Tag Archives: domestic

David Beckham named by China as a global football ambassador in a bid to revive game

Save us Becks! China name PSG midfielder as a global football ambassador in a bid to revive their faltering domestic game

Olympics last year and Chinese officials expect his popularity and influence to restore the game's credibility in their country.

At a loss: David Beckham came off the bench but couldn't save PSG from a 1-0 defeat by Reims at the weekend

At a loss: David Beckham came off the bench but couldn't save PSG from a 1-0 defeat by Reims at the weekend

Game changer: David Beckham was a second-half substitute as PSG crashed to a shock defeat at Stade Reims

'2013 marks the 20th anniversary of professional football in China and the special ambassadorship of David Beckham will attract global attention to Chinese football and the CSL,' said a spokesman for the CFA.

'While in China, he will attend the CSL and visit clubs to get a deeper insight into football in China.

'He will also help us to inspire and motivate many children to participate in this beautiful game.'

Didier Drogba

Nicolas Anelka

Brief: Former Chelsea forwards Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka both quit early into their spells at Shanghai

VIDEO: Watch match highlights of Reims v PSG here…

How Sir Alex Ferguson"s bedtime habits set standards at Manchester United

How Fergie's bedtime habits set standards at Old Trafford

By
Patrick Collins

PUBLISHED:

22:23 GMT, 15 December 2012

|

UPDATED:

00:26 GMT, 16 December 2012

In more than a quarter-century of intense public scrutiny, Sir Alex Ferguson has successfully resisted every intrusion into his private life. Yesterday, in the month of his 71st birthday, he offered a glimpse of his domestic habits.

In the wake of last Sunday’s remarkable Manchester derby, he went to bed with his head spinning. ‘I just couldn’t sleep,’ he said, ‘and at about four o’clock in the morning I gave up trying, got up and watched a video of the whole of our game against Manchester City all over again.’

The tale is worth recording because it is the nearest thing to a bedroom revelation that Ferguson will ever provide. It also tells us something about the nature of a hopelessly driven man.

Driven: Man United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Driven: Man United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Carried away by the excitement of
United’s victory, it seems he found it difficult to ascertain where his
team had fallen short of his standards.

He was, therefore, left with no
alternative but to watch the entire match through the small hours of a
December night. And was it worth it Indeed it was. As he explains:
‘With the help of the video my suspicions were confirmed. In the second
half we were giving the ball away too easily.’

Try to think of another major football
manager, past or present, who might regard that as perfectly rational
behaviour and only Bill Shankly springs to mind. It was Shankly, of
course, who took his wife to watch Huddersfield Reserves on their
wedding anniversary. Truly, the west of Scotland breeds single-minded
football men.

Happy days: Ferguson celebrates victory over Man City with Patrice Evra

Happy days: Ferguson celebrates victory over Man City with Patrice Evra

I doubt that Sir Alex lost any sleep
last night, since Sunderland were dispatched with the minimum of fuss.
But he seemed perceptibly irritated by United’s lack of ruthlessness,
their failure to bury outclassed opponents in dramatic fashion after
scoring twice within the first 20 minutes.

They may be six points clear at the top but such laxity could cost them dearly on more difficult days.

He did not criticise, of course, since
that is not his way. But he did mention that Wayne Rooney ‘might have
scored four’, and his failure to do so may provoke some pertinent
questions.

That ferocious work ethic, that
refusal to be satisfied, underpins everything Ferguson has achieved in
the game. After all these years, he has achieved the status of an
institution, to the extent that a match day at Old Trafford without his
looming presence seems almost unthinkable.

His name infiltrates every
conversation along Sir Matt Busby Way. From the shop called Legends of
Fast Food, featuring portraits of Cantona, Giggs, Rooney; all men whose
names are synonymous with sausage and chips. To the stalls selling
United car stickers, baby bibs, woolly hats. To the man pleading with
the passing public to buy red and white wrist bands for 1: ‘Listen,
I’m nearly giving ’em away!’

The old North Stand is now the Sir
Alex Ferguson Stand. There is a statue which bears a passing resemblance
to somebody who looks a bit like Ferguson. At times, the whole place
takes on the appearance of a shrine to the great man.

The temptation to coast, to relax, to
bask in past glories could be considerable but it is scornfully
rejected. For the focus is always on the future, of cups and titles
still to come.

Sweet dreams: United are six points clear of City at Christmas

Sweet dreams: United are six points clear of City at Christmas

His current work is as impressive as
any he has done. The team are not remotely the equal of Ferguson’s best
United sides but they are proceeding like a runaway train. He used to
speak of the importance of being ‘in touch at Christmas’. Instead, they
are six points clear.

Mention the fact to Ferguson and his
mind flickers back some 15 years, to the season when they were
overhauled by Arsenal. Never relax, he preached. Bad things can happen.

And yet, he had seemed in high good
humour when he appeared yesterday, hurrying along with that urgent,
short-stepping stride, pausing to greet some disabled fans, signing
programmes, glad-handing all round.

By contrast, Martin O’Neill, once touted as a possible successor, slipped in almost anonymously.

For the entire 90 minutes, Ferguson
never once left his seat to storm the touchline. Goals were greeted with
an excited little clap or a satisfied grunt. Chomping relentlessly on
his gum, he concentrated intently; smiling when his side passed with
bright urgency, glowering when goals were squandered or runs went
untracked.

When it was over, he rose from his
seat, shook the hand of O’Neill and walked briskly back along the
touchline, offering the crowd six brief claps of his hands, and a
further detonation on reaching the mouth of the tunnel.

He was not satisfied, not even
particularly pleased, but that was another match over. On to the next
one, and the one after, and the one after that.

At 70, Alex Ferguson is still looking restlessly forward. Even at four o’clock on a winter’s morning.

Manchester City v Manchester United preview: Can City roll back the year? – Ian Ladyman

Can City roll back the year Unbeaten but below par so far, champions must find the swagger that clinched them title

|

UPDATED:

22:51 GMT, 7 December 2012

April 30 was the last time Manchester City beat a genuinely first-rate opponent in any competition. Sunday at the Etihad Stadium would be a good time to do it again.

Champions win big games, don’t they Not these champions. Not this year.

Since that seismic night in east Manchester towards the end of last season – when they beat Manchester United 1-0 to retake control in the Barclays Premier League title race – Roberto Mancini’s City team have come up a little short in the really important games.

Remember this City captain Vincent Kompany heads home the winner against United that set up the title win

Remember this City captain Vincent Kompany heads home the winner against United that set up the title win

Remember this City captain Vincent Kompany heads home the winner against United that set up the title win

Unbeaten in the league they remain – and that’s some feat in itself these days – but games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have passed this season without City making the sort of statement that turns heads.

‘We didn’t play any games in June, July and didn’t play much in August,’ was Mancini’s quick-witted reply when this was put to him during a noticeably relaxed press conference on Friday morning.

Deep down, though, Mancini will know that the contrasts between this season and last are stark.

A year ago, City had already won 5-1 at Tottenham, 6-1 at United and were about to win 1-0 at Arsenal. If you are to win domestic titles then, at some stage, markers need to be laid down and so far this season they have been absent.

This time, a win at West Brom and a home victory over Tottenham – both secured by late goals – is as good as it has got for Mancini.

Off the pace: City were beaten by Dortmund in midweek

Off the pace: City were beaten by Dortmund in midweek

As they prepare to meet their rivals for the first time this season, City could perhaps do with the adrenaline shot another local triumph would bring.

‘I don’t think we have the same quality this season that we showed in the first 15 games of last season,’ admitted Mancini.

‘This season we have had big problems with injuries and the year after you win a title is always more difficult.

‘We had a problem with the defence at the start of the season when we were conceding too many goals. Now we have improved that situation but we need to improve the output from our strikers. If we can start to score I think we can improve again.

‘United have also scored 10 more goals than us. Our season depends on our strikers. If we start to score like last year we will have a big chance.’

Key man: Sergio Aguero hasn't yet hit the heights of last season

Key man: Sergio Aguero hasn't yet hit the heights of last season

Almost halfway through their season as defending champions and City’s efforts – domestically at least – are certainly worthy of a ‘B’ grade. United, playing catch-up after the heartbreak of last season, perhaps deserve about the same.

One can’t escape the feeling, though, that it is City who head into Sunday’s game with something to prove, as much to themselves as everybody else. Only occasionally this season have Mancini’s team played with the authoritative strut of champions.

It has, it must be said, all been rather patchy, and patchy doesn’t win you titles.

‘We’ve beaten Tottenham this season,’ said Mancini. ‘We did well in drawing at Chelsea, when all we were missing was a goal, and against Arsenal we deserved to win. They scored in the last 10 minutes.

‘When you consider all the problems we have had since the start of the season, I think it is a good thing that we are only three points behind United.’

Highlight: City beat Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium last month

Highlight: City beat Tottenham at the Etihad Stadium last month

Certainly, it is hard to disagree with Mancini’s last point. Despite the fuss surrounding the club this season – some warranted and some not – City remain very much in the thick of things and the improvement that must surely come may yet sweep them past their neighbours and off towards the horizon.

Across town – or literally over the fence when it comes to the clubs’ training grounds – United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was understated on Friday.

It is often the way when he looks at the league table and sees that things are moving his way.

Nevertheless, despite being three points clear at the top of the Premier League after 15 games, Ferguson’s team cannot defend at the moment, and this is something that could trouble them if City do manage to find some kind of rhythm on Sunday.

Defensive woes: United conceded three at the Madejski Stadium last weekend

Defensive woes: United conceded three at the Madejski Stadium last weekend

As Sir Bobby Charlton points out in these pages, City do present United with a problem when it comes to the physical strength of their side. It is clear that players such as Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure will be important at both ends of the field.

Ferguson may yet be tempted to throw fit-again central defender Nemanja Vidic back into the fray after a knee injury as he looks to bring some beef to the heart of United’s back line.

He must also hope for improvement from his goalkeeper, though, whichever one he decides to pick.
Ahead of this game, United appear to have a slight edge and a better mindset. But that can change quickly.

A proper City performance may once again change the landscape.

Leeds and a Tory party activist, a disappearing website and a 52m takeover: Nick Harris

The Tory party activist, a disappearing website and the 52m takeover of Leeds United

By
Nick Harris

PUBLISHED:

00:00 GMT, 2 December 2012

|

UPDATED:

10:16 GMT, 2 December 2012

Mystery surrounding the proposed
takeover of Leeds United by Dubai-based GFH Capital deepened last week —
and that will cause alarm among fans of the famous old club.

First, the front man for the bid, a
Conservative party activist called David Haigh, declined to answer a
series of questions from Inside Sport about both the deal and his own
background.

Then Haigh’s personal website, which
included an outline of his career and business activities since his
first job as a reporter on The Cornishman newspaper ‘at the age of 13’,
was taken offline and the website’s registration details were withdrawn
from public scrutiny.

Haigh is deputy chief executive and
chief operating officer of GFH Capital but his involvement in the Leeds
takeover has baffled some observers, and while sections of the club’s
huge following have welcomed the apparent prospect of Gulf money being
poured into Neil Warnock’s side, others have questioned the degree of
transparency surrounding GFH Capital’s purchase of current owner Ken
Bates’s 49 per cent shareholding.

Front-man: David Haigh, the Tory activist involved the a Leeds buy-out

Front-man: David Haigh, the Tory
activist involved the a Leeds buy-out

Leeds, a club renowned for their glory
days under Don Revie and a period under David O’Leary when they reached
the 2001 Champions League semi-finals, dropped to the third tier of
domestic football for the first time in their history in 2007 before
rising back to the Championship three years later.

Supporters desperate for a return to
the Premier League say they are fed up with a perceived lack of clarity
over the takeover by GFH Capital, who expect to take full ownership of
Leeds on December 21. ‘This has been going on for seven months and there
are many more questions than answers,’ said Gary Cooper, chairman of
the 8,500-strong Leeds United Supporters Trust. ‘We have concerns that
are not being addressed.’

Haigh, 35 and a lawyer who grew up in
Cornwall, has claimed to be a lifelong Leeds fan (his parents are from
the city) but had never tweeted about the club before July. At least one
tweet from last year, celebrating success by Leeds’ bitter rivals,
Manchester United, was later deleted from his Twitter account.

The replacement last week of his
personal website, davidhaigh.co.uk, by a ‘holding page’ came after
Inside Sport asked for clarification over claims made on the site.

One article posted there and dated May
21 reported that Haigh had been nominated for a ‘General Counsel of the
Year’ award for a ‘successful’ $75m bid for a Turkish bank. The same
article failed to say that another lawyer had already won the award and
that Haigh’s bid for the bank had actually failed.

Until last week, a simple online
check revealed that Haigh’s website was registered to him as an
individual, via an address in Camden, north London, where a company
called Prime Secretarial act as a postbox for personal and business
mail.

Before: David Haigh

Now you see it… Haigh's website, before Inside Sport's questions (above) and as
it looks now (below)

And after: David Haigh

And after: David Haigh

But as Inside Sport sought more
information about Haigh and GFH Capital, details of where the website is
registered were removed from public view. A spokesman for Haigh said
the disappearance of his personal website was ‘entirely coincidental’
and was a result of it undergoing renovation.

The website for GFH Capital — owned by
a Bahrain parent company, Gulf Finance House, who boast of billions of
dollars of deals since 1999 — is also registered to Haigh as an
individual and with the same address in Camden as his personal website.

More from Nick Harris…

Liverpool 1 Southampton 0: Suarez frustrates but Reds begin to punch their weight
01/12/12

Guardiola would prefer United job as former Barca boss fears reckless Roman at Chelsea
24/11/12

Manchester United 3 QPR 1: Redknapp watches Rangers throw it away as Fletcher scores on league comeback
24/11/12

Liverpool 3 Wigan 0: Deadly Suarez makes the difference again
17/11/12

Just when Chelsea thought it couldn't get any worse … they lose their top spot to United
03/11/12

Race-row ref Clattenburg was 'uncomfortable' over Chelsea's visit to officials' room
03/11/12

Swansea 1 Chelsea 1: Hernandez seals point for Swans to keep Blues off the top
03/11/12

Sky stare into the abyss as more senior staff look set to leave
27/10/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Haigh has close ties to the Conservative Party as vice-chairman of ‘Gulf Tories’, an association of expatriate Conservatives. He once stood in local elections for the Conservatives in London, polling 4.7 per cent of the vote to come ninth out of 13 candidates in Oval ward in 2006. He then emigrated to Dubai, from where he is spearheading GFH Capital’s buy-out of Leeds United.

When the deal is completed in 19 days’ time, full ownership will switch to a Cayman Islands-based firm owned by GFH Capital, who have agreed to buy Bates’s 49 per cent shareholding, plus the 18 per cent held by minor shareholders. That will add to the 33 per cent holding GFH Capital have already acquired.

A spokesman for Haigh said he did not want to comment on how much GFH Capital have agreed to pay for Leeds, although it has been reported to be 52million. The deal does not involve buying either Leeds’ famous Elland Road stadium or their Thorp Arch training ground, both of which are owned by a company called Teak Trading, who are based in the British Virgin Islands. Haigh’s spokesman said GFH Capital plan to buy Elland Road ‘at some stage’ but he could not say when.

GFH Capital’s original plan was, according to reports, to buy Leeds and sever ties with Bates but Bates will now remain as chairman until the end of the season and then become honorary life president.

No tin the deal: Elland Road is not included as part of the 52m takeover

No tin the deal: Elland Road is not included as part of the 52m takeover

Asked how GFH Capital intend to run a football club with no prior experience in the sector, Haigh’s spokesman said Leeds’s chief executive, Shaun Harvey, is experienced and is expected to stay, and that Bates ‘has a lot of experience running football clubs’.

Supporters Trust chairman Cooper said: ‘It is resoundingly clear that our members don’t want Leeds to continue our association with Ken Bates, under whose ownership the club fell to our lowest league position ever [bottom of League One for a period during 2007-08]. GFH Capital need to understand that, and that people are staying away because of it, and that our attendances are dwindling to the point where you wonder about potential cash-flow problems. We just want some answers.’

GFH Capital have a Twitter account on which they boasted on November 11: ‘GFH Capital team have led a number of large scale transactions in the sports sector (and) see sport as a key focus of GFH Capital going forward.’

Asked to cite examples of these ‘large scale transactions’, Haigh’s spokesman said the firm had sponsored Bahraini GP2 racing driver Hamad Al Fardan and the building of the Um Al Hassam stadium in Bahrain.

There is no record of Al Fardan competing since 2009 and the Um Al Hassam ‘stadium’ is, according to local sources, a municipal leisure complex.

Cricket stars in image rights probe by taxman

Tax officials are investigating some of England’s leading county cricket clubs over their alleged use of image rights payments to help players pay less tax.

By labelling payments as image rights rather than salaries, cash can be paid to companies owned by players and often based offshore. Such payments are then subject to corporation tax at 24 per cent rather than higher-rate income tax of 45 per cent.

HMRC are investigating whether such payments are appropriate in all cases, and the players’ union, the Professional Cricketers’ Association, admit that there may be problems ahead.

Ian Smith, the PCA’s legal director, said: ‘There are lots of genuine image rights contracts in the game. Surrey, Yorkshire, Essex and Middlesex are among counties that use image rights. However, it has become clear that the use of image rights is far more widespread than was originally thought and issues have arisen. There are a number of HMRC investigations going on with counties that are looking into players’ contracts.’

Surrey have image rights contracts with three current players and 15 have enjoyed such contracts over the last five years. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing at the county and officials say HMRC have not approached The Oval-based club.

Nick Harris: 5.5bn TV pays to screen Premier League

5.5bn: The staggering sum TV companies around the world will pay to screen the Premier League

PUBLISHED:

22:01 GMT, 24 November 2012

|

UPDATED:

22:01 GMT, 24 November 2012

One of the world's poorest countries,
Burma, where workers earn an average of just 819 a year, has splashed
out 25million to buy the rights to show Premier League football on
television.

With Burma's current TV contract
worth a mere 200,000 over three years, the new deal represents an
astonishing 12,400 per cent hike in rights fees.

The deal, involving a pay-TV company
called Sky Net, is just one example of the extraordinarily successful
way the Premier League have sold their worldwide broadcasting rights for
2013-2016.

Star of Africa: Manchester City's Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure

Star of Africa: Manchester City's Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure

In the last round of overseas rights sales, for 2010-13, the League earned 1.437bn from all foreign broadcasters combined.

But overseas deals for 2013-16 will
surge past 2bn in value, which, when added to domestic deals for live
rights (3bn from Sky and BT), Match of the Day highlights (178m from
the BBC) and near-live rights and internet rights (still to be sold),
means the League will earn a mouthwatering 5.5bn from broadcasting
during that three-season period.

More from Nick Harris…

Nick Harris: 2012 heroes miss out on Christmas books bonanza
17/11/12

Nick Harris: Another blow for Wiggins as his throne fails to sell
10/11/12

Nick Harris: Olympic chiefs told athletes to cash in and charge 10,000 for appearances
03/11/12

Nick Harris: United to top rich league again with half a billion
27/10/12

Nick Harris: 1.3m Olympic 'freebies' to blame for those empty seats
20/10/12

Nick Harris: Grounds for complaint in World Cup venue 'cock-up'
13/10/12

Nick Harris: Kean turned his back on 14.9m Blackburn deal
06/10/12

Nick Harris: Players union pledges help for gay footballers
15/09/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

That money, less the League's running costs, will be shared out among the 20 clubs who make up the top tier of English football.

And when the new deals kick in next
season, even the club who end up bottom of the Premier League in 2014
will receive a 60m payout from the TV money, while the champions will
pocket 100m.

The Premier League's success in selling their product around the world has already put them on top of football's global earners, and this new deal will widen the gap on their closest rivals.

While the Premier League currently pulls in 479m a year from overseas broadcasting, La Liga in Spain get 132m, Italy's Serie A 74m and Germany's Bundesliga just 50m.

The willingness of broadcasters in Burma and elsewhere to spend increasingly large sums to buy the Premier League rights reflects the confidence of companies such as Sky Net, who are unrelated to domestic rights holder BSkyB, that they can find enough customers to subscribe to pay-TV channels carrying Premier League action.

While Burma has been ruled by a military junta since 1962, when Ipswich Town were League champions under Alf Ramsey's managership, the country, now also known as Myanmar, is undergoing a slow and painful transition towards democracy.

Official data from the World Bank places Burma at 164th out of 185 nations in their wealth table, with almost all the poorer nations being in Africa.

But Sky Net believe the economy is becoming sufficiently liberal and that there are now enough wealthy football fans there that they will easily recoup their investment of around 8m per year in a country with a population of 60m, roughly the same as that of Britain.

Who pays what: TV

Burma may represent the biggest percentage hike in rights values but there are numerous examples of other markets booming this time.

In Thailand, a company called Cable Thai Holdings have done a 202m deal for 2013-16, a 432 per cent increase on the 38m paid for 2010- 13. Rights values have also leapt, among other places, in India (up 225 per cent from 28m to 91m), Vietnam (up 249 per cent from 6.3m to 22m) and Indonesia, doubling from 25m to 50m.

Other Asia markets, notable Singapore and Hong Kong, were already hugely lucrative and worth between 150m and 200m for the three years to 2013.

New deals have retained the value if not increased it in those places, while Japan and Korea have seen increased deals but not on the scale of some neighbours.

Uniquely in China, the Premier League have sold the rights on a six-year basis from 2013, not a three-year deal.

This is to allow for long-term development of a key market that has been traditionally hard to crack.

On the other side of the world, in the United States, rights values have soared as NBC thrashed rival bidders to win the 2013-16 rights for 157m, or almost four times the amount paid by Fox for 2010-13.

Across the Americas and Central America combined, the League will earn around 240m from 2013, or four times the 60m currently.

The last set of deals to be done are in Europe, where only Scandinavian rights have been sold, for 162m, up from 111m last time.

Much of the rest of Europe is expected to show flat or small growth. But the total pot will still be enormous.

Olympic stars missing from BBC shortlist

After last year's controversy over the absence of women on the shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year, the arguments this year are raging over the big names missing when the 12-strong list is announced on the One Show on Monday.

Golden girl: Laura Trott missing from list

Golden girl: Laura Trott missing from list

Nobody from the country's three main sports will feature after a poor year for Britain's footballers, cricketers and rugby players.

But in the afterglow of London 2012, the final dozen will inevitably be dominated by Olympic and Paralympic heroes.

Even so, a glut of cycling contenders means one or more of Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott and Sarah Storey will not make the 12, and there has been much debate over the appropriate mix of Olympic and Paralympic contenders.

If Paralympic stars Jonnie Peacock, David Weir and Ellie Simmonds are all included, others, such as Ben Ainslie, Kat Grainger, Alastair Brownlee, Greg Rutherford or Nicola Adams, must make way.

The 12-person selection panel, headed by BBC Director of Sport Barbara Slater, have ensured a decent mix of genders and sports but the only four 'absolute banker' names on the shortlist are hot favourite Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah, Andy Murray and Jess Ennis.

Murray will not attend the show on December 16 but the BBC will have a live feed to his winter training base in Miami.

Golfers Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy may not make the 12 as they will inevitably be honoured in the Team of the Year award for Europe's Ryder Cup win.

Flying high: Sir Alex Ferguson flew back with supporters

Flying high: Sir Alex Ferguson flew back with supporters

Sir Alex has the common touch

Proof that Sir Alex Ferguson has not lost his common touch came when he flew home from Turkey in midweek on a fans' charter, and took to the public address to thank supporters for travelling to the 1-0 defeat at Galatasaray.

Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton hitched a ride back on Tuesday night, rather than return on Manchester United's plane on Wednesday, to make sure they were back for the funeral of former Old Trafford winger Kenny Morgans, a survivor of the Munich air crash, who died last weekend in South Wales at the age of 73.

Premier League is best in Europe – Arsene Wenger

City are out and Chelsea are on the brink… but Wenger insists Premier League rules Europe

|

UPDATED:

23:46 GMT, 22 November 2012

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger maintains the Barclays Premier League is still Europe's top domestic competition.

The Gunners joined Manchester United in the last 16 of the Champions League after they beat Montpellier 2-0 at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.

However, holders Chelsea – now under new interim manager Rafael Benitez – have seen qualification taken out of their hands after losing at Juventus, while English champions Manchester City failed to progress to the knockout stages for the second season running.

Easy does it: Arsenal cruised through to the last 16 of the Champions League

Easy does it: Arsenal cruised through to the last 16 of the Champions League

Elsewhere, both Germany and Spain have all of their representatives safely through.

Wenger accepts the other leagues have raised standards in Europe, but insists England remains the place to be.

'I would still say England is the strongest, because in England if they (clubs) want a player, they still get him.

'As long as that happens you will be the most powerful in Europe.'

Pressed on whether the Premier League topped La Liga, Wenger continued: 'England is the best, because there's something more here.

'It is not only linked with what you see on the pitch, but how you experience football. That is what I believe deeply, and when I speak to the players they say exactly the same.'

Only Real Madrid, with 16 consecutive years, can better the Gunners' European run of progression from the opening group phase in each of the past 13 seasons.

Crashing out: Manchester City failed to progress for the second year

Crashing out: Manchester City failed to progress for the second year

However, Wenger is conscious of the improvements of other nations such as Germany, where last season's runners-up Bayern Munich have been joined in the knockout stages already by Schalke, who top Arsenal's group, and Borussia Dortmund.

'Maybe we have less room, less margin than we had before when it was just a question of when we would qualify,' he said.

'Now German football has come up, Spanish football is there every year and some French clubs have come back like Paris Saint-Germain. It looks less obvious for us.

'I don't think we are getting worse. Manchester City has gone out, but you can objectively say they were in a difficult group and they are still a good side as they are top of the Premier League.'

Arsenal head to Aston Villa for Saturday's early evening kick-off, with Wenger feeling his side have shown green shoots of recovery following some inconsistent displays after the October international break.

On the verge: Chelsea's hopes hang by a thread after defeat to Juventus

On the verge: Chelsea's hopes hang by a thread after defeat to Juventus

'I hope we are over it. It is only coming with results,” he said. “We were deeply shocked when we lost at Norwich, but since we have seen that they can beat other teams as well.

'I hope now we will be back to our normal level of confidence.'

England winger Theo Walcott will miss the trip to Villa Park with a shoulder injury, although he should return to the squad at Everton next Wednesday.
Wenger believes if the 23-year-old is to agree a new deal, he should do so sooner rather than later.

He added: 'It is important for our squad as well that Theo is completely committed. I do not doubt it, but as well at some stage it has to be concrete.'

David Beckham: No PSG offer, says Carlo Ancelotti

Non merci, Beckham! PSG chief Ancelotti denies move for outgoing LA Galaxy ace

PUBLISHED:

19:30 GMT, 20 November 2012

|

UPDATED:

19:52 GMT, 20 November 2012

Paris Saint-Germain have denied making an offer for David Beckham.

The former England captain has been linked with a move to the mega-rich French side after announcing he's leaving LA Galaxy next month.

But manager Carlo Ancelotti has denied interest in Beckham.

Bend it like Beckham: PSG have denied interest in the LA Galaxy star

Bend it like Beckham: PSG have denied interest in the LA Galaxy star

No move: Ancelotti has denied making an approach for Beckham whom he worked alongside at AC Milan

No move: Ancelotti has denied making an approach for Beckham whom he worked alongside at AC Milan

The former Chelsea manager said on Tuesday: 'We haven't made an offer, good luck to him.'

PSG have emerged as the early frontrunners for Beckham's signature.

Speculation surrounding his next move is already gathering pace and Ancelotti – who worked with Beckham at AC Milan in 2009 – was thought to be keen to reignite a bid for the midfielder's services after he turned down a move to the French capital last year.

David Beckham

Time's up: Beckham wants to 'experience one last challenge' before hanging up his boots

Where next for Becks

Australia

The A-League are desperate for more high-profile signings to follow the likes of Emile Heskey and Alessandro Del Piero. Seven of the 10 top-flight clubs have been linked with the midfielder.

Brazil

The Becks factor would be a massive PR boost in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup finals and the 2016 Olympic Games.

China

Another country looking to promote their domestic competition. The signings of Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba show they mean business.

Paris St Germain

The money-bags French club thought they had signed Beckham 12 months ago after agreeing to pay him 670,000 a month but the deal was never signed.

New York

Becks may decide to stay in America so his wife can pursue her fashion career. Their three sons are also settled in America.
so his wife can pursue her fashion career

Leyton Orient

Could his last challenge be to try and take his hometown club to the Premier League

The 37-year-old is in line to end his six-year Galaxy stay in style as they defend their title against the Houston Dynamo on December 1 before seeking to extend his playing career elsewhere.

He told the Major League Soccer website: 'I've had an incredibly special time playing for the LA Galaxy, however, I wanted to experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career.'

Although Beckham had an option on his contract, signed in January, for another year with the Galaxy, his decision to leave is no great surprise.

Football Federation Australia last week claimed they had been approached by the former Real Madrid and Manchester United star's camp with a view to the player spending a short stint in the A-League, though his spokesman described that as 'rubbish'.

Perth Glory – one of the clubs to express an interest when the links with Beckham going Down Under first emerged – were quick to go public again this morning, tweeting: 'David Beckham has confirmed the MLS Cup final will be his last game for the Galaxy. The race is on.'

Melbourne Heart have also confirmed they will try to lure Beckham to the A-League club. Chief executive Scott Munn said the club planned to offer the midfielder a 10 week contract worth around 1million but they faced competition from Perth Glory plus others from around the world.

Munn told Fox News: 'We're putting forward an offer, it's compelling and the opportunity is here for him to come here. 'That is absolutely legitimate. Let's let David get through next week, play the final of the MLS and hopefully he'll have a win. Then I'm sure he'll assess every offer.'

China, the United Arab Emirates, Paris, England and even Brazil have been mentioned as potential destinations but wherever he goes, it will bring to an end an eventful career in MLS which saw the midfielder become the face of a new era for the sport in North America.

North London derby – the best of recent history

Goals, goals, goals! Sportsmail looks back on a London derby date that rarely disappoints

|

UPDATED:

17:08 GMT, 16 November 2012

Arsenal host Tottenham in one of the most eagerly-anticipated fixtures in the domestic calendar tomorrow – the north London derby. It rarely disappoints.

Since Tottenham ended a run of more than a decade without a win against their fierce rivals, no-one has managed to lay claim to being the dominant force.

And you can almost always guarantee goals, goals, goals. IN the last two seasons alone, there have been 26 goals spread across five meetings, and in two of those the team who led 2-0 went on to lose.

So Sportmail cast their mind back over the last 20 years and picks out the most memorable North London derbies. And we don't even have space the not-so-memorable but enormously significant meeting at White Hart Lane in 2004, when Arsenal secured the point needed to claim the title.

February 26, 2012 – Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2

Where better to start than last season's clash at the Emirates Stadium.

Bragging rights: Arsenal produced a stunning comeback in the last meeting

Bragging rights: Arsenal produced a stunning comeback in the last meeting

Bragging rights: Arsenal produced a stunning comeback in the last meeting

Bragging rights: Arsenal produced a stunning comeback in the last meeting

Tottenham, brimming with confidence after a run of excellent form under Harry Redknapp, swaggered on to the pitch and went 2-0 up thanks to a deflected Louis Saha strike and penalty from former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor.

Things soon started to unravel for Redknapp's men, however. Bacary Sagna and Robin van Persie took just eight minutes to make it 2-2 and the floodgates then opened in the second half.

Tomas Rosicky's strike and a brace from Theo Walcott gave the Gunners a three-goal cushion and Spurs were lucky that the margin of defeat remained at three as Arsenal romped home to victory.

Cup kings: Paul Gascoigne orchestrated a stunning FA Cup semi-final win at Wembley

Cup kings: Paul Gascoigne orchestrated a stunning FA Cup semi-final win at Wembley

April 14, 1991 – Tottenham 3 Arsenal 1

Already crowned champions after losing just one match all season, Arsenal went in to the first FA Cup semi-final between the two teams as clear favourites.

Paul Gascoigne had other ideas, however. Despite having just undergone a double hernia operation, the midfielder put on one of the most outstanding performances of his glittering career. He clipped a wonderful 30-yard free-kick beyond David Seaman to put Spurs ahead before Gary Lineker doubled the lead.

Alan Smith pulled Arsenal back in the game but Lineker scored again to seal Tottenham's progress to the final, which they won after beating Nottingham Forest in extra-time.

November 20, 2010 – Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham

Spurs had failed to win at Arsenal for 17 years, but the away team that turned up at the Emirates two years ago were clearly cut from a different cloth.

Fresh from having trounced Inter Milan at White Hart Lane, Tottenham headed in to the meeting in Islington full of confidence, but they soon found themselves 2-0 down, with Marouane Chamakh and Samir Nasri both on target.

Comeback: Younes Kaboul scored the winning goal in Tottenham's first win over the Gunners in N5 for more than 17 years

Comeback: Younes Kaboul scored the winning goal in Tottenham's first win over the Gunners in N5 for more than 17 years

Redknapp's words of wisdom ensured that Spurs came out a completely different team in the second half, however. Gareth Bale's fine finish put Tottenham on the path to recovery and Rafael van der Vaart scored from the penalty spot after Cesc Fabregas' handball.

Then with five minutes to go Younes Kaboul glanced home Van der Vaart's free-kick to give Tottenham the spoils.

October 29, 2008 – Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham

Having inherited a team in the relegation zone, Redknapp may have expected a drubbing in his first game in charge, but his team took the lead with one of the greatest goals in the history of the derby – a 35-yard looping volley from David Bentley.

Arsenal hit back with a vengeance, with William Gallas, Emmanuel Adebayor and Mikael Silvestre all finding the target to give the hosts a two-goal cushion. The game was not over for Redknapp's men, though as Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon scored in the final two minutes to level the scores.

Stunner: David Bentley scored one of the best North London derby goals

Stunner: David Bentley scored one of the best North London derby goals

November 13, 2004 – Tottenham 4-5 Arsenal

Martin Jol was probably wondering what he got himself in for after this – his first league game since taking over from Jacques Santini.

The highest-scoring north London derby in history began with Noureddine Naybet scoring his first – and last – goal in a Spurs shirt, but Thierry Henry equalised on the stroke of half-time.

Lauren's penalty and Patrick Vieira's strike put the Gunners ahead, only for Jermain Defoe to pull one back for the hosts.

Freddie Ljungberg and Ledley King were both on target before Freddie Kanoute set up a tense finale by scoring two minutes from time. Spurs threw everything at the visitors, but they could not find an equaliser and Arsenal claimed victory.

Spurs MUST finish above Arsenal – Andre Villas-Boas

Spurs MUST finish above Arsenal… and what better way to tip the balance of power than by storming the Emirates, roars AVB

|

UPDATED:

18:53 GMT, 15 November 2012

Andre Villas-Boas has no doubt that his Tottenham team can end 18 years of hurt by finishing above Arsenal this season.

Tottenham travel to Arsenal on Saturday for one of the most eagerly-anticipated fixtures in the domestic calendar – the north London derby.

Spurs have not finished above their bitter rivals in the Barclays Premier League since Gerry Francis was in charge of the club in the 1994-95 season.

Scroll down for video

Derby day: Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham travel to Arsenal on Saturday

Derby day: Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham travel to Arsenal on Saturday

Since that year Arsenal have won seven major trophies and reached a Champions League final while Tottenham have struggled to keep pace with their rivals.

The last two years have seen Spurs mount something of a comeback, however.

Last season under Harry Redknapp the club held a 10-point advantage over Arsenal at the end of February until a spring collapse allowed Arsene Wenger's men to clinch third spot.

But with Arsenal currently struggling in the league, and Villas-Boas exuding confidence, the Portuguese sees no reason why this cannot be the year where the balance of power in north London finally shifts.

'We have to (finish above Arsenal),' Villas-Boas told a press conference. 'It is possible to bridge the gap. We are looking at trying to shorten the gap and not letting it grow.

'To play for fourth spot is difficult bearing in mind the competition you have to overcome. It's possible to bridge it.

'Arsenal have won trophies in recent times and they have qualified for the Champions League more often. That is where we want to be in the future. We're getting nearer.'

Villas-Boas got his first taste of a London derby last season when his Chelsea team faced QPR and Fulham.

But the narrow gap between the two teams in terms of their league position – Spurs are one point and one position above Arsenal, who are in eighth – and the quality of their respective squads makes this a much more meaningful fixture.

Last season Spurs and Arsenal served up one of the most memorable north London derbies in history when the Gunners fell 2-0 behind at the Emirates Stadium before staging a remarkable comeback that saw them emerge with a 5-2 victory.

Villas-Boas has been left in no doubt as to the importance of the fixture.

'I have been getting it for the last two weeks, people have been speaking about it quite often – the staff, the fans and the chairman,' the 35-year-old said.

'This is a game where passion is very high, it's a game that represents more than three points because of the history of north London derbies.

'The chairman keeps on mentioning it. I think it's normal. You really have to embrace it because it's part of the greater culture of the English game. You can't wear red at this training ground.'

Some have suggested that Tottenham will have no better chance of beating their arch rivals given the Gunners' poor start to the season.

Poor start: Arsenal have looked a shadow of their former selves this season

Poor start: Arsenal have looked a shadow of their former selves this season

Wenger's men conceded five against Reading, lost to Norwich and scraped a draw against Fulham last week, leaving them 11 points off the top of the table.

Villas-Boas does not subscribe to the theory that Arsenal are in free fall under Wenger, however.

'Their position (in the league) is completely irrelevant,' he said. 'Last season they had a poor start and managed to clinch third spot by picking up points. You drop three points, you are condemned.
“This is the nature of the Premier League.'

Spurs' chances of victory took a hit today when Villas-Boas confirmed Mousa Dembele will miss Saturday's game with the niggling hip problem that has sidelined him for the last seven games.

There was more encouraging news, however, regarding Aaron Lennon, who suffered a hamstring injury in last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Manchester City.

'Lennon had a scan yesterday and his hamstring is fine,' Villas-Boas said.

The Portuguese does have doubts over Kyle Walker and Jermain Defoe, who also suffered hamstring injuries against City.

'We will have to wait and see (if they recover),' he added. 'They have trained separately this week.'

VIDEO: Villas-Boas Press conference ahead of the Arsenal game

DM.has('rcpv1971796062001','BCVideo');

Celtic 5 St Johnstone 0 match report: Kris Commons hat-trick helps Bhoys into League Cup semi-finals

Celtic 5 St Johnstone 0: Lennon gets an explosive response as Bhoys rise to the bait

|

UPDATED:

00:10 GMT, 31 October 2012

Neil Lennon lit the fuse on Sunday. Here, he was able to step back and watch the fireworks at Celtic Park.

The Parkhead boss had left his players in no doubt about his fury after Saturday’s dismal 2-0 home defeat from Kilmarnock, delivering a blistering address when he gathered them together 24 hours later.

The message was clear. If there was any more sloppiness or complacency when dealing with domestic business then the perpetrators could prepare for a stint in the stand.

Kris is more like it: Commons slams home the second-half penalty which completed his hat-trick

Kris is more like it: Commons slams home the second-half penalty which completed his hat-trick

Match facts

Celtic: Forster, Lustig, Ambrose (McCourt 71), Wilson, Izaguirre, Commons, Brown (Matthews 64), Wanyama, Ledley, Hooper (Mulgrew 46),
Watt. Subs not used: Zaluska, Kayal.

Booked: Watt, Ambrose, Lustig.

Goals: Commons 28, 32, Hooper 38, Commons 57 (pen), Mulgrew 61.

St Johnstone: Mannus, Miller, Anderson, McCracken, MacKay, Millar, Murray Davidson (Robertson 64), Moon, Craig, Vine (MacLean 46), Tade (Hasselbaink 74). Subs not used: Tuffey, Scobbie.

Booked: MacKay, Anderson, Miller, Hasselbaink.

Att: 14,399.

Ref: Bobby Madden.

Click for all the latest SPL stats, tables and fixtures

It’s safe to say the warning was
heeded. A strong Celtic line-up — showing five changes from the weekend —
simply decimated St Johnstone to march into the semi-finals of the
League Cup. This was decisiveness in action.

Kris Commons led the way with a
clinical display of attacking prowess. The winger unquestionably scored
twice and laid claim to a hat-trick after his strike was deflected in by
Liam Craig for the opener. Gary Hooper and Charlie Mulgrew also placed
their names on a scoresheet which could have witnessed even more
entries.

The Perth side had defeated Celtic
2-1 at McDiarmid Park six weeks ago and were also the last Scottish team
to win at Parkhead prior to last weekend. Yet any hope was swiftly shot
down.

Celtic entered the match with
Lennon’s words ringing in the ears and with the additional motivation of
taking a step closer to the only domestic trophy missing under their
manager’s command. Two successive defeats in the final have left a
bitter taste they are determined to wash away this term.

Dejection: St Johnstone keeper Alan Mannus

Dejection: St Johnstone keeper Alan Mannus reflects on a hard night

The fans, however, remain less
stirred by this competition. The night before Hallowe’en, there was a
vaguely ghostly atmosphere about Parkhead, with the top tier closed and a
crowd of just 14,399 spread around the other seats.

Yet St Johnstone were unable to
capitalise on the lack of intimidation from the stands. Boss Steve Lomas
celebrates his first anniversary in charge this weekend and the
previous 12 months can rarely have delivered such a brutal defeat.

For all that Celtic were excellent in
much of their attacking play, Lomas would have cringed at some of the
efforts to keep them at bay.

It was no surprise to see Lennon make
sweeping alterations to his starting line-up after being left dismayed
by the plunge in performance levels at the weekend.

Out went Adam Matthews, James
Forrest, Beram Kayal, Mulgrew and Miku. In came Mikael Lustig, Scott
Brown, Victor Wanyama, Tony Watt and Hooper. There could be no question
about how seriously the Celtic manager was taking the tie.

Goal machine: Gary Hooper was on the scoresheet once again

Goal machine: Gary Hooper was on the scoresheet once again

Lennon was seeking a greater urgency
than witnessed in their feeble efforts against Killie and certain
individuals immediately answered the call.

Captain Brown always injects an
additional drive to the side and, stationed wide right in midfield, he
looked determined to raise the tempo whenever possible.

One nimble hurdle of Dave MacKay’s
sliding challenge took him into the penalty area, where his cutback was
forced behind by a desperate lunge from Saints centre-half David
McCracken.

Commons then smacked in a low effort
that squirted off goalkeeper Alan Mannus, before Lustig cut a neat pass
to Hooper for the striker to send a snapshot narrowly wide.

Celtic were clearly the dominant
side, yet there was a flicker of concern when Efe Ambrose reprised some
of the sloppiness that pockmarked his performance on Saturday.

The Nigerian over-ran the ball to concede possession to Kevin Moon, who promptly released Liam Craig on the left flank.

With Lennon glaring from the touchline, Ambrose was mightily relieved when a dangerous delivery was eventually cleared.

Crisp strike: Charlie Mulgrew unleashes Celtic's fifth

Crisp strike: Charlie Mulgrew unleashes Celtic's fifth

In truth, however, that was only the
briefest of deviations in a one-way first half. It seemed only a matter
of time before Celtic scored, but Commons took it upon himself to speed
up the process.

The Scotland winger seemed locked in a
one-man mission to torment Mannus as he peppered his goalmouth from
distance before enjoying a slice of good fortune when finally forcing
the opener after 28 minutes. He teased Dave Mackay on the fringe of the
area to engineer enough space to fizz in a right-footed cross-shot that
was diverted into the net by the outstretched foot of Craig.

It took only four minutes for
Commons to double the advantage. Brown fed Lustig down the left and his
clever low cross was gathered by Hooper around 20 yards from goal. He
slipped a through ball for Commons and an angled finish gave Mannus no
hope.

St Johnstone appealed in vain for an offside flag, with captain Mackay venting his anger at assistant referee Alan Mulvanney.

Steven Anderson then cleared a Lustig
header off the line as Celtic continued to rampage forward at will.
That, however, only served to delay a third goal until the 39th minute.
Again, the outstanding Commons was heavily involved as he sprinted free
on the left to deliver a pinpoint centre that was swept into the net by
the grateful Hooper. St Johnstone looked punch-drunk.

Improved performance: Neil Lennon demanded more from his players - and he got it

Improved performance: Neil Lennon demanded more from his players – and he got it

The interval would have come as a
blessed relief to Lomas and his players, but both sides were changed
when they reappeared for the second period.

Saints withdrew Rowan Vine to
introduce Steven MacLean, while Mulgrew replaced Hooper. Mulgrew took up
a role wide on the left, allowing Commons to move closer to central
striker Watt.

The switches did nothing to alter the
flow of proceedings. One fine run by Gregory Tade caused a degree of
panic in the home defence, but that was nothing compared to the disarray
in the Saints backline.

They fell further behind after 56
minutes when Anderson was penalised for tugging back Watt as he turned
to control a Mulgrew cross. Commons drilled in the spot-kick with
minimum of fuss to spark debate about whether or not he had actually
claimed a treble.

Five minutes later, it was 5-0. Watt
drifted wide right to angle in a cross that was brushed away by the
diving Mannus but gathered by Mulgrew at the far post.

For what seemed like an eternity, he
twisted this way and that against Gary Miller before eventually
whipping a left-foot shot into the net. Mulgrew’s composure was
admirable but the defending he faced was pitiful.

Fraser Forster had been a bystander
for so much of the evening but produced late saves from substitutes
David Robertson and Nigel Hasselbaink to set the seal on a satisfying
recovery mission for Celtic.