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Rio Ferdinand to the rescue: Should Roy Hodgson name Manchester United defender in England squad

Rio to the rescue: Is it time for Roy to bring back Ferdinand for England Keown, Redknapp and Sportsmail's team of experts have their say

PUBLISHED:

10:46 GMT, 13 March 2013

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UPDATED:

11:00 GMT, 13 March 2013

Roy Hodgson is set to name his England squad for the World Cup qualifying matches against San Marino and Montenegro and fans are desperate to know if Rio Ferdinand will be in it.

Left out for 'football reasons', Ferdinand has not featured for the national team under Hodgson but, with former captain John Terry now out of the picture, he has been touted for a return.

The 34-year-old has been superb for Manchester United this season and here, Sportsmail's team of experts say whether they feel Ferdinand should take that form back on to the international stage.

Solid: Rio Ferdinand has been tipped for an England return after fine performances for Manchester United

Solid: Rio Ferdinand has been tipped for an England return after fine performances for Manchester United

MARTIN KEOWN

I would bring Rio Ferdinand back into the England squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. If Sir Alex Ferguson is picking him as his first-choice centre back for Manchester United, that is good enough for me.

Roy Hodgson is one of the only people who could get away with bringing someone back after not picking them for so long. Hodgson is such a nice man and would find the words to make it a smooth transition.

Ferdinand has every right to feel he should have been in recent squads and he’s the best central defender we have. On top of that, Phil Jagielka is out injured and Gary Cahill has suffered a dip in form. He would benefit from playing alongside some as experienced as Ferdinand.

Tiredness is less of a factor now that United are out the Champions League. Ferdinand has fewer matches to play between now and the end of the season than he would have expected so Ferguson should not have a problem with him playing for his country.

I would imagine Hodgson wouldn’t use him for both games because of the recovery time he needs and the only potential problem with that is whether it creates instability in the team. If someone else plays well against San Marino, do you kill their confidence by then dropping them

The answer is probably yes.

Young gun: Ferdinand made his England debut as a teenager - coming off the bench against Cameroon in 1997

Young gun: Ferdinand made his England debut as a teenager – coming off the bench against Cameroon in 1997

JAMIE REDKNAPP

What has he done wrong He seems to have handled his omission maturely… he lost the England captaincy and didn’t cause a fuss. He has played his way back into form. He wants to play for England and add to his 81 caps.

Judging him on ‘football reasons’, he has to be back in for the World Cup qualifiers, doesn’t he Montenegro is a challenge and their centre-forward, the Juventus striker, Mirko Vucinic is a handful as he proved to Celtic in the Champions League. But Rio has handled better strikers.

Okay, he is not the future, but he is the present.

MARK ALFORD

No. Stick by your footballing
reasons, Roy. I'd prefer it if you further explained them to us all, but
as I suspect your argument is that you're building a side – and
specifically a defence – that can win us the World Cup, please go ahead
and conquer. Rio's too old. Yes, he can still pick a pass and play but
he's past his best. He's lost a yard and that's what matters at
international level. In Roy, we trust… There's no other way.

Off the mark: Ferdinand (No 5) scored his first international goal against Denmark at the 2002 World Cup

Off the mark: Ferdinand (No 5) scored his first international goal against Denmark at the 2002 World Cup

Off the mark: Ferdinand (No 5) scored his first international goal against Denmark at the 2002 World Cup

NEIL ASHTON

Yes. He remains the outstanding England defender of his generation. If he can get two games against Real Madrid in the Champions League, he can play against San Marino and Montenegro in the World Cup qualifiers.

LEE CLAYTON

Yes. Pick your best players, qualify for the World Cup, then worry about his age, his ability to play back-to-back games in a short space of time and the future.

There is a risk that England’s future will be an end-of-season tour to the back of beyond while the World Cup is taking place in Brazil. We did that before, let’s not do it again.

Rio must play in Montenegro. What’s to discuss

CHRIS WHEELER

Yes. Forget his age, any personal
issues with the manager and the fact that he might not be the best man
for the job when the World Cup comes around. Ferdinand's performances
for Manchester United this season have proved he's still a defender of
the highest quality. That's all that matters so just go ahead and pick
him.

SAMI MOKBEL

Yes. Simply because he is without doubt one of the best four centre-backs available to Roy Hodgson.

It's been a while: Ferdinand's last England appearance was against Switzerland in June 2011

It's been a while: Ferdinand's last England appearance was against Switzerland in June 2011

DOMINIC KING

No. Roy Hodgson has made his decision
to preclude Ferdinand from international duty, so he should stick with
it. There is sufficient quality in the England team to negotiate a
tricky task without worrying about whether Ferdinand should play or not.
With Phil Jagielka injured, play Joleon Lescott and give the in-form
Michael Dawson a go. Ferdinand is England's past, concentrate on the
future.

NEIL MOXLEY

If he’s the best English player to fill the position – and I think he’s the best option at present – then of course he should be picked. I’m not one for ‘looking to the future.’ It’s a nebulous managerial cop-out. When is ‘the future’ What about the here and now

He’s fit, playing well and wants to resume his international career. What, really, is there to consider

On the box: Kelloggs made special cereal packets for the 2010 World Cup but Ferdinand missed the tournament through injury

On the box: Kelloggs made special cereal packets for the 2010 World Cup but Ferdinand missed the tournament through injury

JOHN EDWARDS

If he doesn’t, then ‘football
reasons’ will no longer wash as an explanation. With John Terry out of
the frame and Phil Jagielka and Chris Smalling injured, there is only
one logical choice alongside Gary Cahill.

Hodgson is to be applauded for
looking to the future, but there is a time and place for experimenting
with potential. A World Cup qualifier away to the group leaders is
neither. That rules out Steven Caulker, while the likes of Ryan
Shawcross, Michael Dawson and Joleon Lescott lack Ferdinand’s proven
pedigree when the international stakes are at their highest.

The San Marino game should be plain sailing, whoever gets the nod, but for 90 minutes in Montenegro, it has to be Rio.

ALEX KAY

Of course he should. Ferdinand is the
best English centre back around at the moment and knows how to keep his
head in big games. Also, the alternatives do not fill you with hope:
Joleon Lescott is in and out the team at Manchester City, Gary Cahill
has a wobble in him and Michael Dawson, though playing well, hasn’t
featured for England for a long time.

MIKE ANSTEAD

If
he’s good enough, then yes. With John Terry out of the picture, England
are seriously lacking top-level experience at the back – Gary Cahill,
Phil Jagielka and Co won’t worry the world’s best. Bring Rio back and
he’s still got time to forge a new partnership ahead of Brazil 2014.

TOM BELLWOOD

No. His inclusion would represent a kick in the teeth to those whose performances warrant place in the team and have a long-term future in the national set-up.

LAURIE WHITWELL

Yes. Ferdinand is by some margin the best English central defender playing regularly. He is managing his body well this season and is a major reason United's defence has tightened up in the second part of the campaign. The experience he brings to international football only adds to the compelling reasoning for selection. Surely you pick the best players on offer at any one point rather than worry about a future that is yet to be achieved.

DAN RIPLEY

Judging by Ferdinand’s current form and fitness, the Manchester United centre-back certainly deserves a recall to the England squad. His composure on the ball and experience would be a key asset to a Three Lions side that has yet to have a stable back four under Roy Hodgson’s reign. At 34-years-old Ferdinand isn’t the future, but Hodgson needs to pick a squad that can pick up two wins later this month, not one that is likely to lead England after Brazil 2014.

Decision time: Roy Hodgson is set to name his England squad to face San Marino and Montenegro

Decision time: Roy Hodgson is set to name his England squad to face San Marino and Montenegro

JOE RIDGE

Yes. It's crazy we're even asking this question. Along with Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill he's the only Englishman playing regularly at centre back for a top four club – and he's still head and shoulders above those two.
SUNNI UPAL

No. Ferdinand is 34 so it would make no sense going back to him considering he will be 35 by the time the World Cup kicks off next year. England have enough choices in defence and don’t need to turn back to someone who is in the twilight of his career. The decision was, rightly or wrongly, made a long time ago for ‘footballing reasons’ so let’s just stick to those reasons and move on.

Not spoiled for choice: Gary Cahill's form has dipped while Phil Jagielka (below left) is struggling with injury

Not spoiled for choice: Gary Cahill's form has dipped while Phil Jagielka (below left) is struggling with injury

Struggling: Phil Jagielka (left)

RIK SHARMA

No. Picking a defender who probably won't be worth taking to the World Cup itself would only be acceptable if qualification for said competition would be viewed as an achievement. For England it is a necessity. Roy needs to focus on the men for the years ahead.

DECLAN WARRINGTON

No, and particularly not if Hodgson intends on using him for no more than just the next two games. Despite his decline, Ferdinand remains a polished defender and has lately impressed but he's had another inconsistent season in which Manchester United have frequently conceded. Hodgson needs to look at the bigger picture and build a new-look side: in Gary Cahill, Steven Caulker, Phil Jones and particularly Chris Smalling he has several improving, quality options who are already good but need time to develop partnerships for the World Cup. He should stick with them.

BILL RUNGAY

Yes. Age is not an obstacle. He is on track to winning an inevitable sixth Premier League title along with his first FA cup medal whilst showing he is still one of the most solid defenders in the game.

Old head: Veteran defender Ferdinand has the experience of 10 years at United and 81 England caps

Old head: Veteran defender Ferdinand has the experience of 10 years at United and 81 England caps

Oscar Pistorius due in court charged with the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius arrives at court charged with the murder of girlfriend Reeva SteenkampPistorius has arrived at the Pretoria Magistrates Court
His girlfriend was allegedly shot four times through the bathroom doorIncident happened at his Pretoria mansion, north of Johannesburg
Dead woman is former FHM model Reeva Steenkamp
She was shot several times in the head and hand
Celebrated sprinter spent the night in a police cell before the hearing

Becomes the first double amputee to run at the Olympic Games, reaching the semi-finals of the 400m and the final of the 4x400m. Carries the South African flag at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and then wins a silver and two gold medals in the 200m, 400m and 4x100m relay.

February 2013 Charged with murder after his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, is shot dead.

Pistorius's father and sister are in the front row in a heaving court room. His father said Pistorius was 'sad' following the shooting.

Henke Pistorius told SABC radio news: 'I don't know the facts. If anyone makes a statement, it will have to be Oscar. He's sad at the moment.'

The couple had been dubbed the Posh and Becks of South Africa.

The defence is expected to argue that Pistorius is not a flight risk and should be bailed.

Forensic experts are expected to continue examining the house in the upmarket Silver Woods gated community.

Near the home, people who knew Pistorius recalled a much-loved local hero.

'Some of us were in tears,' said Precious, who works at a petrol station where Pistorius used to fill up his McLaren supercar, signing autographs and picking up the tab for people in the convenience store.

'He was just so kind to everyone,' Precious said.

Initial reports suggested the model may
have been mistaken for a burglar, but Brigadier Denise Beukes later said
police were 'very surprised' by that suggestion, adding: 'These
allegations did not come from us.'

There
had been previous incidents of a 'domestic nature' at the property on
the exclusive, gated Silver Lakes Golf Estate in the South African
capital Pretoria, she added. A 9mm pistol was recovered.

Police
spokeswoman Lt Col Katlego Mogale said: 'Paramedics declared the woman
dead on the scene and police proceeded with their investigation.

'The woman sustained wounds to her head and the upper body.'

Police said an application for bail by Pistorius's lawyer Kenny Oldwage would be opposed when he appears in court.

Charged: Pistorius, his head lowered and face covered, leaves the Boschkop police station in Pretoria for a blood test at hospital prior to being taken to court

Charged: Pistorius, his head lowered and face covered, leaves the Boschkop police station in Pretoria for a blood test at hospital prior to being taken to court

Oscar Pistorius with his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in Johannesburg, South Africa, in November. Pistorius is due in court today charged with her murder

Murder suspect: Olympic and Paralympic star Reeva Steenkamp, 30, who was shot dead yesterday. The runner is due in court today

Last photo: Pistorius and girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp pose for a picture in Johannesburg last Thursday

Last photo: Oscar Pistorius and girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp pose for a
picture in Johannesburg last Thursday. He has been charged with shooting
her dead in the early hours of yesterday morning

Ominous: The Paralympic sprinter posted this message on Twitter on November 27

Ominous: The Paralympic sprinter posted this message on Twitter on November 27

Dressed
in a grey hooded jacket, tracksuit trousers and trainers, Pistorius,
26, walked with head bowed from the Boschkop police station yesterday
before being taken to Pretoria's Mamelodi Day Hospital in a police
convoy.

Brig Beukes said the medical examination was 'standard procedure'.

Pistorius's spokesman, from the Fast
Track agency in London, said he was 'assisting the police with their
investigations' but no further comment could be made until matters
became clearer.

Initial rumours suggested the shooting may have been a Valentine's Day surprise gone wrong.

The couple had only been going out since November.

Miss Steenkamp, a model and law
graduate, tweeted the day before Valentine's Day: 'What do you have up
your sleeve for your love tomorrow #getexcited #ValentinesDay.'

Pistorius appeared to have serious concerns about his safety and was said to sleep with a revolver by his side.

Incident: Oscar Pistorius is believed to have shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 30, a former FHM model, pictured together on January 26 in Johannesburg

Incident: Oscar Pistorius is believed to have shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 30, a former FHM model, pictured together on January 26 in Johannesburg

Star: Oscar Pistorius has reportedly been arrested this morning having shot his girlfriend in the head and arm, killing her

Star: Oscar Pistorius was arrested yesterday morning accused of having shot his girlfriend in the head and arm, killing her

Sportsmail's Jonathan McEvoy interviewed him last summer and noted: 'This being South Africa, one
baseball bat and one cricket bat lie behind Pistorius's bedroom door.

'A revolver is at his bedside. A machine gun by his window.'

The athlete made history at the London
2012 Olympics becoming the first amputee sprinter to compete in the
able-bodied Games, running in the 400m and 4x400m relay.

Beauty: A modelling photo used in Reeva Steenkamp's portfolio. Mr Taylor said that she touched many lives and was headed for stardom'

Beauty: A modelling photo used in Reeva Steenkamp's portfolio. Mr Taylor
said that she 'touched many lives and was headed for stardom'

The star was born without fibulas and underwent below-the-knee amputations at just 11 months old.

He had to win a legal battle over his
blades with the International Association of Athletics Federations
(IAAF) in 2008 for the right to compete in able-bodied competition.

Pistorius's father said his son was 'sad' following the shooting.

Henke Pistorius told SABC radio news:
'I don't know the facts. If anyone makes a statement, it will have to be
Oscar. He's sad at the moment.'

Couple: Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp had been dating for a few months after meeting at a South African awards ceremony

Couple: Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp had been dating for a few months after meeting at a South African awards ceremony

Tweet

Message: Reeva yesterday went on to Twitter to say how excited she was about Valentine's Day

Message: Reeva went on to Twitter to say how excited she was about Valentine's Day

The couple were dubbed the Posh and Becks of South Africa.

On her Twitter biography, Miss
Steenkamp described herself as a 'Model, Cover Girl, Tropika Island Of
Treasure Celeb Contestant, Law Graduate, Child of God'.

Tropika island Of Treasure is a TV show she was due to appear on this weekend.

Model: Reeva Steenkamp had been seeing Oscar since November but had forged her own successful career in South Africa

Model: Reeva Steenkamp had been seeing Oscar since November but had forged her own successful career in South Africa

Reeva

Reeva

Famous: The 30-year-old has 3,000 followers on Twitter and is a law graduate from Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Last appearance: Reeva Steenkamp was photographed at the Virgin Active Sports Industry Awards in Johannesburg a week ago

Last appearance: Reeva Steenkamp was photographed at the Virgin Active Sports Industry Awards in Johannesburg a week ago

Last appearance: Reeva Steenkamp was
photographed at the Virgin Active Sports Industry Awards in Johannesburg
a week ago (left) and was often showing her own snaps on Twitter

Miss Steenkamp's publicist Sarit
Tomlinson paid tribute to her, saying she was 'the sweetest human being
and an absolute angel on earth'.

She added: 'She was the kindest, most unbelievable girl.'

She told Sky News: 'It's shocking. No one knows what happened. We're waiting for information.

South African newspapers plastered the killing across their front pages, relegating a State of the Nation address by President Jacob Zuma in parliament to a distant second.

The coverage reflected shock and dismay at the fall of a sporting hero who commanded rare respect on all sides of South Africa's racial divides.

'Golden Boy Loses Shine' ran a front page headline in the Sowetan, beside a picture of Pistorius, head bowed in a grey hooded tracksuit being led away from a police station.

Callers to morning radio shows expressed remorse at the death of Steenkamp, who had been due to give a talk at a Johannesburg school this week about violence against women.

There was also widespread disbelief at the fate of a sporting legend regarded as a genuinely 'good guy'.

'How is it possible for one so high to fall so low so quickly' Talk Radio 702 host John Robbie said.

Home: Neighbours of the athlete say they heard noise from the house (pictured today) just before the authorities arrived

Home: Neighbours of the athlete say they heard noise from the house (pictured yesterday) just before the authorities arrived

Location: Pistorius's home is inside a gated housing complex with a nature reserve, golf course and lots of green space, all within high walls

Location: Pistorius's home is inside a gated housing complex with a nature reserve, golf course and lots of green space, all within high walls

Police: South African police vehicles enter the Siverwoods security estate in Pretoria East where famous South African paralympic and Olympic sprinter, Oscar Pistorius

Police: South African police vehicles enter the Silverwoods security
estate in Pretoria East where famous South African paralympic and
Olympic sprinter, Oscar Pistorius, allegedly shot and killed his
girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

Investigation: Police spokeswoman Denise Beukes confirmed the celebrated athlete was in custody charged with murder

Investigation: Police spokeswoman Denise Beukes confirmed the celebrated athlete was in custody charged with murder

'There are people we are waiting to speak to, to validate some of the stories.'

Asked about Miss Steenkamp's
relationship with Pistorius, Ms Tomlinson said: 'They had been together
for a couple of months and it's been a fabulous relationship – a
healthy, fabulous relationship.'

Miss Steenkamp's friend Mashadi Motsogi broke down in tears.

The distressed model said she heard the news of Miss Steenkamp's death on Twitter.

'I have lost a friend,' she said, telling reporters that Miss Steenkamp's death in a secure complex did not make sense.

'Look, security here is safe. We moved
to this area for security reasons. It does not make sense to me that my
friend was shot, mistaken for an intruder.'

Advert: An image on Pistorius's website for his sponsor Nike linked to his love of shooting has been removed today

Advert: An image on Pistorius's website for his sponsor Nike, linked to his love of shooting, has been removed

Adverts for television coverage of the Oscars featuring Oscar Pistorius were seen being pulled down in Johannesburg today

Adverts for television coverage of the Oscars featuring Oscar Pistorius were seen being pulled down in Johannesburg

Workmen move quickly to replace the roadside posters in the South Africa city

Workmen move quickly to replace the roadside posters in the South Africa city

Oscar Pistorius' sister, Aimee, left, leaves the Mamelodi Hospital, east of Pretoria where she visited her brother while he was being examined earlier today

Oscar Pistorius' sister, Aimee, left, leaves the Mamelodi Hospital, east
of Pretoria where she visited her brother while he was being examined
earlier

Incident: Oscar Pistorius with Reeva Steenkamp, 30, a former FHM model who is believed to have been shot dead today

Famous: Reeva Steenkamp worked primarily for Ice Model Management in Johannesburg, who expressed their distress at her death today

Incident: Oscar Pistorius is accused of murdering Reeva Steenkamp, 30, a high profile model, pictured together in November at an awards ceremony, and right, doing her job

Scene: Police were called to Oscar's home, pictured, at 4am where a 30-year-old woman was treated by paramedics but died there

Scene: Police were called to Oscar's home, pictured, at 4am where a 30-year-old woman was treated by paramedics but died there

Death: Oscar Pistorius on his Pretoria at his house in Pretoria, where a woman believed to be his girlfriend was found shot dead today

Death: Oscar Pistorius on his Pretoria at his house in Pretoria, where a woman believed to be his girlfriend was found shot dead

Grand: Mr Pistorius lives in a large farm in Pretoria, which is surrounded by high walls and armed guards

Grand: Mr Pistorius lives in a large farm in Pretoria, which is surrounded by high walls and armed guards

Family members of Oscar Pistorius were pictured outside the police station where he was being held

Oscar Pistorius's brother was seen outside the police station in South Africa tonight

Family members of Oscar Pistorius, including his brother (right), were pictured outside the police station where he was being held

Winner: Oscar Pistorius celebrates with his gold medal following the men's 400m win at London 2012

Winner: Oscar Pistorius celebrates with his gold medal following the men's 400m win at London 2012

Icon: The athlete has done more than anyone to promote disabled sport and is one of the world's most famous athletes

Icon: The athlete has done more than anyone to promote disabled sport and is one of the world's most famous athletes

Custody: Clothes hang out of prison cells at the Pretoria Central Prison, where Oscar Pistorius is allegedly being held before his court appearance

Custody: Clothes hang out of prison cells at the Pretoria Central Prison, where Oscar Pistorius is allegedly being held before his court appearance today

VIDEO People react in shock to news of Reeva Steenkamp's death

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VIDEO Pistorius leaves police station after murder charge…

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VIDEO Police detail 'previous domestic incidents' in Pistorius home

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VIDEO FHM Model Reeva was due to star in upcoming Tropika Island of Treasure

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VIDEO Model Reeva Steenkamp speaks at a Malibu event

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Roberto Di Matteo wins Credit Suisse coach of the year

Look who's won another trophy, Roman… as Benitez blows it in Japan, Di Matteo is named coach of the year in Switzerland

|

UPDATED:

14:05 GMT, 17 December 2012

On the same day Rafael Benitez's Chelsea were beaten in the Club World Cup final his predecessor Roberto Di Matteo was seen smiling again after being named coach of the year in Switzerland.

Italian tactician Di Matteo was sacked last month by Blues owner Roman Abramovich despite winning both the Champions League and the FA Cup in his short spell in charge at Stamford Bridge.

All smiles: Di Matteo collects the award in Zurich on Sunday night

All smiles: Di Matteo collects the award in Zurich on Sunday night

All smiles: Di Matteo collects the award in Zurich on Sunday night

All smiles: Di Matteo collects the award in Zurich on Sunday night

While Di Matteo's exploits were clearly not appreciated by the Russian oligarch, football experts in the country of his birth stood to applaud the 42-year-old as he was honoured at the Credit Suisse Sports Awards in Zurich on Sunday night.

Benitez finds himself under enormous pressure at Stamford Bridge already just eight games into his seemingly doomed reign as interim manager. The Spaniard is hugely unpopular with club's fans having replaced club legend Di Matteo and he has won just three of his eight games in charge.

Outfoxed: Benitez's Chelsea were beaten by Corinthians in Japan on Sunday

Outfoxed: Benitez's Chelsea were beaten by Corinthians in Japan on Sunday

Outfoxed: Benitez's Chelsea were beaten by Corinthians in Japan on Sunday

Chelsea, off the pace in the Premier League, have lost three of the six games Benitez has taken charge of so far and blew their best chance of silverware with a 1-0 defeat to Corinthians in Yokohama, Japan on Sunday.

Although an Italian international Di Matteo was born and brought up in Schaffhausen in the north of Switzerland.

Stellar year: Di Matteo won both the FA Cup (above) and the Champions League (below)

Stellar year: Di Matteo won both the FA Cup (above) and the Champions League (below)

Stellar year: Di Matteo won both the FA Cup (above) and the Champions League (below)

P.S. There were no surprises when Roger Federer was named as Swiss sportsman of the year. The 31-year-old tennis star is the country's greatest ever athlete, having won 17 Grand Slams.

Legend: Federer picked up yet another gong

Legend: Federer picked up yet another gong

Arsenal named Premier League club of the year

'Outstanding' Arsenal named Premier League club of the year

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UPDATED:

14:22 GMT, 16 October 2012

Arsenal have been named the 'club of the year' for providing the best customer service to fans under a new awards scheme being run by the Premier League and tourism board VisitEngland.

Liverpool, Fulham and Manchester City have also picked up gongs in other categories in the VisitFootball awards.

Top-flight clubs have been monitored for customer service for the past two seasons and a panel of industry experts voted Arsenal the club of the year for their 'simply outstanding service'.

Club of the year: Arsenal have the best customer service, according to VisitEngland

Club of the year: Arsenal have the best customer service, according to VisitEngland

City received the 'Best Fan Innovation' awards for their City Square and Family Stand projects, while Liverpool's stewards won the club the 'warmest welcome' award.

Fulham won the 'unsung hero' award for their supporter liaison officer Tommy Guthrie.

All 20 clubs were judged across eight areas including ticketing, stewarding, catering, toilets and the club shop. The judges stated about Arsenal: 'Their staff at every level from stewards to catering and cleaners to retail were very impressive. They clearly have a culture of high standards at Emirates Stadium and their professionalism shines through.'

Manchester City's City Square and Family Stand, with giant TV screens and post-match player and legend appearances in City Square 'are clearly a hit with the fans' said the judges.

On Liverpool's stewards, the judges said: 'We loved the stewarding at Liverpool because they clearly enjoy their job. There is a great rapport with the people they know but also an engagement for those who it might be their one and only Liverpool game of the season. Without doubt the warmest welcome we found in the Premier League was at Anfield.'

Guthrie was praised for his work at Fulham – including taking foreign supporters clubs to a local pub when they visit – with the judges saying: 'He may see it as his job but the level of detail from Tommy is something that should be singled out and applauded.'

Stadium watch: A panel of experts voted Arsenal the club of the year for their 'simply outstanding service'

Stadium watch: A panel of experts voted Arsenal the club of the year for their 'simply outstanding service'

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said the improvements in the service for fans had been reflected by more women and families going to games.

Scudamore said: 'A lot of effort has been put into making Premier League grounds more safe and welcoming over the last 20 years, which is why we have seen traditional fans being joined by more sections of society.

'Nearly a quarter of attending fans are women now, 13 per cent of season ticket holders are children and overall 63 per cent of supporters coming to a match do so with a family member.

'There are increased expectations among this more diverse audience and VisitFootball shows that the Premier League is taking customer care very seriously.'

Arsenal receive sprint help from Michael Johnson

Wenger hoping for speedy progress, courtesy of a little help from Johnson

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UPDATED:

22:18 GMT, 2 October 2012

It turns out there's nothing wrong with Michael Johnson's hearing. He knew all along that it was the Olympiacos game they were preparing for at Arsenal, not the Olympic Games.

The American sprint legend dropped in on Arsene Wenger’s pursuit of Euro gold to check on the speedlings he has taken under his wing.

Johnson operates a hi-tech athletics performance centre near Dallas and has been helping some of Wenger’s young players improve their speed.

Going for gold: Olympic legend Michael Johnson popped into Arsenal training at London Colney

Going for gold: Olympic legend Michael Johnson popped into Arsenal training at London Colney

Here to help Olympic legend Michael Johnson was at Arsenal's training ground

Here to help Olympic legend Michael Johnson was at Arsenal's training ground

Write caption here

‘It is a fantastic school,’ said
Wenger, who sent defender Ignasi Miquel to the United States this summer
hoping Johnson’s team of experts might help him be quicker.

‘Miquel has a good build but needs to work on his power.

Euro tour: Arsenal are preparing for their second Champions League game

Euro tour: Arsenal are preparing for their second Champions League game

Euro tour: Arsenal are preparing for their second Champions League game

Euro tour: Arsenal are preparing for their second Champions League game

'You have two ways to run quickly.
The first is to move as quickly as possible. The second is to have more
power on your push.

'If I can gain power every time I push, I can gain
five inches or one inch more on each stride then I will be quicker.’

Bacary Sagna is in the Arsenal squad
for the first time since breaking his leg in May but Carl Jenkinson has
deputised well and rekindled the tussle between England and Finland.

His
mother is Finnish, he has played for the Finns at Under 21 level and
they want him in the senior squad but Roy Hodgson is also interested.

Hodgson names his England squad on
Thursday for World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Poland and
plans to be at the Emirates after a positive report on Jenkinson
from assistant Ray Lewington.

‘Finland have contacted me,’ said
Jenkinson. ‘I’m focusing on my club. I’ll cross that bridge when I come
to it.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wenger won’t
rush the 20-year-old full back into a decision.

Not when he appears to
hold France responsible for Abou Diaby’s thigh injury.

Diaby, injured
against Chelsea on Saturday, was picked for France last month, playing
90 minutes and scoring the only goal against Finland.

‘If France wanted Diaby to play in
Spain (later this month) they should not take him for Finland. He has
been out for a year and played four or five games. You have the chance
for a breather and give him two weeks to recover. It is a big blow.’

Going for gold: Michael Johnson won four Olympic titles in 200m and 400m

Going for gold: Michael Johnson won four Olympic titles in 200m and 400m

Arsenal v Olympiacos: Line-ups

Mikel Arteta has an ankle injury, adding to Wenger’s midfield problems
ahead of the Olympiacos game.

But the Arsenal manager is relaxed
after his European campaign began with an away win in Montpellier.

‘The
Champions League is simple,’ he said. ‘You need one away win and three
home wins. We have the first part, the second part is to be strong at
home.’

PLAYERS JOHNSON CAN HELP

Per Mertesacker

He was missed as Chelsea scored twice from set pieces on Saturday but Johnson may think there is room for improvement with his speed on the turn.

Sebastien Squillaci

A move away collapsed in the summer and the defender is still lumbering around.

(And one he doesn’t need to) Theo Walcott

Smashed Arsenal’s 40m sprint record previously held by Thierry Henry, with a time of 4.72sec.

Nevin Spence death: Ulster devastated – Johann Muller

Ulster captain Muller reveals devastation at the tragic loss of starlet Spence

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UPDATED:

13:17 GMT, 18 September 2012

Ulster captain Johann Muller has spoken of the team's devastation over the tragic death of Nevin Spence, who died along with his father and brother in a farming accident.

Thousands of people are expected to attend the funerals on Wednesday of Spence, 22, who along with his father Noel, 58 and brother Graham, 30 was overcome by slurry fumes at the family's farm near Hillsborough, Co. Down.

Muller said: 'He was determined to be the best that he could be and I have no doubt that he would have gone on to play for Ireland on many occasions.

Tragedy: The funerals of Spence, his father and brother will take place on Wednesday

Tragedy: The funerals of Spence, his father and brother will take place on Wednesday

Tragedy: The funerals of Spence, his father and brother will take place on Wednesday

'He was the kind of player that inspired others with his attitude in training and sheer will to win in matches.'

Health and safety experts are carrying out an investigation into the tragedy last Saturday afternoon.

Wednesday's funeral will take place at Ballynahinch Baptist Church, Co. Down and Ulster fans will pay their own respects at a memorial service at the team's ground at Ravenhill, Belfast on Sunday afternoon.

Muller said Nevin's loss was deeply felt by all the players.

Devastated: Ulster captain Johann Muller (right)

Devastated: Ulster captain Johann Muller (right)

He said in a statement: 'Nevin Spence was a highly skilful and gifted rugby player. He was utterly committed to Ulster and was enormously proud to represent his Province.

'His positive outlook on life brought a smile to people's faces. He was kind, polite, generous and courageous, and we were blessed to have him in our team.

'The one comfort for us as a squad is that we have each other for support.

'It has been a difficult time for the players and coaches but I believe that through this tragic loss, we will have a new sense of togetherness.'

London 2012 Olympics: Athletics: Charles van Commenee confused by Phillips Idowu

Van Commenee confused by Idowu's 'bizarre' decision leave his coach in the lurch

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UPDATED:

14:35 GMT, 1 August 2012

UK Athletics head coach Charles van Commenee admits he is perplexed by the 'bizarre' decision of triple-jumper Phillips Idowu to turn his back on his own coach ahead of the London Olympics.

Idowu, who is suffering from a trapped nerve, opted to arrange his own treatment in London rather than attend UKA's training camp in Portugal, even though his coach Aston Moore was there, along with the governing body's medical experts.

And although Van Commenee has been informed by the British Olympic Association (BOA) that Idowu will be fit for triple jump qualifying on August 7, the Dutchman admits he has no idea what the Beijing silver medallist is doing.

Snub: Phillips Idowu opted to arrange his own treatment for an injury rather than attend the Team GB training camp

Snub: Phillips Idowu opted to arrange his own treatment for an injury rather than attend the Team GB training camp

'Up until about two weeks ago, Aston Moore was in regular contact and had seen him in training a number of times, but that contact died,' said Van Commenee, who has not spoken to Idowu since a row last year over the 33-year-old's withdrawal from the European Team Championships.

'(He had) a brief text message about a week ago and that was it. Phillips decided not to join the team (in Portugal) and by definition in my eyes he compromises his preparation. I find it bizarre. Aston finds it bizarre.

'He's under the wing of the BOA at the moment and we'll support when that's needed, like we always have.

Making a splash: Idowu is currently suffering with a trapped nerve ahead of the Games

Making a splash: Idowu is currently suffering with a trapped nerve ahead of the Games

Charles van Commenee (left) was perplexed by Idowu's decision to turn his back on his own coach

Charles van Commenee (left) was perplexed by Idowu's decision to turn his back on his own coach

'UK Athletics has supported Phillips Idowu for about 12 years, financially for a big part of those 12 years in terms of providing training accommodation, camps, medical support, psychological support, biomechanical support and coaching support.

'We pay the salary of his coach, our coach, so I'm perplexed that the last two weeks before the Games he turns his back on us, and I've got no idea why.

'All information we have about Phillips is now coming from the BOA. That information is that he's fit and ready to go. He had to hand in medical information. The BOA decided not to take it to the next stage, which would be a fitness test.

'Therefore Phillips Idowu is fit to compete and probably in great shape, because that's the sort of athlete he is. I'm sure he'll be a medal contender.'

Amir Khan reinstated as WBA light-welterweight champion

Belting news for Amir: Khan gets WBA title back before Garcia bout

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UPDATED:

23:16 GMT, 11 July 2012

Amir Khan has been reinstated as the WBA light-welterweight champion as he prepares to meet the WBC title holder Danny Garcia in what is now a unification fight in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

The Ring magazine belt will also be on the line as a consequence of Lamont Peterson, who robbed Khan of his title in controversial circumstances, admitting he used steroids before fighting the Briton in December and then failing a drugs test.

Khan told Sportsmail: ‘I’m honoured to get my WBA title back and to go into the ring as champion.

‘I’ve always wanted to fight for the WBC and Ring belts.’

Jumping for joy: Amir Khan has got his belts back

Jumping for joy: Amir Khan has got his belts back

Both the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation have taken their time considering what action to take.

Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer claimed recently the WBA had decided to strip Peterson of the belt and put it on the line, but the WBA, true to form, made no public statement.

However, they have gone a step further by not simply declaring the title vacant but, crucially, awarding it to Khan. Khan will receive the hollow title of 'super champion'.

A statement from the WBA said: 'The World Championships Committee of the World Boxing Association officially announced today its decision to reinstate the British boxer Amir Khan as Super Champion who may be able to unify title with Danny Garcia on Saturday July 14.

'This decision was taken after the positive doping result of the American Lamont Peterson, confirmed by the medical experts.

Controversial bout: Khan lost his WBA belt to Lamont Peterson in Washington

Controversial bout: Khan originally lost his WBA belt to Lamont Peterson in Washington

'The WBA rules that states that no boxer (who) has tested positively for prohibited substances can be rated (or) retain a title, or be permitted to fight in a sanctioned bout for a period of no less than six months from the date of the positive test.

'Given the circumstances, Peterson's status is champion in recess and it is subject to revision.'

Schaefer was also overjoyed at the WBA's decision and hopes Khan will prove himself as the world's best light-welterweight on Saturday.

'I got confirmation today that the WBA have reinstated Amir Khan as their super champion and so he will go into the fight defending his title,' Schaefer said.

'Danny Garcia will be defending his WBA belt and we've just learnt that the Ring magazine are putting their belt on the line for the winner of this fight – all three belts will be on the line.

'It's great news. And it's great news for both fighters as the winner of this fight will be recognised as the best 140-pounder in the world.'

Back to business: Khan faces Danny Garcia in high spirits

Back to business: Khan faces Danny Garcia in high spirits

Garcia, meanwhile, is just relishing the chance to defend the belt he won by dethroning Mexican legend Erik Morales.

'It's a dream come true,' the Philadelphian said.

'I'm enjoying every minute, from the press and media to meeting the fans and I'm ready to give them a great fight.

'After winning the title you have to stay on top of your game because it's hard to win but even harder to keep it. I'm ready to show the world who is best.'

London 2012 Olympics: Tony Parker fit to compete for France basketball

Parker to compete at Olympics after recovering from nightclub injury

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UPDATED:

12:24 GMT, 6 July 2012

France point guard Tony Parker has been cleared to take part in the London Olympics after doctors gave him the go-ahead.

Parker, named in the French squad on Thursday, was a doubt for the Games because of an eye injury suffered in an altercation in a nightclub in New York last month, the same incident in which rappers Drake and Chris Brown clashed over Rhianna.

The San Antonio Spurs player suffered a scratch to his cornea but after meeting with his employers and following medical checks in the United States Parker was told he could join up with the France squad.

Recovered: Tony Martin (right) will play for France at the Olympics

Recovered: Tony Martin (right) will play for France at the Olympics

The Spurs sought the opinions of two expert ophthalmologists who agreed with the French doctor who operated on Parker and two Swiss experts he consulted last week that he had recovered enough to play.

Parker, who could feature for France in a warm-up game against Great Britain on Saturday, could face many of his fellow NBA players when the United States provide France's first opponents in the Games on July 29.

The French Basketball Federation confirmed Parker's participation in the Games, revealing he had received the blessing of San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to take part.

Main man: Martin was involved in a nightclub altercation in New York

Main man: Martin was involved in a nightclub altercation in New York

Parker was due to join up with the rest of the squad in Orleans today.
France coach Vincent Collet told the federation website, ffbb.com: 'This is great news and a relief for all of the France squad.

'I had Tony on the phone and I felt very happy and also relieved at this outcome.

'It was for us all, a very painful and agonising (wait). Now we can combine our forces and focus on our Olympic goal.'

Euro 2012: Ukraine prepares to host first matches

Ukraine faces its acid test: Fans stay away but co-hosts promise to put on a show

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UPDATED:

23:37 GMT, 8 June 2012

Concerns about Ukraine's suitability as a Euro 2012 host nation will finally be put to the test as two venues with question marks over them host eagerly anticipated matches in Group B.

Travel experts who visited Poland and Ukraine in the lead-up to the tournament reported that, while the former appeared geared up and ready, the latter appeared anything but.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the venues of Kharkiv and Lviv that host matches between Holland and Denmark and Germany and Portugal.

Armed: Riot police battled protestors in Kiev this week

Armed: Riot police battled protestors in
Kiev this week

Euro 2012 email button

The signs were not good yesterday as flights from Kiev to Lviv were delayed by six hours before being cancelled.

In Kharkiv, meanwhile, hotel accommodation is so thin on the ground and so expensive that most supporters will fly in from their home countries on the day of their games and straight out again in the early hours.

None of this is conducive to the carnival atmosphere that is supposed to surround these tournaments and it will be up to the four venue cities – Kiev and Donetsk being the other two – to prove that the Ukrainians have the appetite and the wherewithal to make the tournament work.

Certainly Grigoriy Surkis, president of the Ukrainian football federation, remains convinced his country can deliver a spectacle to rival that of its western neighbour.

Surkis said: 'This tournament has caught the imagination in Ukraine, with the period of preparation being called the “five-year renaissance” here.

'The championship will last less than a month but our young state's rejuvenation will benefit many generations of Ukrainians.

Peaceful: Fans watched the opening games on giant screens in Kiev

Peaceful: Fans watched the opening games on giant screens in Kiev

Peaceful: Fans watched the opening games on giant screens in Kiev - where England will face Sweden

'The legacy of Euro 2012 is not just four fantastic stadiums but also modern infrastructure.'

Sadly, fears – that may yet prove unfounded – of fan violence and racist problems have prevented many supporters from travelling to Ukraine for the duration of the tournament.

Just 3,000 fans are expected to follow England to Donetsk on Monday. The game between Holland and Germany in Kharkiv next Wednesday should also be one of the highlights of the group stages.

How unfortunate, then, that the majority of travelling supporters have been encouraged to arrive at the host city as late as possible and leave soon after.

One reason for that is the prohibitive cost of travelling around this vast country while another is the shortage of hotels in a city of more than 2,700,000 people.

Big moment: Ukraine authorities plan to put on a big show

Big moment: Ukraine authorities plan to put on a big show

Once again, Surkis is adamant that his country will prove itself to be worthy.

'People will see the positive changes for themselves and enjoy visiting a hospitable Ukraine,' he said. 'I have no doubt Euro 2012 will be the greatest tournament ever staged and that the games will take place in the best possible conditions. People will see how important football is to Ukraine.'

With the national team's first game taking place on Monday against Sweden in Kiev, coach Oleg Blokhin will not appreciate being reminded of his racist outburst about foreign players in the Ukrainian league in 2006 and will hope his team can produce something more positive on the pitch.

This, after all, is an important three weeks for his team as well as for his country.