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Martin Samuel: If Roman Abramovich doesn"t respect Chelsea"s managers, why would the players?

If Roman doesn't respect Chelsea's managers, why would the players

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UPDATED:

23:17 GMT, 4 December 2012

It is possible to have a safe job at Chelsea: just not as manager.

Bruce Buck, the chairman, has been in his position since 2003. He was head of the European branch of the legal firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, whose clients included Sibneft, the company owned by Roman Abramovich.

In this capacity, he advised Abramovich on a number of acquisitions, including Chelsea Village plc. When the deal was concluded, Buck became chairman of Chelsea. He’s still there.

Can I have your attention: Rafael Benitez is facing an uphill battle impressing Chelsea players and fans

Can I have your attention: Rafael Benitez is facing an uphill battle impressing Chelsea players and fans

More from Martin Samuel…

Martin Samuel: Splash, bang, wallop! When sport gives you a moment to savour you take it
02/12/12

Martin Samuel: Wenger used to solve Arsenal's problems… now he helps his rivals solve theirs
02/12/12

So what’s for dinner tonight Killer casserole
29/11/12

Martin Samuel: Get real with the Olympic Stadium… it's West Ham or a white elephant
27/11/12

Schools are falling for the hard sell from corporate sponsors
22/11/12

Martin Samuel: Di Matteo is just the latest victim of Roman's random reign at Chelsea
22/11/12

Martin Samuel: Suarez is poetry in motion… but can he really be Player of the Year
20/11/12

Martin Samuel: Too few had the desire to follow Cook into battle
19/11/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Eugene Tenenbaum has also enjoyed a stable career as a director at Stamford Bridge. A former head of corporate finance for Sibneft, he joined the Chelsea board in 2003 and remains.

Ron Gourlay, who became chief executive officer in 2009, arrived at the club in 2004 holding a variety of positions, including chief operating officer.

Steve Atkins, head of communications and public affairs, has been with Chelsea since 2007. Atkins and Gourlay assumed their present positions because their predecessors, Peter Kenyon and Simon Greenberg, resigned. Had they not sought fresh opportunities, one presumes they would still be employed today.

So the idea Abramovich enjoys firing people is untrue. In just about every other area of his football business, staff positions remain constant.

Gourlay does not take a call midway through a reserve match to tell him his time is up: he makes that call, to assistant manager Ray Wilkins.

Buck does not hold press conferences to announce his departure as chairman; he fronts up, on Abramovich’s behalf, having handed another managerial stooge his P45.

What appears to be absent here is respect. Abramovich clearly appreciates the work of lawyers, of business people, even public relations consultants; but anyone in a tracksuit is a clown.

The problem with such a short-sighted attitude is that, in time, it rubs off. First the owner thinks the manager is a fool, then the players and now the fans. Abramovich should not be surprised that so few are affording Rafael Benitez the consideration his c.v. merits; they are taking their cue directly from him.

The players know that if Benitez’s methods are not to their liking they can wait this one out.

Roberto Di Matteo also carried the enfeebling title of interim manager but he, shrewdly, forged a relationship with the players by giving them largely what they wanted. He dispensed with the most unpopular aspects of the Andre Villas-Boas regime — most significantly the poorly conceived high defensive line — and won friends by returning to familiar ways.

Long standing: Bruce Buck and Ron Gourlay have enjoyed lengthy spells employed by Roman Abramovich

Long standing: Bruce Buck and Ron Gourlay have enjoyed lengthy spells employed by Roman Abramovich

Benitez is more confrontational. One of his early calls was to drop Chelsea’s player of the season, Juan Mata, for a home game with Fulham and his brazen announcement that Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard have no future at the club will not have helped forge an immediate bond with senior team members, either.

Cole, certainly, appeared below his usual standard against West Ham United on Saturday, while Lampard will hardly rush back from injury to save a club who are dumping him, if it means jeopardising his long-term fitness and a future contract elsewhere.

Benitez can be a cold fish as a manager. Steven Gerrard says he could not even tease a smile out of him on the night Liverpool won the Champions League final. Gerrard knew, though, that after such incredible success, Benitez was going to be around for a long time, so like it or lump it.

This isn’t true at Chelsea. Don’t like Benitez, don’t like his style Not to worry, another manager will be along in six months’ time and maybe you’ll click with him.

Speaking yesterday, Benitez said his players lacked a little confidence. Yet what should they feel confident in: a manager who won’t be there soon, or an owner who might already have taken against them, regardless of performances

Abramovich’s way does not breed confidence of the kind that turns around a crisis. Di Matteo was fortunate in that Villas-Boas was unpopular and he could play the good guy. That option is not open to Benitez.

Players that are disgruntled by Di Matteo’s departure are hardly likely to be inspired by Benitez’s brand of tough love; particularly as his job title suggests he is only passing through.

Friends in high places: Roberto Di Matteo was able to get on the right side of the players

Friends in high places: Roberto Di Matteo was able to get on the right side of the players

The same is true of the fans. Would their reaction to Benitez have been so unanimously hostile if his was a long-term appointment

If the dissent is loud enough, and the results lousy, they reason, he might even be gone by the new year. In this way, Abramovich’s lack of respect for the manager’s role is impacting on performances. The owner doesn’t listen to the manager, so why should anybody else

Tonight, it is widely expected that Benitez will win his first game since arriving at Stamford Bridge. This being Chelsea, of course, that good news is likely to be overshadowed by a result in Donetsk that will spell the end of their Champions League campaign, making this the worst defence of the crown in history.

No champions of Europe have exited at the group stage the following season, a fact that will cast a pall over the anticipated win over Nordsjaelland, even if it ends with a Fernando Torres hat-trick.

Torres is doing a great job, said Benitez on the eve of the game, backing up his argument by praising his defensive work at corners.

Leaving aside that this was not exactly what Abramovich had in mind when he paid Liverpool 50million, it is a fine example of the muddled thinking at Chelsea. The owner has bought Oscar, Mata and Eden Hazard, and left them in the hands of a man who does not mind if his striker hasn’t scored for six matches, as long as he is keeping it tight at the back.

Looking for answers: Roman Abramovich is yet to find his perfect fit for the Chelsea dugout

Looking for answers: Roman Abramovich is yet to find his perfect fit for the Chelsea dugout

Gary Neville mocked defender David Luiz for playing like he was ‘being controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation’, but the real juvenile at the controls at Chelsea is Abramovich. He buys Torres and then assembles a forward line that is incompatible with his needs.

He sacks a manager, replaces him with his polar opposite, and wonders why the transition proves difficult. With each action, he appears to treat the art of producing winning football teams with contempt, as if anybody can do it; and if he even for one second seriously considered bringing Avram Grant back in any capacity, then he must believe anybody can.

What a pity he does not view football with the same respect he reserves for lawyers, financiers or even company executives. In those fields, Chelsea are rational, even nurturing, employers. At the sight of a tracksuit, however, the club lose their mind.

Play-offs It's England, Roy, not West Brom

Roy Hodgson says he will be happy with a place in the play-offs if England cannot win their World Cup qualifying group. He shouldn’t be.

England should not be second best to Montenegro, Poland or Ukraine. England should already be handily placed for Brazil, not playing catch-up after Christmas, fingers crossed, hoping for the best. And now the downgrading begins.

Hodgson calls the opposition underestimated, but that isn’t true, either. They are quite accurately estimated as inferior teams to England.

Aim higher: Roy Hodsgon says he'd settle for a playoff berth in World Cup qualifying. He shouldn't

Aim higher: Roy Hodsgon says he'd settle for a playoff berth in World Cup qualifying. He shouldn't

FIFA’s world rankings can be quirkily random, but they are not totally bananas. The current top three are Spain, Germany and Argentina, not Moldova, Burkina Faso and Guatemala.

England at six seem over-rated but a place somewhere between 10 and 16 would not embarrass, and would still be a substantial improvement on Montenegro (34).

Poland (54) and Ukraine (55) have suffered through a lack of competitive football as hosts of the 2012 European Championship but even a 20-place promotion would still leave them trailing England.

So not mugs, but a friendlier route than Group A (Belgium, Croatia, Serbia) or the five-team Group I that pits Spain against France.

England got lucky in the draw and were given the sort of challenge that Fabio Capello and, previously, Sven Goran Eriksson completed with ease.

There is still time for Hodgson to do the same: but to be talking already about second place suggests a regime too familiar with low expectations.

This is not West Bromwich Albion: mid-table does not earn a pat on the back. The play-offs are only preferable to not qualifying at all, and surely a repeat of Steve McClaren’s dismal failure is beyond even the most pessimistic consideration

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT

Do you want be a hero, Joe

Do you want be a hero, Joe

We need a hero

Could just one footballer please come out and be gay, so everybody can be really cool about it and the sport can get on with its life Just one, it’s not much to ask surely

Football is beginning to sound a little desperate with its pleading. Rugby, cricket, they’ve all had their gay watershed moment. And until football does, too, it will continue to be presumed that the sport has not evolved enough to handle male homosexuality.

(Hope Powell, the manager of England’s women, has been openly gay for years, without comment, yet that does not seem to count.)

The gay pressure group, Stonewall, has called again for football to tackle its ‘culture of fear’, while Anders Lindegaard, the Manchester United goalkeeper, has said that football needs a ‘gay hero’.

So here’s a thought. Joey Barton continues his quest for intellectual and social respectability. Why not come out as gay Instant credibility, instant respect, untouchable by the Football Association or future employers. His past misdeeds mentally reprocessed and explained.

‘Well, of course he put his cigar out in that bloke’s face, Gary. He was a tortured soul, forced to live a lie.’

And imagine the new material. A never-ending treasure trove for Barton’s Twitter feed: Alexander the Great, Leonardo da Vinci, Oscar Wilde, Lady Bunny.

And, let’s face it, with that new accent, he’s probably halfway there.

Like a black fly in your chardonnay

Patrick Edlinger, known as ‘the god of free climbing’ has died at the age of 52. He was famous for overcoming sheer rock faces and horizontal overhangs, often without equipment, sometimes without shoes.

Top of the rocks: Patrick Edlinger, climbing's most famous face, has died

Top of the rocks: Patrick Edlinger, climbing's most famous face, has died

Edlinger regarded himself as a minimalist mountaineer, relying on strong fingers and toes, super flexible limbs and quite incredible core body strength to scale vast peaks and ranges.

He would hang from a rock, and flip his legs above his torso to somehow find a grip. This way, he took on the 1500-foot vertical ascent of the Verdon Gorge — France’s smaller but no less daunting equivalent of the Grand Canyon.

He had several films made about him and was a hero in France, where his passing was headline news.

Do you know how he died He fell down some stairs at home. Alanis Morissette should write a song about this stuff, really she should.

Footballers can't dive in like Becky

And now the return of an irregular series entitled: it's different for football.

Pound for pound, the well-funded Team GB swimmers flopped horribly at the Olympic Games, winning one silver and two bronze medals.

This has led to a review of the sport and the departure of its performance director Michael Scott. Rebecca Adlington is furious that British Swimming did not consult the athletes in this process. As the most successful British swimmer in history, she may have a point.

Speak up: Rebecca Adlington is often consulted by her sport's powers-that-be, unlike Steven Gerrard

Speak up: Rebecca Adlington is often consulted by her sport's powers-that-be, unlike Steven Gerrard

Speak up: Rebecca Adlington is often consulted by her sport's powers-that-be, unlike Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard, however, knows a bit about football too. Now imagine if England failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the manager was sacked and Gerrard demanded the underachieving players were part of any Football Association inquest. He would be absolutely pilloried.

Adlington, by contrast, is now invited to air her views at a meeting with David Sparkes, chief executive of British Swimming. It’s different for football.

Save the Wales whinge

Wales would like to play their 2015 Rugby World Cup tie with England in Cardiff. Wales can, very politely, get stuffed.

There is one advantage to being the hosts, and that is no away games. For the organisers to even be considering a neutral venue such as Wembley is bad enough, but to play in Wales would be madness.

There is only one venue suitable for England at a home World Cup. Twickenham. That’s why they call it HQ.

Chris Ashton swallow dive was pure joy

Splash, bang, wallop! When sport gives you a moment to savour you take it

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 2 December 2012

Chris Ashton reflected briefly on the moment that came to define a quite incredible afternoon.

‘I had no intention of doing it,’ he said. ‘I’ve no idea where it came from. I was just so happy to finally get over the line. I said it was going to happen at the right time and maybe that was the right time. I thought I’d forgotten what to do. But apparently not.’

He was talking, of course, of that try. Not just the try, in fact, but the touchdown. You know the one. The swallow dive. The Ash-Splash. The expression of exuberance that somehow came to encapsulate all that was wrong with modern rugby in England.

Ash-splash: Chris Ashton scored with his oft-criticised exuberant technique

Ash-splash: Chris Ashton scored with his oft-criticised exuberant technique

More from Martin Samuel…

Martin Samuel: Wenger used to solve Arsenal's problems… now he helps his rivals solve theirs
02/12/12

So what’s for dinner tonight Killer casserole
29/11/12

Martin Samuel: Get real with the Olympic Stadium… it's West Ham or a white elephant
27/11/12

Schools are falling for the hard sell from corporate sponsors
22/11/12

Martin Samuel: Di Matteo is just the latest victim of Roman's random reign at Chelsea
22/11/12

Martin Samuel: Suarez is poetry in motion… but can he really be Player of the Year
20/11/12

Martin Samuel: Too few had the desire to follow Cook into battle
19/11/12

Martin Samuel: Admit it KP, left-arm spin baffles you
18/11/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Imagine a player looking as if he was enjoying himself. Imagine giving the impression that being good at sport was fun. How dare he And, sure enough, it was there in some quarters. Self-indulgent, apparently. No doubt disrespectful, too.

Yet, at frozen rugby pitches on Sunday morning, the young men and women who had witnessed a momentous occasion for their sport less than 24 hours previously all wanted to deliver an Ash-Splash, or charge through the opposition ranks like Manu Tuilagi.

Their coaches will tell them there is more to the sport than mere showmanship; they will deliver the stern lectures about the dire consequences if Ashton had fumbled the ball or Tuilagi been caught as he strolled over the try line. And they will be right, too.

But if there is no longer room for getting lost in the moment, for a split second when consideration of what is right or proper takes leave, and pure adrenalin takes over, then the world of sport will be a very dull place.

Despite what the cynics may believe, Ashton didn’t dive because he envisaged newspaper front pages, or commercial contracts. He dived because a personal dry spell was at an end, his team was in the ascendancy, but most of all, because in front of a delirious home crowd England were — to use a playground expression — absolutely owning the All Blacks and the excited schoolboy in Ashton just could not help coming out.

It is great to be young and fit and good at rugby, the schoolboy announced. It is great to beat the All Blacks. And it is.

Get in: Ashton's team-mates congratulate him after the try

Get in: Ashton's team-mates congratulate him after the try

Dying soldier's inspiration

Stuart Lancaster called on a terminally ill friend to help motivate the England team to victory.

George Hickinson, a former soldier who is suffering from cancer, presented the match jerseys to England’s players in the traditional eve-of-match ceremony.

Scrum-half Ben Youngs said Hickinson’s speech, which referred to the pride service personnel have in their country, helped focus the players.

He was joined at the presentation by two backroom staff, long-serving doctor Mike Bundy and fitness advisor Calvin Morriss, who are leaving the RFU.

Lancaster and Hickinson worked together at Leeds, where the latter worked as a masseur and was on the staff when they won the 2005 Powergen Cup.

This could have been a watershed moment for English rugby under Stuart Lancaster and, for precedent, go back 12 years. It was November 18, 2000 when a converted try from Dan Luger, eight minutes into second-half overtime, gave England a 22-19 win over Australia at Twickenham and kickstarted Sir Clive Woodward’s World Cup winning era.

England had won a single game against Australia since 1988 before that: after it, they won a further four straight, culminating in the World Cup Final in Sydney.

It is hard to imagine such a run against the mighty All Blacks, but easier to think of Lancaster’s England team now growing in confidence for a tilt at the Six Nations. Certainly, Ashton’s try breaks a long dispiriting run without a score from a man who was once considered England’s talismanic running back.

‘It’s been killing me, absolutely killing me,’ said Ashton of a barren international stretch lasting 14 months, since a try against Scotland on October 1 last year. ‘It felt so good just to get over.

‘The celebration was a combination of a lot of things. A bit of relief for me, because I haven’t scored in such a long time, but for the team too, because we knew then we were on the verge of beating them. It’s been frustrating for me not to be scoring tries, but it was about the team more. We let loose. We showed we have got the players.’

Steve Hansen, New Zealand’s coach, said as much. Magnanimous in defeat, Hansen, asked about the All Blacks’ World Cup chances, said there were two potential World Cup winning teams on the field at Twickenham.

‘What I find most surprising about today is that anybody is surprised,’ he added. ‘This is a good, young England side, and you should try backing them a bit, because that will make them even more dangerous.’

Credit: Richie McCaw (left) with Steve Hansen, who said England are a good side and could win the World Cup

Credit: Richie McCaw (left) with Steve Hansen, who said England are a good side and could win the World Cup

There were 206 caps between the 15 starting England players while Richie McCaw and Dan Carter of New Zealand have 210 between them.

Lancaster dreams of the day when England will be able to put 800 caps on the field in one game, and with a team as youthful as his it is possible.

With Wales floundering in the autumn internationals, England have every reason to be hopeful about the Six Nations next year, although maintaining the sheer momentum of Saturday’s win will be close to impossible.

‘We could feel the sense of occasion from the start,’ said Ashton, ‘that something special was going to happen. We had no option really. We’d lost two games against South Africa and Australia, so it was backs to the wall. We had nothing to lose.

Shift: The change in culture under Stuart Lancaster is evident to Ashton

Shift: The change in culture under Stuart Lancaster is evident to Ashton

‘I just think there’s a massive difference now under Stuart. The whole culture has changed. Two years ago we got smashed by South Africa, but now we believe in each other. That win will fill us with confidence and when we come back we’ve got to go flying into Scotland.

‘They’ll come down here fighting and trying to make a mess of it as they always do, so we’ve got to be clinical. It’s always difficult to pick up from where you’ve left off, but we’ve got the same core of people and I always felt we had the players who could do it. We built a score, just like New Zealand do.’

Comparisons to the giants of the southern hemisphere game that would have seemed laughable 48 hours ago are now made straight-faced.

It may be a time before we see the Ash-Splash again, but it will always be inside, lurking, waiting for that moment, that special moment, when it is really quite impossible to contain the thrill of being very good at rugby; better, even, than the mighty All Blacks.

West Ham v Liverpool – win tickets

WIN tickets to watch West Ham v Liverpool with VIP treatment – courtesy of Sure for Men

UPDATED:

14:42 GMT, 2 December 2012

Sportsmail has teamed up with Sure for Men to offer one lucky reader the chance to win a pair of VIP tickets to watch West Ham v Liverpool at Upton Park on Sunday, December 9

You and a guest will enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium, go pitch-side for the pre-match warm-up and enjoy corporate hospitality during the game.

Better still, you'll be given a shirt signed by the entire West Ham squad.

West Ham

To be in with a chance of winning, simply answer the following question:

Which striker is on loan at West Ham from Liverpool
A) Carlton Cole
B) Modibo Maiga
C) Andy Carroll

E-mail your answer, along with your name, address and contact number to:

[email protected]

to arrive by 11am on Wednesday, December 5.

PLEASE NOTE: You must validate your entry with the words SURE WEST HAM in your subject box; the tickets are for HOME FANS ONLY; normal Associated Newspapers terms and conditions apply – the Editor's decision is final.

Sure Men

Outstanding protection even at 48 hours. Sure. It won’t let you down. For more information about Sure for Men products, visit suremen.co.uk

Barcelona break with tradition by cashing in on Messi & Co with Qatar Airways shirt deal

Barcelona break with tradition by cashing in on Messi & Co with Qatar Airways deal

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UPDATED:

11:46 GMT, 20 November 2012

Barcelona have sparked controversy by turning their back on 112 years of history with their latest shirt sponsorship deal.

The Spanish giants have agreed for Qatar Airways to be emblazoned on their famous scarlet and blue shirts from the beginning of next season.

Major attraction: Barcelona star Lionel Messi

Major attraction: Barcelona star Lionel Messi

How Martin Samuel highlighted Barca's greed

Almighty Barcelona more than a club Not when they claim moral authority

Forget the halo, even the blessed Barcelona are tainted by greed

The Doha-state run airline will replace current sponsors The Qatar Foundation, who provide funding for health and education projects and will revert to the club's official human development partner.

The move is part of Barcelona's five-year deal with Qatar Sports Investments worth 125 million

But it has angered some fans as it will be the first time a corporate logo will appear on the shirts.

For years, Barcelona refused to follow their European rivals and have a shirt sponsor.

They finally relented in 2003 by allowing the children's charity UNICEF, to occupy their famous shirts.

In 2010 The Qatar Foundation, another charitable organisation, became the first brand to be allowed on the shirts.

Sandro Rosell, president of Barcelona, has welcomed Qatar Airways as 'an ambitious brand with global aspirations, always committed to achieving the utmost excellence in its field'.

Centre of attention: Messi training in Moscow for Tuesday's Champions League tie

Centre of attention: Messi training in Moscow for Tuesday's Champions League tie

Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, added: 'We are delighted to form this alliance with FC Barcelona, the biggest football club in the world. Qatar Airways has been voted best airline in the world for two consecutive years and will work with FC Barcelona on activities of benefit both to fans and passengers, offering tangible rewards to both organisations.'

Rosell also stressed that 'after sharing two fantastic years with Qatar
Foundation, we are delighted to be continuing our relationship by
welcoming them as our official Human Development Partner.'

A Qatar Foundation spokesperson said: 'When we started this fantastic journey with FC Barcelona, our objective was to work closely with the club, the team and the supporters to promote awareness of Qatar Foundation on an international scale. This has been a huge success.

'In fact, the first two years of the collaboration have surpassed our expectations and we are looking to deepen and strengthen our relationship with FC Barcelona and its supporters around the world in our continued role as a proud partner of the club.'

No logo: Rivaldo (right) in 2002

No logo: Rivaldo (right) in 2002

First step: Ronaldinho in UNICEF sponsored shirt in 2007

First step: Ronaldinho in UNICEF sponsored shirt in 2007

A big deal for Barca

When the Qatar Foundation agreed to become the new shirt sponsors at Barcelona, the club certainly did not make the concession on the cheap.

For the Catalan giants, who famously withstood commercial pressure for a shirt sponsor until 2011, agreed a 125m deal over five seasons that would see the non-profit making government-backed organisation of the Middle East state receive global exposure in return.

It was not a move that was free of controversy. Opponents highlighted Qatar's poor human rights record and argued whether it was right that Barcelona should be promoting such an organisation.

However, it appears that the goalposts have now been moved within two years of that orginial announcement. It would appear that Barcelona's members – who voted originally to accept the deal – are being weaned off the concept of the club promoting a quasi-charitable cause for one that is purely commercial.

Barcelona are able to do this because the contract was signed with the Qatar Sports Investment group – a company who have the power to change the name on the shirt in the third year of their agreement.

A clause in the contract has seen them to do just that. Barcelona will not receive any more money for the sleight-of-hand which has seen Qatar Airways take over the role as shirt sponsors next season, save for the 25m chunk that has already been agreed between the parties.

However, the deal remains the most lucrative in world football, outstripping Bayern Munich's 23m with Deutsche Telecom and those agreed with English football's Manchester United, (Chevrolet) Manchester City, (Etihad Airways) and Liverpool. (Standard Chartered).

Lewis Hamilton to choose between McLaren and Mercedes before Japanese Grand Prix

Hamilton to decide whether to quit McLaren for Mercedes before Japanese Grand Prix

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UPDATED:

19:03 GMT, 27 September 2012

Lewis Hamilton is to make a decision on his Formula One future before next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton's answer, on whether he remains with McLaren or opts to move to Mercedes, could potentially come as early as Friday, although it is understood the situation is not 100 per cent finalised.

The likelihood is Hamilton will continue his partnership with McLaren that now stretches back 14 years after he was initially signed up as a 13-year-old.

Decision to make: McLaren star Lewis Hamilton's future remains unclear

Decision to make: McLaren star Lewis Hamilton's future remains unclear

A source close to McLaren said after the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday that a contract to stay loyal to the Woking-based marque was '85-90 per cent' resolved.

Given the current economic climate, McLaren's initial offer saw them slash the 27-year-old's yearly salary by a third from 10million to around 6.75m and on a par with team-mate Jenson Button, resulting in the need to look elsewhere.

With management company, XIX Entertainment run by impresario Simon Fuller, known to have entered into negotiations with Mercedes, the German manufacturing giant then put in a sizeable bid.

It is understood Mercedes also offered Hamilton greater freedom with regard to his image rights and less impact on his personal time from corporate sponsorship appearances.

With McLaren's hand forced, they are believed to have increased their annual salary offer by a further 2m, and more in line with Mercedes.

Further negotiations have taken place behind the scenes these past few days since the race at the Marina Bay Street Circuit where team principal Martin Whitmarsh and Hamilton both appeared more relaxed.

Rollercoaster: Hamilton has had an up-and-down season at McLaren

Rollercoaster: Hamilton has had an up-and-down season at McLaren

It was in stark contrast to the tense atmosphere that pervaded the paddock at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix as Hamilton landed in hot water with the team for tweeting telemetry data from qualifying.

A few days later, when former team boss and current BBC television pundit Eddie Jordan remarked a deal with Mercedes was done and an announcement imminent, it sparked a feeding frenzy at Monza ahead of the race in Italy, with Hamilton bombarded with questions.

Hamilton, however, kept his cool on the track to win from pole and thrust himself back in the title hunt, following which McLaren began their concerted push to retain the 2008 world champion.

Another pole followed in Singapore, yet despite what Hamilton described as a 'heart-breaking' gearbox failure when comfortably leading, he was positive and upbeat when he spoke after the race.

It was similar with Whitmarsh who claimed McLaren and Hamilton 'are a good team together', with the latter dealing with his disappointment 'as a world champion'.

Flashing the cash: Mercedes have tried to tempt Hamilton to their team

Flashing the cash: Mercedes have tried to tempt Hamilton to their team

Whitmarsh refused to speculate on whether a deal would be done before Japan, which starts next Friday in Suzuka, but it now appears certain that will be the case, with McLaren seemingly beating Mercedes to Hamilton's signature.

Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn today indicated talks were ongoing with Michael Schumacher, whose three-year contract expires at the end of the current campaign.

'It's still under discussion, I'm afraid,' said Brawn on BBC Radio 5 Live.
'I can't comment very much on that, but Michael's been a huge asset to the team, he's really taken us forward.

'I do think Michael contributes an awful lot, so I think the decision for Michael to stay or not continue is a difficult one.

'Obviously he's very involved in that decision, and discussions are ongoing at the moment.'

Asked whether Hamilton could be joining Mercedes, Brawn naturally ducked the issue, adding: 'I think any ambitious team looks at the top drivers and we're an ambitious team.

'But I think there's an awful lot of speculation. We will have some things to say in the next few weeks, next few months, and then all will become clear.'

When contacted, McLaren issued a 'no comment'.

London 2012 Olympics: Silverstone jaunt is not the ticket – Charles Sale

Silverstone jaunt is not the ticket

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UPDATED:

22:01 GMT, 24 July 2012

It will cause embarrassment to London 2012 that their ticket chief Chris Townsend has enjoyed lavish hospitality from the company at the centre of the latest Olympic ticketing shambles.

CoSport, the biggest overseas agency for London 2012 tickets, have caused chaos for Games spectators this week with their botched allocation and distribution process as well as earlier reselling seats intended for sponsors in contravention of IOC rules.

Yet Townsend, who has headed the ticketing and sponsorship programmes for the London organising committee (LOCOG), took up the offer to attend the British Grand Prix at Silverstone with CoSport’s sister business Jet Set Sports, who are official corporate hospitality suppliers to London 2012.

Ticket chief: Chris Townsend watched the British Grand Prix at Silverstone

Ticket chief: Chris Townsend watched the British Grand Prix at Silverstone

Townsend, who famously compared his managerial abilities in a magazine interview with those of Sir Alex Ferguson, was invited to the race by CoSport chief executive Sead Dizdarevic. The LOCOG executive travelled to Silverstone by helicopter and received the full five-star hospitality experience in the Paddock Club.

It’s understood there has been talk within LOCOG about how ill-advised Townsend was to accept any perceived favours when CoSport are such high-profile clients as the authorised ticket resellers for the United States, Canada, Australia, Norway and Sweden.

A LOCOG spokeswoman said Townsend had gone to Silverstone to see the corporate hospitality set-up and that he had declared the trip as well as paying a contribution himself towards the cost of the helicopter travel.
Townsend has told LOCOG he got permission for the trip but it is not clear from whom.

A song and dance for the IOC

London’s stock among International Olympic Committee top brass is high after the exquisite song and dance show put on at the Royal Opera House for the opening ceremony of their annual session. It was described as ‘magnificent’ by president Jacques Rogge.

More from Charles Sale…

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As ever, London mayor Boris Johnson hogged the limelight — even from Placido Domingo — as he recited in Greek his commissioned ode for the London Games.

It also helped that the IOC bigwigs had enjoyed mostly pain-free journeys from Heathrow to their Park Lane Hilton base. Canadian Dick Pound said he was in his hotel room within an hour of landing.

GB goes VP

Olympic grandee Sir Craig Reedie will further British influence on the IOC with his imminent selection as a vice-president on the eve of the opening ceremony. Reedie and Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco are the two candidates for two VP positions.

Stick to the Tube, Justine

With gridlock on the roads sure to be a big Olympic bugbear, Secretary of State for Transport Justine Greening vowed to set an example by using public transport throughout the Games.

This will mean journeys by bus or District Line Tube from East Putney to Westminster and then on to Stratford on the Jubilee Line. Woe betide Greening if she’s seen in a chauffeured car taking advantage of the Olympic lanes over the next three weeks.

Delhi stars in a twist

The most unlikely criticism of the Olympic Village has come from the India delegation, who claim their accommodation is far inferior to the 2010 Commonwealth Games mess in Delhi — where stray dogs roamed the premises, a dead animal was found in the living space and arrivals discovered some of the rooms were being used as urinals by builders.

Enjoy your stay: Team GB arrive for the official welcome at the Athletes' Village

Enjoy your stay: Team GB arrive for the official welcome at the Athletes' Village

Nevertheless Paresh Nath Mukherjee, general secretary of the Archery Association of India, reportedly said: ‘If Delhi was five-star, the Games Village is not even two-star. There is hardly space to move. The rooms are cramped. The Village is absolutely spick and span. But in hindsight the accommodation at the Commonwealth Games was so much better.’

Danny's decision

It has emerged in all the guessing games over the lighting of the cauldron at the Games opening ceremony on Friday that show director Danny Boyle has had an increasingly influential say during the secretive process in how it will be done and by whom.

Chelsea stadium plans on brink after missing out on Battersea Power Station

Chelsea suffer stadium setback after missing out on Battersea Power Station

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UPDATED:

19:41 GMT, 7 June 2012

Chelsea's hopes of building a new multi-million pound stadium at the Battersea Power Station are in serious jeopardy.

The European Champions submitted an
application to move into the Wandsworth site last month but it emerged on Thursday that a joint proposal from two Malaysian companies – SP Setia
and Sime Darby – had been chosen as the preferred bid.

Failed: Chelsea's bid to build a new Battersea stadium has been ended

Power failure: Chelsea appear to have missed out on Battersea site

Chelsea plan to develop the site into a 60,000 stadium that would incorporate the power station's iconic four chimneys.

And Blues officials were last night still not giving up total hope of moving into the Battersea site.

SP Setia and Sime Darby now have a 28-day period of due diligence to prove everything is in place to carry out their 400m 'real estate regeneration project'.

A statement from Ernst & Young read:
'Following an extensive global marketing campaign, undertaken by Ernst
& Young Real Estate Corporate Finance and Knight Frank LLP, the
Joint Administrators are pleased to announce that on Wednesday 6 June
2012 they entered into an exclusivity agreement with SP Setia and Sime
Darby and are working towards a timely exchange and completion of the
site and associated land.'

Chelsea will continue to take a watching brief during that period in hope that they can still land the 39-acre site.

Disappointed: Roman Abramovich will not be impressed

Disappointed: Roman Abramovich will not be impressed

A Chelsea statement read: 'Chelsea Football Club has been informed that the administrators of the Battersea Power Station site have entered into an exclusive agreement with another party to carry out their due diligence.

'We will all be able to speak with more confidence about the site's future once the exclusivity period is over and the preferred bidder has been able to assimilate their risks properly and confirm the bid.

'We are disappointed not to be selected as the preferred bidder for Battersea Power Station, as we believe we can create an iconic and architecturally significant stadium on the site in a scheme which is commercially viable and of great benefit to the Wandsworth community and London generally.

Home sweet home: Chelsea currently play at Stamford Bridge

Home sweet home: Chelsea currently play at Stamford Bridge

'We have been clear throughout this process that Battersea is one of a limited number of options the club is considering.'

SP
Setia and Sime Derby revealed in a release to the Malaysian stock
exchange that their 400million 'multi-use real estate
regeneration project' bid had been successful.

They also plan to build a tube station on the premises that will connect to the Northern Line.

A 28-day period of due diligence will now follow, but the hopes Chelsea had of relocating to the site of one of London's most iconic landmarks are seemingly over.

Last October the fans' group who own the freehold of Stamford Bride, Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO), rejected an offer from the club's owner Roman Abramovich, to buy their shares.

CPO shareholders have accused Chelsea of failing to fully explore the prospect of revamping Stamford Bridge, while Hammersmith and Fulham Council have disputed the club's claims that doing so would be far more expensive that moving.

Banned! SFA hit Rangers with 12 month embargo on signing players, as Whyte is barred for life from Scottish football

Banned! SFA hit Rangers with 12 month embargo on signing players, as Whyte is barred for life from Scottish football

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UPDATED:

23:46 GMT, 23 April 2012

Rangers were plunged further into the abyss on Monday night after being found guilty of bringing Scottish football into disrepute.

In a swingeing and potentially crippling blow to hopes of a takeover, an independent SFA judicial panel found the Ibrox club guilty of breaching six regulations and imposed a 12-month ban on signing players, accompanied by fines totalling 160,000.

Discredited owner Craig Whyte was also found guilty of breaching three SFA rules, fined 200,000 and expelled for life from holding office in Scottish football.

Barred for life: Former Rangers owner Craig Whyte

Barred for life: Former Rangers owner Craig Whyte

The independent panel’s verdict came after three days of evidence last week, when the Ibrox club’s
administrators argued that the actions of Whyte should be separated from those of the club.

Those arguments fell on deaf ears, with Duff & Phelps spokesman Paul Clark vowing to appeal what he dubbed the ‘draconian’ punishments late on Monday night.

On receiving the judgments, Rangers have three days to appeal and are certain to do so after the administrators said: ‘All of us working on behalf of the club are utterly shocked and dismayed by the draconian sanctions imposed on Rangers in respect of these charges.

‘It appears that, on one hand, the disciplinary panel accepted our argument that responsibility for bringing the club into disrepute lay with the actions of one individual — Craig Whyte — as is evident from the unprecedented punishment meted out to him.

‘During this hearing, the club produced compelling evidence from a number of sources that, following his takeover, Craig Whyte ran the club in a thoroughly unaccountable manner, rather than adhering to a proper form of corporate governance.

‘The thrust of the charges against the club focused on non-payment of payroll taxes and evidence was produced that all such decisions in this area were taken by Craig Whyte during his tenure.

Anger: Rangers fans have been demanding answers in recent months

Anger: Rangers fans have been demanding answers in recent months

‘Given this evidence, it is difficult to comprehend that the disciplinary panel has seen fit to effectively punish the club even more heavily than Mr Whyte.

'A ban on signing players will seriously undermine the club’s efforts to rebuild after being rendered insolvent.

'Furthermore, we do not know how bidders for the club will react to these sanctions and what effect they will have on their proposals. The club has asked for full written reasons for these decisions and intend to appeal.'

The judgment came at the end of a day when Duff & Phelps once again failed to appoint a preferred bidder, with all parties calling for patience.

With Bill Miller and the Blue Knights calling for clarity on what sanctions a newco Rangers might face following an SPL meeting next Monday, the SFA's punishment casts the club’s hopes of survival into grave and significant doubt.

Defiant: But Rangers fans will be shocked at this new news

Defiant: But Rangers fans will be shocked at this new news

A number of key first-team players already look certain to leave and, if upheld, the club will be barred from replacing them, making the fielding of a team of youth players all but unavoidable.

An unrepentent Whyte had refused to attend the Judicial Panel hearing but said on Monday night: ‘It doesn’t affect my life, I’m just disappointed what it does to Rangers. It’s an outrage.

'It’s a joke, a complete joke. They have never spoken to me. Stewart Regan and Campbell Ogilvie had dinner with me in November and they told me it wouldn’t be a problem. Now they are just reacting to all the publicity since February.

'Rangers fans can see where the SFA is coming from. We are Scottish football’s biggest club, they should be helping us, not kicking us when we’re down. Rangers fans will remember this for a long time.'

Asked if the SFA can enforce his own fine, he responded: 'Of course they can’t. It’s farcical.'

Clubs like Pompey must belong to the fans, not the money men: Patrick Collins

Clubs like Pompey must belong to the fans, not the money men

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UPDATED:

22:32 GMT, 31 March 2012

Some time ago, when Portsmouth
Football Club were in the throes of their last crisis but three, I spoke
to one of their most besotted followers. He ran through a list of those
who had played their parts in bringing down an institution; rogues and
rascals, fakes and fantasists.

Then he said: ‘I sometimes wonder what
we did to deserve them. It’s not fair, you know. Pompey means so much
to us and so little to them.’

And he’s right. We offer reflexive
sympathy to financially straitened football clubs — poor Port Vale,
shame about Rangers — but Portsmouth’s plight has become almost too
familiar.

Their recurring crises have acquired a
pattern; debt, denial, admission, administration. Points and pride are
abjectly surrendered and the administrator takes centre stage, while the
latest owner leaves town.

People's club: Portsmouth have been treated shamefully by some shady owners of the recent past

People's club: Portsmouth have been treated shamefully by some shady owners of the recent past

In this case, he is the entrepreneur
Vladimir Antonov, who has fallen foul of the Lithuanian financial
authorities. One of his esteemed predecessors was Sulaiman Al-Fahim, who
was approved by the Premier League but turned out to be around a
billion pounds poorer than his publicity.

He lasted for 40 days before selling
his shares to Ali Al-Faraj, who was similarly endorsed by the
powers-that-be but was the man who, quite possibly, never was.

Having been so thoroughly deceived, we
should not be surprised that the Premier League raised glad glasses
when Portsmouth were relegated. They were, it seems, a ‘financial basket
case’, a club who were terribly bad for the corporate image. And if
this latest emergency should prove fatal — as well it might — then few
tears would be shed by those who administer the English game.

And yet, that same English game was
created and sustained by clubs like Portsmouth; clubs who inhabited
run-down, lovable grounds like Fratton Park and attracted fans who had
been snared at their first wide-eyed visit and had passed their
hopelessly irrational faith down the generations.

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They endured the bad times because
they expected nothing better and they celebrated the good times with the
slightly guilty air of those who suspected that the prizes had been
purchased with questionable finance. But they stayed because it was
their club, an integral part of their community, their city.

They may not have cared for the people
who owned it and they surely entertained doubts about some of the
outrageously rewarded mercenaries who treated the blue shirt like a
marketing tool.

But still they kept the faith in the
face of the looming evidence. Because that is what fans do, even when
they know that rich men with disposable loyalties are sneering at their
naivete.

Peter Storrie remembers those good
days. He was Portsmouth’s chief executive when the money taps were
gushing, when the Premier League place was maintained and when the FA
Cup was effectively bought. He was still in charge when those taps
started to run dry, when new owners were sought. The conditions were
stringent: they had to have oceans of money and to be ‘fit and proper’
people. Storrie’s selection record was not without blemish. Sulaiman
sounded rich and talked a good game. In fact, he turned out to be a
Skoda driver in a land of Maseratis. And if he seemed insubstantial,
then Al-Faraj had no substance whatever.

Last week, in a revealing interview, Storrie conceded that the benefactor may not have existed. ‘I did all the checks you can do,’ he said. ‘Everything that came out with Sulaiman and Ali Al-Faraj, it all came out that they were multi-multi millionaires with lots and lots of money.’

Love of the club: Peter Storrie has not ruled out a return to Fratton Park

Love of the club: Peter Storrie has not ruled out a return to Fratton Park

But did he know if Al-Faraj existed ‘I’m told he does,’ he said. ‘I never dealt with him personally.’ He added: ‘I had eight of the most enjoyable years of my life at Portsmouth Football Club.’ Asked if he would consider returning, he said, a shade coyly: ‘My wife would say never in a hundred years. My heart tells me probably yes because I love the club.’

Meanwhile, those who love the club without the hope of the rewards which Storrie once enjoyed are attempting to buy the place with their own money. The Pompey Supporters’ Trust are in talks with the administrator to see how overwhelming enthusiasm might be translated into a community purchase.

On Saturday they made a pre-share offer to encourage supporters to donate a minimum of 100. They are hoping that this will grow into a full-blown investment proposal which would culminate in fan ownership.

The administrator, Trevor Birch, welcomed the move in principle and added: ‘The fans have probably had their fill of people promising the earth and will be happy with a basic football club that is part of the community.’

Which, in a sense, says it all. Hopelessly quixotic it may be, but who would not prefer a club owned by fans to one which is controlled by the ranks of the dubiously motivated operators who currently hold such sway

I believe that our football clubs should ideally belong to those who love them most. The kind of people you find amid the shabbiness of Fratton Park; praying for the best, fearing the worst and hoping that Peter Storrie will listen to his wife. And keep his distance.

Don’t blame the FA when the real villain is Capello

In an ideal world, the man who will lead England at Euro 2012 would know the players he will choose and the way he wants them to play. He would also enjoy a settled staff, a comprehensive knowledge of the opposition and the kind of trust which comes with qualification.

Taking his ball home: Capello

Taking his ball home: Capello

Unfortunately, England squandered those advantages when Fabio Capello took his ball home after the FA, quite properly, stripped John Terry of the captaincy. So the prospect is of blind chaos or the caretaking of Stuart Pearce. Possibly both.

Inevitably, the FA have been criticised for allowing this to happen, for not lining up Harry Redknapp, who is presumably still the chosen one, and having him do what England managers do. In my view, such criticism underestimates the FA’s impotence in this matter.

Suppose they were to call the Spurs chairman and request permission to approach his manager. Would he uncork the boardroom claret and invite them right over, or would he tell them to get lost I fancy we can guess his reaction.

What then Well, they could do what every club in England would do in similar circumstances; they could make a discreet call to Redknapp or one of his chums, informing him of their offer and asking him to suggest a starting date.

Such a ploy would become public within hours of the phone call. In any case, the FA have a duty to set the tone and enforce the rules of the national game. They simply cannot allow themselves to do backstairs deals with the national manager.

So they have a problem, one which will not go away. And I have some sympathy with their predicament. You see, the situation is not of their making. The real culprit is back home in Italy; nursing his grudges, weighing his options and spending some quality time with his money.

No way to treat a national treasure

Older readers may remember when Andrew Strauss was regarded as a national treasure.

He inherited a shambles of an England team and helped turn it into the best in the world. He organised a 4-0 Test whitewashing of India and kept on beating Australia, always a healthy trait in an England captain.

Now Strauss is under pressure. He is struggling for form. His leadership is questioned. Retirement is mooted. Nobody knows who could do a better job but no matter. Strauss must go.

All of which is not only grotesquely unfair: it is no way to treat a genuine national treasure.

Unfair abuse: People have short memories over Strauss

Unfair abuse: People have short memories over Strauss

PS

West Ham fans with long memories and an appreciation of the finer things in football have taken to chanting: ‘We’re West Ham United, we play on the floor.’

Predictably, this has angered their manager, the renowned purist Sam Allardyce.

‘Do you think I am here wanting to play long ball’ he asks. ‘I’m not daft. I’ve been a manager for 20 years. I’m not here thinking: “Hit it, lump it up”.’

Of course, he’s not. That’s just an impression we gleaned from watching his football teams.

Michael Johnson helps out Williams F1 pit crew

Williams job is the pits for Johnson as Olympic legend helps out mechanics

Dressed in a shirt bearing the logos of his sports training company and Williams, you could easily be forgiven Michael Johnson's tie up with the Formula One team is just another corporate branding exercise.

Rubens looks Stateside

Veteran driver Rubens Barrichello, dropped by Williams in favour of Brazilian countryman Bruno Senna, could move to IndyCar after 19 seasons in Formula One after agreeing a two-day test with KV Racing.

But the Olympic legend and his team of sports boffins have devised a training programme for a bunch of mechanics designed to shave valuable hundredths of a second off pit-stop times.

When asked how long this arrangement will run Johnson is forceful.

'We'll be going until it gets done,' he says. 'Until it gets done.'

Branching out: Olympic 200m and 400m gold medallist Michael Johnson

Branching out: Olympic 200m and 400m gold medallist Michael Johnson

Enough to strike fear into the toughest mechanic, as Ben Howard, who has spent three years removing the front left wheel of a Williams as fast as he is able, explains.

'Everybody was excited, but a little bit apprehensive as well. Michael trains top-level sportspeople but we're not professional athletes so there was some nervousness as to what he might make us do!'

Johnson and his team have identified three areas where they feel they help Williams move them up from seventh in the pit-stop rankings, 1.1 seconds down on the average time set by 2011 table toppers Red Bull.

Left behind: Williams were well below Red Bull in average pit-stop length in 2011

Left behind: Williams were well below Red Bull in average pit-stop length in 2011

Programmes to improve overall fitness and sensory ability will be implemented, but it is the area of biomechanics, the physics of sport, where Johnson feels the biggest gains can be made.

'There is a lot of movement going on by all three people (changing each wheel),' says Johnson. 'So what we do is try and make that movement more efficient and quicker.'