare but took the joke well

Ryan Giggs correctly guessed the answer and when Ferguson realised he had been the butt of the joke, he is alleged to have said: ‘This is going to cost you!’

Rooney and Ferguson’s relationship looked shattered beyond repair 14 months ago after Rooney told the manager that he no longer wanted to play for United.

Rooney released a statement saying that his decision was based on ambition and it seemed a certainty that he would be leaving Old Trafford, quite possibly for rivals Manchester City, who at the time wanted to buy the England striker.

Meal: Jonny Evans Meal: Darron Gibson

Meal: Jonny Evans (left) and Darron Gibson also attended

But within days Rooney had made a dramatic about-turn and swiftly agreed to a contract extension that tied him to the club until 2015.

The events of the past few days suggest, however, that there is lingering resentment between Ferguson and Rooney dating back to the stand-off in 2010 — and this now appears to have erupted in what could be a hugely damaging rift for Rooney and the club.

United had the chance to take a three-point lead at the top of the table on Saturday but blew it when they crashed to Rovers, who were 20-1 outsiders to get the win at Old Trafford.

Rooney, Evans and Gibson were all involved in Monday’s 5-0 thrashing of Wigan. Gibson played the full game, Evans played the first half before being substituted and Rooney came on as a 64th-minute substitute for Giggs.

United’s next match is at Newcastle on Wednesday, by which time City, who face Sunderland today and Liverpool on Tuesday, could have taken a six-point lead in the title race.

United did not respond on Saturday night to questions about the Rooney-Ferguson bust-up.