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WORLD SNOOKER CHAMPIONSHIP 2013: Barry Hearn complains to BBC over Ronnie O"Sullivan coverage

We deserve better than this, BBC! Hearn complains after coverage of O'Sullivan ends… for Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em

By
Nick Metcalfe

PUBLISHED:

15:04 GMT, 21 April 2013

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UPDATED:

17:18 GMT, 21 April 2013

World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn has complained to the BBC, after they left the climax of Ronnie O'Sullivan's first round match at the World Championship to show a 1970s comedy.

O'Sullivan, making his return to snooker after pulling out of virtually the whole season, was about to complete a 10-4 win over Marcus Campbell on Saturday night when BBC2 switched to the Michael Crawford sitcom Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

On the black: Ronnie O'Sulivan impressed during his snooker return at the Crucible

On the black: Ronnie O'Sulivan impressed during his snooker return at the Crucible

There were various complaints made by fans on social networking sites, and Hearn responded on Sunday by writing on Twitter: 'Sorry to all snooker fans for the poor BBC coverage last night. Letter of complaint sent to BBC today.'

The complaint from Hearn is surprising when you consider how much praise he has heaped on the BBC in recent times for their coverage of the sport.

The corporation, which has covered snooker for decades, has recently signed up as host broadcaster of the World Championship, UK Championship and Masters tournaments until 2017.

Having his say: Barry Hearn with Ronnie O'Sullivan at a special media event ahead of the World Championship

Having his say: Barry Hearn with Ronnie O'Sullivan at a special media event ahead of the World Championship

Jason Ferguson, chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, welcomed the public response to the BBC's scheduling decision, saying on Twitter: 'Snooker Fans, World Snooker letter of complaint has been filed with the BBC over yesterdays coverage, thanks everyone for your comments.'

The BBC hasn't yet responded to Hearn's comments. They are almost certain to point towards their coverage on the 'red button' service, which showed the end of O'Sullivan's match.

Some fans of the sport might speculate on the timing of Hearn's complaints. The BBC have regularly left their coverage of more significant matches, at later stages of the tournament, in years gone by.

The overall picture on the opening weekend of the tournament is a positive one, with plenty of column inches accompanying O'Sullivan's win, as snooker fights its corner among other sporting attractions like key football matches, the London Marathon and Bahrain Grand Prix.

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Some mothers do 'ave 'em

Classic comedy: Millions of viewers watched Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em on the BBC when it was first screened between 1973 and 1978

Watch a classic clip from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em…

Celtic want UEFA answers over referee"s performance in Champions League defeat to Juventus

Celtic demand answers from UEFA over Champions League ref with boss Lennon still furious at Juventus wrestle tactics

By
John Mcgarry

PUBLISHED:

14:01 GMT, 15 February 2013

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UPDATED:

22:56 GMT, 15 February 2013

Celtic will go to UEFA to seek an explanation as to why referee Alberto Mallenco failed to apply the letter of the law in the 3-0 defeat to Juventus on Tuesday.

Neil Lennon’s side were comprehensively beaten by the Italian champions, but much of the aftermath focused on the reluctance of the Spanish official to penalise the roughhouse tactics of the visitors while defending set-plays.

Despite Juve’s back-line repeatedly bear-hugging their opponents at the 10 corners Celtic forced, Mallenco’s actions were limited to yellow cards for Stephan Lichtsteiner and Simone Padoin, while Gary Hooper and Scott Brown were also cautioned.

Corner chaos: Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon got to grips with Celtic striker Gary Hooper

Corner chaos: Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon got to grips with Celtic striker Gary Hooper

NOW READ GRAHAM POLL

Celtic
were beaten by Juve – but they were let down by the referee. Big Daddy,
Giant Haystacks and Mick McManus were all that was missing from this
wrestling extravaganza

And Lennon, who does not dispute that Juve deserved to win the match, will now dispatch a DVD of the visitors’ tactics to Nyon in the coming days together with a letter seeking an explanation for Mallenco’s inaction.

‘We have DVD footage of the game and we would like someone to give us some answers,’ said the Celtic manager.

‘I am compiling it myself along with the video-analysis guys and writing a letter (to UEFA) asking for a ruling.

‘I have asked this question again and still haven’t had an answer. We played Juventus 11 years ago.

Too close: The tussle between Buffon, Hooper and Stephan Lichtsteiner was like a wrestling match

Too close: The tussle between Buffon, Hooper and Stephan Lichtsteiner was like a wrestling match

‘We were awarded a penalty from which Chris Sutton scored. What is the difference from 2001 to 2013 Can somebody please give me an answer

‘What Juventus did was way beyond the limit of the law in football.

‘This wasn’t even close to a bit of shirt-tugging. This was arms up around players preventing them from forward momentum.

‘They were basically pulling and holding them at every opportunity.

Now for the headlock: Hooper is held in the box by Lichsteiner

Now for the headlock: Hooper is held in the box by Lichsteiner

‘You may as well turn the game into a wrestling match.’

The performance of Efe Ambrose was also under close scrutiny in the wake of the defeat after the Nigerian —fresh from winning the Africa Cup of Nations — made errors that contributed to Juve’s first and third goals.

Ambrose only arrived back in Glasgow the day before the game.

Lennon, though, insists that if he had to select his side again, Ambrose would be included.

Hands off: Hooper and Lichsteiner carry on their struggles

Hands off: Hooper and Lichsteiner carry on their struggles

‘Efe is all right. He was very apologetic after the game,’ said Lennon. ‘He made basic errors but, if I had my time over again, I would still pick him.

‘Efe has been fantastic for us. He’s added a different dimension to the way we play, particularly in Europe.

‘His performances away from home in Barcelona, Lisbon and Moscow were as good as any centre-half I’ve seen at the club for a long time.’

Up in arms: Scott Brown gets the treatment too, from Simone Padoin

Up in arms: Scott Brown gets the treatment too, from Simone Padoin

Lennon stressed there was no issue between Kris Commons and Ambrose on account of the former’s outspoken remarks.

‘I would imagine he has apologised privately, yeah,’ he said. ‘I have dealt with it internally.’ Mikael Lustig, Scott Brown and Rami Gershon will miss today’s game against Dundee United, while Victor Wanyama is a doubt.

Pushing their luck: Brown has words with Andrea Pirlo after another round of shoving

Pushing their luck: Brown has words with Andrea Pirlo after another round of shoving

Andrew Strauss: I sent "quit" text to Kevin Pietersen

Strauss reveals he sent letter of retirement to EVERY England player except Pietersen

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UPDATED:

23:50 GMT, 22 October 2012

Andrew Strauss has revealed he sent a personal letter to every England player when he announced his retirement from the game in August – except for Kevin Pietersen.

Instead – ironically – he used a text message to let Pietersen know his days as the country's Test captain and opening batsman were over.

Strauss said: 'That was a strange time for the two of us. A lot had happened and during that period we were quite estranged from each other.'

Backing: Andrew Strauss believes England need Kevin Pietersen in India

Backing: Andrew Strauss believes England need Kevin Pietersen in India

The former captain maintains his
falling out with England's most explosive batsman did not factor in his
decision to retire but he believes his absence will make it easier when
Pietersen meets the squad to fly to India for next month's Test series.

Strauss said: 'Maybe it will be easier for the team that I'm not there because some of it was directed to me.

How's bat: Pietersen in action for the Delhi Daredevils

How's bat: Pietersen in action for the Delhi Daredevils

'To win in India would be one of
English cricket's greatest moments. India's record at home is better
than any other country in the world.

'It is time for everyone to make
Kevin's return into the right decision – an England side with him in it
that is harmonious and all working in the same direction is the best
case scenario.

'It would be fantastic if Kevin does
recommit himself to English cricket. He sounds like he's contrite and
now it's time for everyone to look forward.'

Marvin Sordell: Millwall supporter sends letter of apology over Facebook "threat"

Millwall supporter sends letter of apology to Sordell over Facebook 'threat'

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UPDATED:

15:58 GMT, 19 October 2012

The Millwall supporter accused of posting a sickening photo on Facebook which appeared to threaten the life of Marvin Sordell has written a grovelling letter of apology.

Sordell recently accused supporters at The Den of racially abusing him and three team-mates during Bolton's visit on October 6.

Soon after a mocked-up picture appeared on the social networking site which depicted a gun being pointed at the Trotters striker and blood splattered across his face and chest.

Disgraceful: This is the image posted on Facebook by the Millwall fan

Disgraceful: This is the image posted on Facebook by the Millwall fan

The picture carried the message: 'dont (sic) f*** with the millwall.'

In the letter the fan apologises for what he thought was a 'bit of fun', but has since realised the grave error of judgment made and offered his sincere apologies to the England Under 21 international and his family.

'I am sorry I have hurt and upset you and your family, I wasn't thinking at the time and it is now the most regretted thing I have ever done,' the teenager states in the letter.

'I did not see it as a death threat or racist abuse, all it meant to me was don't do anything to my club as I'm a loyal supporter.'

Sportsmail understands that Police are now investigating the matter.

Flashpoint: Sordell was in Serbia where England players were subjected to racist chanting

Flashpoint: Sordell was in Serbia where England players were subjected to racist chanting during the Under 21s Euro 2013 play-off

Police to investigate Marvin Sordell picture posted on Facebook

Police to investigate sick Sordell Facebook picture after racism claims against Millwall fans

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UPDATED:

22:18 GMT, 17 October 2012

Police are set to investigate a message on England Under 21 striker Marvin Sordell’s Facebook page.

A photograph of Sordell was uploaded, depicting a gun pointed at the 21-year-old with blood across his face and chest and the message: ‘dont f*** with the millwall.’

Disgusting: This is the mocked-up image of Sordell that was posted on Facebook

Disgusting: This is the mocked-up image of Sordell that was posted on Facebook

Fury: Marvin Sordell (right) was caught up in the trouble in Serbia on Tuesday

Fury: Marvin Sordell (right) was caught up in the trouble in Serbia on Tuesday

The father of the individual accused of posting the image contacted Sportsmail to convey his son’s regret at his actions.

He also revealed his son plans to
write a letter of apology to Sordell, who accused some Millwall fans of
racially abusing him and Bolton team-mates 12 days ago.

Chris Foy: This legacy could make kids losers

This legacy could make kids losers

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UPDATED:

22:35 GMT, 27 September 2012

Legacy. It's the sporting word of the
year. In the warm afterglow of the London Olympics, it has become a
cherished, six-letter symbol of British vision.

But in rugby, there are grave
concerns about legacy. Three years from a home World Cup which could
galvanise the sport as never before, there is unrest about the
management of future generations.

girls tag rugby

Word reaches this column of widespread discontent with the revamp of mini rugby up to Under 12 level. An RFU investigation into this formative stage resulted in a change of emphasis to smaller pitches and smaller teams, with the accent on core skills and decision-making. It's difficult to argue with the logic, which is in tune with the formula in other leading nations.

Following trials, the new model has been adopted around the counties. But there is a groundswell of alarm over what is seen as a move away from the principle of competition.

County officials have held meetings with club coaches to preach the new mantra but the message is being distorted. Many junior festivals are being arranged without finals or trophies, and in at least one case organisers have decreed that they won't even keep score during games.

Understandably, many parents are up in arms. Emails seen by Sportsmail lambast the system as 'absolute tosh', 'shocking' and 'disappointing', and 'another example of the namby-pamby society we live in'. There is a feeling that children must learn how to win and how to lose as preparation for adult life.

But the RFU insist this perception of the revamp is wrong, with rugby development director Steve Grainger saying: 'We'd like to reassure people that we're not “anti- competitive”. Tournaments, trophies and getting more children enjoying the game are at the heart of what we do.'

Somehow, the message is not filtering through. The confusion must be addressed, quickly. The commitment to develop skills in junior players is welcome but the context of competition cannot be removed. If it is – by accident or design – children and their parents will simply look elsewhere for that competitive 'fix'.

Ford stuck in neutral

George Ford of Leicester

Johan Goosen will start at No 10 for South Africa on Saturday, after graduating from the 2011 junior World Cup – where he scored the same number of penalties (10) as George Ford.

The English fly-half went on to win the IRB's World Young Player of the Year award but while Goosen serves as his country's playmaker, Ford will be on the bench for Leicester.

Again. He had a 15-minute cameo at London Welsh, seven minutes against Worcester and has been an unused replacement twice. Richard Cockerill can pick who he likes and he is backing Toby Flood, but a precocious talent is going to waste. Ford is in the Saxons squad but cannot put pressure on England's senior fly-halves if he can't get a game.

His Leicester contract expires at the end of the season and he is highly likely to move on.

It's all about the timing

There was something convenient about ERC's decision to confirm on Monday that the 2014 European finals would be held in France.

The announcement came a fortnight before the next talks aimed at resolving the TV rights row which is threatening the future of continental club competition – with French allegiance viewed as crucial.

The Heineken Cup final was last held in France in 2010, and in 2001 before that, with a block on the promotion of the title sponsor contributing to the scarcity of such showpieces there. Now it will return just four years later.

If there is a defined rota, why are these announcements trumpeted one by one And what about the talk of taking finals to Italy If the detail in the announcement is not cause for cynicism, the timing surely is.

Farrell shows his value

Anyone in doubt about the qualities Andy Farrell will offer England now he is back in the national coaching hierarchy should have heard him speak at the launch of a sponsorship agreement designed to enhance the development of young players. Normally, these occasions generate polite gratitude and corporate-speak but Farrell spoke with real passion in recalling his own formative years in rugby league. If that is how he can talk at a business-like function, his comments in the final minutes before a Test match must be truly inspirational.

The last word

Hardly a week goes by without a Welsh player being linked with a move to France and the latest to consider his options is Jamie Roberts. The Cardiff Blues centre is sure to ignite a transfer frenzy, given his status as a Grand Slam-winning Lion. Roberts, an outstanding player, is also a bright, articulate figure who will soon qualify as a doctor. If he departs, it will be emphatically the biggest loss yet to the game in Wales. Given his standing and qualities, the WRU should consider contributing to his salary in return for ambassadorial duties. Roberts would not be worse off – in any sense – for moving on, but Welsh rugby would be.

Liverpool owner John Henry boast over Boston Red Sox spending

More misery for Rodgers as under-fire owner Henry makes boast about Red Sox spending

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UPDATED:

08:17 GMT, 5 September 2012

Brendan Rodgers has been handed another blow following Liverpool owner John Henry's boast that his baseball team is among the sport's biggest spenders.

The claim comes just 48 hours after Henry penned a controversial letter to furious Liverpool supporters defending the club's transfer policy.

Manager Rodgers offloaded misfit Andy Carroll to West Ham on loan a day before the transfer deadline in the belief he would bring in top-target Clint Dempsey.

Money problems: Henry has been forced to defend Liverpool's transfer record which has left Rodgers under-staffed for the new season

Money problems: Henry has been forced to defend Liverpool's transfer record which has left Rodgers understrength for the new season

However, the window closed with Dempsey sealing a move to Tottenham and that has led to criticism from fans, with Rodgers admitting he would not have allowed Carroll to leave had he not been very confident of bringing in someone else.

But in an 800-word letter to Kop fans, Henry wrote: 'A summer window which brought in three young, but significantly talented starters in Joe Allen, Nuri Sahin and Fabio Borini as well as two exciting young potential stars of the future – Samed Yesil and Oussama Assaidi – could hardly be deemed a failure as we build for the future.

'The transfer policy was not about cutting costs,' Henry added. 'It was – and will be in the future – about getting maximum value for what is spent so that we can build quality and depth.'

New club: Liverpool were favourites to land Dempsey but he joined Tottenham

New club: Liverpool were favourites to land Dempsey but he joined Tottenham

The statement comes in stark contrast to another open letter in which Henry proclaimed to fans of the Boston Red Sox: 'We continue to have the second highest payroll among the 30 clubs.

'Baseball is a 365-days-a-year sport for us. Our commitment to winning with the Red Sox is unabated.'

Liverpool are 18th in the Barclays Premier League after suffering their worst start to a top-flight season in more than 50 years, claiming only one point from their opening three games.

London 2012 Olympics: Charles van Commenee unsure over future

Van Commenee uncertain over UK Athletics future as head coach reveals 'mixed emotions' after falling short of medal target

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UPDATED:

21:24 GMT, 12 August 2012

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LIVE RESULTS |
EVENT SCHEDULE |
MEDALS TABLE

Charles van Commenee's future as chief coach of British Athletics was in serious doubt on Sunday.

Van Commenee said two years ago that if his team did not meet his target of eight medals – one of them gold – he would head immediately for the airport to return to his native Holland having put his resignation letter in the post.

After meeting with UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner and chief executive Niels de Vos, he was persuaded not to make a final decision until he returns from holiday in the Caribbean.

Not enough Charles van Commenee says he has mixed emotions after the Olympic Games

Not enough Charles van Commenee says he has mixed emotions after the Olympic Games

However, when Britain's athletes
parade the four gold, one silver and one bronze medals at the Aviva
Diamond League meeting in Birmingham on August 24, Van Commenee
confirmed he would not be there.

Britain finished fourth in the
athletics medal table behind only the United States, Russia and Jamaica.
Nevertheless, Van Commenee said: 'When a target is not hit it should
have consequences. It's one of the pillars of our policy.

'That's what I implement to athletes
and coaches every day. And that's what drives people to do better. The
world would be a better place if everybody had targets with sanctions.

'They want me to stay. They know the score. They know what I've said. They know my principles and the direction I take.'

So if they had not sat you down over a
cup of coffee, you would have resigned 'I don't do “if ” questions.
But, yes, it's down to me and that's an honour,' he said.

Van Commenee also admitted one of his biggest regrets is his failure to lead a revival in British sprinting.

Will he, won't he Van Commenee will mull over his future at UK Athletics

Will he, won't he Van Commenee will mull over his future at UK Athletics

'I'm the first one to admit that I've
not been successful to turn the misery around in sprints in this
country in the last four years,' he said.

'I regret that and that should be the
first priority on the road to Rio (in 2016) because sprints are
important in athletics and also in the light of the history of athletics
in this country.

'I've changed things, areas in the
sport, but not successfully in that area. So that is definitely a
priority for the next four years for whoever leads the programme.'

Not one British man or woman made it
past the semi-finals of the 100 or 200 metres and the men's 4x100m relay
team once again made a mistake that saw them disqualified.

Fallen short Despite triumphs from the likes of Jessica Ennis, Team GB did not reach the eight-medal target

Fallen short Despite triumphs from the likes of Jessica Ennis, Team GB did not reach the eight-medal target

'The nightmare of a head coach is to
be in a position where you need another medal and have to watch the
4x100m men. The first thing you do is to look for a big hole to
disappear in, even before the race. It's bad.

'In the end I'm responsible, I will not hold responsible and accountable the two young guys that I put in that position.

'They're young, I put them in that vulnerable position and it didn't work out.'

British athletes set 20 career bests, three British records and one British junior record.

Their gold-medal haul was the best in
a non-boycotted Games since 1964, and the first time this side of the
Second World War when they have finished so high in the medal table.

But Van Commenee is as hard on
himself as he is on his athletes. When asked whether he might find it
difficult to lecture athletes in future about targets if he ignored his
own, he said simply 'Yes.'

He has been overwhelmed by messages
of support in the last 48 hours. Mo Farah was just one of the athletes
who came out publicly to say he should stay.

He denied a rumour put about by Michael Johnson that he had been made an offer to coach Brazil for the next four years.

Ashley Cole and Ashley Young racism tweeters given police lecture

Teen pair who sent racist tweets to Cole and Young given police lecture

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UPDATED:

12:57 GMT, 28 June 2012

A police force has spoken to two teenage boys after racist tweets were sent during England's Euro 2012 quarter-final defeat by Italy.

Chelsea defender Ashley Cole and Manchester United winger Ashley Young were singled out for abuse on Twitter after they missed penalty kicks during the match on June 24.

A 13-year-old boy from Gloucester and a 15-year-old boy from Tewkesbury admitted writing tweets in which they used offensive words in reference to England players.

Abuse: Ashley Young and Ashley Cole were the subject of racist twitter abuse after they both missed penalties in the Euro 2012 quarter-final shootout

Abuse: Ashley Young and Ashley Cole were the subject of racist twitter abuse after they both missed penalties in the Euro 2012 quarter-final shootout

Gloucestershire Police said while the boys had written tweets about Cole and Young, they were not responsible for those that made national headlines following the match, which are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.

The 13-year-old boy attended a police station on Tuesday with his father and was spoken to under caution. He admitted he was responsible for the tweets and said he was remorseful for his actions.

A police spokeswoman said the boy will have a meeting with the Superintendent for the area, who will further explain to him the consequences of his actions.

He will also be warned that any similar actions in the future could result in criminal proceedings.

Officers also met with a 15-year-old, who also admitted posting tweets and expressed remorse. He will be issued with a formal warning as he has previously been arrested for offences, although these were not racism-related, the spokeswoman said.

Spot of bother: Ashley Young thundered his penalty on the crossbar

Spot of bother: Ashley Young thundered his penalty on the crossbar

Both teenagers have since deactivated their Twitter accounts and will be asked to write a letter of apology to the players.

Superintendent Gary Thompson said: 'We will not tolerate any form of racism in the county no matter how it is committed, be it in person or via social media sites such as Twitter.

'The individuals involved have been spoken to about the content of their tweets and given strong words of advice about their behaviour. Both were apologetic for their actions and we believe we have taken firm but appropriate action.'

Precedent: Liam Stacey was jailed for jailed for 56 days for mocking footballer Fabrice Muamba on Twitter

Precedent: Liam Stacey was jailed for jailed for 56 days for mocking footballer Fabrice Muamba on Twitter

After racist tweets were placed on the social networking site, the FA said in a statement: 'We are concerned at the reports regarding allegations of abuse aimed at England players Ashley Cole and Ashley Young on Twitter.

'They have just given everything for the national team at Euro 2012 and it is appalling and unacceptable that messages of an abusive type are being posted.

'We support any police investigation in identifying who is behind this.'

Student Liam Stacey, 21, from Pontypridd, South Wales, was jailed for 56 days in March after racially abusing two Twitter users and mocking Bolton footballer Fabrice Muamba, when he collapsed and almost died.

Stacey, who was in the final semester of his three-year biology degree when he drunkenly sent his offensive tweets, was also banned from Swansea University for the rest of the year.

He admitted racially-aggravated public disorder after posting: 'LOL (laugh out loud). F*** Muamba. He's dead!!!'

Euro 2012: Karim Benzema can trouble England

The scrabble kings of France find a word to scare England… Benzema

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UPDATED:

21:59 GMT, 4 June 2012

In an individualistic football culture, where players rope themselves off behind headphones and computer screens, there is something cheerily communal in the games of Scrabble that French players and staff have had at their Clairefontaine base.

France manager Laurent Blanc has been an active participant. He thus knows the value of a high-scoring seven-letter word such as Benzema.

Karim Benzema scored 31 goals for Real Madrid last season. It is a sentence worth repeating, though perhaps not if you are Roy Hodgson or an increasingly scrutinised England centre half.

Danger man: Karim Benzema (centre) will pose a big threat to England

Danger man: Karim Benzema (centre) will pose a big threat to England

Euro 2012 email button

But for Cristiano Ronaldo. also at Real Madrid, and Lionel Messi at Barcelona, Benzema may have had this fact recognised more widely.

They are aware of it in Spain, however, and they are sure of it in France. The striker also scored the opener in the Euro 2012 qualifier in Albania last September — one of three goals in qualification. He is the top scorer in Blanc’s low-goals squad.

According to Zinedine Zidane, Benzema has developed into France’s most important player. He will start as France’s lone forward against England, and Joleon Lescott can recall Benzema’s slick strike at Wembley in November 2010.

Benzema is no longer the teenage prodigy he was at Lyon, where he was pursued by every major club in Europe, including Manchester United, but has clearly rediscovered some of the form, touch and confidence which marked him out then and which persuaded Real to pay 30million for him three years ago. He also scored in two games against Barcelona last season.

‘He’s taken on another dimension,’ says former France and Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit. ‘Last year everyone thought he would leave Madrid. What he’s done is exceptional when you think how much pressure there is at Madrid.

‘It’s the mark of a great player. He’s gone up a level.’

All smiles: Benzema (left) with Franck Ribery during a France training session

All smiles: Benzema (left) with Franck Ribery during a France training session

Against Iceland in France’s first warm-up game, Benzema was sharp and ready to be dangerous had the service not been so ponderous. His deflected shot led to France’s first goal. He was similarly bright against Serbia last Thursday.

At 24, he is hardly old, but he says that he has grown up while also slimming down.

Last summer Benzema readied himself for this season by losing more than a stone. He looked at himself in the mirror and went on a personal fitness drive in Italy. Having made the Euro 2008 finals while at Lyon — two games, no goals, France bottom of their group — Benzema was overlooked for the World Cup.

It came at the end of his first year in Madrid, when he scored eight goals in La Liga. Real president Florentino Perez had personally travelled to Benzema’s house to sign a player they thought would be the new Ronaldo — not Cristiano. Perez had given Benzema a six-year contract, but the player was a first-year flop.

‘When I left Lyon I was a very young boy and very shy,’ Benzema explained recently.

In form: Benzema at Real Madrid

In form: Benzema at Real Madrid

‘I arrived alone, it was the first time I left my home and Lyon. I had to adapt to a new city and a new team. I also had a lot of pressure because I was considered a star and had to prove it.

‘Today I am a more mature person and player. I am calmer, more serene and physically stronger. I have learned to control the pressure in big games more.’

Two seasons under Jose Mourinho have had a profound effect. Initially, though, even Mourinho’s powers of motivation slid off Benzema’s slumped shoulders. Just 18 months ago, with Mourinho’s preferred striker, Gonzalo Higuain, injured, the manager said: ‘If I can’t go hunting with a dog, I’ll go hunting with a cat.’

Benzema was portrayed as a workshy pussy, even team-mates commented on his lack of, well, everything. On another occasion, at a Real training session, Mourinho was overheard calling Benzema ‘half-asleep’.

Having woken up, Benzema told L’Equipe last week: ‘When he (Mourinho) came to Madrid I had a bad back, I had put on some weight and was disappointed at not going to the World Cup. But I felt he was fond of me, despite what he said later.

‘He has never let me go. Even when he didn’t play me, or trained me very hard, or when he slammed me in press conferences. Mourinho angered me to toughen me up. Finally that work has paid off.

‘At Madrid, I am making double the effort than I did in Lyon. I am working like mad.’

Physical evidence of Mourinho’s doubt came in the shape of Emmanuel Adebayor, who arrived on loan at the Bernabeu from Manchester City last January. But that coincided with Benzema’s return to vitality and, 16 months on, this season has ended with speculation that it is Higuain who will leave. Now Benzema refers to Mourinho as a ‘father figure’.

Previous: Benzema scored for France against England at Wembley in 2010

Previous: Benzema scored for France against England at Wembley in 2010

Benzema has cemented his position at Real; he has done the same with France. Former national coach Raymond Domenech preferred to take Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Sidney Govou, Djibril Cisse and Andre-Pierre Gignac to the World Cup in South Africa. France scored one goal in three games between them, finished bottom of the group and staged a player mutiny.

None of that quintet have made Blanc’s squad for Ukraine and Poland. Benzema scored the first competitive goal of the new Blanc era, in Sarajevo against Bosnia-Herzegovina, and, even at 24, only Florent Malouda and Franck Ribery have more caps than Benzema’s 44. Of the 16 squads in the finals, only Poland’s have fewer caps between them than France’s.

‘It’s a new team and I’m more experienced,’ Benzema said. ‘I have to talk more.’

The listless pussycat has become an enthusiastic leader and France’s focal point.

Benzema’s seven letters spell out a warning for England.