Tag Archives: foregone

Who voted for Rooney in the Ballon d"Or?

Messi can't bring himself to vote for Ronaldo in tactical Ballon d'Or picks while Rooney is popular only in Georgia and North Korea

-bycountry.pdf” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”>Click here to see how the international captains, coaches and media voted

With an astonishing and record-breaking 91 goals in the calendar year, it was perhaps a foregone conclusion that Lionel Messi would collect a fourth consecutive FIFA Ballon d'Or last night.

But that didn't stop international captains and coaches employing some political voting tactics to try and get their friends, compatriots or teammates further up the leaderboard – or at least block their rivals from winning.

With national team captains, coaches and a selected journalist from each FIFA nation eligible to vote, the annual award seems to have become football's answer to the Eurovision Song Contest in terms of tactical voting.

Scroll down for video

Top of the world: Lionel Messi scooped a fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or trophy last night, receiving 41.6 per cent of the votes from international coaches, captain and journalists

Top of the world: Lionel Messi scooped a fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or trophy last night, receiving 41.6 per cent of the votes from international coaches, captain and journalists

Messi had a vote as captain of Argentina and picked Andres Iniesta as his first choice, Xavi as his second and Radamel Falcao as his third pick.

This could be interpreted as returning the favour to his two Barcelona teammates after setting up so many goals for him this year, but it's interesting that his closest rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, is left out.

Ronaldo is Portugal captain but chose to hand over responsibilities to Bruno Alves, perhaps as a way of getting round the rule that voters can't pick themselves.

Ronaldo is on record as saying that he would vote for himself if he could. 'I am what I am,' he said in the run-up to the award announcement.

But he could rely on Zenit St Petersburg defender Alves to exclude Messi from his voting and put the Real Madrid star, naturally, at the top.

Not his night: Cristiano Ronaldo looked the part, but was a distant second behind Messi, despite delegating his voting rights to Portugal teammate Bruno Alves

Not his night: Cristiano Ronaldo looked the part, but was a distant second behind Messi, despite delegating his voting rights to Portugal teammate Bruno Alves

Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella
had no room for Ronaldo though and went for Messi and his international
teammate Sergio Aguero, with Falcao, the third choice for quite a large
number of voters, completing his selection.

Paulo Bento, the Portugal manager, was a little more sporting, giving Messi his third pick.

The international coaches are proud and parochial, with many selecting players from their own squad despite them having little chance of scooping the main prize.

Germany's Joachim Low was pretty left-field with his picks, choosing Mesut Ozil first, Manuel Neuer second and Xavi third, while Italy's Cesare Prandelli opted for Andrea Pirlo, who was admired by a number of coaches around the world.

Keeping it in the country: Germany Head Coach Joachim Low picked Mesut Ozil as his first choice

Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Ozil

Keeping it in the country: Germany Head Coach Joachim Low (left) picked Mesut Ozil as his first choice

Spain's Vicente del Bosque can be excused for picking Iker Casillas, Xavi and Iniesta but it's a damning indictment of the state of the English team that Roy Hodgson just went for Messi, Ronaldo and Falcao.

Wayne Rooney's only two votes came from Georgia and North Korea, suggesting he has quite a following in those countries, while Mario Balotelli wouldn't have been too happy to learn his only vote came from Palestine.

Voting pact: Wayne Rooney's (right) only votes came from Georgia and North Korea, but plenty gave Robin van Persie (left) a pick

Voting pact: Wayne Rooney's (right) only votes came from Georgia and North Korea, but plenty gave Robin van Persie (left) a pick

And Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have scored one of the goals of the year, with his audacious propeller kick for Sweden against England, but just two voters – the captain of Djibouti and the Niger coach – thought him worthy of the top prize.

There are also plenty of examples of players going for teammates, former teammates or even those who play in the same position.

Hugo Lloris, of France and Tottenham, selected Casillas as his first choice and, randomly, had Didier Drogba third.

Goalkeeper's Union: Hugo Lloris (left) gave his winning vote to fellow custodian Iker Casillas

Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas

Goalkeeper's Union: Hugo Lloris (left) gave his winning vote to fellow custodian Iker Casillas (right)

Dutchman Wesley Sneijder opted for free-scoring Robin van Persie for his first pick, while Gianluigi Buffon and Casillas also went for national unity with Pirlo and Sergio Ramos respectively their first choices.

Scotland skipper Darren Fletcher chose former Manchester United man Ronaldo ahead of Messi and also included Van Persie third.

Lionel Messi
Marco van Basten
Michel Platini
Johan Cruyff
Ballon d'Or
4
3
3
3
League titles
5
7
3
10
Domestic cups
7
7
2
7
European Cups
3
3
1
3
World Cups
0
0
0
0
Career Games
430
431
504
568
Career Goals
319
300
265
326
Strike rate
0.74
0.70
0.53
0.57

VIDEO: Messi's boot supplier, adidas, team up with illustrator Richard Swarbrick to celebrate the Argentina ace's latest Ballon d'Or success

Lionel Messi didn"t vote for Cristiano Ronaldo in Ballon d"Or 2013 – full voting analysis

Messi can't bring himself to vote for Ronaldo in tactical Ballon d'Or picks while Rooney is popular only in Georgia and North Korea

-bycountry.pdf” rel=”nofollow” target=”_blank”>Click here to see how the international captains, coaches and media voted

With an astonishing and record-breaking 91 goals in the calendar year, it was perhaps a foregone conclusion that Lionel Messi would collect a fourth consecutive FIFA Ballon d'Or last night.

But that didn't stop international captains and coaches employing some political voting tactics to try and get their friends, compatriots or teammates further up the leaderboard – or at least block their rivals from winning.

With national team captains, coaches and a selected journalist from each FIFA nation eligible to vote, the annual award seems to have become football's answer to the Eurovision Song Contest in terms of tactical voting.

Scroll down for video

Top of the world: Lionel Messi scooped a fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or trophy last night, receiving 41.6 per cent of the votes from international coaches, captain and journalists

Top of the world: Lionel Messi scooped a fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or trophy last night, receiving 41.6 per cent of the votes from international coaches, captain and journalists

Messi had a vote as captain of Argentina and picked Andres Iniesta as his first choice, Xavi as his second and Radamel Falcao as his third pick.

This could be interpreted as returning the favour to his two Barcelona teammates after setting up so many goals for him this year, but it's interesting that his closest rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, is left out.

Ronaldo is Portugal captain but chose to hand over responsibilities to Bruno Alves, perhaps as a way of getting round the rule that voters can't pick themselves.

Ronaldo is on record as saying that he would vote for himself if he could. 'I am what I am,' he said in the run-up to the award announcement.

But he could rely on Zenit St Petersburg defender Alves to exclude Messi from his voting and put the Real Madrid star, naturally, at the top.

Not his night: Cristiano Ronaldo looked the part, but was a distant second behind Messi, despite delegating his voting rights to Portugal teammate Bruno Alves

Not his night: Cristiano Ronaldo looked the part, but was a distant second behind Messi, despite delegating his voting rights to Portugal teammate Bruno Alves

Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella
had no room for Ronaldo though and went for Messi and his international
teammate Sergio Aguero, with Falcao, the third choice for quite a large
number of voters, completing his selection.

Paulo Bento, the Portugal manager, was a little more sporting, giving Messi his third pick.

The international coaches are proud and parochial, with many selecting players from their own squad despite them having little chance of scooping the main prize.

Germany's Joachim Low was pretty left-field with his picks, choosing Mesut Ozil first, Manuel Neuer second and Xavi third, while Italy's Cesare Prandelli opted for Andrea Pirlo, who was admired by a number of coaches around the world.

Keeping it in the country: Germany Head Coach Joachim Low picked Mesut Ozil as his first choice

Real Madrid midfielder Mesut Ozil

Keeping it in the country: Germany Head Coach Joachim Low (left) picked Mesut Ozil as his first choice

Spain's Vicente del Bosque can be excused for picking Iker Casillas, Xavi and Iniesta but it's a damning indictment of the state of the English team that Roy Hodgson just went for Messi, Ronaldo and Falcao.

Wayne Rooney's only two votes came from Georgia and North Korea, suggesting he has quite a following in those countries, while Mario Balotelli wouldn't have been too happy to learn his only vote came from Palestine.

Voting pact: Wayne Rooney's (right) only votes came from Georgia and North Korea, but plenty gave Robin van Persie (left) a pick

Voting pact: Wayne Rooney's (right) only votes came from Georgia and North Korea, but plenty gave Robin van Persie (left) a pick

And Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have scored one of the goals of the year, with his audacious propeller kick for Sweden against England, but just two voters – the captain of Djibouti and the Niger coach – thought him worthy of the top prize.

There are also plenty of examples of players going for teammates, former teammates or even those who play in the same position.

Hugo Lloris, of France and Tottenham, selected Casillas as his first choice and, randomly, had Didier Drogba third.

Goalkeeper's Union: Hugo Lloris (left) gave his winning vote to fellow custodian Iker Casillas

Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas

Goalkeeper's Union: Hugo Lloris (left) gave his winning vote to fellow custodian Iker Casillas (right)

Dutchman Wesley Sneijder opted for free-scoring Robin van Persie for his first pick, while Gianluigi Buffon and Casillas also went for national unity with Pirlo and Sergio Ramos respectively their first choices.

Scotland skipper Darren Fletcher chose former Manchester United man Ronaldo ahead of Messi and also included Van Persie third.

VIDEO: Messi's boot supplier, adidas, team up with illustrator Richard Swarbrick to celebrate the Argentina ace's latest Ballon d'Or success

Championship rugby sides threatening promotion chaos

Newcastle can stop a promotion commotion with Championship clubs threatening chaos

|

UPDATED:

00:17 GMT, 18 December 2012

English rugby is facing the spectre of further promotion and relegation chaos, as Championship clubs have warned that they will follow the lead of London Welsh by launching a legal challenge if barred from the Aviva Premiership.

At the end of last season, the Exiles won the second-tier title via the play-offs, having learned that they didn’t satisfy the controversial Minimum Standards Criteria for entry into the top division. However, Welsh sought legal advice and on appeal they were belatedly approved for promotion.

This season, Newcastle are clear at the top of the Championship and would satisfy the criteria, but the play-off system – involving home-and-away semi-finals and final – means their return to the Premiership is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Chaos: Newcastle's Grant Shiells and his team-mates can help avert disaster

Chaos: Newcastle's Grant Shiells and his team-mates can help avert disaster

Prior to the start of the campaign, the RFU’s professional rugby director, Rob Andrew, insisted that the MSC would have to be urgently revised in order to provide clarity for clubs and guard against future legal challenges.

However, while minor amendments have been made, Championship clubs are unhappy with the outcome and are ready to take legal action if Newcastle don’t clinch the title and avert a fresh crisis.

‘The Championship view is that the Minimum Standards don’t exist anymore because Welsh successfully challenged the document, and our legal people support that position,’ said Geoff Irvine, chairman of Bedford and the body representing the division’s clubs.

‘We have been sent revised Minimum Standards which only address the primacy of tenure issue really. So what I have done on behalf of the Championship clubs is tell the RFU and Premiership Rugby, “Do what you want, but this could be challenged”.

Dangerous precedent: London Welsh were granted promotion on appeal

Dangerous precedent: London Welsh were granted promotion on appeal

‘We have put them on notice. I took a statement to the last Professional Game Board meeting in November, so that they have a formal record of the position of the Championship clubs.

'There is no point sabre-rattling now, but we have fired a shot across their bows. We’ve told them that we don’t believe in the Minimum Standards and will challenge them at the first available opportunity. If Newcastle win the title then they will be off the hook for this season.’

Irvine’s own club are currently lying second in the Championship table, behind the flying, uneaten Falcons. The chairman outlined the Blues’ stance, adding: ‘At Bedford, we’re just trying to win each game and not look too far ahead for now. But if we get into that position (challenging for the title), then we would employ the lawyers and have a go at them.’

Warning: Rob Andrew recommended the Minimum Standards Criteria be changed

Warning: Rob Andrew recommended the Minimum Standards Criteria be changed

At the end of last season, the RFU were caught in the cross-fire as the shambles over Welsh’s off-and-on promotion tarnished the image of the game, but in Irvine’s eyes, the union are sympathetic to the Championship clubs. The difficulty, he argues, has come from trying to convince PRL to alter the status quo.

‘In fairness to the RFU, they at least said that these minor changes had to be made,’ he said.

‘Premiership Rugby grudgingly accepted them but if they had had their way, there would be no changes at all. The problem we have is that PRL only wanted to address the areas they fell down on in the London Welsh case. They wanted to put a sticking plaster on it and move on.

‘The RFU and Championship clubs believe the whole thing is flawed and has to be fully reviewed. But the RFU recognise that they have to get both parties to agree to the changes, which could take time. PRL won’t agree to major changes until the current agreement runs out in three-and-a-half years.’

Under 21s European Championships draw: England handed dream group

Pearce demands focus after England U21s handed dream draw for Euros in Israel

|

UPDATED:

18:33 GMT, 28 November 2012

England’s hopes of winning next summer’s Under-21 European Championship have been given a massive boost after they were handed the dream draw.

Stuart Pearce’s side will contest Group A in Israel with the host nation, Norway and Italy. Group B contains the countries Pearce would have been hoping to avoid – Spain, Germany, Holland and Russia.

England became the first nation to qualify for four successive tournaments when they saw off Serbia in their play-off last month and the have been rewarded with the easiest of all the possible assignments they could have faced.

Easy Stuart Pearce hopes that his players will not get copmplacent after being handed a dream group at the Euros

Easy Stuart Pearce hopes that his players will not get copmplacent after being handed a dream group at the Euros

Though the venues and dates of games have yet to be confirmed, it is most likely England will begin the tournament against Israel in Tel Aviv on June 5 and, with that in mind, Pearce was quick to stress that qualification from Group A will be no foregone conclusion.

‘I thought the draw would only serve to underline what we already knew – that we will have to be at it from the off to beat the very best young teams in Europe if we are to succeed in this tournament,’ said Pearce.

‘We are in with the hosts and they'll be backed by some great home support. Norway we know all about and there was very little between us in qualifying. Italy are technically very difficult to break down and we have experience of them in the past.

‘On paper it might look easy, but it never works that way. We are excited by it.’

Pearce may point out that the task is not straightforward but privately he will be delighted. England beat Norway twice during qualification – 2-1 in Drammen last October and 1-0 in Chesterfield this September – while they hammered Israel 4-1 in a friendly at Barnsley 14 months ago.

Between the sticks: Jack Butland is likely to deputise in goals

Between the sticks: Jack Butland is likely to deputise in goals

GROUP A

Israel

England

Norway

Italy

GROUP B

Spain

Holland

Russia

Germany

Though they were beaten 1-0 by Italy in a friendly in Empoli the last time the two countries met in February 2011, England will be odds-on to qualify for the knockout stages and improve on the anti-climax they endured in the last tournament in Denmark when falling at the first hurdle.

‘We shouldn't forget that, as much as we're looking around at other teams and talking about their qualities, they'll be looking at us and probably talking in the same terms about our qualities,’ said Pearce, whose side were runners-up to Germany in Sweden in 2009.

‘After all, we are a team that has just gone through a calendar year unbeaten and without conceding a goal – few can boast a record as solid as that. That is credit to the players.

'This will be our fourth tournament, and we'll bring great experience with us in the summer, especially within my staff.

'That doesn't guarantee success of course and we'll need a strong squad, who are fit and in form. We are coming to Israel to win it.'

Castres 21 Northampton 16: Saints leave it late and slip to defeat

Castres 21 Northampton 16: Saints leave it late and slip to defeat

|

UPDATED:

23:05 GMT, 19 October 2012

English visitors to this part of France had to contend with gale-force head-winds on Friday and that was the case for Northampton on the field, but having been battered for so long, they very nearly found a way through the storm.

Five days earlier, the Saints had managed to over-turn a 15-0 deficit to beat Glasgow at home in their Heineken Cup, Pool Four opener.

On Friday at Stade Ernest Wallon, home of Toulouse, they again gifted opponents a double-figure lead, but this time they couldn’t quite turn the tables.

Over the line: Paul Bonnefond scores a try for Castres

Over the line: Paul Bonnefond scores a try for Castres

For so long, it had appeared a foregone conclusion. The visitors were 18-6 down just before the hour mark and showing no signs of revival, after prop Brian Mujati was sin-binned for pulling down a maul to leave Jim Mallinder’s team in arrears in terms of points and man-power.

However, a try from nothing by George Pisi opened the door ajar and Northampton threatened to burst through it in the closing stages as they finally gained the upper hand up front and achieved some elusive fluency.

Yet, as had been the case all night, referee Alain Rolland’s whistle continued to signal the downfall of English ambition and fittingly it was the Irish official’s marginal forward-pass call in favour of Castres which eventually snuffed out the prospect of a late twist in the tale.

The Aviva Premiership leaders were forced to settle for a losing bonus point, which means they go into December’s back-to-back clashes with Ulster – who won in Glasgow on Friday – realistically chasing successive victories to maintain their challenge for a quarter-final place.

‘Those games against Ulster are massive for us now,’ said Mallinder, the Saints’ director of rugby. ‘They’ve got an away win in Glasgow but we have six points from our two games and that is normally a decent position to be in at this stage. We showed a lot of character here to come back and get a point, but we know we have to play a lot better against Ulster.

‘We will look back at the opportunities we had here and how we played, and think that this was three points lost. We weren’t lacking in intensity, but we were just short of accuracy. Our set piece didn’t function – we got penalised at the scrum and that put us under pressure.’

Getting his kicks: Lee Dickson in action for Northampton on Friday night

Getting his kicks: Lee Dickson in action for Northampton on Friday night

Asked about Rolland’s officiating, Mallinder thought carefully before saying: ‘The referee was refereeing in a different way from what we are used to in the Premiership.’

Dylan Hartley, the Northampton captain, didn’t say a word on the matter, but the raised eyebrows said it all.

The England hooker was pleased with his side’s fightback, adding: ‘It was important for us to climb back up and take something from this game. If we had had an extra 10 minutes, I think we could have won it. We spoke about the fact that if we want to be strong contenders, we had to win here.’

Northampton didn’t manage that, but they did turn the tables from what had seemed a bleak position.

They were behind from the eighth minute, when Castres scored their first try. A series of drives on the left created a strong platform and captain Iosefa Tekori kept the move alive with some deft juggling. From a ruck, Remi Tales’ cross-kick was well claimed by wing Romain Martial and he sent Paul Bonnefond scampering through to score a try which Romain Teulet converted.

On the run: Christophe Samson breaks away from Northampton's players

On the run: Christophe Samson breaks away from Northampton's players

The rest of the first half, scarred by Rolland’s heavy-handedness, brought two penalties for each side – Teulet and Rory Kockott for Castres, Stephen Myler for the Saints, who seldom appeared likely to make a try-scoring breakthrough.

After the break, the hosts regained the initiative and in the 45th minute Northampton lost Mujati to a yellow card. While he was in the bin, from a scrum in front of the visitors’ line which appeared to wheel around almost 180 degrees, Castres No 8 Antonie Claassen picked up and drove over the line, and Rolland awarded the try.

It appeared that the game was up yet, out of the blue, Mallinder’s team clawed their way back into contention on the hour. From a poached lineout on the left, the ball was shipped in-field, Ryan Lamb chipped through and when Castres failed to gather, Pisi kicked ahead, picked up and scored under the posts.

Myler converted and after Tales added a drop goal for Castres, the Saints’ unfamiliar No 15 knocked over the late penalty, which secured the bonus point. Try as they might, Northampton couldn’t come away with any more.

Chelsea confident Ashley Cole will stay

Chelsea deny Cole is set to quit Stamford Bridge as talks continue over new deal

|

UPDATED:

11:55 GMT, 6 September 2012

Talks: Chelsea want Cole to stay

Talks: Chelsea want Cole to stay

Chelsea are confident of reaching an agreement with Ashley Cole in their ongoing contract talks with the England star.

It has been claimed that Cole, 31, has been offered a one-year extension to his current deal, which expires next summer, and was ready to walk away for nothing.

But sources with knowledge of the negotiations were bemused by such suggestions amid what were said to be perfectly amicable talks, which began this summer.

It is understood that while Chelsea
are more reluctant to offer long contracts to players in the thirties,
each case in judged on its merits and Cole is viewed as someone with the
potential to star at the highest level for several more years.

The left-back confirmed last month
that discussions with the Blues were under way and rubbished suggestions
he had demanded a pay rise to 200,000 a week.

Reaching an agreement is not a foregone conclusion, however, as Chelsea discovered while negotiating with Didier Drogba during the final year of his contract.

Suit you, sir: The defender is out of contract at the end of this season

Suit you, sir: The defender is out of contract at the end of this season

There would doubtless be no shortage of suitors were Cole to enter the January transfer window without having signed on, as he would then be able to pen a lucrative pre-contract with another club.

He has been heavily linked with Real Madrid in the past, while plenty of other teams would be tempted to offer him mega-money deals.

Cole currently faces a race against time to be fit for England's second World Cup qualifier against Ukraine on Tuesday after being ruled out of tomorrow's opener in Moldova with an ankle injury.

Wimbledon 2012: Brad Gilbert – I back Andy Murray to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Willy's wonky backhand is a Murray bonus

|

UPDATED:

21:55 GMT, 5 July 2012

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga loves to feast on what I call tennis's Surf And Turf menu – he loves to bang in a big serve and follow it up with a big forehand to either eat up the point or dominate the rally.

That one-two combination is what Andy Murray has to defend against, but the good news for British fans is that he seems more than up to the task in my eyes.

France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga plays a backhand

Weak spot: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga plays a backhand

every second counts

Not that it is a foregone conclusion, but Andy has the skills to defuse the best attributes of Tsonga's game.

I would list these as his serve, forehand, movement and sheer
unpredictability. What makes the Frenchman dangerous is that, of all the
top 10 players, he is the most explosive in terms of being able to hit
enormous highs – but he is also capable of going walkabout for periods
in matches.

Jo-Willy is the
kind of player who might spend four games without going to the net and
then start serve-and-volleying for a short period, just to keep his
opponent guessing.

But what he loves to do most is run
around his backhand, his weaker side, and slash away. That is why, on
the return and in rallies, Murray must try and keep the ball deep,
hopefully with a variety of pace and slice to prevent his opponent
getting into what can be a devastating rhythm.

Tsonga's forehand is his 'moneyball'
but the backhand can be less reliable. His swing on the shot is slightly
stiff and that is probably a contributory factor to him having the
lowest break of serve percentage among the top guys.

It is also why, if the rally extends to more than six or seven shots you would back Murray to win it more often than not.

Andy Murray

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Ready for action: Murray (left) and Tsonga at Wimbledon on Thursday

Tsonga is great to watch, although
I've noticed in this tournament that he is showing a bit less of
himself, there is not quite the same animation on court about him. It
might be a sign that he is trying to improve his concentration.

I thought he would get through his part of the draw when Rafael Nadal
went out. His route has been easier than the matches faced by Murray,
who has really impressed me with the way he has dealt with adversity.
When Ivan Lendl took over his coaching, I am sure he identified three
areas to work on: the serve, forehand and mentality.

Here at Wimbledon you have been able to see the fruits of some of that work.

How Murray can hurt Tsonga

With the Murray serve we haven't been
seeing the second delivery dropping down around 80mph so much. The
manner in which Andy kept his cool when behind against Marcos Baghdatis
and David Ferrer was also extremely admirable.

So I see him in good shape to make the final, possibly in four sets, or it could even be in straight sets.

I still do not run away with the idea of Murray being favourite for the tournament, however.

How Murray can hurt Tsonga

I am leaning towards Novak Djokovic as the man to lift the trophy on Sunday and I put him marginally ahead of Roger Federer in their semi-final. With the Serb having won six of their last seven encounters, it is hard to think otherwise. But nobody should write Federer off and he could hardly have been more impressive against Mikhail Youzhny in his quarter-final.

If the roof comes over, that probably helps Djokovic and Murray as it slightly slows up the conditions.

My guess is that, regardless, we are going to see a massive occasion on Sunday – the world No 1 versus Andy Murray.

Luuk de Jong is Newcastle target

Pardew lines up Dutch striker De Jong as replacement for Ba if Senegal star moves to Spurs

|

UPDATED:

10:24 GMT, 1 June 2012

If Tottenham prise Demba Ba away from Newcastle, Toon fans have nothing to fear because Alan Pardew is lining up FC Twente striker Luuk de Jong as a replacement.

De Jong will cost around 7million – the same fee they will receive for the Senegalese striker.

The Dutch ace has bagged 39 goals in 76 games at Twente and manager Steve McClaren knows it will be difficult to keep hold of his young talent.

Replacement: Luuk De Jong (left) could move to Newcastle

Replacement: Luuk De Jong (left) could move to Newcastle

Pardew have scouted De Jong over the last year and could act upon their interest should Ba head for the exit on Tyneside.

The 27-year-old joined Newcastle from West Ham last summer on a free transfer after the London club's relegation triggered a release clause in his three-and-a-half-year contract.

Harry Redknapp's side were interested in Ba in January after he scored 15 goals in the first half of the season, but opted to sign Louis Saha instead.

The arrival of compatriot Papiss Cisse at Newcastle saw Ba play in a wider position for Alan Pardew's side and he scored only once after his return from the Africa Cup of Nations, in a 2-1 victory against Aston Villa on February 5.

Unclear: Demba Ba's future is uncertain

Unclear: Demba Ba's future is uncertain

Newcastle boss Pardew admitted last week there was no guarantee the striker would still be at the club at the start of next season.

He said: 'There is a clause there. There is a situation with his contract and we are in talks with him and his agent. It is not a foregone conclusion that he will stay.'

Rafael van der Vaart aiming for FA Cup and top four

Van der Vaart spurring Tottenham on to silverware and a top four finish

|

UPDATED:

16:32 GMT, 25 March 2012

Rafael van der Vaart is hungry for a Barclays Premier League and FA Cup double after helping Tottenham take a huge step towards a top-four finish.

Saturday's goalless draw at Chelsea extended Spurs' winless league run to five matches but it saw them pick up their most crucial point of the season thanks to arguably their most disciplined away performance.

Champions League qualification – for so long appeared a foregone conclusion but which they almost conspired to throw away in the last month – is very much Tottenham's to lose again.

Aim: Rafael van der Vaart is determined to help Tottenham have a fine end to the season

Aim: Rafael van der Vaart is determined to help Tottenham have a fine end to the season

Fourth-placed Spurs comfortably maintained their five-point lead over Chelsea with just eight games remaining of a run-in that looks easier on paper than their rivals'.

Tottenham can also rub salt into Chelsea's wounds by beating them to a place in the FA Cup final, but first they must get past Bolton in what is bound to be an emotional re-run of the abandoned quarter-final.

'We want to end in the top four and win the FA Cup – it would be great,' said Van der Vaart, who is relishing a big end to the season for Harry Redknapp's men, especially the prospect of his first trip to Wembley.

'It would be a dream, especially at Wembley. For me, it's going to be the first time. So, let's win Tuesday and then get Chelsea.'

Van der Vaart, 29, missed out on a first appearance at the national stadium last month when injury ruled him out of Holland's friendly victory over England.

But he would be delighted to make his bow there in a competition that is as famous in his homeland as anywhere else.

'The FA Cup is massive, especially the cup final,' he said.

Scramble: Van der Vaart admits he should have scored against the Blues

Scramble: Van der Vaart admits he should have scored against the Blues

'It's massive in Holland as well. It's still a long way to go but it's just two games and you're in the final.'

Winning the cup and qualifying for the Champions League would arguably equate to one of Tottenham's best ever seasons.

They could have all but sealed the first part of their mission yesterday had Emmanuel Adebayor and Van der Vaart not missed virtual open goals at Stamford Bridge.

Van der Vaart said: 'We had a few great chances, including me. I think, twice, I have to score.

'I was disappointed but that's life for a football player. Sometimes, you miss.

'I think we deserved more than a point but, at the end, a point gives us confidence for the next few games.'

That includes Tuesday's cup tie at White Hart Lane, which will be played just 10 days after the trauma of Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba's cardiac arrest there.

Difficult: Van der Vaart (right) knows the FA Cup replay against Bolton will be an emotionally testing affair

Difficult: Van der Vaart (right) knows the FA Cup replay against Bolton will be an emotionally testing affair

Replay: The FA Cup game will be played on Tuesday

Replay: The FA Cup game will be played on Tuesday

Van der Vaart admitted the occasion against Owen Coyle's side would be 'difficult' for both sets of players, adding: 'I'm happy that the boy's getting better and better and that's a good thing.

'Muamba is still in Bolton's hearts and ours as well. It's a game we want to win and we have to win.'

An emotional Redknapp added: 'We're all just so pleased at what has happened.

'We don't want to get ahead of ourselves with Fabrice but, from where we were last Saturday to where we are now is just a miracle. It's a miracle.

'When you saw that boy go up that tunnel – and I spoke to my club doctor – he was gone, he was gone.

'I think we are felt that he wasn't going to make the night or wasn't going to make the hospital.

'When he's out of hospital, it'll be amazing. It's almost a miracle that his heart can stop for that long and he comes round.

'He said to Owen, 'Where'd you get that tie from, gaffer' He had a club tie on.

'It's not supposed to happen, is it, when you see what the medical people say

'We want to play Tuesday night and both teams are going to want to try to win, obviously.'

James Milner warns Manchester City to expect an FA Cup backlash from United

Milner warns Manchester City to expect an FA Cup backlash from United after Old Trafford rout

James Milner has warned his Manchester City team-mates to beware a United backlash when they meet for the first time since hitting them for six.

City’s quest for a clean sweep of domestic trophies will receive its most stern examination on Sunday when United cross Manchester for the FA Cup third round, desperate to settle a score after the astonishing 6-1 reversal at Old Trafford in October.

A resounding 3-0 win over Liverpool on Tuesday night ensures City head into the collision in a buoyant mood but Milner has sounded a note of caution. United have lost the two most significant meetings between the clubs and the England midfielder is concerned about their threat.

Fighting back: James Milner (left) hit the third goal in Manchester City's convincing win over Liverpool

Fighting back: James Milner (left) hit the third goal in Manchester City's convincing win over Liverpool

‘That will have hurt them badly,’ Milner said. ‘Everyone, from the players to the management, will be more than up for it. As much enjoyment as we got from it, they probably felt three times as much pain. We have got to be aware of that.’

One thing that Milner believes will work in City’s favour is the psychological lift that Roberto Mancini’s squad have been given following that success in the Barclays Premier League that sits neatly alongside the FA Cup semi-final win last April.

There was a sense that 1-0 win at Wembley gave City the belief they could be classed as credible challengers for major honours. In previous years, every major meeting they had against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men ended in a United win.

Feisty encounter: Mario Balotelli and Rio Ferdinand clashed at Wembley last season

Feisty encounter: Mario Balotelli and Rio Ferdinand clashed at Wembley last season

‘It was a great occasion last year against our neighbours to get that win,’ said Milner. ‘I think people thought it was going to be a foregone conclusion that we would win the final then against Stoke but they were never going to make it easy.

‘We showed that strength to get that first trophy. We want to win lot of trophies here and getting the first one gives us that confidence, belief and knowledge that we can go and do it again. That’s what we are here to do. We want to create history for this club.’