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Frank Lampard now set to be offered fresh Chelsea deal in shock U-turn by Roman Abramovich

EXCLUSIVE: Lampard set to be offered fresh Chelsea deal in shock U-turn by Abramovich

By
Neil Ashton

PUBLISHED:

10:28 GMT, 7 February 2013

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UPDATED:

11:39 GMT, 7 February 2013

Roman Abramovich has made a sensational U-turn over the future of Frank Lampard and opened talks over a new contract.

Lampard, who scored the winner for England in last night’s 2-1 victory over Brazil, had been told he could leave Chelsea at the end of the season.

Incredibly, Chelsea made their move for the fans’ favourite last week and talks about him staying are at a preliminary stage.

VIDEO: Scroll down to watch Lampard's stunning winner for England v Brazil

Still got it: Frank Lampard is mobbed after scoring the winner for England against Brazil last night

Still got it: Frank Lampard is mobbed after scoring the winner for England against Brazil last night

Net gains: Lampard fires past Brazil's goalkeeper Julio Cesar to hand England victory at Wembley

Net gains: Lampard fires past Brazil's goalkeeper Julio Cesar to hand England victory at Wembley

Sources at Stamford Bridge insisted this morning that the talks were ‘positive’ and the club will formalise the fresh talks with a firm offer.

The precise terms of the new deal for Lampard, 34, have yet to be discussed, but the initial meeting with Chelsea has taken place.

Abramovich, who is in Malaga on business, is aware of the fans’ protests against the decision to release the midfielder after 12 years at the club.

Lampard has scored 10 goals in just 17 Barclays Premier League appearances this season after recovering from injury.

Centre of attention: All eyes have been on Lampard's next move as his Chelsea deal winds down

Centre of attention: All eyes have been on Lampard's next move as his Chelsea deal winds down

Goal king: Lampard is on a golden run of goals despite Chelsea's difficult season

Goal king: Lampard is on a golden run of goals despite Chelsea's difficult season

He is now second in the list of all-time leading scorers at the club and is just five goals from equalling Bobby Tambling’s record of 202 in a Chelsea shirt.

The midfielder has been one of the club's most consistent players this season and supporters have begged Abramovich to give him a new deal.

Chelsea’s owners is becoming increasingly sensitive about his popularity at the Bridge and is determined to put his club back at the top of European football.

That process began when he changed his mind about Ashley Cole and gave England’s left back a new one year extension to his contract.

Lampard is next in line and talks are expected to resume within the next week after Chelsea made their shock move to keep him. A Chelsea spokesman declined to comment this morning.

Green light: Roman Abramovich has now given the thumbs up to a new deal for Lampard

Green light: Roman Abramovich has now given the thumbs up to a new deal for Lampard

Although Lampard has consistently told Blues supporters he wants to stay in various interviews, the midfielder believed his career at Stamford Bridge would be over in the summer.

Lampard’s future is time sensitive because he already has a number of offers from other clubs around the world.

Paris Saint-Germain, coached by former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, are the latest club to put down a marker for the midfielder.

LA Galaxy, who have offered Lampard a two-and-a-half year deal, are pushing for an answer. The MLS season starts in March, but the player will have commitments with Chelsea until the end of the season and also with England.

Roy Hodgson’s side play a friendly against the Republic of Ireland on May 29 and then travel to Brazil on June 2.

Rafael Nadal pulls out of Australian Open

Aussie agony for Nadal as injury rules Spaniard out of first grand slam of 2013

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UPDATED:

15:43 GMT, 28 December 2012


Aussie ruled: Nadal has pulled out of the showpiece event

Aussie ruled: Nadal has pulled out of the showpiece event

World No 4 Rafael Nadal has pulled out of the Australian Open due to a stomach virus.

The Spaniard has not played since suffering his shock second-round exit at Wimbledon to unheralded Czech Lukas Rosol due to a knee injury.

He had been due to return at this week's exhibition event in Abu Dhabi but the virus forced him to withdraw.

And he has now decided to extend that absence to include the season's opening grand slam event in Melbourne.

Former world No 1 Nadal, a
winner of 11 grand slam titles, including one Down Under in 2009, told
the Australian Open's official website: 'I am sorry and very sad to
announce that I will not play in the Australian Open.

'My knee is coming along okay, but a
stomach virus has left me unable to get ready in time to tackle the
rigours of a grand slam.

'Because of the virus, I have been
unable to get any match practice and simply would not be doing myself or
my friends in Australia justice if I went down there so unprepared.

'You need your body to be at its best for the Australian Open.

'It was a difficult decision and I am extremely disappointed to be missing such a great event.

'I love coming to Melbourne and playing on Rod Laver Arena before the Australian crowds. It brings out the best in me.

'It
hurts to have to wait another 12 months before I get another chance. In
the meantime, the focus is now on desperately trying to get back on the
tour.'

Nadal has now targeted the Abierto
Mexicano Telcel event in Acapulco which starts on February 25 for his
comeback, although he remains optimistic of returning before that.

Wimble-done: Nadal hasn't featured since the defeat to Rosol

Wimble-done: Nadal hasn't featured since the defeat to Rosol

He added on Facebook: 'As my team and doctors say, the safest thing to do is to do things well and this virus has delayed my plans of playing these weeks.

'I will have to wait until the Acapulco tournament to compete again although I could consider to play before at any other ATP event.'

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said: 'It is completely understandable and we really feel disappointed for him.

'But without any match practice and without sufficient lead up time on the practice court, it makes it virtually impossible for him to get his body ready.

'We just hope he gets better quickly and we see him back on the tour as soon as possible.

'Tennis fans across the world have been missing him. Our Australian Open staff will very much miss him and his team as he is not only a great player, but also a great guy with good people around him.

'We wish Rafa all the best. I am confident we will see him back on the tour soon and back in Australia for 2014, no doubt as one of the contenders for the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.'

Prior to the virus, Nadal had spoken of how he was intending to use the first few weeks of his comeback simply as a means of regaining full fitness.

However, his absence, while a blow to tournament organisers and his fans, will be a boost to the other members of the big four – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

Will Bradley Wiggins be allowed to defend his Tour de France crown?

Will Bradley Wiggins be allowed to defend his Tour de France crown

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UPDATED:

21:41 GMT, 15 December 2012

Bradley Wiggins would be the first to admit that his year of awesome achievement would not have been possible without the methodical mind of the man who has become the most influential figure in British cycling.

But now Dave Brailsford faces one of the most difficult decisions of his sporting life: does he encourage Wiggins to fulfil his dream of consecutive victories in the Tour de France — or ask the man who is clear favourite to lift the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award to follow team orders to play second string to Chris Froome’s attempt to win the most gruelling event in sport

Bradley Wiggins

Champion: Bradley Wiggins has had a sensational year but now is the time huge decisions will be made on next year's Tour

This summer, Brailsford presided brilliantly over Team Sky’s militarystyle campaign which enabled Wiggins to ride triumphantly along the Champs Elysees as the first British winner in the 109-year history of the Tour de France.

For his encore, Wiggins won an Olympic gold medal nine days later against the backdrop of Hampton Court Palace and Brailsford, as British Cycling’s performance director, had confirmed his status as a linchpin in Wiggins’s life for the past dozen years.

Now, with Wiggins talking for the first time last week of wanting to defend his Tour de France title rather than concentrating on the Giro d’Italia and playing a support role to Froome on the 2013 Tour, Brailsford knows he must manage the expectations of two of road racing’s greatest exponents.

Bradley Wiggins

Golden boy: Just nine days after becoming Britain's first ever Tour champion, Wiggins stormed through the streets of London to take Olympic gold

‘We haven’t finalised our plans for next year,’ said Brailsford, speaking last week from the warm weather camp in Majorca where Wiggins has been getting back to work in the afterglow of his phenomenal summer.

‘Bradley’s had a taste of celebrity but he has relished getting back the structure in his life and he is in great shape. Brad loves normality.’

Froome, thought to be marginally favoured by the route of next year’s Tour, which includes four mountain summit finishes and fewer stage miles in the time trials, and Wiggins have both publicly pledged to abide by the decision Brailsford arrives at with his trusted right-hand man, Australian Shane Sutton. Yet, briefly, there was tension between the two riders this summer, if swiftly managed.

Bradley Wiggins

Champion team: Wiggins celebrates with team-mates on the Champs-lyses

On Stage 11, Froome risked leaving Wiggins, leading the Tour by two minutes, exposed on the road when he made an unscheduled break on a climb.

‘It looked worse than it was,’ insisted Brailsford last week.

‘Through Froomey’s eyes, Brad was going really well and had a big buffer and he was thinking about his own position in relation to (Vincenzo) Nibali.

‘It was a brief bit of exuberance from Chris. If his intention had been to attack Bradley, he’d have kept going but, once he realised Brad was not on his wheel, he played his team role. There was no malice or going against team orders.’ Even so, he had to be told to back off.

Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain and Team SKY chats to Team Principal Dave Brailsford

Team talk: Sky team principal Dave Brailsford will soon decide who will lead his team in next year's Tour. Will it be Wiggins or Froome… or even both

At the time, Wiggins was distinctly unamused. ‘From that moment, through the rest of the Tour, I didn’t quite know what to expect from Chris when it got into the heat of battle,’ Wiggins wrote in his autobiography.

For Brailsford, the incident is consigned to history; a small blip during a Wiggins- Froome blitz of the world’s best riders.

Instead he remembers how Wiggins, a man who already possessed six Olympic track cycling medals, three of them gold, turned his career around two years ago to enable him to win the greatest bike race in the world after 21 glorious days in July.

According to Brailsford, Wiggins’s road to glory on the Tour de France began in a private — and uncomfortable — meeting at the end of a disappointing first season for Team Sky.

‘Bradley had to look hard at himself in the mirror at the end of 2010,’ he said. Brailsford acknowledged that mistakes had been made — ‘We over-complicated everything,’ he admitted — but Wiggins also faced a personal crisis.

His performance dipped and his mind wandered as he mourned the death of his beloved grandfather, George — his role-model after his father, Gary, a professional cyclist, walked out on him and his mother, Linda, when he was a child. Wiggins’s world crashed. He turned off his phone and could not be contacted. Patience within Team Sky was close to being exhausted.

Bradley Wiggins, winner of the 2012 Tour de France cycling race, celebrates as he crosses the finish line of the last stage of the the Tour de France

Magic moment: Wiggins crosses the finish line in Paris, but many say next year's route would be better suited to the mountain climbing strengths of Chris Froome

At one low moment, Wiggins later learned the crisis ran so deep that Brailsford asked team psychiatrist Steve Peters: ‘What should we do with Brad He’s a bloody nightmare.’

Eventually Wiggins, with the support of his wife, Cath, realised he had to address his problems. At a team summit with Brailsford, Sutton agreed to Wiggins’s request to coach him.

Last week Brailsford recalled: ‘We had words and we had some honest feedback with Brad. But after that first year, as a team, we went back to the drawing board.

 Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome

Team tension: Chris Froome congratulates Wiggins on his gold medal but was itching to break free from his supportive role in this summer's Tour

'We had clarity of purpose with everyone thinking the same way. But Brad deserves a lot of credit for his unbelievable hard work and the maturity that now makes him easy to coach.’

Never had a man on a bike travelled so far, or so fast, into the consciousness of the public than Wiggins.

‘The first week of the Tour is all about not losing any time, but it’s also about not crashing,’ said Brailsford. ‘The safest place is at the front of the bunch — but every other team is trying to do the same, so it becomes like a scene from Ben Hur.’

 (L-R) Silver medallist Tony Martin of Germany, gold medallist Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain and bronze medallist Christopher Froome of Great Britain

National treasure: Bradley Wiggins is joined on the podium by German silver medallist Tony Martin and Britain's Chris Froome, who finished third

On the third stage, Kosta Siutsou, a key support rider for Wiggins, broke a leg.

‘That shook everyone in the team and the mood was pretty fraught,’ admitted Brailsford.

‘Of course, for Brad it brought back memories of how his Tour had been ended by a broken collar-bone the previous year. It was quite a jolt because, at the time, we didn’t know how the story was going to unfold.’

From that moment, Team Sky had to combat their rivals with eight men rather than nine. And Brailsford had to gather the riders and staff together to restore morale as fast as possible.

Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins

Power house: Wiggins is the best time trialist in the world but next year's Tour will have fewer time trial miles

‘It is a mini-grieving process,’ he said. ‘Anger surfaces and then there is an acceptance that life is not fair, that the goalposts get moved.’

Brailsford’s management style is fastidious and he leaves nothing to chance.

‘We take our own beds from hotel to hotel and everybody has their same pillow every night,’ he said. ‘We vacuum and dust every room before the riders arrive and we install airconditioning and de-humidifiers.’

The team travel with their own chef and the team bus is a haven of luxury. Wiggins excelled as each day came and passed.

He earned the Yellow Jersey on stage seven and wore it all the way to Paris, where he was greeted by thousands of ecstatic British supporters, many wearing fake sideburns as a tribute to their laid-back hero.

‘For me, there was a feeling of elation and pure joy at Brad getting that jersey,’ said Brailsford.

‘It was a perfect performance from the team — one of my best days in cycling. ‘Brad is a connoisseur of the sport, he knows its history. You had only to look at him to see how much it meant. Fundamentally, he is a family man, a decent man and a very funny man.

He’s a colourful character, strongminded like all champions, and someone who occasionally courts controversy — but Brad has a heart of gold.’

Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins of Sky Pro Racing (yellow jersey), followed by team mate Mark Cavendish, during Stage 20 between Brambouillet and Paris, France.

Leading the pack: Team Sky's strategy of leading from the front worked spectacularly well during the summer

On returning from Paris, Wiggins was given the honour of ringing the bell at the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium, symbolically declaring the Games had commenced.

Four days afterwards, he was receiving an Olympic gold medal after destroying all-comers in the road time trial, the race of truth.

‘To make history in the Tour de France was a big deal but then to take Olympic gold so soon afterwards makes what Bradley did this summer exceptional,’ said Brailsford, who will be in the audience at the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards tonight.

Brailsford’s own day of judgment — whether to throw his support behind Wiggins or Froome on the 2013 Tour — lies ahead this winter.

Eric Abidal says he"s lucky to be alive after liver transplant

Barcelona defender Abidal says he's lucky to be alive after liver transplant operation

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UPDATED:

16:05 GMT, 14 December 2012

Barcelona defender Eric Abidal says he is lucky to be alive after undergoing a liver transplant and is battling to make a return to football.

The France left back was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2011 and went under the knife in March this year.

The 33-year-old also hopes to make a full return to football with Barcelona.

Lucky: Eric Abidal (right) underwent a liver transplant operation earlier this year

Lucky: Eric Abidal (right) underwent a liver transplant operation earlier this year

Abidal said: ‘The doctors tell me that it is not normal that I have lived. I will fight to play football again but if I cannot then it’s not a problem, I will continue with my family.’

Abidal received the XIII Prix Pyrenees prize for his perseverance and strength throughout his convalescence, and the defender thanked everyone for their support through this difficult period in his life.

He added: ‘I want to give thanks to everyone for this award. The year that has passed has been the most difficult of my life and I have fought so much.’

Where he belongs: The defender was pictured training with his team-mates this month

Where he belongs: The defender was pictured training with his team-mates this month

The Frenchman, who has been back training with his club, has won a number of honours with Barca, including three La Liga titles and two Champions League winners’ medals.

In touching scenes after Barcelona beat Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final, Abidal’s team-mates tossed him in the air to celebrate his return to football after his original cancer diagnosis.

Hatem Ben Arfa is fit for Fulham v Newcastle clash

Boost for Newcastle with magical Ben Arfa back for Fulham clash

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 9 December 2012

Hatem Ben Arfa returns to centre stage for Newcastle United on Monday night.

The France star has missed his side’s last four matches and Pardew, who is looking to build on last week’s win over Wigan Athletic, knows his side have missed the forward’s inspiration.

Ben Arfa, who is one of four Newcastle players Pardew hopes to have back from hamstring injuries for the game at Fulham, was injured in his first Europa League match against Maritimo over a fortnight ago.

Ready to go: Hatem Ben Arfa is set to make his return to action

Ready to go: Hatem Ben Arfa is set to make his return to action

The 25-year-old had just been handed a
new central role by his manager and Pardew is ready to let him loose at
Craven Cottage tonight.

The Newcastle boss said: ‘I was very
disappointed to lose him in that Maritimo game because I wanted to get a
full 90 minutes out of him performing that role.

‘He is going to put the ball at risk
there, but on the plus side, he is also going to really increase the
flair in and around the central areas.

‘I am sure there will be games where I think it is right to put him there or even start with him there.

‘We had Hatem playing as a No 10 last
year. Mentally and physically I think he is in much better shape to play
that role now than he was back then.

‘I have not really had any significant
problems with Hatem. I think my experience of dealing with the likes of
Benayoun, Tevez, Mascherano — players who came over here in difficult
situations — has helped.

‘I am fortunate to be 52, still in the game and have that experience behind me.’

Newcastle also hope to have top scorer Demba Ba back tonight to add to his 10 goals in 16 appearances.

Watching brief

Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas impressed by record of David Moyes

Spurs boss Villas-Boas impressed by record of rival Moyes

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UPDATED:

18:19 GMT, 8 December 2012

Andre Villas-Boas has revealed his
deep respect for Everton boss David Moyes as he prepares to do battle
with the man many thought deserved to become the next Tottenham manager
in the summer.

Bookmakers installed Moyes as the
odds-on favourite to replace Harry Redknapp in June, but Daniel Levy
appointed Villas-Boas ahead of the Scot despite his excellent record at
the Merseyside club.

Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas

Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas

Everton had come dangerously close to relegation through the back end of the 1990s, but Moyes' appointment in March 2002 signalled a huge turnaround in the club's fortunes.

The Scot, whose only previous experience in management had come at Preston, led the Merseysiders to fourth in 2005 and has only finished outside the top eight twice during his nine full seasons in charge.

Villas-Boas, who takes his team to Goodison Park, thinks Everton would be in a much worse position had the 49-year-old not taken the helm 10 years ago. 'He has done tremendously well,' the Tottenham manager said.

'He has changed the mentality of the club. They went through incredibly difficult situations financially and has always built strong teams.

Everton manager David Moyes

Everton manager David Moyes

'His scouting is perfect, his training is perfect, the way he motivates his players also makes a difference as you see them on the pitch and they are extremely competitive.

'His teams always seem to improve year after year and that is not always the case. Going to Goodison Park is one of the toughest games.'

Villas-Boas has bad memories of visiting the Toffees. Last season his Chelsea team lost 2-0 at Goodison Park and little over three weeks later the Portuguese was sacked.

But after a shaky start, Villas-Boas has started to rebuild his reputation at Tottenham, who are now firmly in the hunt for a Champions League place following a run of three straight Barclays Premier League wins.

Confidence is high in the Spurs squad, but Villas-Boas knows it is vital his team maintain their good form going into the festive period.

'The Premier League is very, very tight between third and 10th,' the former Chelsea boss said.

'Obviously we want to do well at Everton but understand that it is going to be extremely difficult.

'It is one of the most difficult grounds to go to, they are fully rested, but we have played in midweek.

'But we want to do well and take something out of there and continue with the momentum we have going.'

Everton have only lost one of their last 10 games, although their last three results have been draws.

Marouane Fellaini's eight-goal scoring spree from midfield has played a big part in Everton's good form this season, and Spurs defender Kyle Walker knows shackling the Belgian will be key to the visitors' chances of success.

'Marouane Fellaini is a real handful,' the England right-back said.

'He's mobile for a big guy, gets the ball down and they go through him.

'They've good players, lots of internationals and it will be difficult. Ever since I've played in the Premier League, Everton is always one of the tough games.

'But our centre-backs Jan (Vertonghen) and Steven (Caulker) are fantastic and hopefully if we can keep a clean sheet then Jermain (Defoe), Emmanuel Adebayor or Clint (Dempsey) can go and get us a goal.

'If we continue playing how we've been playing and those three keep scoring, then we've got every chance.'

Villas-Boas looks set to recall Hugo Lloris in goal after giving Brad Friedel a run out in Tottenham's Europa League win over Panathinaikos on Thursday.

Gareth Bale is unavailable due to a hamstring injury and Michael Dawson also looks unlikely to play due to a similar concern.

Dempsey will probably start in Bale's place on the left, leaving Adebayor and Defoe free to resume their partnership up front.

Andrew Flintoff says he feels like a boxer

EXCLUSIVE: Flintoff: When I fill in those forms that ask for your occupation, I now say 'boxer'

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UPDATED:

22:46 GMT, 27 November 2012

Andrew Flintoff owns a motorbike and has tattoos, so difficult conversations with his mother are nothing new.

But discussing his latest career move was a little more awkward. 'It was a few months ago and we were watching television when some boxing came on,' he says.

'I was thinking, “How am I going to tell her that I'm going to start fighting” Then she starts saying, “I'm glad you played cricket and didn't go for boxing”'. Oh god.

Hitting hard: Andrew Flintoff will fight Richard Dawson on Friday evening

Hitting hard: Andrew Flintoff will fight Richard Dawson on Friday evening

'I just went for it: “Mum, I have something to tell you”. I'm not sure she was too pleased – or is too pleased. I guess it's one thing watching your son go out to play cricket at Lord's in his whites, and another to watch him have a fight.'

Mrs Flintoff is fast running out of time to get used to the idea.

On Friday, at Manchester Arena, her son will step into a ring with Richard Dawson, once a street-fighting gang member from Oklahoma and now a professional heavyweight with two wins in his first two fights.

Trim: A slimline Andrew Flintoff is ready for his first professional boxing fight

Trim: A slimline Andrew Flintoff is ready for his first professional boxing fight

'It's bizarre where life takes you,' says Flintoff, sipping black coffee in a London bar.

The former England cricket captain hasn't had a drop of alcohol for four months.

His upper lip, as it often has been since he started mixing with Barry McGuigan and his son Shane, is looking a little fleshy. His 34-year-old body isn't.

Flintoff weighs roughly 15-and-a-half stone, about four less than when he started making himself sick after meals at cricket grounds around the world.

That was one of the revelations from the first part of his most recent, most compelling documentary, Flintoff: From Lord's to The Ring.

Another was that occasionally he was bullied at school and this venture is, in part, an attempt to gain closure.

There was also talk about finding it difficult to fill the void that appears when the structure and purpose of professional sport goes.

Flintoff says: 'I'm happy with the documentary. I had an idea of what I wanted it to do and I think it has done.

'But people should know, I decided first that I wanted to do the boxing, to get back into professional sport, and then we decided to make a documentary.'

The sentence has almost become a reflex against the critics.

Frank Maloney, a promoter, says Flintoff is making boxing a 'laughing stock' and called the fight a 'publicity stunt'.

He cited James Cracknell's charity fight in 2007 that left the two-time Olympic gold medal-winning rower unconscious.

'I just went for it: “Mum, I have
something to tell you”. I'm not sure she was too pleased. It's one thing watching your son go out to play cricket and another to watch him have a fight.'

– Andrew Flintoff

Heavyweight David Price called the whole thing 'a joke'.

'It hasn't felt like a joke,' Flintoff says. 'It's not a stunt. If you don't take this sport seriously you get hurt. Believe me, I'm serious about this. I've put a lot into this.'

He looks tired from the day's training. Each week he has been doing 12 sessions, most lasting two hours, with Shane McGuigan.

What started last year with an impromptu pad session with Barry during filming for another programme progressed recently to hard, full-contact sparring with no headguards.

'That was a big step,' he says. 'You feel sharper but also more vulnerable. You obviously feel the punches more. But it was the next step. It's all a process.

'It has been a very long, hard road to here – I was starting right from scratch. It has been my life for four months. The months of diet, eating steak at 6am, training, sparring, bleeding noses, thick lips – it's all been for this fight. I have done this properly.

Real deal: Flintoff (right) says he is serious about professional boxing, despite David Price (left) describing his fight as a 'joke'

Real deal: Flintoff (right) says he is serious about professional boxing, despite David Price (left) describing his fight as a 'joke'

'I understand people having opinions about this, that is fine – people are protective of their sport, as I'd be of cricket. People had opinions of me when I played cricket. But we are not trying to disrespect the sport. I would never do that – I genuinely love boxing.'

He talks of staying up late as a child to watch big fights broadcast from America, especially if they involved Mike Tyson.

'I used to love watching Tyson,' he says. 'I remember staying up until the middle of the night for the first Frank Bruno-Tyson fight and, oh my god! Frank had rocked him, the commentator's telling him to get stuck in.

'He came so close. He almost took him and then Tyson did what he does.' Tyson dropped into Flintoff's gym during a recent visit to the UK.

So did Sugar Ray Leonard. 'I couldn't believe it,' Flintoff says. 'I had Sugar Ray talking about my footwork and Tyson saying stuff about the mental side.

'He used to be so nervous before a fight and had to control that. I was as nervous meeting Tyson as I was meeting Ian Botham for the first time.

Lord of the ring: Flintoff (centre) with his father and son training team Barry (left) and Shane (right) McGuigan

Lord of the ring: Flintoff (centre) with his father and son training team Barry (left) and Shane (right) McGuigan

'I used to love British fighters like Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Steve Collins, Ricky Hatton. I spent time with Collins in Vegas a few years ago.

'He spoke about his battles with Eubank. I was sitting listening to him about how Eubank was such a strong puncher, and about the time he got hypnotised before fighting him.

'It was fascinating – I love those stories.'

Quite how this chapter in Flintoff 's career will end is anyone's guess.

He won't talk about his strengths or weaknesses but Barry McGuigan thinks he 'could floor a mule' with his right hand.

The rumour is that Flintoff hasn't even been put down in sparring, though he has flattened a few himself.

'It's not a stunt. If you don't take
this sport seriously you get hurt. Believe me, I'm serious about this.
I've put a lot into this.'

– Andrew Flintoff

'It has been getting harder,' he says. 'It's tough, but I love the feeling that I'm improving.'

He laughs about the scene in the first part of the documentary when he stops to see if an early sparring partner is OK after a big head shot.

'This is the hurt business,' a less-than-impressed Barry McGuigan says to camera.

'I've developed a bit more spite since then,' Flintoff says. 'You'll see. It's feeling a bit more natural. I feel like a boxer.

'It's funny, when you go on planes and you fill in those forms that ask for your occupation – I put that I'm a boxer now.'

His mother might have to get used to it.

Flintoff: From Lord's To The Ring continues on Thursday at 9pm on Sky 1. The fight will be shown live on Boxnation (SkyCh 437, Virgin Ch 546) on Friday night.

Tom Wood: We must back Chris Robshaw

We must back captain Robshaw, move on from the loss, and prepare to beat the All Blacks

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UPDATED:

23:30 GMT, 25 November 2012

Everyone is focusing on that penalty decision at the end of the game and criticising Chris Robshaw, but I have to jump to his defence – that is a tough call to make.

Obviously there were some differences of opinion on the pitch but that is because it wasn’t a clear-cut choice. We’d had difficulties in the lineout, so it wasn’t at all certain that we would have scored a try if we had gone to the corner.

If we had taken that option and had a crack at the Springboks, it would have put more pressure on them when they were on the ropes.

Tough call: Chris Robshaw (left) had a difficult decision to make in the final moments of the Test against South Africa

Tough call: Chris Robshaw (left) had a difficult decision to make in the final moments of the Test against South Africa

Maybe it would have been a bigger statement to make but Chris decided to get the points on the board and, if we had won the ball back from the restart, we would have had a big chance to win the game.

It was a close call to make and I don’t think the reaction to what happened against Australia the previous week helped.

After that game, we were criticised for going to the corner, not for the posts, now the criticism is the other way round.

As captain, you are damned either way.

These are all real-time decisions and on Saturday the clock was ticking in the dying seconds.

There is no magic formula to win a game. If Chris did change his mind after saying we were going for the posts, it’s probably because it dawned on him that the whole process was taking too long and we were running out of time.

Often in modern-day rugby, coaches will make these decisions anyway and radio it on.

The captain won’t always make the call. I’ve been in club games where someone runs
on with the tee before the captain is even off the floor!

Moving on: Flanker Tom Wood backs his captain

Moving on: Flanker Tom Wood backs his captain

The captain has a feel for how the game is going whereas a coach’s decision from the stands is more removed.

Sometimes it is a good thing to make an emotive decision when the heart is pumping,
at other times it can work the other way.

We need to sit down together and decide — are we putting all the responsibility in Chris’s hands If so, we have to stand by that and back ourselves.

All the talk is about that decision, but we should have won the game anyway.

We were the better team. Immediately after the game I was angry.

I blamed myself for not being able to stop their try. I had been in the thick of our maul defence and we had done a great job of stopping them, then I saw the ball bobble loose.

I heard a thump as it was hacked away, then it seemed to fly around like a pinball and suddenly it went past me in the air.

I was off-balance so, when I tried to grab it, the ball dropped in front of Willem Alberts
and he fell on it over the line.

When the TMO was looking at it, I tried to keep an eye on the big screen, but I had my head in my hands. It was a gut-wrenching moment after we had battled so hard to defend our line.

Flare up: Tom Wood (left) tried to prevent the bust-up between Ben Youngs and Eben Etzebeth (centre)

Flare up: Tom Wood (left) tried to prevent the bust-up between Ben Youngs and Eben Etzebeth (centre)

I was praying there had been a knock-on or something. When the try was awarded, I knew the whole nature of the game had changed.

We were 10 points down and would have to play catch-up.

After a defeat like that, I struggle to switch off. Even if I’m shattered I struggle to sleep.

We can’t throw everything in the trash just because we lost to a top team by one point.

Next Saturday we face New Zealand and we have to bring all the elements of our game together in one huge performance.

We will be under big pressure but we can beat the All Blacks. They are human, so beatable.

We will throw everything at them and what better way to salvage a frustrating autumn series than by beating the world champions.

Next up: World champions New Zealand await England

Next up: World champions New Zealand await England

Petr Cech feels sorry for Roberto Di Matteo

Cech: I feel sorry for Di Matteo, he will always be a huge part of Chelsea's history

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UPDATED:

11:00 GMT, 25 November 2012

For a man who appears so serious on the pitch, Petr Cech laughs infectiously during interviews. But the Chelsea stalwart, goalkeeping giant and spare-time drummer in an Indie rock band is not so laid-back when he can see a wasted season coming into view.

And as Chelsea prepare for their first game under interim manager Rafa Benitez, when they take on champions Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, Cech is in reflective mood over the departure of Roberto di Matteo just 186 days since he led the club to their first Champions League triumph.

Cover star: Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech

Cover star: Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech

Cech, Chelsea captain in the absence of the injured John Terry, agrees that he feels sorry for Di Matteo. 'He will always be a huge part of the history of this club with all he has achieved as a player and manager,' he says. 'It was sad to see him go early like that, but that's football life, unfortunately.'

If Cech appears philosophical amid the disorder that currently is Chelsea, then that is a reflection both of the man and of the need that players have to build a wall between themselves and the chaos around them.

It has been quite a week for Cech, but then he is used to that. When you are a Chelsea veteran, traumatic weeks become part of the background noise of life, an inconvenience to be negotiated. This, after all, is the seventh managerial transition the Czech goalkeeper has experienced in his eight years at Stamford Bridge.

But for Cech, the 2-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion eight days ago, followed by the Champions League setback against Juventus in midweek which precipitated the departure of Di Matteo, was enough to rattle even his unflappable nature.

Difficult times: Cech argues with defender David Luiz

Difficult times: Cech argues with defender David Luiz

Chelsea's defensive performance at The Hawthorns had been some way short of what is expected from the European champions. In the dressing room afterwards, some home truths needed to be told. According to one report, the opinion voiced by one player during the post-match debrief was brief and to the point: 'We were f****** rubbish.'

Cech is reluctant to go into details or to expand on what was said. But he admits that it was he who took the lead.

'It was a speech I had to make to the team,' he says. 'About what we are and what we want to be and that we have to improve if we are to fulfil our expectations. We were all in the same boat – manager, coaching staff and all players.

'We've ended up in this situation and we are all responsible for that, so we need to put it right now. Unfortunately, the manager is always the one who gets under pressure the most.'

Cech admits he is a little baffled by what has happened to Chelsea's season. Before the past two results, he had talked confidently about the stylistic change that Chelsea had been embracing, from a direct, powerful team to an intricate passing side.

'You can see the change of the generation is happening slowly but surely,' he says.

Warning: Chelsea players were incensed by display at West Brom

Warning: Chelsea players were incensed by display at West Brom

'We have a lot of new players and players that haven't been here for a long time. So it feels like a new Chelsea and obviously the players are really different players and have brought a different style; their way of playing football is completely different.'

The change of style starts with Cech, no longer required to kick long for Didier Drogba but expected to distribute the ball through the centre-halves. 'I'm fine about this,' he insists, 'because if you have Juan ([Mata] and Eden [Hazard] on one side and they're standing next to [Ryan] Shawcross and [Robert] Huth, there's no point kicking the ball.'

But has the move away from Chelsea's traditional strengths left them exposed 'We had a very good start to the season so I don't think it all happened too quickly,' says Cech. 'Thanks to the run of recent results people started talking about it, but I think it was the case that we were not defending well as a team. You need to defend as a team to defend well.'

Nothing, of course, can take away from the joys of last season. Obviously, Cech is not happy that the club are unlikely to have the chance to defend the Champions League trophy. Chelsea are now relying on Shakhtar Donetsk to beat Juventus in order to make the last 16 of the tournament. But he insists: 'This team have the quality to challenge the best and we should not be missing in the last 16.'

With Chelsea, of course, you never know. Juventus would be right to remain wary until they have properly finished off the job of knocking out Chelsea after last season's inconceivable triumph in the tournament. That took in the reversal of a 3-1 defeat to Napoli as well as knocking out Barcelona with 10 men at the Nou Camp.

'I had a friend at the Nou Camp and he said, “When you conceded the second goal I told the guy next to me that the last place in the world I would like to be was in the Chelsea goal. Barca could finish with eight”. '

Italian flop: Chelsea were well beaten in Turin

Italian flop: Chelsea were well beaten in Turin

Finally, there was beating Bayern Munich in their own stadium, having fallen 1-0 behind with seven minutes to play and later going 3-1 down in a penalty shoot-out, with Cech saving crucially from Ivica Olic, a feat he makes sound fairly routine.

'Left-footed, under pressure in his own stadium,' explains Cech. 'It's always easier to hit across the ball [shoot to your right if you're left-footed]. So it had to go to my left side.'

Cech saved and Drogba delivered the rest, although the goalkeeper's nonchalant explanation belies the hours of work he put in studying all Bayern Munich's penalties since 2007. 'It will really sound strange now, but I said to my wife in December, “I think we're going to win the Champions League”,' he says.

In December That was when Andre Villas-Boas's time began to run out at the club. From December 17 until his sacking on March 4, Chelsea won just three Premier League games. Cech says it was the worst League run of his time at the club.

'We couldn't even buy a win. It didn't matter how we played,' he says. 'But I told my wife, “You will see. Before, we have been marching in the League and we couldn't get past the semi-finals of the Champions League. This time everything is going wrong, but you will see everything will go right in the Champions League”. She said, “Yeah, right, I agree with you”, and we laughed about it. Then we lost the first Napoli game and I'm thinking, “Well, maybe not”.

Petr Cech of Chelsea FC dejected

Petr Cech of Chelsea FC dejected

'But we won the Birmingham game in the FA Cup and suddenly we picked up good results in the League and we took the momentum to the second Napoli game. And suddenly things completely changed.

'Then we thought, “Well, anything can happen now”.'

The knowledge that the times were changing at Chelsea drove the team towards Munich.

Cech says: 'We were talking about it before the Napoli game and I said, “Didier! Come on, man! You have to score. Because we're not going to have many more chances to win it if we want to lift it together”. And he said, “No, you're right. If we're going to do it, we have to do it now”.

'When we went to the final we were aware that we were not all going to be here forever. We knew that for Didier it was the last game, because he had told us. Ever since the 2008 Champions League final, when we lost on penalties to Manchester United, the only thing I wished for was to play in another final. Going to Munich, I said to Christophe [Lollichon, Chelsea's goalkeeping coach], “OK. The only thing I needed was one more go. Now let's win it”.'

And they did. It just seems a long time ago now.

Lee Westwood ditches caddie Billy Foster

EXCLUSIVE: Westwood ditches injured caddie Foster and gives job to Kerr

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 15 November 2012

Lee Westwood has taken perhaps the toughest decision of his professional career and parted company with his great friend and caddie, Billy Foster.

The latter has been out of the game for the past six months with a cruciate knee injury. Such was Westwood’s regard for him, he said the bag would be waiting for Foster when he regained his fitness.

But now Westwood feels he can wait no longer. With one major to go until his 40th birthday and Foster unable to guarantee his full fitness for the start of next year in the build-up to the Masters in April, the pair have parted ways.

All change: Lee Westwood (right) has parted company with Billy Foster

All change: Lee Westwood (right) has parted company with Billy Foster

‘Billy was extremely disappointed, as you can imagine,’ said Westwood’s manager, Chubby Chandler. ‘He’s just had the most boring six months of his life. But Lee is at that stage of his career where he has to be a little bit selfish. He’s only got four or five prime years left and he simply can’t afford to mess about with this one coming up.

‘Billy hopes to be fit enough at the start of next year to caddie for one week and then have one week off. But Lee is playing six tournaments in a row, starting in Dubai next February, and you can’t have Billy one week and then another caddie the following week.

‘It was a difficult decision because we all know how good Billy is as a caddie and they’re great mates as well.’

What forced Westwood’s hand was the fact Mike Kerr, the very able Zimbabwean standing in for Foster, was offered a full-time job by Sergio Garcia. Westwood did not want to lose Kerr with no firm news on when Foster would be back. Consequently, Kerr has now got the lucrative Westwood bag full time.

New job: Westwood has appointed Mike Kerr as his new full-time caddie

New job: Westwood has appointed Mike Kerr as his new full-time caddie

‘Billy has the same fitness coach as Lee in Steve McGregor and he told him it takes footballers eight months to come back from his injury,’ said Chandler. ‘How much longer is it going to take a 46-year-old man’

It is hard not to feel sorry for Foster, who will need his trademark sense of humour to get over this devastating setback. In the perilous, insecure world of caddying, the Yorkshireman seemed to have the safest bag of all.

That changed when he took part in a knockabout football match last April and his knee gave way.

If he can get himself fit, Foster should not have too much trouble finding another top bag. Over the past 20 years, caddying for the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Darren Clarke as well as Westwood, he has established himself as among the best in the business.

He even caddied for Tiger Woods in his prime on a couple of occasions, when his then bagman Steve Williams was unavailable.

Swing: Westwood is keen to improve his game ahead of the new season

Swing: Westwood is keen to improve his game ahead of the new season

The split completes a dramatic year of upheaval for Westwood in his quest for that elusive first major. First, he announced that he was moving to live in America at the end of this year. Then he parted company with his long-game coach, Pete Cowen.

As for addressing the nagging weakness in his short game, a dalliance with Zimbabwean Tony Johnstone has also come to an abrupt end after Westwood’s chipping let him down in the final round of the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai.

‘It just wasn’t working out,’ explained Chandler.

One position, then, might have been filled in Team Westwood. But where is the short-game coach who can scratch what has become an unbearable itch