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Sir Alex Ferguson birthday: 71 best quotes from the Manchester United manager

On Fergie's birthday, 71 examples of his wit, wisdom and temper from over a quarter-century at Old Trafford

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UPDATED:

13:44 GMT, 31 December 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates his 71st birthday today and to mark the occasion, Sportsmail has picked out 71 of the Scot's best soundbites from his time as Manchester United manager.

There's pithy observations, musings on great United players, hurricane-force hairdryers, philosophical statements and withering put-downs.

So enjoy, and raise a glass to Sir Alex.

Happy Birthday! Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is 71 today

Happy Birthday! Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is 71 today

ON WINNING THE EUROPEAN CUP IN 1999

'It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt such an honour to be associated with such a player.'

Speaking after Roy Keane's inspired performance in the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League against Juventus after receiving a booking which meant he would miss the final

'At the end of this game, the European Cup will be only six feet away from you, and you’ll not even able to touch it if we lose. And for many of you, that will be the closest you will ever get. Don’t you dare come back in here without giving your all.'

Ferguson's half-time team-talk during the 1999 European Cup final with Bayern Munich

Crowning glory: Ferguson holds the European Cup aloft after United unforgettable stoppage time win over Bayern Munich in 1999

Crowning glory: Ferguson holds the European Cup aloft after United unforgettable stoppage time win over Bayern Munich in 1999

Treble tops: Ferguson and United won the Premier League, FA Cup and the European Cup in 1999

Treble tops: Ferguson and United won the Premier League, FA Cup and the European Cup in 1999

'I was just starting to adjust to losing the game. I had reminded myself to keep my dignity and accept that it wasn't going to be our year. What then happened simply stunned me.'

As the game entered injury time with United losing 1-0

'Can you f***ing believe him!'

To his assistant Steve McClaren on seeing Peter Schmeichel going up for the first stoppage time corner

'I can't believe it. I can't believe it. Football. Bloody hell.'

After United won with two dramatic goals in stoppage time

ON LIVERPOOL

'My
greatest challenge is not what's happening at the moment, my greatest
challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f***ing perch. And you
can print that.'

Reacting to remarks by former Liverpool player Alan Hansen that he was past it in 2002

'You must be joking. Do I look as if I'm a masochist ready to cut myself How does relegation sound instead'

When asked if Liverpool were genuine title contenders in 2007

Auld enemy: There have been many defining games with Liverpool during Ferguson's time at United. here, he celebrates a last minute John O'Shea winner at Anfield in 2007

Auld enemy: There have been many defining games with Liverpool during Ferguson's time at United. here, he celebrates a last minute John O'Shea winner at Anfield in 2007

'I
think he was an angry man. He must have been disturbed for some reason.
I think you have got to cut through the venom of it and hopefully he'll
reflect and understand what he said was absolutely ridiculous.'

On Rafael Bentez, reacting to the Spaniard's infamous 'facts' press conference during the 2009 title race

ON NOISY NEIGHBOURS CITY

'There
has been a lot of expectation on Manchester City and with the spending
they have done they have to win something. Sometimes you have a noisy
neighbor and have to live with it. You can't do anything about them…

After City are taken over by billionaire new owners

'It was our worst ever day!'

After the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford last season

New rivalry: Roberto Mancini and Manchester City have emerged as United's main enemies in the past few years

New rivalry: Roberto Mancini and Manchester City have emerged as United's main enemies in the past few years

ON ARSENE WENGER AND ARSENAL

'They say he's an intelligent man, right Speaks five languages. I've got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages!'

On Arsene Wenger, shortly after his appointment as Arsenal manager in 1996

'He's a novice—he should keep his opinions to
Japanese football.'

More harsh words for the Frenchman in 1997

'Oh dearie me, the FA are going to be delighted with that!'

Speaking about United's 4-0 loss to Arsenal in the League Cup in 2001

Mellow: The once frosty relationship between Ferguson and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has thawed over the years

Mellow: The once frosty relationship between Ferguson and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has thawed over the years

Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger shake hands before a Premier League match in January 2012

'It's getting tickly now – squeaky-bum time, I call it.'

During
the climax to the 2002-2003 title race between Arsenal and United,
which ended with Ferguson winning a seventh Premier League crown

'In the tunnel, Wenger was criticising my players, calling them cheats, so I told him to leave them alone and behave himself. He ran at me with his hands raised saying 'What do you want to do about it'

'To not apologise for the behaviour of the players to another manager is unthinkable. It's a disgrace, but I don't expect Wenger to ever apologise…he's that type of person.'

Relations with Wenger hadn't got much better by 2005…

ON CHELSEA

'He could start a row in an empty house.'

On Dennis Wise, the highly-strung former Chelsea player

'He’ll be getting a hug and a kiss from me – maybe even two!'

Speaking about his good friend Sam Allardyce after Bolton stalled Chelsea's title challenge in 2006-2007

'If Chelsea drop points, the cat’s out in the open. And you know what cats are like – sometimes they don’t come home.'

ON JOSE MOURINHO

'He was certainly full of it, calling me “Boss” and “Big Man” when we had our post-match drink after the first leg. But it would help if his greetings were accompanied by a decent glass of wine. What he gave me was paint-stripper.'

Ferguson's first impressions of Jose Mourinho, who got the better of him when Porto dumped United out of the Champions League in 2004

'I would never think a guy who hasn't played a game could be a top coach but then you've got to look at his personality. He's got a marvellous, strong personality and that bridges that gap.

'I remember his first press conference [at Chelsea, in 2004] and I thought: 'Christ, he's a cocky b******, him'. He was telling the players: 'Look, I'm the special one, we don't lose games.'

Remembering Mourinho's grand entrance into English football

Friends and rivals: Ferguson and Jose Mourinho enjoyed a great relationship despite United and Chelsea going toe-to-toe for the title

Friends and rivals: Ferguson and Jose Mourinho enjoyed a great relationship despite United and Chelsea going toe-to-toe for the title

'He can manage anywhere, absolutely. I'm not going to put any forecasts on what is going to happen at this club. I won't last forever, but Jose can manage anywhere, there is no question about that.'

On the possibility of Mourinho succeeding him at Old Trafford

ON DAVID BECKHAM

'David Beckham is Britain’s finest striker of a football not because of God-given talent but because he practises with a relentless application that the vast majority of less gifted players wouldn’t contemplate.'

Waxing lyrical about David Beckham's commitment and talent

'It was a freakish incident. If I tried it 100 or a million times it couldn't happen again. If I could I would have carried on playing!'

Playing down the famous incident in which he allegedly kicked a boot which hit David Beckham in the forehead

Booted out! Beckham was allegedly hit by a boot kicked by Ferguson in the United dressing room in 2003

Booted out! Beckham was allegedly hit by a boot kicked by Ferguson in the United dressing room in 2003. He left Old Trafford that summer

Special talent: But Ferguson had a great deal of respect for Beckham's workrate and natural ability

Special talent: But Ferguson had a great deal of respect for Beckham's workrate and natural ability

'It is totally out of the question. There is no way we would sell him, or any of our best players.'

In April 2003, two months before selling David Beckham to Real Madrid

ON THE ITALIANS

'When an Italian tells me it's pasta on the plate, I check under the sauce to make sure. They are the inventors of the smokescreen.'

Wise, if slightly ambiguous, advice before United played Inter Milan in the 1999 Champions League quarter-final

'Inzaghi was born in an offside position.'

A withering assessment of Italian striker Filippo

'They come out with the ‘English are so strong, we’re terrible in the air, we can’t do this, we can’t do that’. Then they beat you 3 – 0.'

On Italian teams in general

Finding their feet: Ferguson's United struggled against Italian teams like Marcello Lippi's Juventus when they returned to the Champions League - but finally cracked it in 1999 when beating Inter and Juve en route to winning the competition

Finding their feet: Ferguson's United struggled against Italian teams like Marcello Lippi's Juventus when they returned to the Champions League – but finally cracked it in 1999 when beating Inter and Juve en route to winning the competition

ON THE MEN IN THE MIDDLE

'You
can't applaud a referee.'

Very true…

'The pace of the
game demanded a referee who was fit. It is an indictment of our game.
You see referees abroad who are as fit as butcher's dogs. We have some
who are fit. He wasn't fit. He was taking 30 seconds to book a player.
He was needing a rest. It was ridiculous.'

Brutal comments on referee Alan Wiley and his lack of fitness

'There is no doubt about it. They were never getting through that tie; with 11 men we had no problem. The young boy showed a bit of inexperience but they got him sent off. Everyone sprinted towards the referee – typical Germans.'

Reflecting angrily on the dismissal of Rafael da Silva as United crashed out of the Champions League to Bayern Munich in 2010

Taking issue: Fergie bawls at Alan Wiley during the 2009 FA Cup semi-final with Everton

Taking issue: Fergie bawls at Alan Wiley during the 2009 FA Cup semi-final with Everton

'They gave us four minutes [injury time], that's an insult to the game. It denies you a proper chance to win a football match.

'There were six substitutions, the trainer came on, so that's four minutes right away and the goalkeeper must have wasted about two or three minutes and they took their time at every goal kick.

'That's obvious to everyone today and it's a flaw in the game that the referee is responsible for time keeping. It's ridiculous that it's 2012 and the referee still has control of that.'

Talking about Fergie time – or the lack of it – after United lost 3-2 at home to Tottenham earlier this season

ON PLAYERS PAST AND PRESENT

'I used
to have a saying that when a player is at his peak, he feels as though he can
climb Everest in his slippers. That's what he was like.'

On Paul Ince (When at United…)

'He's a bully, a f***ing big-time Charlie.'

On Paul Ince (…after he left United)

Happier times: Ferguson and Paul Ince in 1992

Happier times: Ferguson and Paul Ince in 1992

'If he was an inch taller he'd be the best centre-half in Britain. His father is 6ft 2in – I'd check the milkman.'

On the now retired United right-back Gary Neville

'[Andy] Cole should be scoring from those distances, but I’m not going to single him out.'

Erm…

'He was towering over me and the other players were almost covering their eyes. I’m looking up and thinking ‘if he does hit me, I’m dead’'

Recalling a dressing room disagreement with Peter Schmeichel

Towering figure: Ferguson with Peter Schmeichel after winning the FA Cup, the second leg of the 1999 Treble

Towering figure: Ferguson with Peter Schmeichel after winning the FA Cup, the second leg of the 1999 Treble

'I remember the first time I saw him. He was 13 and just floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.'

First impressions of Ryan Giggs, his longest serving player at Old Trafford

'Whether dribbling or sprinting, Ryan can leave the best defenders with twisted blood.'

On the enduring brilliance of the Welshman

'Wayne is truly blessed. He doesn’t just have ability, he has a fire inside him.'

After Rooney joined United in 2004

'Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it's a better cow than the one you've got in the field.'
Speaking about the amazing U-turn pulled by Wayne Rooney on signing a new contract in 2010

Larking around: Ferguson and Wayne Rooney before the 2011 Champions League semi-final with Schalke

Larking around: Ferguson and Wayne Rooney before the 2011 Champions League semi-final with Schalke

ON ERIC CANTONA

'If ever there was one player, anywhere in the world, that was made for Manchester United, it was Cantona. He swaggered in, stuck his chest out, raised his head and surveyed everything as though he were asking: 'I'm Cantona. How big are you Are you big enough for me''

On a very unique temperament

ON CRISTIANO RONALDO

'I bet him he wouldn’t get 15 league goals and I’m going to have to change my bet with him. If he gets to 15 I can change it and I am allowed to do that because I’m the manager. I’m going to make it 150 now!'

In reference to a rather foolhardy bet with Cristiano Ronaldo

'Do you think I would get into a contract with that mob. Jesus Christ, no chance. I wouldn’t sell them a virus.'

On the chances of selling Ronaldo to Real Madrid (Ronaldo was sold for 80m in 2009… to Real Madrid)

Mentor: Ferguson nurtured Cristiano Ronaldo's abundant talent during his five years at Old Trafford

Mentor: Ferguson nurtured Cristiano Ronaldo's abundant talent during his five years at Old Trafford

ON OTHER MANAGERS

'It can be difficult to pinpoint who would make it as a manager. For instance, nobody here thought Mark Hughes would become a manager, never in a million years, and we all thought Bryan Robson was a certainty to be a top manager.'

On his former players turning to management

'Pardew
has come out and criticised me. He is the worst at haranguing referees.
He shoves them and makes a joke of it. How he can criticise me is
unbelievable.

'He
forgets the help I gave him, by the way. The press have had a field
day. The only person they have not spoken to is Barack Obama because he
is busy.

'It
is unfortunate but I am the manager of the most famous club in the
world. Not Newcastle, a wee club in the North-East. I was demonstrative.
I am always demonstrative. Everyone knows that. I am an emotional guy
but I was not abusive.'

The latest entry to the Fergie litany – a savaging of Alan Pardew and 'wee club' Newcastle last week

'Wee club': Ferguson attracted the ire of Alan Pardew (right) and Newcastle United with his comments last week

'Wee club': Ferguson attracted the ire of Alan Pardew (right) and Newcastle United with his comments last week

SWIPES AT THE MEDIA

'On you go. I'm no f***ing talking to you. He's a f**ing great player. Yous are f***ing idiots.'

Aimed at journalists who criticised Juan Sebastian Veron

'I don't give any of you credibility. You talk about wanting to have an association with people here and you wonder why I don't get on with you But you're a f***ing embarrassment. One of these days the door is going to be shut on you permanently.'

Aimed at the media in general

'There are members of the London press who seek to antagonise me, deliberately.'

A bit of finger pointing

Flop: 28m signing Juan Veron failed at Man United, despite all Fergie's attempts to defend him

Flop: 28m signing Juan Veron failed at Man United, despite all Fergie's attempts to defend him

'They [the BBC] did a story about my son that was whole lot of nonsense. It all [sic] made-up stuff and 'brown paper bags' and all that kind of carry-on. It was a horrible attack on my son's honour and he should never have been accused of that.'

On the BBC documentary about his son, Jason

'Myths
grow all the time. If I was to listen to the number of times I've thrown
teacups then we've gone through some crockery in this place. It's completely
exaggerated, but I don't like people arguing back with me.'

On the notorious 'hairdryer' treatment

'Struggling. Are you serious We’re not struggling.'

Before walking out of a press conference following Manchester United’s clash with Benfica (Basle knocked them out of the group stages in the following game)

HAIRDRYERS

'You’re a f***ing bottler Incey! You cannae handle the stage, can you You are a f***ing bottler!'

To Paul Ince at half time during a Champions League match with Barcelona in 1994

'What the f*** are you lot playing at That is the biggest load of s**** I’ve ever seen. Not one of you can look me in the eye, because not one of you deserves to have a say. I can’t believe you’ve come here and decided to toss it off like that c*** you’re playing out there.'

Half-time at Sheffield Wednesday, 1998 and things aren't going to plan

ON UNITED'S HOME SUPPORT

'We have people coming here to admire the scenery and enjoy their crisps.'

Honour: The North Stand was renamed the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in November 2011

Honour: The North Stand was renamed the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand in November 2011

ON THE PHILOSOPHY OF WINNING

'I don't like losing but I've mellowed. I maybe have a short fuse but it goes away quicker now.'

'I've never played for a draw in my life.'

'If we can play like that every week we'll get some level of consistency.'

'Sometimes in football you have to hold your hand up and say, yeah, they're better than us.'

'As long as there are games to play it is not over.'

Medallion man: Ferguson with the Premier League trophy and the Carling Manager of the Year Award in 1999

Medallion man: Ferguson with the Premier League trophy and the Carling Manager of the Year Award in 1999

'I do believe in fate.'

'I tell the players that the bus is moving. This club has to progress. And the bus wouldn't wait for them. I tell them to get on board.'

'Sometimes you're not sure about a player. Sometimes you doubt. Sometimes you have to guess. Sometimes… you just know.'

'The work of a team should always embrace a great player but the great player must always work.'

'Well, football is a hard game; there's no denying it. It's a game that can bring out the worst in you, at times.'

Old friend: Renewing acquaintances with the Premier League trophy in 2009

Old friend: Renewing acquaintances with the Premier League trophy in 2009

'Only true champions come out and show their worth after defeat- and I expect us to do that.'

'I'm going to tell you the story about the geese which fly 5,000 miles from Canada to France. They fly in V-formation but the second ones don't fly. They're the subs for the first ones. And then the second ones take over – so it's teamwork.'

A Cantona-esque observation on teamwork

ON RETIREMENT AND LEGACY

'I’m privileged to have followed Sir Matt because all you have to do is to try and maintain the standards that he set so many years ago.'

A proud moment when surpassing Sir Matt Busby's managerial record

'I think it’s important to work and I’m entitled to work. Some people do not want to work but I want to continue working. Retirement is for young people.'

Once again addressing a question about retirement

Masters: Ferguson with Sir Matt Busby after winning the 1991 European Cup Winners' Cup

Masters: Ferguson with Sir Matt Busby after winning the 1991 European Cup Winners' Cup

'If my parents were still alive, they would be very proud. They gave me a good start in life, the values that have driven me, and the confidence to believe in myself.'

On instilled values

'I am such a bloody talented guy. I might go into painting or something like that.'

Move over Da Vinci

'Football management is such a pressurised thing – horse racing is a release. I'm also learning to play the piano – I'm quite determined – it's another release from the pressure of my job.'

On passions outside of football

Martin Samuel: Marouane Fellaini was wrong but let"s get to grips with the real problem

OK, Fellaini was wrong but let's get to grips with the real problem

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UPDATED:

22:59 GMT, 16 December 2012

The narrative moves fast in English football but, even so, it can safely be presumed they haven’t changed the rules on the sly midway through the season.

So, as of the weekend, it was still illegal to hold on to another player to prevent his movement. Meaning the first foul that was committed in the Stoke City penalty area in the 59th minute on Saturday was by defender Ryan Shawcross.

That does not justify Marouane Fellaini’s reaction, and is only the tiniest mitigation for an incident that will almost certainly end with a three-match ban for the Everton player, but it is nevertheless an important fact.

Losing his head: Marouane Fellaini's clash with Ryan Shawcross was wrong on many levels

Losing his head: Marouane Fellaini's clash with Ryan Shawcross was wrong on many levels

Losing his head: Marouane Fellaini's clash with Ryan Shawcross was wrong on many levels

More from Martin Samuel…

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Martin Samuel: Benitez battling jet-lag at a Club World Cup that is still trying to wake up… a prize that should be football's crowning glory, but isn't
12/12/12

Martin Samuel: Being good at football is not an act of provocation
11/12/12

Martin Samuel: You've had your time, Shane. Don't fight the dimming of the light…
09/12/12

Martin Samuel: Has Platini just torpedoed European Football with his 2020 vision
06/12/12

How awkward. I agree with the head-bangers
06/12/12

Martin Samuel: Gay hero Surely there's only one man to herald football's watershed moment… step forward Joey Barton
05/12/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

For it makes plain that what happened on Saturday, a clash that could have ended in serious injury, a fractured cheekbone or broken nose, was a direct result of football’s decision to allow wrestling matches in the penalty area.

Fellaini assaults Shawcross primarily because he is being prevented from playing, illegally, and Mark Halsey, the referee, appears happy to let this continue. Football has never had more policemen and yet such little interest in implementing the rules.

The replays clearly show that, directly before Fellaini strikes, Shawcross is gripping him by an upper arm beneath the shoulder, to restrict his run. This is a foul. It isn’t a penalty, because the ball is dead but it is without doubt subject to corrective action.

As none is forthcoming, Fellaini takes matters into his own hands, attempts to wrestle free and, as he passes Shawcross, ducks his head into his opponent’s face. Shawcross collapses. Halsey misses the incident.

For this reason the FA can pass sanction and Everton will lose their key player at a crucial time in the campaign. David Moyes, the manager, is resigned to this and did not complain. To his credit, he as good as invited punishment.

Maybe, by doing so, he felt he was acting for the wider good. Had Moyes defended his player, the fallout would have centred on Fellaini, who got away with several instances of poor behaviour on Saturday.

Instead, with Everton pleading guilty, football would now be wise to study cause and effect.

Fellaini is a physical player. He gives as good as he gets, and one imagines he gets plenty. Even so, he does not usually prioritise butting defenders over scoring goals. If Shawcross’s marking had been old-school, without fouling, this would not have happened.

Football is a contact sport. In the
penalty area, players will be in proximity. Yet over the last decade,
increasingly, defenders no longer guard their man, but grapple with him.

Jose Mourinho’s
Chelsea were masters at it, so are Stoke. And because referees have not
stopped this behaviour, it is encouraged.

Rough and tumble: Grappling at corners and freekicks has become commonplace in football

Rough and tumble: Grappling at corners and freekicks has become commonplace in football

Every penalty area resembles a red-belt judo class these days. The FA, supposed guardians of the game, are content to let this continue.

Fellaini has admitted he was wrong and apologised. There can be no quibbles over punishment.
Yet the wider problem is not being addressed. A single weekend, in which every foul of this nature was met with a warning, then a yellow card (or a penalty if it happened when the ball was in play), would curb it instantly.

Results would briefly resemble rugby scores, but then the crisis would be over, and football would be re-acquainted with the old-fashioned ways of defending. After all, isn’t that exactly what a player like Shawcross is supposed to be about

All about cash for nice little Hearner

Leyton Orient chairman Barry Hearn continues his battle to torpedo any hope of a genuine legacy at the Olympic Stadium.

'This dispute is going to run and run and run,' he said, maintaining his opposition to West Ham United’s tenancy. 'I know, after talking to the London Legacy Development Corporation, that the Olympic Stadium is all about money and nothing about community values.'

The same community values that once led Hearn to consider moving Orient to Harlow or Basildon.
That deal, obviously, wouldn’t have been about money at all. He's all heart, our Barry.

Pay now, judge later

Damien Comolli has been working overtime attempting to justify his record at Liverpool. It boils down to the standard demand of every director of football: judge me in five years.

'I don’t think we made mistakes on the players going out,' he said, 'and whether we made mistakes on the players who came in, time will tell.'

Time has told, old son.

Jordan Henderson

Jordan Henderson

Andy Carroll

Andy Carroll

Stewart Downing

Stewart Downing

Nearly two years down the line, Andy Carroll is on loan to a lesser club, having scored 11 goals for Liverpool — just six in the league — at a cost of 35million.

Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing can barely get a game. Charlie Adam is gone. There are eight players that have made double figure league appearances for Liverpool this season and only one — Luis Suarez, great acquisition, but hardly out of left field — was signed by Comolli.

The majority were in the team under Rafael Benitez.

'I speak to people and they ask, “What about that deal”' Comolli said. 'I explain and they say, “OK, I see where you’re coming from”.'

Of course they do; they aren’t writing the cheques.

'If you want to talk about Carroll, the situation was quite clear,' Comolli added. 'We were selling two players, Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel, and were bringing two in, Suarez and Carroll.

'Chelsea kept bidding higher and higher for Torres until we got to a point where the difference between their first and final bid was double. We were making a profit and the wage bill was coming down as well.'

In other words, Abramovich was overpaying so Comolli decided it did not matter if John Henry paid through the nose, too. That is why he got the bullet.

He was big-hearted Charlie with another man’s money. Judge him whenever you want but Liverpool will regret giving him even as long as they did.

Arsenal should be wary of dinosaurs like Usmanov

The Australian PGA Championship has probably sunk its last putt in Coolum, Queensland. Blame Jeff.

Jeff is a 26-foot robot plastic replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex located outside the clubhouse between Coolum’s ninth green and 10th tee. It has been there since the resort club was purchased by billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer. He is also considering building a dinosaur theme park.

Indeed, Palmer is considering a lot of things, many of them plastered on one of the 60 signs he erected around the course, promoting his pursuits, including a proposed replica of the Titanic.

Dino-sore: Jeff, the 26-foot robot plastic replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex at Coolum, isn't pretty

Dino-sore: Jeff, the 26-foot robot plastic replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex at Coolum, isn't pretty

Also sinking is golf’s credibility as players, including Darren Clarke, walk in Jeff’s shadow.
At least Palmer agreed to turn off the dinosaur’s mechanical roar. Club players and guests traditionally get a mulligan — a chance to replay the shot without penalty — if Jeff bursts into life at the top of a backswing.

The very rich, as F Scott Fitzgerald observed, are very different from you and me. Palmer cannot understand what the fuss is about and wants Coolum to host again next year.

Alisher Usmanov, meanwhile, is perplexed that Arsenal continue to reject his advances and his requests for a seat on the board.

Yet just as Palmer dropped Jeff on an unsuspecting public, so Usmanov – wealthier than Roman Abramovich – offered a glimpse of what Arsenal could be like on his watch, by announcing that Thierry Henry should return to the club, 'but not as a player'.

Decisions, decisions: Alisher Usmanov

Decisions, decisions: Alisher Usmanov

‘I don’t have any powers in terms of decisions but there are a few players with whom I am in contact,’ Usmanov said. My favourite is probably Thierry. He should be involved at the club. He has another role to play; a more important role.

'Take the example of Patrick Vieira at Manchester City. He is also a symbol of Arsenal but is helping another club. We have to avoid that with Thierry.'

Says who

One imagines if Arsene Wenger wants Henry back in any capacity, he is perfectly capable of asking him. And if he wants him as a player, short-term like last season, he would not appreciate having his plans vetoed by an owner who thinks he knows best.

In attempting a populist manoeuvre, Usmanov inadvertently revealed more of his style than was flattering.

Whatever Arsenal’s current predicament, Wenger has more than earned the right to make his own decisions and to be told that Henry’s transfer is off, but his unrequired return in an elevated role is on, is precisely the type of interference that could usher him out of the door.

Usmanov has money and this alone appeals to desperate supporters, but the last thing Arsenal need is a 26-foot dinosaur, roaring his instructions at a neutered manager.

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT
Expansion explained

We can all see the problem with the Club World Cup. To embrace the global ethos all continents must be represented, yet Europe and South America are overwhelmingly strong, so the tournament contains no mystery, beyond the outcome of the final.

Happy chappys: Corinthians are champions of the world after beating Chelsea in the Club World Cup Final

Happy chappys: Corinthians are champions of the world after beating Chelsea in the Club World Cup Final

The Intercontinental Cup, as the Club World Cup once was, has a tradition lasting 52 years, beginning with a home and away final between the winners of the European Cup and the Copa Libertadores.

Real Madrid lifted the first trophy in 1960, drawing 0-0 with Penarol of Uruguay in Montevideo and then beating them 5-1 in the Bernabeu. This was the best and most dramatic format of all.

From 1960 to 1979 when Olimpia of Paraguay defeated Malmo, there were 10 South American winners and nine from Europe.

Money won, however, and FIFA then switched to a one-off game, sponsored by Toyota, in Japan.
Again, competition stayed even. From 1980 to 2004 there were 13 European winners and 12 from South America.

Expansion then brought the Club World Cup, with a wider range of entrants, a horrid false start in Brazil in 2000, a relaunch in 2005, but basically the same outcome.

Apart from the shock qualification of Mazembe of Congo in 2010, the final has always been between Europe and South America. So as a spectacle, the tournament is moribund.

What is to be done Bruce Buck, chairman of Chelsea, has a good idea.

To strengthen the tournament, he said, it should be expanded to include the winners of the Europa League and its South American equivalent, the Copa Sudamericana. That way, there would be no guaranteed progression and at least one tough match en route to the final.

This season’s tournament would have featured Chelsea and Atletico Madrid from Europe, and Corinthians and Universidad de Chile from South America.

Sao Paulo, who finished fourth in Brazil this season, nine points clear of Corinthians, would already have qualified for next season’s tournament as Copa Sudamericana champions.

Conquering the world: How would Chelsea feel playing three matches in South America

Conquering the world: How would Chelsea feel playing three matches in South America

Buck’s point was that the Champions League became more vibrant by expansion.

Placing the tournament in one of the host cities in Europe or South America — so this year’s edition would have been played in London, Madrid, Sao Paulo or Santiago — rather than a sterile location like Japan or Dubai would also help.

One imagines the bid to claim the title of world champions would carry greater cachet if Chelsea’s task involved three matches in South America, against Monterrey of Mexico, Universidad de Chile and a final against either Corinthians or Atletico Madrid. Just a thought.

Are you sitting comfortably

Sir Dave Richards, chairman of the Premier League, is to be grilled at a Football Association board meeting this week over his character witness support for John Terry.

The FA considers Richards’ stance during Terry’s hearing a conflict of interests. Yet the FA brings these disciplinary cases and also commissions and rewards the members of the independent tribunal.

This as good as places the jury in the pay of the prosecution. No conflict of interests there then, gentlemen.

Merry Christmas

Well, that’s it from me until the New Year. I know we don’t usually do presents, but if you’ve got a machine that can receive apps, search for Radio Soulwax and download a file called Dave.

Sixty minutes of pure pleasure. If you like David Bowie, that is. And, if you don’t, seriously, what’s the matter with you But it’s free, so either way, Happy Christmas.

.

Rafa Benitez battling jet-lag at Club World Cup, a prize that should be football"s crowning glory, but isn"t – Martin Samuel

Benitez battling jet-lag at a Club World Cup that is still trying to wake up… a prize that should be football's crowning glory, but isn't

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UPDATED:

00:29 GMT, 13 December 2012

Rafael Benitez was up late last night. Bowling. As you do. Well, you do in Japan. Some western visitors have been known to hit the driving range at 3am, as Liverpool did in 1981. Jet-lag does that.

Benitez said, three days into Chelsea's trip, he was still averaging only four hours sleep each night. He could handle it, he insisted, but he worried about his players.

And there, in microcosm, is the conundrum facing the manager of the European contender at the Club World Cup. The prize, to be the world champions of club football, sounds grand; the status of the competition remains pitiful.

Raf night's sleep: Benitez is attempting to lead Chelsea to world title glory

Raf night's sleep: Benitez is attempting to lead Chelsea to world title glory

Chelsea were dispatched to Sunderland by the Premier League the day they were scheduled to leave for Japan — they flew to Tokyo from Newcastle via Helsinki — and the day after they arrive back, presuming an appearance in the final on Sunday, they must head north to play Leeds United in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals.

Nobody is advocating doctoring the fixtures to give Chelsea a break, but the team it is presumed they will face in the final, Corinthians of Brazil, will have been in Japan for two weeks by the time the trophy is at stake.

Corinthians mean it, man. The South Americans mean it. They didn’t play well against Al-Ahly yesterday but this tournament, even when it was a stripped down, one-off match between two continental champions, has always had its greatest cachet beyond Europe.

The most excited members of Chelsea’s travelling party were their Brazilian contingent. David Luiz said he grew up watching club football’s world championship and dreaming of participating.

Meanwhile, back home, the match that will dominate the headlines this week took place between Bradford City and a demotivated Arsenal. The idea that Chelsea’s game with Monterrey of Mexico today might share equal billing is fanciful.

Dream come true: Luiz is one of the Chelsea stars delighted to be involved in the competition

Dream come true: Luiz is one of the Chelsea stars delighted to be involved in the competition

Dream come true: Luiz is one of the Chelsea stars delighted to be involved in the competition

The presumption is of a walkover, even though Manchester United could only draw 1-1 in 2000 with Mexican champions Necaxa, who came third, beating Real Madrid for that dubious honour.

The surest confirmation that the Club World Cup has arrived will be when the coach of the European entrant is not giving his press conference with matches holding his eyelids open. Benitez concedes that is a way off yet. He knows, however, that he is two wins away from his first trophy as Chelsea manager: and that winning it would make the club world champions. It won’t get his name sung sweetly by the Shed End but it’s a start.

‘In Europe we don’t consider this tournament too much but I think it’s getting better,’ Benitez said. ‘You have more teams in the other continents getting stronger, and that will help. In 2010 with Inter Milan, we beat Mazembe of Congo in the final.

'I was laughing about this with Oscar as Mazembe played Internacional of Porto Alegre, his team, who were much better. It seemed they had to beat Mazembe but they lost. People in this continent, they bring good players and have good teams.

‘The standards of the competitions are different, but the teams that win them are good. Monterrey are a good team, so these matches are tricky. The tempo is the key but if they can match our intensity they will make it difficult and then you never know.

‘When you play a Brazilian team, in my
experience they make it slow and won’t allow you to go quick. They keep
the ball, they pass it. My Brazilian friends tell me that when Spain get
to the World Cup in 2014, the grass will be long, like this.’ Benitez
gestured ankle deep. ‘All these things have to be considered.

Eden in the right direction Hazard enjoys a joke with his team-mates

Eden in the right direction Hazard enjoys a joke with his team-mates

Eden in the right direction Hazard enjoys a joke with his team-mates

‘One day this tournament will be considered differently. There are teams around the world now, in Asia or any big country, they have money and pay big for players.

‘Over time, the others will be much better. I remember having a conversation with a club and they said they wanted to win the league, then the Asian championship and then the Club World Cup. That was their target. Rich owners will spend money and the teams will be better. But they need time. The tempo in England and Spain is different, but in terms of players and technique they are good.’

The perception is that the Club World Cup is a trifle, two matches, a matter of days. Actually it is the biggest slog in club football and not just in terms of the flight.

A Chelsea victory would be the culmination of a two-and-a-half year process that began on August 14, 2010, with a 6-0 win over West Bromwich Albion. That season the club finished second and qualified for the Champions League. The following season, they won the Champions League. And that victory got them the invite that could culminate in a position as world champions.

Of course, at just about any other club, this progression would have been made under one manager. This being Chelsea, the man who finished second, Carlo Ancelotti, was sacked, as was the man who got them out of their Champions League group stage, Andre Villas-Boas, as was the man who won the Champions League final, Roberto Di Matteo.

Chelsea could be the first club to win a World Cup by accident. Benitez would lift the trophy, but he is the fourth manager to play a part in the club’s run through this tournament, which has been far from smooth.

So what awaits them today Victor
Vucetich, Monterrey’s manager is a wily old fox who has five domestic
titles and two CONCACAF Champions League crowns to his name.

Stern test The Monterrey players can cause a huge upset by beating the European champions

Stern test The Monterrey players can cause a huge upset by beating the European champions

Stern test The Monterrey players can cause a huge upset by beating the European champions

His team are nimble but use height in the forward line, and Vucetich appeared heartened that Chelsea are not a traditionally imposing English side. His prediction they will score, however, suggests he shares a worldwide realism about the true nature of this competition.

And there is the problem. There is a great tournament trying to break out here, with a wonderful accolade as its prize. Unfortunately, with the best teams allowed to delay entry until the semi-final stage, and the hosting rights farmed out to parts of the world that do not have football in the blood, FIFA undermine their own competition.

/12/12/article-2247195-167A7F64000005DC-684_634x420.jpg” width=”634″ height=”420″ alt=”Net result: FIFA are trialing new goalline technology at the tournament” class=”blkBorder” />

Net result: FIFA are trialing new goalline technology at the tournament

FIFA block Didier Drogba attempt to rejoin Chelsea on emergency loan

FIFA block Drogba's request to rejoin Chelsea on emergency loan as veteran hitman bids to build up to African Cup of Nations

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UPDATED:

15:42 GMT, 22 November 2012

FIFA has denied Didier Drogba’s request for special permission to leave Shanghai Shenhua on loan ahead of the official transfer period, ending speculation he could join former club Chelsea immediately.

FIFA says it informed Drogba he won’t be exempted from international transfer rules while under contract with the Chinese Super League club, whose season ended this month.

Drogba, whose contract expires in 2014, can join another club on a permanent or temporary deal on January 1.

Come back Didier Drogba wants to move on loan to prepare for the African Cup of Nations

Come back Didier Drogba wants to move on loan to prepare for the African Cup of Nations

The 34-year-old Ivory Coast captain hoped to play extra matches to prepare for the African Cup of Nations, which kicks off January 19 in South Africa.

FIFA upheld its rules in previous cases when making Major League Soccer players David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan wait until January to make loan moves.

Drogba is an iconic figure in Chelsea
history and was back at Stamford Bridge on November 11 to see his old
team draw 1-1 with Liverpool.

Flying visit: Didier Drogba made a visit to Chelsea's Cobham training base back in August and was pictured with John Mikel Obi, Fernando Torres and Branislav Ivanovic

Flying visit: Didier Drogba made a visit to Chelsea's Cobham training base back in August and was pictured with John Mikel Obi, Fernando Torres and Branislav Ivanovic

Chelsea
appeared to be missing his powerful presence Tuesday in a 3-0 loss to
Juventus in the Champions League, which led to manager Roberto Di Matteo
being sacked early Wednesday.

Speaking earlier this month, Drogba
indicated that he would be keen to return to Chelsea to train ahead of
the tournament, but not play.

He
said: 'If everyone agrees, it is possible I will go and train there
until the African Cup starts. But that is all it will be.'

Crowning glory: Didier Drogba won the Champions League with Chelsea in his final game for the club

Crowning glory: Didier Drogba won the Champions League with Chelsea in his final game for the club

The
Ivorian is not the only former striker looking return to the Premier
League on a short-term deal. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger refused to
rule out a second loan move for New York Red Bulls striker Henry.

Wenger said he would make a decision
in January but admitted it was a tempting prospect given Henry's
qualities and the fact Arsenal will be 'short' of strikers in the new
year owing to the Africa Cup of Nations.

Fancy seeing you here: Wenger has refused to rule out re-signing Henry

Fancy seeing you here: Wenger has refused to rule out re-signing Henry

The
Arsenal manager said: 'You know what Thierry gives you: he gives you
hope, especially when he comes on (as a substitute). That is the most
important thing.

'He is a communicator, an extrovert and
very intelligent. I had always resisted (bringing him back). Last year I
did it because we lost Gervinho.

'This year we lose Gervinho again as
they are playing the Africa Cup of Nations two years in a row. So we
will be confronted with a shortage – particularly if (Marouane) Chamakh
should go. Then we will be short.'

Chelsea can become first London club to win Champions League

London calling! Chelsea bid to become first capital club to win Champions League

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UPDATED:

09:47 GMT, 19 May 2012

For Chelsea, the Champions League final against Bayern Munich presents an opportunity for the club to win the competition for the first time in their history.

Only since 2003, when Roman Abramovich started bankrolling the club financially, has the dream really seemed possible for Blues fans, who in the last nine years have seen enough near misses.

But it’s not just Chelsea who could see their first crowning moment as Europe’s kings – it’s the city of London too.

German mission: Chelsea face Bayern in Munich on Saturday night

German mission: Chelsea face Bayern in Munich on Saturday night

England’s capital has its fair share of top football teams – without failure it serves up plenty of London derbies in the Premier League each year.

But since the formation of the European Cup in 1955, only three London sides have played in Europe’s premier club competition with Tottenham and Arsenal also appearing.

Along with the Blues, they too have come close to sealing Europe’s biggest prize for the capital, but have also suffered heart-breaking failure.

Here, Sportsmail assesses how London’s trio have fared among Europe’s elite…

Chelsea

Times appeared: 10

Best result: Finalists (2008)

Worst result: Last 16 (2006 and 2010)

Heartache: Chelsea lost the 2008 final to Manchester United

Heartache: Chelsea lost the 2008 final to Manchester United

In a sign of the changing times, league champions Chelsea declined to take part in the first ever European Cup tournament and didn’t make their maiden appearance until reaching the quarter-finals in 2000.

They have been a permanent fixture since 2003, reaching four-semi finals before this season, but it’s the 2008 final in Moscow that still hurts fans.

Having already missed out on the league title to Manchester United, Avram Grant’s side went to penalties against the Red Devils and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

John Terry could have won the trophy for Chelsea but hit the post with his spot-kick after slipping, before United recovered to triumph in the competition for a third time.

Arsenal

Times appeared: 16

Best result: Finalists (2006)

Worst result: Group stage (1999 and 2000)

Seeing red: Jens Lehmann (left) was sent off as Arsenal lost to Barcelona in the 2006 final

Seeing red: Jens Lehmann (left) was sent off as Arsenal lost to Barcelona in the 2006 final

Before the Champions League era started in 1992, Arsenal only twice featured on the biggest stage, being eliminated in the 1972 quarter-finals and the second round 20 years later.

Since 1998 the Gunners have contested every single campaign but have only once visited the final despite getting out of the first group stage in each of the last 12 seasons.

The 2005/06 campaign is the closest Arsenal have been to becoming top dogs. Arsene Wenger’s side reached the Paris final after setting a record number of 10 consecutive clean sheets before losing 2-1 to Barcelona.

The Gunners also reached the semi-finals in 2009 but were thoroughly outclassed over two legs by Manchester United, losing 4-1 on aggregate.

Missing out: Arsenal were knocked out by AC Milan this year

Missing out: Arsenal were knocked out by AC Milan this year

Capital winners

Real Madrid (9) 1956-1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002.

Ajax Amsterdam (4) 1971-1973, 1995

Benfica (2) 1961, 1962.

Steaua Bucharest (1) 1986

Red Star Belgrade (1) 1991

Tottenham

Times appeared: 2

Best result: Semi-finalists (1962)

Worst result: Quarter-finalists (2011)

Spurs don’t have the staying power to make the Champions League a habit but have made a real fight in the only two times they have featured.

A controversial semi-final defeat against Benfica ended their hopes in 1962, with Bill Nicholson’s side crashing out 4-3 on aggregate after seeing three goals contentiously disallowed over the two legs.

Real hiding: Spurs lost to Madrid in last year's quarter-final

Real hiding: Spurs lost to Madrid in last year's quarter-final

It wasn’t until 2010 that Spurs returned to the biggest stage where they starred in the tournament, topping a group that contained holders Inter Milan – even defeating the Italian giants along the way.

In the last 16 they shut-out AC Milan to progress 1-0 over two legs before crashing to a 5-0 aggregate defeat against Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.

The Saturday Debate: What has been the

The Saturday Debate: What is the best European final you have covered

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UPDATED:

23:20 GMT, 18 May 2012

JEFF POWELL
Man Utd 4-1 Benfica (aet) European Cup final, 1968

History, fine football, genius, drama and perhaps, above all, emotion all rolled into a warm Wembley evening. Manchester United had to endure an extra 30 minutes to complete their 10-year journey from the Munich air disaster to the first English club to win the European Cup. It ended with the coronation of George Best as one of the world’s greatest, the crowning moment of Sir Bobby Charlton’s illustrious United career and Sir Matt Busby in tears of delight . . . tinged with sorrow for Duncan Edwards and his lost Babes.

Simply the Best: Manchester United striker George scores at Wembley

Simply the Best: Manchester United striker George scores at Wembley

MATT LAWTON
AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (2-3 on pens) Champions League final, 2005

The 1999 Champions League final had the most stunning climax but the 2005 encounter between Liverpool and AC Milan in Istanbul was a much better game. My match report was virtually written by the end of the half-time interval. Milan, it seemed, had the European Cup in the bag. Cue major rewrite for what became one of the greatest European finals in history.

The comeback kings: Liverpool came from 3-0 down to win the Champions League against AC Milan

The comeback kings: Liverpool came from 3-0 down to win the Champions League against AC Milan

NEIL ASHTON
Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United Champions League final, 2011

Barcelona's Wembley masterclass left Sir Alex Ferguson admitting it was the biggest hiding of his managerial career. Wayne Rooney’s exceptional equaliser momentarily knocked Barca out of their stride, but Lionel Messi, who had never scored on English soil, hit a beauty and David Villa finished off United. They could easily have scored more.

Simply the best: Lionel Messi scored as Barcelona beat Manchester United at Wembley

Simply the best: Lionel Messi scored as Barcelona beat Manchester United at Wembley

Matt Barlow
France 2-1 Italy (aet) European Ch’ship final, 2000

Tense and nail-biting and won in exciting style by a David Trezeguet golden goal, remember them Italy controlled the game for 90 minutes and really ought to have won it. Then Sylvain Wiltord equalised in stoppage time and Trezeguet won it after 13 minutes of extra time.

Kings of Europe: France celebrate victory after the European Championships Final against Italy

Kings of Europe: France celebrate victory after the European Championships Final against Italy

MICHAEL WALKER
France 2-1 Italy (aet) European Championship final, 2000

Liverpool’s finals in Dortmund and Istanbul were special but so was this. France were World Cup winners and favourites but Italy changed that status quickly when Marco Delvecchio gave them the lead. There was a brilliant Francesco Totti back-heel in the build-up. Alessandro Del Piero missed a great chance to win it but Sylvain Wiltord equalised and in extra time David Trezeguet smacked in a sublime golden goal volley. All in one of Europe’s best grounds, Rotterdam’s De Kuip.

Playing his part: French playmaker Zinedine Zidane celebrating at the end of the Euro 2000

Playing his part: French playmaker Zinedine Zidane celebrating at the end of the Euro 2000

LEE CLAYTON
Bayer Leverkusen 1-2 Real Madrid Champions League final, 2002

Manchester United in the Nou Camp is the obvious answer, but it was also a privilege to be at Hampden Park when Zinedine Zidane scored a remarkable Roy of the Rovers-style volley to win the trophy. The ball dropped from the skies and he hit an angled left-foot screamer. I once hit one of those in my dreams (and it still went over the bar).

Real deal: Real Madrid players celebrate after winning the Champions League Final against Bayer Leverkusen

Real deal: Real Madrid
players celebrate after winning the Champions League Final against Bayer Leverkusen

IAN LADYMAN
Liverpool 5-4 Alaves UEFA Cup final, 2001

Liverpool were on the up under Gerard Houllier and this was a welcome return to European finals for the Merseyside club. The Westfalenstadion was jumping and those crammed inside were rewarded with an enthralling game. Liverpool scored early and led 3-1 at half-time but were pegged back in the second half and eventually triumphed courtesy of an extra-time golden goal. It was an own goal, too, which, given the chaotic nature of the game, was appropriate.

Super Mac: Gary McAllister celebrates with Danny Murphy as Liverpool went onto beat Alaves in the UEFA Cup final

Super Mac: Gary McAllister celebrates with Danny Murphy as Liverpool went onto beat Alaves in the UEFA Cup final

Tom Lewis ready to make first American appearance

Lewis ready for American debut at Florida Transitions Championship

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UPDATED:

16:12 GMT, 14 March 2012

England's Tom Lewis is set to make his first appearance in America since turning professional.

The 21-year-old from Welwyn Garden, whose first round 65 in The Open last year was the lowest-ever score by an amateur in the event, has accepted an invitation to play at the Transitions Championship in Florida.

Lewis does so at a time when the European contingent will be trying to make it three victories in a row on the PGA Tour.

New ground: England's Tom Lewis will make his American debut

New ground: England's Tom Lewis will make his American debut

Rory McIlroy, winner of the Honda Classic a fortnight ago, is now on three weeks off before The Masters, but Justin Rose is looking to follow up his success at the Cadillac Championship on Sunday.

Rose will play the first two rounds with Luke Donald, who needs to win to regain the world number one spot from McIlroy.

In a real sign of the times it is less than two years ago that Europe's golfers last achieved a hat-trick on United States soil.

On that occasion it was Rose at the Memorial followed by Lee Westwood in Memphis and then the crowning glory of Graeme McDowell in the US Open at Pebble Beach.

Lewis has already tasted success in the pro ranks, winning the Portugal Masters last October on only his third start.

Although he has not managed a top 20 finish since then the former Walker Cup star is content to soak up all he can at this stage of his career.

'I'm thankful for the tournament for giving me this opportunity,' he said. 'I'm going to need to learn as much as possible this week.

Ready for more: Cadillac Championship winner Justin Rose will play the first two rounds with Rory McIlroy

Ready for more: Cadillac Championship winner Justin Rose will play the first two rounds with Rory McIlroy

'On Monday I felt they were the quickest greens I've played on. I had an eight-foot putt and putted it off the front.

'You can't afford to do that – if you're above the hole you can't stop the ball.

'The course sets up for me well and I'm hitting the ball well, so there's no reason I can't perform.

'But as long as I leave this week with learning a little bit about where my game's at then that's maybe more important than performing.'

Just like Rose, who left the amateur game the day after he finished fourth in the 1998 Open, Lewis has had the spotlight on him ever since Sandwich, where he shared the first day lead and eventually finished 30th.

Victory: Lewis won the Portugal Masters Golf tournament in October

Victory: Lewis won the Portugal Masters Golf tournament in October

Rose then went through the agonies of 21 successive missed cuts in his first year, whereas Lewis was holding up a trophy only three months later.

'The win came too quick for me in a way, but it meant good things because I was doing well. If I want to be as good as I possibly can I am going to have to get used to that.

'I'm kind of settling down now, getting more and more used to the way it's going to be and I wouldn't change the situation I'm in.'

Donald tied for sixth behind Rose at the weekend, easily his best finish of the season so far, while Paul Casey's 51st place was no surprise given it was his first event back after dislocating his shoulder snowboarding on Christmas Eve.

He will be hoping for better this week and so will Sergio Garcia, whose final round 76 included an octuple bogey 12 at one hole, Martin Laird, who next week defends the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and Padraig Harrington, back down to 90th in the rankings after missing out on the two recent world championships.

London 2012 Olympics: Forget pressure to deliver gold medals says Louis Smith

Forget pressure to deliver gold, I've got bills to pay, says 'veteran' gymnast Smith

There aren't many sportsman in the world who have made Olympic history, captained their national team and won on Ready Steady Cook by the age of 22.

In fact in any walk of life, being 22 is still a steep section on the learning curve where you are finding your feet and building towards the future.

For Louis Smith however, it's an age he can already be classed a veteran in men's gymnastics, and be the star most of his team-mates will be looking towards for inspiration at London 2012.

They have good reason: Smith has crammed plenty of achievements into his short career. His
big breakthrough came at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne where
at just 16-years-old he won gold on the pommel horse.

Leap of faith: Smith will captain Team GB this summer

Leap of faith: Smith will captain Team GB this summer

Since then, the golds have eluded him but the talent is clearly there. In individual events he has twice been runner-up at the European Championships (Milan 2009, Birmingham 2010), while he holds a silver (Rotterdam 2010) and two bronze medals (Stuttgart 2007, Tokyo 2011) at the World Championships.

In addition he has won a team bronze in Melbourne as well as silver in Birmingham.

His headline act though came at the Beijing Olympics, where the Peterborough born star became the first British male gymnast in 100 years to land a solo medal when he picked up bronze.

It's a crowning moment, but much to my surprise Smith told me that his success four years ago has been a double-edged sword and handed him his toughest period in his career.

Smith said: 'I'd say now actually because it's all new. Before Beijing where I didn't have any worries, I didn't have any expectations, didn't have sponsorship, no commitments. I lived at home with my Mum and didn't have to worry about bills or anything.

'Now things are a bit different. I have expectation, everyone expecting gold at London 2012, an Olympic medal in the past, I've moved out and got bills to pay.

'It's a lot more challenging now but
although my life is getting busier and harder I've got good support
around me to make my life as easy as possible.'

Another feather in Smith's cap is
being Team GB's captain going into the games. It's a role that he admits
while not being as challenging as other sports, is still one he takes
seriously.

In a spin: Smith's life has moved on since his feats in Beijing

In a spin: Smith's life has moved on since his feats in Beijing

He watched on as nerves got the better of his compatriots last October in Japan when Team GB unexpectedly failed in their first attempt to qualify for the Olympics.

It led to Smith and his team having to compete at the North Greenwich Arena last month to book their place at the very same venue this summer.

Having been concerned at the fragile confidence shown in Tokyo, Smith was pleasantly surprised how well the team responded on home territory and believes that performing at the Olympic venue will benefit in the long run.

Smith reflected: 'When it comes down to competing I keep my calm and keep my cool. I think the best thing about that is it rubs off on the other guys and it might affect them in a good way.

'You have to make the best out of a bad situation. Even though we would have liked to have qualified straight away in Japan you can’t help but think competing in the London arena, which is where it’s going to be, is a bonus.

'Having your home fans there and going through the motions, it's all a learning curve and I think a lot of the boys learned a lot from that competition in how to deal with it all and what to expect so it was really good.

'I am surprised how well they dealt
with it. This test event could have gone one of two ways. We could have
buckled again and completely blew our chance or the guys could have
realised this is their dream as well and rise to the occasion and done
the job – and that’s what they did.

Medal hope: Smith shot to fame at the last Games in China

Medal hope: Smith shot to fame at the last Games in China

Gold standard: Smith shot to fame at the last Games in China

'It was such an enjoyable
competition, we were really relaxed in it. We just performed basically,
the crowd enjoyed it and I think it just goes to show if you enjoy the
competition rather than be scared of it you can do fantastically well.'

The conversation turns towards how best to avoid stage-fright and prepare in the best possible way for an expectant home crowd again this summer.

Smith has in the past admitted it's taken a couple of years to fully deal with the pressures involved in the sport but has found a tried and trusted way to extract his best form.

It's not too dissimilar to the Army's 'Seven Ps' (look it up) and its Smith's initial preparation that gives him the confidence he needs to perform on the day. There is a slight irritation in his voice when he suspects that even people within Team GB still leave things to the last minute.

'It's all psychological', Smith adds, 'When you're at the competition there is nothing more physically you can prepare. You've done all the eight-nine weeks of training and if you haven't done the right amount you can't put the extra in on the last day.

'Physically you cannot change anything so it's completely mental and if you are not in the right frame of mind, that's it, you may as well pack your bags and go home.

'I'm pretty sure there is still people
around the world and even in the GB team that still try and change
things up until the last minute. They try extra hard in a routine and
try to get that last little bit of training in. You can't do that, it's
irrelevant. What you've done is done – you can't change anything, you're
ready for the competition.

Moving on: Smith has extra responsibilities now that he has moved out

Moving on: Smith has extra responsibilities now that he has moved out

'If you trained properly in the eight-nine weeks you're ready. That last couple of days before is the time for relaxing, getting into the gym coming home feeling ready and feeling fresh.

'That's what gives me the best chance and that’s why I am so relaxed. I'm comfortable and confident and ready to out there and do the business.'

It's the winning formula that also reflects on the lessons Smith has learned since he secured his place in British Olympic history at Beijing.

Smith, who has been working on short films with BMW, freely admits he has in the past let outside expectations get to him, which hasn't been helped by rivals often pipping him to gold medals.

Krisztian Berki is likely to be one of Smith's main rivals going into the Games, and is often the difference between him and the top step of the podium in the World and European championships.

When I suggest if he has considered any 'unorthodox’ methods at eliminating the Hungarian from competition, Smith laughs before stating his best is enough to beat anyone.

Smith said: 'I don’t focus on
individuals and what I need to do to beat so-and-so. I concentrate on
what can I do to give me the best chance of doing the best.

'So for me that's being as fit as I
can, as ready as I can and having the best routine possible. That way I
know if I do my best, Berki has a hard job.

'I've learnt never to think about
getting gold. I've learnt never go into a competition thinking to myself
I have to win it because everyone wants me to.

Bronze age: Smith became the first British gymnast to win a medal since 1908

Bronze age: Smith became the first British gymnast to win a medal since 1908

'I have to go there and understand why I'm there and just perform. I made the mistake in 2009 thinking I needed to win because everyone else expects me to, it just buckled me completely.'

That brings us to London 2012 and the future. Gold or not, Smith hasn't ruled out retiring sensing a desire to start a business and settle down. Approaching his mid-20s he considers it an ideal time hinting a possible move into fashion.

He stresses he is willing to help out Team GB if he is still needed but is confident the sport is in excellent hands going towards the future.

Youngsters like Nile Wilson, Sam Oldham and the 'unbelievable' Joe Fraser are gymnasts who Smith believes the nation can look forward to maybe seeing at Rio 2016 and beyond.

'Maybe,' Smith said on a possible early retirement, 'I would like it to be an option just because there are still lots for me to do and I'm still young.

'I'm thinking of starting a business and when you hit 25 you have got to start thinking about the right partner and be more responsible. So yes, I have got to think about what I want to do with my life.

'But then at the same time it might not be very easy to retire from the sport. Maybe the team still needs me for a couple of years, who knows

'The juniors coming through are unbelievable so if I don’t retire on my own accord they just may be able to assist! There is much more money coming into gymnastics now and a lot more support so the future is bright.'

So what about that appearance on Ready Steady Cook There is a nostalgic excitement in Smith's voice when I remind him of his culinary talents displayed on the TV show shortly after Beijing.

'I beat Christian Malcolm. I think I was green peppers,' Smith added. 'I had a spicy noodles with plum sauce and roast duck. It was amazing!'

It's a pleasant end to our chat and while fashion may be on the shortlist for business adventures, the sudden talk of food means, like a gold medal this summer, a Louis Smith cook-book may not be that far off either.

Louis Smith features in BMW Presents, a series of short films that celebrate the BMW London 2012 Performance Team and explore Ultimate Performance. To view the films, visit www.youtube.com/bmwuk

Ricky Burns set for Scotland homecoming fight in Glasgow on March 10

Homecoming for Burns as lightweight champion prepares for Glasgow bout in March

Ricky Burns will return to Glasgow to defend his WBO interim lightweight title.

The Coatbridge fighter will make his first defence at the Braehead Arena on March 10, with the opponent still to be decided.

Homecoming: Ricky Burns will fight in Glasgow next March

Homecoming: Ricky Burns will fight in Glasgow next March

Burns has travelled to England for his last two fights, making the second defence of his WBO super-featherweight title against Nicky Cook in Liverpool before stepping up to lightweight in style against Australian Michael Katsidis at Wembley.

Burns, who has been linked with a fight against British champion Anthony Crolla and lightweight rival Kevin Mitchell, said: “I belong with the best in the division and next year I hope that I can take on one of the other title holders and unify the belts.

“I”ll have a rest over Christmas and then I”m back hard in training in January getting ready for the March 10 date.”

Frank Warren Promotions also announced that Nathan Cleverly will defend his WBO light-heavyweight belt at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff on February 25, also against an unnamed opponent.

The 24-year-old said: “My reputation has been building with each fight and when I beat Tony Bellew it was the crowning moment for me and I believe that the time is perfect to return to Wales.”

Meanwhile, Burns” sparring partner, John Simpson, admits his British and Commonwealth featherweight title fight against Lee Selby is his last chance to push for overseas recognition.

The Scot, who faces Welshman Selby at York Hall in London tonight, has already challenged successfully for the British title on two occasions and won three Commonwealth title fights but has never boxed on the European or world stage.

Hard hitting: Burns beat Michael Katsidis to win the WBO interim Lightweight title in November

Hard hitting: Burns beat Michael Katsidis to win the WBO interim Lightweight title in November

Simpson, who lost both belts in separate controversial contests against Stephen Smith, wants to emulate Burns.

The Greenock fighter, 28, said: “Me and Ricky have been sparring for years and I believe he has gone to another level since winning the world title.

“That”s where I should be. We are still very competitive when we”re sparring.

“Other guys who have won the British title have had European chances. I won the Lonsdale belt outright and didn”t get a shot.

“It”s do-or-die stage. I don”t know how many times I can go down this road. In the back of my mind I know time is running out.