Tag Archives: dinner

Masters 2013: Bubba Watson sinks hole-in-one in practice round

Fun in the sun at Augusta as defending champion Watson sinks hole-in-one in Masters practice round… and he didn't cry!

By
Charlie Skillen

PUBLISHED:

16:47 GMT, 10 April 2013

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UPDATED:

17:08 GMT, 10 April 2013

Bubba Watson is clearly in top form to defend his green jacket in style after getting a hole-in-one in a practice round today.

Last year's Champion was playing a practice round before the tournament starts tomorrow, and achieved a hole-in-one on Augusta's par 3 16th hole.

Watson's practice partner Scott Piercy described Watson's reaction: 'Arms in the air, big smile, like a little kid in the candy store,' he told the Chicago Tribune.

High fives: Bubba Watson (right) laps up the apprecation of the crowd after sinking a hole-in-one

High fives: Bubba Watson (right) laps up the apprecation of the crowd after sinking a hole-in-one

Mini-me: Watson takes out his driver during a practice round today ahead of defending his Masters title

Mini-me: Watson takes out his driver during a practice round today ahead of defending his Masters title

Turtle and the hare: Sergio Garcia attempts to chase some unwanted visitors back into the pond today

Turtle and the hare: Sergio Garcia attempts to chase some unwanted visitors back into the pond today

'That was really cool. To do it on 16 at the Masters, I'm sure it's something he’ll never forget. And I can tell my kids that Bubba Watson made a hole in one here, and I saw it.'

Watson's caddie, Teddy Scott, told the same paper: 'The crowd was obviously really into it. any time somebody makes a hole-in-one, if there's just four of you playing with your buddies, you're excited. So everybody was pumped and high-fiving. It was cool.'

Ready and waiting: Rory McIlroy plays a shot in today's practice round ahead of the Masters starting tomorrow

Ready and waiting: Rory McIlroy plays a shot in today's practice round ahead of the Masters starting tomorrow

Rory McIlroy

McIlroy

Face in the crowd: Scotsman Paul Lawrie hits a shot from the trees in a practice round today

Face in the crowd: Scotsman Paul Lawrie hits a shot from the trees in a practice round today

The amazing feat comes the day after the Masters Club Dinner in honour of Watson, a tradition started by Ben Hogan in 1952.

Fans leapt to Watson's defence over the menu he chose for the meal, which Sir Nick Faldo joked on Twitter was a 'happy meal'.

Posting a message to Watson, Faldo said: 'You had a year to decide on, grilled chicked, mashed potatoes, corn, macaroni & cheese!!!#HappyMeal #PlayLikeaChampion,' before quoting a Tweet from a fan which suggested diners got a toy prize if they cleaned their plates.

Happy meal: Sir Nick Faldo joked about the quality of Watson's Masters Club Dinner menu

Happy meal: Sir Nick Faldo joked about the quality of Watson's Masters Club Dinner menu

Hitting the target: Argentinean Angel Cabrera chips on the driving range before a practice round today

Hitting the target: Argentinean Angel Cabrera chips on the driving range before a practice round today

Watson broke down in tears in a press conference yesterday after a reporter asked him what he did with the green jacket he won last year.

He also famously cried on the shoulder of his mother Molly when he won the tournament after a play-off with Louis Oosthuizen, leading to the nickname 'Blubba.'

Suits you: Two Australian fans got in on the fun (above) while another fan proposed to his partner (below)

Suits you: Two Australian fans got in on the fun (above) while another fan proposed to his partner (below)

Proposal

Proposal

The Footballers" Football Column – Alan Curbishley:

ALAN CURBISHLEY: The pressure of a relegation battle is huge… you're playing to keep the dinner lady and groundsman in jobs – as well as themselves

PUBLISHED:

07:19 GMT, 3 April 2013

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UPDATED:

13:12 GMT, 3 April 2013

Alan Curbishley

Alan Curbishley is one of the most experienced managers in the Premier League – yet he has been out of work for more than four years. After 15 years and 729 games managing Charlton he decided to leave for a new challenge. That came in 2006 when he took over at a struggling West Ham. He kept the Hammers in the Premier League on the final day of the season against Manchester United at OId Trafford. In his debut Footballers' Football Column Curbishley writes about the pressures of a relegation battle and who he believes will go down this season. He also discusses his desire to return to the dug-out after his long absence. Before you read his column, make sure you watch his video.

Alan Curbishley: Footballers' Football column

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I feel for all the managers who are fighting relegation this season because I know how tough it is. There are so many different pressures being a Premier League manager and even more so when you are in a relegation battle.

The main pressure is the finances. You’re aware that if you get relegated you can lose up to 70 per cent of your income.

And if that’s the case you’ve got to start thinking about not just the players and the staff, but the ordinary people at the football club, the people who work in the restaurants and at the training ground. People whose livelihoods depend of the job and when there are cutbacks after relegation, they’re often the first people that take the hit.

Nigel Adkins

Harry Redknapp

Paul Lambert

Roberto Martinez

Tough times: Nigel Adkins, Harry Redknapp, Paul Lambert and Roberto Martinez are all feeling the pressure

So you’ve got the financial pressure, the pressure on yourself, because obviously you don’t want to be associated with relegation, and you know that it could be a long way back for the football club if that happens.

And then it’s the fans and the press and the media that seem to thrive on every bad moment. So there’s loads of different pressures going on, and I’ve not even mentioned the football, but you’ve got to be aware of all that and it takes its toll.

Every situation is different and it all depends how long you’ve been in that struggle for, if you’ve been in that all season it does take its toll and you do have to go game by game. You’re just hoping for that one match, that one thing that turns it around and starts giving people confidence.

Feeling down: Christopher Samba and Clint Hill look dejected after losing to Fulham

Feeling down: Christopher Samba and Clint Hill look dejected after losing to Fulham

More from The Footballers' Column…

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JILL SCOTT: How Arsenal are on their way to winning a trophy (no, really) – and why we take the mick out of England's golden oldie
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GARETH SOUTHGATE: If we give our young players a chance then the next Messi or Ronaldo could come from England
21/03/13

The Footballers' Football Column: McShane was doing 100 press ups a day at age seven, Meyler's 'as sharp as a spoon'… and brilliant Brady's a phenomenal footballer
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RICHARD LEE: I've barely trained all season to the point now that the lads at Brentford call an easy day a 'Rich Lee'
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GRAHAM WESTLEY: Being sacked by Preston was a relief… I was hamstrung, I knew the answers to problems but I wasn't allowed to solve them
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VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

But then there are the other clubs who feel safe and suddenly drop into it the last few games and they’re not used to that pressure, they’re not used to playing under than intense scrutiny and you can’t cope with it.

Sometimes the club that stays up is the battle-hardened one, who has been in it most of the season and just manages to get out of it near the end before the trap-door closes and that’s it.

When you are down there you look for positives but in reality there’s nothing better than winning a game. I’ve often thought, ‘What comes first – confidence winning you matches, or winning matches giving you confidence’

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you get a win, as long as you’ve gone and got the three points on the Saturday, you know it can change the whole atmosphere around the club.

If you are down there then you have got to try different things to turn your fortunes around. Look back to last season, Wigan looked doomed.

But then Roberto Martinez switched his defence to three at the back and gave them a bit more stability, they won a couple of games 1-0 and suddenly the confidence was there, they went on a terrific run until the end of the season and stayed up.

Players react differently when they are in a relegation battle. Some players are affected by it, you know they are good players but they are struggle being in that position.

But then other players thrive on it and can handle it. When you’re in that battle you like to look around the dressing room and perhaps look at six or seven players, or even eight, and know what you’re going to get. Because unless that amount of players are performing you’re not going to win anything.

A relegation battle is tough for everyone and I certainly did not enjoy it. When I went into West Ham they were third from bottom, 14 points from 17 games, and so you know, even if you start taking a point a game, you’re going to be involved in it for the rest of the season. Anything better than that is European form.

I knew when I went into West Ham we had to get out of it quickly and we didn’t. Obviously we stayed in it and with 10 games to go we were doomed, but we got a bit of luck. We won a game at Blackburn where we scored a goal that never went over the line, and suddenly it changed.

We picked up the next result, the team selection was consistent, which it hadn’t been before I was at the club, and along with that came a bit of belief.

Has the luck run out Will Wigan be relegated this season after a number of years of narrow escapes

Has the luck run out Will Wigan be relegated this season after a number of years of narrow escapes

We won seven of our last nine games. Look at who we played – Arsenal, Everton, Bolton who were in a European position, Middlesbrough, who were just outside of European spots, and then the last game of the season at Manchester United.

What I remember about that game at Old Trafford is that nine of the players who played in that game were at the club before I arrived, so it got me thinking, and it’s what I thought all along, the players had the ability, so why were they in the position they were in

I had players in that run-in playing with so much confidence and doing things I couldn’t imagine they could’ve done weeks before. Consistent team selection helped, and results, and obviously the fans.

Often people talk about Tevez, but he hadn’t scored for 20 games before that. We kept five clean sheets, Robert Green was fantastic, Bobby Zamora scored two fantastic winning goals when we won 1-0 at Arsenal and 1-0 at Everton, but the fans played a massive part.

Alan Curbishley

Alan Curbishley

Contrasting emotions: Alan Curbishley shows the strains of West Ham's relegation battle and celebrates staying up on the final day of the season against Manchester United at Old Trafford

One of the games was Wigan away where I
think we took more fans than Wigan had there, it was just incredible, we
just responded and won 3-0 there and that was the first time, after
that game that I felt, ‘We’re going to do this’.

I look at the teams down there at the moment, and Wigan especially, is it finally their year They’ve survived so many times in the last games of the season. And I’ve just got a feeling this FA Cup run is going to cause them a problem; they’re a game behind the rest of the league at the moment, when they play their semi-final they’re possibly going to be two games behind.

If they get to the final they’re going to have to make up at least two or three games when there are only eight games left.

It’s going to take an emotional toll, we’ve seen it before with teams getting to a cup final and going down, I’m just wondering if it’s a bit too much for them. They’ve still got to win games. Having games in hand is nice, but you’ve got to win them.

When I look at the table I think Reading, QPR and Wigan are the three who are going to go down.

Staying up: Carlos Tevez celebrates scoring the goal that kept West Ham in the Premier League

Staying up: Carlos Tevez celebrates scoring the goal that kept West Ham in the Premier League

Playing his part: Bobby Zamora scored some key goals for West Ham in their survival bid

Playing his part: Bobby Zamora scored some key goals for West Ham in their survival bid

Stroke of luck: West Ham beat Blackburn with a goal from Zamora that never crossed the line

Stroke of luck: West Ham beat Blackburn with a goal from Zamora that never crossed the line

I think the timing for Reading to sack Brian McDermott was poor. December is traditionally the vulnerable time for managers as the chairman will think, ‘If I bring a new man in, he’s got to have a chance to bring some new faces in and change it around a little bit.’

But history has shown that no club in the bottom three who have changed their manager in March have managed to survive.

But when you consider whatever the compensation involved in letting McDermott go, the prize, if
they do manage to turn it around, is massive. You’re talking 60-70million, so I can see why they’ve done it.

But I think most people in football would look at it and think, ‘Perhaps if you’d have done it earlier then you might have had a better chance’.

Brian McDermott

Nigel Adkins

Poor timing: Curbishley says it was the wrong time for Reading to sack McDermott (left) and get Adkins

All managers in football, especially in the Premier League, who find themselves down the bottom, know that if they don’t pick up results soon they’re in trouble. I just think that this was so late in the day.

I have not worked in management since I left West Ham in 2008, but my exile has been self-inflicted. When I left West Ham I felt they were in the wrong and I was in the right, and it took its time to be sorted out and that was detrimental to me.

But I’ve had opportunities to come back in and maybe I’ve been a bit too picky. Perhaps the advice to managers that have been out of the game would be to get back in as quickly as possible, because you are easily forgotten.

Plenty of experience: Curbishley managed Charlton for more than 700 games between 1991 and 2006

Plenty of experience: Curbishley managed Charlton for more than 700 games between 1991 and 2006

Final bow: Sir Alex Ferguson is one of only a few managers to have taken charge of more Premier League games than Curbishley

Final bow: Sir Alex Ferguson is one of only a few managers to have taken charge of more Premier League games than Curbishley

I’m still the sixth most experienced Premier League manager and I haven’t worked for some time now. It goes Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Harry Redknapp, David Moyes, Sam Allardyce then myself, so I think I’ve still got a lot to offer.

But someone’s got to be attracted by my record, and, not take a gamble, but I only really want to come back in the Premier League and that is difficult. I’d like a Premier League job. Certainly if it was a Championship club it’s got to be one I think is going to go somewhere.

I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing at the moment, and there’s a lot less pressure. But if anyone wants to look at my record it stands up with the best of them, so we’ll have to see.

Steven Gerrard is the best Liverpool have ever had, says Jamie Carragher

Gerrard is the best player Liverpool have ever had, says Anfield pal Carragher

By
Jim Van Wijk, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

09:47 GMT, 21 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

09:47 GMT, 21 January 2013

Steven Gerrard was heralded as Liverpool's greatest player ever by team-mate Jamie Carragher after the England captain was honoured by the Football Writers' Association at a gala tribute dinner in London.

The 32-year-old midfielder collected the prestigious accolade from FWA chairman Andy Dunn, of the Sunday Mirror.

Hitting the heights: Steven Gerrard is Liverpool's greatest, says Jamie Carragher

Hitting the heights: Steven Gerrard is Liverpool's greatest, says Jamie Carragher

Tributes were paid by former manager Gerard Houllier, who brought Gerrard into the Liverpool first team as a raw youngster, and his long-serving team-mate Carragher, while former Reds boss Kenny Dalglish also passed on his congratulations as he was unable to attend.

Carragher is in no doubt of Gerrard's place among Anfield legends. 'I think we are in the presence of the greatest player ever to play for Liverpool,' said Carragher.

'People will say I am biased because we are good friends and because of the trophies we have won together, but it is a fair accolade to give him.

No 1: Carragher paid tribute to Gerrard following his latest award

No 1: Carragher paid tribute to Gerrard following his latest award

'There are guys like Kenny [Dalglish], Graeme Souness, Ian Rush, all world-class players, but the difference was they were in a world-class team – and Stevie has not played in a world-class team.'

Carragher added: 'Stevie's one strength is he has no weakness, he can run, tackle pass and score goals.

'Football is a team game, but special players do special things at special times, and that is Steven Gerrard.'

Former Liverpool striker Rush and England manager Roy Hodgson were among the guests at The Savoy, along with current Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.

Steven Gerrard humbled to get Football Writers" Association award

Gerrard 'humbled' after Liverpool captain is recognised by Football Writers' Association

By
Jim Van Wijk, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

22:14 GMT, 20 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

06:04 GMT, 21 January 2013

Steven Gerrard admitted it was a humbling experience to be honoured by the Football Writers' Association at a gala tribute dinner in London this evening.

The Liverpool and England captain was guest of honour at The Savoy Hotel, where he was presented with the prestigious accolade from FWA chairman Andy Dunn of the Sunday Mirror.

Gerrard, 32, was voted FWA Footballer of the Year in 2009 and was touched to have been recognised for his achievements once again.

Accolade: Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard said he was 'humbled' to receive the Football Writers' Association Player of the Year Award

Accolade: Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard said he was 'humbled' to receive the Football Writers' Association Player of the Year Award

Speaking to the FWA before this evening's dinner, Gerrard said: 'Tonight's award means a lot because these guys have followed me throughout my career, written about me whenever I have played, to receive this award from the Football Writers' Association is a very proud night for myself and my family.

'I feel very flattered and humbled to receive it.'

Gerrard added: 'I have always looked at personal awards as a bit of a bonus really. I always try to achieve things with Liverpool or fight to do well for England.

'But when you talk about awards of people like the supporters or people in the press who watch you week in and week out, scrutinise your performances, these mean an awful lot because these guys know their football.'

Influential: Gerrard continues to excel for club and country, scoring again at the weekend in Liverpool's 5-0 rout of Norwich City

Influential: Gerrard continues to excel for club and country, scoring again at the weekend in Liverpool's 5-0 rout of Norwich City

Gerrard has played in every minute of all of Liverpool's Barclays Premier League matches this season and scored in Saturday's 5-0 demolition of Norwich at Anfield, which saw the Reds move a small step closer to the top four.

The veteran midfielder has also now chalked up 100 international caps as he looks to lead Roy Hodgson's team on through to qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

'It is a special year – the 150th anniversary for the FA as well, so there are some really big fixtures to look forwards to,' Gerrard added.

'We are halfway through a World Cup qualifying campaign, so hopefully at the end of the season it can be a success for Liverpool to achieve something, and also make it through to the finals in Brazil with England.'

Man City legend Francis Lee: My top player was on 15 grand a week when I was chairman blimey, academy lads are on that now

Legend Lee who paved way to Etihad reflects on City's incredible journey: My top player was on 15 grand a week – blimey, academy lads are on that now

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UPDATED:

23:01 GMT, 8 December 2012

Francis Lee can pinpoint the moment he realised being the chairman of Manchester City might send him round the bend. Watching his team thrashed at Old Trafford, Lee was aghast by what he saw when Andrei Kanchelskis scored a fifth United goal in a 5-0 victory.

'A couple of United players were laughing – so were the defenders of Manchester City. I thought “Oh Christ, I can't believe that”,' he said. 'It was a little giggle and a shrug of the shoulders as if to say “Oh, that is five”. Kanchelskis got three that night and our left-back still thought he'd had a good game!

Flamboyant: Former City chairman Francis Lee

Flamboyant: Former City chairman Francis Lee

'They were the bad old days. We spent too much money on a new stand and infrastructure when we should have spent it on players. And our managers weren't very good, although I've got to take responsibility for appointing them.'

Franny on Balotelli

What's he done wrong exactly Plenty of players today do far worse than a few problems with fireworks. I played with a guy called Tony Coleman at City. He'd come into training still in his dinner jacket and tie, smelling of vodka. The manager had to introduce a rule just for TC: any player spotted out after midnight on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday would be fined two weeks' wages.

Nobody packed inside the Etihad Stadium for the Manchester derby between the two best teams in the country knows Manchester City like Lee.

As a barrel-chested, prolific centre-forward, he earned cult status for winning the League Championship, FA Cup and European Cup-winners' Cup in consecutive seasons under manager Joe Mercer and his colourful coach, Malcolm Allison.

Then, having made a fortune in business, he returned to City as chairman in 1994, when they were a financial basket-case rather than Premier League superpower.

Back then, there were no Abu Dhabi millions to spend. Instead, Lee put in charge Alan Ball, whose team shielded the ball when they needed to score to avoid relegation, Steve Coppell, who quit after 28 days, and Frank Clark, whose job was to take City out of the old First Division. Clark succeeded – not by getting the club promoted back to the Premier League but by getting them relegated to the third tier of English football.

Lee, by nature an optimist and extrovert, was moved to say: 'If cups were awarded for cock-ups, you would not be able to move in City's boardroom.'

Legend: Lee in his playing days

Legend: Lee in his playing days

Looking back now to those turbulent times, Lee still has to pinch himself at how the club has changed in little more than a decade.

Franny on City's dream signing

Some fans might not like it
but I'd go out and try to buy
Cristiano Ronaldo. He can win
a game at the drop of a hat
even when he's having a
moan. When you line up
against someone like
Ronaldo, you wouldn't have
a clue how to stop him. He can
play on either wing
and is unplayable on
his day.

'I didn't pay a lot for City because it was completely skint. The top earner in my time was Georgi Kinkladze on about 15 grand a week. Blimey, the Academy lads are on that now. The turnover was 4.5million when I became chairman. When I left in 1998 it was over 30m – now it is 240m.'

On Sunday, Roberto Mancini has the most expensive Premier League squad in history to choose from, part an overall 1billion investment from Sheik Mansour since he bought City in 2008.

Lee's largest single purchase was 3.75m for Portsmouth striker Lee Bradbury, a deal that still gives him nightmares. Bradbury played just 40 matches, scoring 10 goals before being sold to Crystal Palace for half the amount Lee had paid.

Lee recalled: 'I asked our manager, Frank Clark, if he was sure because it was a lot of money. He said ''Yes, this lad could be the next Alan Shearer''. I saw his debut in pre-season at Burnley and he never looked to get into the six-yard box like a lead striker should. I went home afterwards and my wife, Gill, said “What is it, you look fed up” I said “This new striker, I don't fancy him, honestly''.'

It had been different in Lee's playing heyday during the Swinging Sixties when United and City battled for trophies. Once the matches were over, rival players would go out clubbing together.

'Manchester was a fantastic place to go out in,' says Lee. 'There were 10 clubs with world-class cabaret and comedians. You'd go in and Tom Jones might be singing, or Shirley Bassey or Engelbert Humperdinck. The United lads would go to the same places. Besty (George Best) was always in Blinkers or Mr Smiths. He was a prize asset for any club who could have him in there regularly because he used to pack it out with young girls who all fancied becoming his wife, which was a big mountain to climb. Some of the younger players used to follow on, hoping to get a few of his cast-offs.'

Nightmare: City paid 3.75m for Lee Bradbury

Nightmare: City paid 3.75m for Lee Bradbury

The charismatic Allison was as likely to join his players for a night out as punish them, a practice it is hard to imagine current manager Mancini adopting, given his reputation for keeping his distance from his squad. But Lee, who played for the ultimate disciplinarian Sir Alf Ramsey at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, does not see any problem with City's Italian manager.

Franny on England

I'd like to see David Moyes as our next manager. He's done wonders with relatively limited resources at Everton and that's basically the same situation he'd have with England. People say we can't appoint him because he's Scottish. Why not We've had an Italian, a Swede and a half-Dutchman.

'You don't have to be popular with the players to be a good manager or coach,' he insists. 'Alf Ramsey was never the life and soul of the party. He would turn to anybody – no matter how big a name – and say “Look, if you don't start pulling your socks up, you can kiss this bloody international squad goodbye”. If Alf gave you a rollocking, you knew you had been told off.

'He accused me twice of going to the Sportsman's Club in Tottenham Court Road and getting drunk. It wasn't me because I'd never been there in my life – but he said if he ever got proof, he would drop me like a stone.

Impressive: Lee would have liked to have played with Sergio Aguero

Impressive: Lee would have liked to have played with Sergio Aguero

'City haven't lost a League game
since April. They beat West Brom with 10 men this season. That doesn't
happen if the players don't have attitude and spirit. The Champions
League has been a learning curve but it's a higher grade of football.
The tempo is very high and didn't suit one or two of the current
players. It'll take time to readjust.'

Six of the best Manchester derbies

Man United 0 Man Cit y 1
April 27, 1974

United would have gone down anyway, no matter what the result of this game. But defeat by their old rivals confirmed it – and Denis Law scored with a cheeky back-heel that merely twisted the knife a little bit more.

Man Cit y 5 Man United 1
September 23, 1989

Sir Alex Ferguson claimed this was the worst defeat of his career. Under pressure and struggling to make an impact, the Scot's new-look side were dismantled by a rampant, newly-promoted City. David Oldfield scored twice, with Trevor Morley and Ian Bishop also finding the net before Andy Hinchcliffe completed the rout. Mark Hughes was United's scorer.

Man City 2 Man United 3
November 7, 1993

Two-up through a Niall Quinn double, City supporters were in ecstasy at half-time. But Eric Cantona pulled one back straight after the break, then equalised before Roy Keane completed a comeback to remember.

Man United 5 Man City 0
November 10, 1994

United in their pomp and City beginning their slide to near-oblivion. Russian winger Andrei Kanchelskis scored the first derby hat-trick for 24 years after Cantona and Hughes had put United in command.

Man United 4 Man Cit y 3
September 20, 2009

An extraordinary game, settled by Michael Owen in the sixth minute of stoppage-time. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring after two minutes before Gareth Barry capitalised on a Ben Foster mistake to level. Darren Fletcher and Craig Bellamy each scored twice, with City believing they had earned a share of the spoils – until a Boy's Owen finish in his first start in a United shirt.

Man United 1 Man City 6
October 23, 2011

Mario Balotelli's opener, before revealing that 'Why Always Me' T-shirt, started a rout the like of which had never been seen. The Italian added another, Sergio Aguero put City three up, then, after Darren Fletcher had pulled one back, Edin Dzeko (two, left) and David Silva netted in stoppage-time to condemn United to their

Lee was surrounded by quality in
City's golden era, most notably from his great friend, Mike Summerbee,
and Colin Bell. His own contribution saw him dubbed 'Lee-won-pen'
because of his ability to win and convert penalty-kicks. He would have
relished playing in the current City side, although he has some
interesting advice on how to get the best out of their strikers, who are
well down on last season's huge goals tally.

'I would love to have played with
David Silva,' Lee adds. 'Vincent Kompany is an extremely good player and
the goalkeeper, Joe Hart, is top drawer – in the Peter Schmeichel
class. If you were being pernickety, you might say he could still tidy
up his distribution a bit.

'And I would like to have played up
front with Carlos Tevez or Sergio Aguero. They make life uncomfortable
for defenders but invariably play too close together. I'd like to see
them spread out 20 metres apart, giving defenders nightmares on the
outside and allowing the big feller, Yaya Toure, to bomb through the
gaps in the middle.'

Born and raised in Bolton, Lee was one of the first footballers to break the stereotype that their brains were kept in their boots. He made his first-team debut for his hometown club at 16, thereby putting on hold his training to be a draughtsman.

Encouraged by his father, he pursued an interest in business during his playing days and was rewarded when he sold his toilet-roll manufacturing business, FH Lee, in 1984.

He had not needed the help of an agent to negotiate the contract that made him the best-paid player in England when he joined Derby County in 1976 on wages of 1,000 a week.

The following year he bought the Cheshire home where he still lives, with enough land at the back to run a successful horse-racing stable.

His part in City's history is indelible, and he is proud that he was the chairman at the start of negotiations that would see City leave their Maine Road home for the Commonwealth Games stadium.

'I was at a Premier League meeting and Sir John Hall (Newcastle United's chairman), who was in property, said to me: “You've landed lucky, haven't you”. His information was that Manchester was going to host the Commonwealth Games in the Queen's Golden Jubilee year of 2002, which meant a big, new stadium.

'There was really only going to be one team to go there and it meant City didn't have to spend the same amount as for their own ground. The city council approached us and we worked on that from there.'

The rest, as they say, is history, and at least when Lee walks up to The Etihad today, he will not be worried about another five-goal beating from United.

Brad Friedel denies rumours of Blackburn return

I'm staying at Spurs, insists Friedel as he denies rumours of Blackburn return

|

UPDATED:

22:53 GMT, 7 December 2012

Staying put: Friedel

Staying put: Friedel

Brad Friedel has dismissed reports he was close to joining Blackburn Rovers last month and stressed he is enjoying competing for the Spurs No 1 jersey with Hugo Lloris.

Henning Berg was keen to bring the 41-year-old back to Ewood Park in a player-coach role but Andre Villas-Boas blocked the move.

Lloris was expected to be Tottenham’s undisputed goalkeeper after signing for 8million this summer but the Portuguese manager appears undecided between the two.

Friedel, who played in the Europa League on Thursday but is likely to return to the bench for the visit to Everton, said: ‘Apparently when I was contemplating having a medical I was at home having Thanksgiving dinner with my family. What happens between club and club a lot of players don’t know.

‘I’m contracted to Tottenham and I’m concentrating on Tottenham. Whatever role they throw at me I’ll do it to the best of my capabilities.

‘There’s no rivalry with Hugo. At every club, for 21 seasons, there’s competition for places. As I said before when I signed the two-year contract I figured I would play last year, this year was an unknown.

Competition: Lloris (above) and Friedel have shared No 1 duties

Competition: Lloris (above) and Friedel have shared No 1 duties

‘The club have been on the look-out for a long term goalkeeper for a couple of years. We also have two other outstanding goalkeepers at the club in Heurelho Gomes and Carlo Cudicini.

‘So competition for places Yes. But the club is going to be around a lot longer than any of us. They want to be in the Champions League and they want to try to win trophies so they continuously have to buy good players in every position.

‘Do I thrive on competition Absolutely. Or else I wouldn’t be playing football, and definitely not at the age of 41.’

Asked if he might move in the January transfer window he said: ‘That’s all hypothetical. I’m at Tottenham and I’m very happy here.’

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

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

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UPDATED:

23:17 GMT, 4 December 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT

Do you want be a hero, Joe

Do you want be a hero, Joe

We need a hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like a black fly in your chardonnay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footballers can't dive in like Becky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save the Wales whinge

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

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

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

Chris Ashton swallow dive was pure joy

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

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 2 December 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dying soldier's inspiration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Samuel: Arsene Wenger used to solve Arsenal"s problems… now he helps his rivals solve theirs

Wenger used to solve Arsenal's problems… now he helps his rivals solve theirs

|

UPDATED:

22:45 GMT, 2 December 2012

If Arsene Wenger genuinely had 70million to spend, do you know who his striker would be Robin van Persie. Still.

Van Persie would never have left Arsenal if, in his talks with Wenger, he had been convinced that lavish funds were available and would be spent on the team. If Wenger could have given Van Persie any form of guarantee that 70m was coming his way, he might not have been so eager to sign for Manchester United.

The figure of 70m is the latest jam tomorrow bulletin from Arsenal’s money men, following the sealing of a shirt deal worth 150m with Emirates.

This windfall is Wenger’s to spend, apparently, except he never does.

Cash back: If Arsene Wenger had 70m to spend Robin van Persie would have stayed at Arsenal

Cash back: If Arsene Wenger had 70m to spend Robin van Persie would have stayed at Arsenal

Cash back: If Arsene Wenger had 70m to spend Robin van Persie would have stayed at Arsenal

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He never seemed to spend the 30m that was his in the Highbury days, either, or the 55m it was claimed sat in Arsenal’s transfer kitty last summer. He has 40m reserved for improvements in January also. Whether that is part of the 70m or in addition to it, nobody is quite sure.

The funny thing is, no matter what is said to be available at Arsenal, Wenger’s outlay always seems commensurate with how much he brings in, as if the two are related. He sells his best player, he buys two or three inferiors. This is not an uncommon policy, indeed, a number of Premier League clubs have adopted it.

Most of them, though, reside in the bottom half of the table: where Arsenal may soon join them.

They are 10th now, two points above Liverpool, and their next home game is against the awkward squad of West Bromwich Albion.

Most years, an Arsenal win would be considered a certainty, but that was thought of a home fixture with Swansea City, too.

If only everything at Arsenal was as predictable as the forecasts of long-term wealth and success.

Arsenal would have known last summer that the shirt deal was up for renewal. Van Persie wanted a better contract, but he also wanted a sign that Arsenal would compete in the transfer market; like 70m dropping into his manager’s lap, for instance.

It seems strange, then, that he left unconvinced and disillusioned. A lot of Arsenal players have trod that path.

Personal finances were also an issue, true, but equally the direction the club was taking. Wenger used to solve Arsenal’s problems: now he solves those of his rivals.

Mountain to climb: Arsenal are languishing in tenth after home defeat to Swansea

Mountain to climb: Arsenal are languishing in tenth after home defeat to Swansea

Manchester United are first, Arsenal are 10th. It is not so crazy to speculate that those positions might be reversed had Van Persie stayed.

Think about it. United have gone behind to the first goal of the game in 10 Premier League matches and in seven have come back to win. Of those seven, five have featured crucial goals from Van Persie, including the equaliser against Fulham, a hat-trick against Southampton and the winner against Liverpool.

Imagine United without him this season. Wayne Rooney scored twice against Reading on Saturday but, on the eve of the game, Sir Alex Ferguson was bemoaning his strike rate. Even after the 4-3 win, Javier Hernandez had still outscored Rooney in the Premier League.

Now consider Arsenal with Van Persie’s 10 league goals this season added to their total. Supplement a single goal from Van Persie to the draws with Sunderland, Stoke City, Manchester City, Fulham, Aston Villa and Everton; add an equaliser to the one-goal defeats by Chelsea, Norwich City and Manchester United.

That is a difference of 15 points, or the current spread between Manchester United (top, 36 points) and Arsenal (10th, 21).

Obviously, this is not an exact science but the general point seems reasonably watertight: Arsenal’s loss has been United’s gain.

Maybe Van Persie was told of the 70m at the end of the rainbow; the problem is that Arsenal’s players have heard it all before. For seven barren years they have been fed talk of some mythical golden day, when the club will reap the benefits of careful husbandry, glory restored.

Who's next: How long will the likes of Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere tolerate inferior acquisitions

Who's next: How long will the likes of Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere tolerate inferior acquisitions

Who's next: How long will the likes of Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere tolerate inferior acquisitions

In two years, Arsenal will be able to compete with the best in the world, promises chief executive Ivan Gazidis. Yet the best of this current team might not wish to wait that long, and then what

Having already lost such vital players as Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas, take Jack Wilshere or Thomas Vermaelen away and 70m would be needed just to restore the squad, rather than enhance an existing world class group.

Also, it is hard, coming fourth. It is a risky business. Set out to win the league and, falling short, the Champions League still beckons. Yet increasingly Arsenal have revised their aims so that any place in the top four constitutes success.

Fourth place, however, has no safety net. Fail, and enter the Europa League; or worse.

The good news No team, beyond the Manchester clubs, have made a charge yet. Chelsea have not won for seven Premier League games, yet remain third.

Few believe West Brom or Everton are capable of maintaining early dalliances with elite positions.

Tottenham Hotspur have won three on the turn, but preceded that with four consecutive league defeats.

Arsenal are five points off fourth place with over half the season remaining. It is not unthinkable that they could be part of the elite quartet when the season ends.

Yet, one day, they will miss that mark. Football’s history says that reality must catch up with a selling club eventually and that is what Arsenal have become in recent years.

An exclusive, top of the range, elite clientele, bespoke selling club, true. But a selling club nonetheless.

What they certainly do not look like is a club with anything between 40m and 70m to spend; for if they were, they wouldn’t be 10th.

Wimbledon are the real winners

Jon Otsemobor having killed AFC Wimbledon with a flippant back-heel, the supporters of Milton Keynes Dons could not resist their moment. ‘You’re not singing any more,’ they crowed.

But the true Wimbledon are still singing. And they will always sing, because even in defeat they were empowered by the knowledge that every neutral in the land was on their side.

They have suffered kicks in the teeth far crueller than an FA Cup defeat and survived. They will be back this way again.

And they will always be the real and only Dons.

Top Dons: AFC Wimbledon left Milton Keynes with their heads held high despite defeat

Top Dons: AFC Wimbledon left Milton Keynes with their heads held high despite defeat

Dance or abuse: Liam Jones in grey

Dance or abuse: Liam Jones in grey

So, are we getting the full picture

The Sunderland fan accused of making a racist gesture to West Bromwich Albion striker Romelu Lukaku issued a strong denial.

Liam Jones claimed that what was perceived as a monkey gesture was, in fact, a chicken dance.

'I'm devastated,' he said. 'I have black friends and black cousins.'

No certain judgments can be made, but, revisiting the photograph of the incident, it is possible to concede that he could have been flapping his arms, not scratching his armpits.

His elbows are out, but slightly forward, and his fingers are pointing down. Your hands go up to scratch your armpits.

We can be sure, though, that Northumbria Police will be acting on far more than a single frame image, as they have already arrested Jones on suspicion of racially aggravated intentional harassment.

And if that was the sum of the evidence, it would be ridiculous.

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT
Platini's grand plan would end up as a 64-team bunfight

There are 16 places up for grabs in the Champions League first knockout stage, and 13 are already decided. Matchday six this week is largely a glorified round of club friendlies played before disinterested crowds.

Juventus and holders Chelsea will fight over the last place in Group E; Celtic and Benfica in Group G; Galatasaray and CFR 1907 Cluj in Group H. None of these teams play each other, though, and all the action takes place on Wednesday.

Tuesday is as a good as dead. Exhibition stuff really. Squabbles over who comes first, as if that matters in a tournament in which Real Madrid, AC Milan and quite possibly Juventus will be in the runners-up pot; skirmishes over third place and the right to enter a competition that is so prestigious that UEFA are thinking of scrapping it: again.

The dreaded Europa League. Barely three years since the UEFA Cup breathed its last, UEFA president Michel Platini is checking the pulse of its replacement. Still, as ever, he has a cunning plan.

Man with not a very good plan: Michel Platini has touted merging Europe's two club competitions

Man with not a very good plan: Michel Platini has touted merging Europe's two club competitions

Expand the Champions League to 64 teams and merge the two competitions. Yes, that should get the juices flowing again. More lame ducks, more dead rubbers. A group stage that trundles on and on, like one of those freight trains in America taking forever to pass.

The problem is the Europa League is failing. Crowds are small, television interest minimal and post-Christmas brings the march of the useless in which all the third-placed teams from the Champions League are parachuted into the competition to confirm its mediocre status.

Fulham, who were charting unknown territory, had great fun in the Europa League, but the teams fielded by Liverpool this season suggest priorities elsewhere.

If any English club had a genuine chance of returning to the Champions League through league position next season, the Thursday game would be sacrificed in a heartbeat.

So what is Platini’s solution In an interview with Ouest-France newspaper, he entertained a merger, pairing the tournament that doesn’t work with the one that does, to create a giant bunfight in which a team that finished seventh in the Premier League, won the League Cup or lost the FA Cup final could potentially end up champions of Europe; or in a pool stage match with Barcelona.

Millwall, for instance, who lost 3-0 to Manchester United in the 2004 FA Cup Final, and qualified for the UEFA Cup as a result, would be there.

How would this format work Having first arrived at 64 teams through the usual summer round of preliminaries, one presumes they would split into 16 groups of four. This would then be whittled down to a further eight groups of four, before the knock-out stages begin with 16 teams, then eight, four, and eventually the two finalists.

Wise move Millwall, defeated FA Cup finalists in 2004 would have been in the Champions League

Wise move Millwall, defeated FA Cup finalists in 2004 would have been in the Champions League

That would make a total of 19 games, excluding preliminaries, up from a current campaign of 13. Maybe Platini could invent a 13th month to play it in, too.

Alternatively, the knock-out stage could start at the round of 32, meaning a group competition comprising teams so weak it would barely be worth watching (Manchester United v Hapoel Kiryat Shmona, Real Madrid v Neftci PFK), followed by an unfortunate pairing with Barcelona and then out.

Why would any elite club sign up for that It would be financial suicide.

It was Platini who turned the Europa League into a Champions League Lite, when a better solution would have been to make it wildly different, returning to the immediacy of the old knock-out format. A proper cup competition, without the safety net of group football.

Madrid, Milan, Barca, Chelsea... Neftci PFK: Merging would result in more dead rubbers and would likely discredit eventual winners

Madrid, Milan, Barca, Chelsea… Neftci PFK: Merging would result in more dead rubbers and would likely discredit eventual winners

Sadly, the Europa League, like most of Platini’s creations, was poorly conceived from the start. He isn’t very bright, this guy. He doesn’t think things through. That makes him dangerous.

His supporters say he often floats ideas, like a 64-team Champions League, to test the water – or so other people can do the hard work and point out the flaws –but that isn’t correct either.

Platini may have been answering a newspaper question but he could have, instantly, ruled out a merger.

Instead, he kept the plan alive. Some pretty half-baked schemes – financial fair play, expansion of the European Championship to 24 teams, those extra officials standing next to the goal doing nothing – have become reality this way.

For a man who played football in such a thrilling fashion, Platini comes up with plans that make for a moribund game.

Financial regulations linked to income cement in place the existing elite. An expanded European Championship is less competitive, therefore less interesting, and the same would be true of an inflated Champions League.

Just because Platini said it in a regional French newspaper does not mean his cogs are not already whirring away on a plan to pit Barcelona against AEL Limassol. He will then wonder insightfully, three years later, why nobody is watching.

Billy Sharp and partner expecting baby

Pregnancy joy for Sharp with striker's partner due to give birth after pain of losing Luey

PUBLISHED:

09:22 GMT, 19 November 2012

|

UPDATED:

09:39 GMT, 19 November 2012

Billy Sharp and his partner Jade are expecting a baby in four weeks' time as the striker continues to raise awareness of the condition which claimed the life of their son Luey.

Luey Jacob Sharp was born on Thursday, October 27 last year and passed away just two days later.

He had gastroschisis, a defect of the abdominal wall which causes the bowel to grow outside the baby’s body.

Good news: Billy Sharp and his partner Jade are expecting a baby

Good news: Billy Sharp and his partner Jade are expecting a baby

Last Wednesday in Doncaster Billy, on loan at Nottingham Forest from Southampton, and Jade held a
charity dinner for the LJS Foundation (www. ljsfoundation.org.uk).

It was a sell-out, with Sharps' old and
current team-mates mingling with Doncaster Rovers fans who just wanted
to support their former striker.

The evening raised more than 10,000 and Sharp told The Star: 'Jade and I are so grateful to everyone who attended and showed their support.

'We are overwhelmed that our first dinner for the charity has raised so much money and helped increase awareness of gastroschisis.

'It was a very emotional night for us and to see so many people backing the foundation was just fantastic.'