Tag Archives: nights

Michu snubbed by Tottenham, West Ham, Aston Villa, Stoke, Fulham and Leeds before Swansea swooped

REVEALED: The SIX Premier League clubs (and Leeds United) who snubbed Michu before Swansea swooped for 2.2m bargain

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UPDATED:

22:10 GMT, 31 December 2012

If Roberto Mancini is having
sleepless nights over missing out on Robin van Persie, then one can only
imagine the mood at Tottenham's training ground every time Michu scores
for Swansea.

There,
at Hotspur Way, something of a dark comedy routine has been going on
this season between Pat Jennings and Tim Sherwood, an exchange that
usually ends with one telling the other: 'Don't mention Michu'. He's the
one that got away. Twice.

And once he was going for free. But Tottenham are not alone. Sportsmail understands
that Fulham, Stoke, West Brom, West Ham and Aston Villa were also told
by an independent agent in Spain about the 26-year-old in the summer and
encouraged to bid for a man who had just scored 15 goals in La Liga.

Summer steal: Michu has been a sensation since joining Swansea from Rayo Vallecano for just 2.2m

Summer steal: Michu has been a sensation since joining Swansea from Rayo Vallecano for just 2.2m

Who needs Michu

Michu has taken the Premier League by storm since joining Swansea in the summer. Here's how his goal tally compares with the leading scorers at the clubs he snubbed…

Premier League goals 2012-13 (as of Dec 31)

Michu – 13

Spurs – Jermain Defoe – 10

Aston Villa – Christian Benteke – 5

West Ham – Kevin Nolan – 5

Stoke – Jonathan Walters – 5

Fulham – Dimitar Berbatov – 6

West Brom – Romelu Lukaku – 6

And one in the Championship…

Leeds United – Luciano Becchio – 14

The fact that those goals came for
Rayo Vallecano, a struggling team that frequently couldn't afford to pay
their players, wasn't enough to coax an offer.

The
fact that most of the goals had come from midfield, and his release
clause was a relative snip at 3.2million, was seemingly also ignored.

In
Tottenham's case, the shame is a little deeper. Spurs were first
notified about Michu in the summer of 2011, when his contract at Celta
Vigo, who were then in the Spanish second tier, expired. It meant that
he was available on a free transfer.

At
the time, Michu was largely playing a deeper, more defensive role and
Tottenham snubbed the recommendat ion of Gerry Armstrong, a former Spurs
player-turned-Spanish football expert, to make a bid.

'Even
then, it was obvious this guy was a different class,' Armstrong said.
'He played a bit further back, but he was so comfortable on the ball.

Before he was famous: Michu in action against Real Madrid in September 2011 (when he was still up for grabs)

Before he was famous: Michu in action against Real Madrid in September 2011 (when he was still up for grabs), but Andre Villas-Boas, Paul Lambert and Sam Allardyce (below, left-right) all passed up the chance to sign him

Andre Villas-Boas

Paul Lambert

Sam Allardyce

'He
had brilliant vision, could win headers, could pass, could shoot. There
didn't seem to be anything missing.' It wasn't just a Premier League
thing. Leeds, along with the six top-flight clubs, were contacted by a
Spanish agent in the summer and, like the rest, did not act on the
recommendation. Swansea stumped up 2.2m.

The Bigger Picture

'He was offered, I think, to a lot of clubs in the summer,' Michael Laudrup told Sportsmail back in August.

'I think he will be a very good player here. I have a feeling that he will.

'There
is a lot of value in the Spanish market right now. There is not a lot
of money and you can get some very good deals. I think this is a good
deal.'

That conversation took place in the
week before Swansea opened their season against QPR – Michu's debut. He
scored twice in a 5-0 win. Then he scored again in their second game, a
3-0 win over West Ham.

'He can score goals, but I think he can do more,' Laudrup said in the summer.

Indeed,
he passes well, beats players, can poach and has a pile-driver in
either foot. In keeping with Swansea's modus operandi, he is comfortable
taking possession in small spaces, but he's also 6ft 1in and is superb
in the air, making him a target for long balls and crosses.

Laudrup
spoke of adding a Plan B and a greater goal threat in pre-season and
Michu has given him both. His Premier League tally stands at 13, one
short of Van Persie, who cost current leaders Manchester United 24m.

Paying attention: Spain's coach Vicente del Bosque says he will hand Michu his first international cap

Paying attention: Spain's coach Vicente del Bosque says he will hand Michu his first international cap

The Tale of the Tape

A week ago, Vicente del Bosque, the
Spain manager, took the unusual step of promising Michu his first
international cap, almost two months before of the world and European
champions' February 6 friendly with Uruguay in Doha.

Del
Bosque spoke out the night before Michu scored his 13th league goal of
the season in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United on December 23.

A
couple of days earlier, Sir Alex Ferguson had told his club's website
that he had not heard of the Spaniard prior to this season.

He
added that he would be having words with his scouting department.
Fergie won't be the only Premier League manager doing that. Or
Championship boss, for that matter.

Leading the way: Robin van Persie has scored the most goals in the Premier League this season

Leading the way: Robin van Persie has scored the most goals in the Premier League this season

VIDEO: Here's what all the fuss is about…

Bradford captain Gary Jones taunts Arsene Wenger after Capital One Cup disaster that Torquay are tougher than Arsenal

Torquay are tougher than you! Bradford skipper Jones taunts Wenger after cup disaster

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UPDATED:

23:53 GMT, 12 December 2012

Oh dear: Arsene Wenger is under pressure as the Gunners are well off the pace this season

Oh dear: Arsene Wenger is under pressure as the Gunners are well off the pace this season

Arsene Wenger was subjected to more humiliation yesterday when Bradford captain Gary Jones insisted Torquay had proved more difficult to beat than Arsenal.

Jones delivered a scathing assessment of the Gunners’ shortcomings that will only intensify the pressure on their under-fire manager.

While Wenger claimed his players had no cause for embarrassment, former Rochdale midfielder Jones argued they should hang their heads in shame after putting up less fight than Torquay in a League Two fixture three days earlier.

Mid-table Torquay kept Bradford at bay until bowing to an 85th-minute goal from one of Tuesday’s substitutes, Alan Connell, and Jones was in no doubt about who had inconvenienced them more.

‘I think it’s safe to say Torquay gave us a tougher game,’ said the 35-year old, whose previous claim to fame was making a record number of appearances for Rochdale.

‘It was like a role reversal, because Torquay defended really well against us, whereas it was us defending really well against Arsenal.

‘When you look at what the two teams cost (Bradford 7,500, Arsenal over 65million), it is an incredible result. Without a shadow of a doubt, if I was an Arsenal player heading home after that, I would be embarrassed.'

You beauty: Jones celebrates with goalkeeper and penalty hero Matt Duke

You beauty: Jones celebrates with goalkeeper and penalty hero Matt Duke

He added: 'No disrespect to us and our lads, but they should be beating Bradford City.

‘Team spirit and all that means a lot, though, and can take a side a long way.

'We have a massive team spirit and that is what happened. The lads were unbelievable. It was one of those nights where you just had to be there to witness it.

'I thought promotion with Rochdale would take some beating as the best moment of my career, but to knock out a full-strength Arsenal in a cup quarter-final is what dreams are made of. It is what you play football for.

‘Did it surprise me how badly Arsenal played I think it did, yes. We were surprised at how comfortable we were at times. They didn’t really have too many shots on goal.'

Night to forget: Chamakh, Mertesacker and Gervinho look on as Arsenal were embarrassed by Bradford

Night to forget: Chamakh, Mertesacker and Gervinho look on as Arsenal were embarrassed by Bradford

Night to remember: Bradford celebrate their famous victory over the Premier League giants

Night to remember: Bradford celebrate their famous victory over the Premier League giants

Jones continued: ‘They tried to play too much football at times, especially down the middle. We defended really well, and our organisation and discipline were really good, which put us in good stead for going through.

‘I thought we’d be up against a lot of youth players, with a bit of experience thrown in, but it was nothing like that.

'When we saw their team sheet, we couldn’t believe it. Steve Parkin (assistant manager) wrote their line-up on a piece of paper, then put on the bottom 'poor team' with an exclamation mark.’

Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar step up for Wales on fright night

Tipuric and Biggar step up for Wales on fright night

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UPDATED:

22:02 GMT, 15 November 2012

If Wales had put the world’s top 10
teams into a hat and picked out their next opponents, they could hardly
have selected a more dangerous fixture than Samoa on a Friday.

In many ways, it is a nightmare
scenario. Any team desperate for a win — a position in which Wales
surprisingly find themselves after four consecutive defeats — would do
anything to avoid a side they are expected to thump, yet a side so
capable of producing an upset.

Ryan's mighty: Jones will be captain

Ryan's mighty: Jones will be captain

Wales have history with Samoa. The ferocious Pacific Islanders have beaten them twice in World Cups, and even gave them a fright at last year’s tournament in New Zealand, before the side pulled together at half-time and set themselves on that glorious path to the semi-final.

And they have history with Friday nights, too. Their two most recent weeknight adventures at the Millennium Stadium have brought a forgettable draw with Fiji and a fierce defeat by England. Head coach Rob Howley has made five changes to the team who started the loss to Argentina with Scott Williams, Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle, Gethin Jenkins and captain Sam Warburton on the bench.

Howley insists this is squad rotation, but dropping your captain when you are looking for your first win in six games — excluding a Barbarians exhibition — is not a traditional coaching policy.

Standing in for Warburton is over-qualified deputy Ryan Jones. He will captain Wales for a 29th time, breaking the record he held jointly with Ieuan Evans. If he enjoys a 16th victory as skipper, he will leap ahead of Howley with the most wins as a Wales captain.

On that decision Howley said: ‘Sam Warburton is a special player. He is still captain. Ryan has been an integral member of the squad. He is like the father figure of the whole squad and his form for the Ospreys and Wales over the last 18 months has been exceptional.

Big call: Wales coach Rob Howley

Big call: Wales coach Rob Howley

‘One thing we probably lacked against
Argentina, having Alun Wyn Jones and Jamie Roberts injured, was
leadership, and that is about the number of leaders you have in a team.
Wales is not about the one captain, it’s about more leaders, whether
it’s the back three, second row or props. It is important you create
leadership within a group.’

The two players in the spotlight are flanker Justin Tipuric and
fly-half Dan Biggar. This is a first start for Biggar since 2010 but the
coaches feel ready to trust him in the playmaker slot. It is a big
chance to shine, with Rhys Priestland wavering and Dan Carter coming to
Cardiff in a week.

Tipuric has been pushing for the No 7 shirt for a year now, modestly
waiting in Warburton’s shadow.

He is a machine in training, scarcely
breaking breath, and has arguably been the outstanding openside in the
RaboDirect Pro 12 this season. He is a natural scavenger and his bright
blue scrum hat is a blur when he hits breakdown after breakdown.

Samoa have been quietly acclimatising in North Wales, beating Canada a
week ago in a double- header at Colwyn Bay. Their line-up includes
familiar faces, led by Worcester wing David Lemi, who will have a
fascinating and full-on battle with rivals George North and Alex
Cuthbert. Scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i will run out against some of his
Ospreys team-mates, with Northampton centre George Pisi taking on Jamie
Roberts.

Samoa assistant coach Darryl Suasua is realistic. ‘Argentina playing so well did not do us any favours,’ he said.

‘Wales will be smarting over that and making sure they get things right.
They made a heck of a lot of errors but we don’t believe they will play
like that again.’

Last year’s World Cup match against Samoa was a turning point for Wales. It needs to be the turning point again.

Kevin Davies quit Twitter after abuse gave him sleepless nights

Bolton talisman Davies quit Twitter after abuse gave him sleepless nights

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UPDATED:

10:57 GMT, 14 November 2012

Kevin Davies has revealed Twitter abuse stopped him sleeping at night.

The Bolton striker – who hardly uses Twitter anymore – believes the social networking site is an unnecessary distraction that can play on the mind of young footballers.

'If it was me, I would advise not to go on it. I enjoyed my time on it because it gave you the opportunity to have conversations with fans and people and charities – that was fantastic.

Abuse: Kevin Davies (right) was forced to quit Twitter

Abuse: Kevin Davies (right) was forced to quit Twitter

'But when it gets to the point where you get abuse and stuff I think it can play on your mind, it can affect you.

'If you’re not sleeping at night wondering what you’re going to be waking up to, I don’t think you really gain anything out of being on there.'

Davies, who made his 600th career appearance in Wanderers’ 2-2 draw at Blackpool on Saturday, was an active participant on the social media site until May 2011.

The 34-year-old took exception to abusive messages aimed at himself and wife Emma and although he still uses his Twitter page, it is predominantly to retweet information on charitable causes.

Marvin Sordell was the subject of vile slurs on the site after claiming he was racially abused while warming up as a substitute during Bolton’s defeat against Millwall last month.

Abuse: Marvin Sordell was subjected to slurs on Twitter

Abuse: Marvin Sordell was subjected to slurs on Twitter

An offensive banner about the England Under-21 forward unfurled at the New Den last weekend in the wake of a 13-year-old fan being banned over the Sordell incident stands as the latest fall-out.]

On the barbs thrown his team-mate’s way, Davies said: 'I’ve heard a few things. I don’t really go on Twitter anymore so I can’t really comment. Not that Davies thinks Twitter is without its merits, having enjoyed the opportunity for fan interaction that the modern game often denies.

'When I was on there I had some great conversations with people,' he said.

'Sometimes after games you can’t sleep and you’re having random conversations with a fan – that side, I absolutely loved it.

'People say it’s only ‘the one per cent’ but one per cent of 180,000 people following me, that’s still a lot of stick to be getting.

'If you get family and things brought into it like that I just don’t think you need that in your life.'

Still going strong: Davies remained with Bolton despite their relegation

Still going strong: Davies remained with Bolton despite their relegation

In the wake of Bolton’s 5-0 FA Cup semi-final thrashing against Stoke in April 2011, seasoned-pro Davies found the slings and arrows difficult to deal with – making him ponder the detrimental effect of Twitter on younger players like Sordell.

He added: 'After semi-finals and stuff I was hurting and everyone else was, and it just comes to a point where you’re constantly checking, wondering if you’re getting stick.

'Why do you need that Just concentrate on your football. What you are gaining out of it as a 21 or 22-year I old, I don’t know.

'I came off it and I felt a big weight off my shoulders because you’re constantly having to wonder what you’re tweeting or having to justify yourself.'

Celtic beating Barcelona is up there with the greatest European nights

We had become fodder for minnows… so beating Barca ranks as my greatest ever night as a Celtic fan. It's as good as it gets

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UPDATED:

12:10 GMT, 8 November 2012

As a child, I was spoiled rotten. Celtic had been European champions just a little too early for me to claim I could remember it, but by the mid-1970s I expected them to reach the semi-finals of Europe’s premier competition more often than not, and took it for granted that they would win it again one of those seasons.

The descent from European Cup contention in the Seventies via Cup-Winners’ Cup and UEFA Cup mediocrity in the Eighties reached its nadir with a 5-1 defeat at Neuchatel Xamax in the early 1990s.

We had become fodder for minnows.

Signed, sealed, delivered: Tony Watt keeps his cool to score Celtic's second goal against Barcelona

Signed, sealed, delivered: Tony Watt keeps his cool to score Celtic's second goal against Barcelona

Main man: Watt celebrates with his team-mates as Celtic record a shock win over the Spanish giants

Other Celtic nights of glory…

November 12 1969: Celtic 3 Benfica 0. (Benfica won the return leg by the same score and Celtic went through on the toss of a coin.)

April 1 1970: Leeds 0 Celtic 1

April 5 1970: Celtic 2 Leeds 1

5 March 1980: Celtic 2 Real Madrid 0

31 October 2001: Celtic 4 Juventus 3

20 March 2003: Liverpool 0 Celtic 2

11 April 2004: Celtic 1 Barcelona 0

21 November 2006: Celtic 1 Man Utd 0

3 October 2007: Celtic 2 Milan 1

The Champions League group stages have provided us with opportunities to mug some of Europe’s aristocrats at Celtic Park – Juventus, AC Milan and Manchester United have all come a cropper – but none of them arrived in Glasgow as laden with medals as Barcelona did, let alone the consensus label of Greatest Team The World Has Ever Seen.

Barcelona didn’t have their first-choice defence Celtic were without four key players. Barcelona still had Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. We had free transfer signings Joe Ledley and Kelvin Wilson.

Barcelona brought on World Cup winners David Villa, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique from their bench. Celtic brought on 18-year-old Tony Watt from Coatbridge, and he duly scored their second goal.

So where does this rank among Celtic victories in Europe Well, they were a strong team throughout the Sixties and Seventies, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected that they should take a few scalps. As mentioned above, there wasn’t much to shout about in the Eighties and Nineties.

And those Champions League wins in the Noughties, and the run to the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, were achieved with the help of some pretty canny characters such as Martin O’Neill, John Hartson, Alan Thompson, Chris Sutton and Henrik Larsson.

Off and running: Victor Wanyama got the party started with Celtic's opening goal on a historic night

Off and running: Victor Wanyama got the party started with Celtic's opening goal on a historic night

Happy days: Celtic celebrated their 125th anniversary in style with victory over Barcelona on Wednesday

Happy days: Celtic celebrated their 125th anniversary in style with victory over Barcelona on Wednesday

The European Cup win of 1967 will always represent the pinnacle of Celtic achievement, but given the callowness of Wednesday night’s line-up, the inexperience of a manager in his first Champions League season and the sheer weight of talent, reputations and odds stacked against them, I’d put it just behind – maybe even on a par with – the home and away victories over Leeds United that earned a second European Cup final appearance in 1970.

And if this should prove to be as good as it gets, well, I’ll settle for that.

Glory days: Celtic won both legs against Leeds in 1970 to reach a second European Cup final

Glory days: Celtic won both legs against Leeds in 1970 to reach a second European Cup final

Kyle Walker: Spurs are proud to be in Europa League

Walker: Spurs are proud to be in Europa League… and we're in it to win it!

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UPDATED:

16:37 GMT, 6 November 2012

Kyle Walker insists Tottenham should take no notice of jibes about playing in the Europa League.

Spurs host Maribor on Thursday night looking to record their first win in Group J after three successive draws.

But for Chelsea's dramatic shoot-out victory in May, Tottenham would have earned the chance to play in the Champions League this season, rather than heading into Europe's second tier competition.

Ambition: Kyle Walker (right) is targeting Europa League glory with Spurs

Ambition: Kyle Walker (right) is targeting Europa League glory with Spurs

While some may feel the tournament lacks star quality, defender Walker sees no reason to treat their European campaign with any less enthusiasm.

'Some people aren't even on Channel Five on Thursday nights, so it is definitely something I want to win on a personal level and I am sure the lads and the gaffer want to do as well,' said Walker.

Just three points separate all four teams in Group J following the last round of matches.

Tottenham head to leaders Lazio next, then finish at home to Panathinaikos on December 6.

Walker sees no reason why Andre Villas-Boas' men cannot end the qualification stage in strong form.

'No disrespect to them (opponents), but these are all winnable games,' he added. 'With the players we have in our team – we have world-class internationals – we can win this one, go to Lazio and give them a good game, and beat Panathinaikos and the table will look good come the end of it.'

Tottenham head into Thursday's match on the back of another disappointing performance when beaten at home in the Barclays Premier League by Wigan.

Feeling down: Spurs are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing defeat against Wigan when they host Maribor at White Hart Lane on Thursday

Feeling down: Spurs are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing defeat against Wigan when they host Maribor at White Hart Lane on Thursday

Centre-back Jan Vertonghen feels the players owe a quick response against the Slovenians as they prepare for tough trips to Manchester City and then north-London rivals Arsenal.

'The team is strong enough to come back from this defeat,' Vertonghen told the club's official website.

'We have a lot of important games ahead, important games in Europe and difficult away games.

'We have to stick together. We know we are strong in away games and we can win at any away ground.'

Real Madrid have been hit by the return of the Cristiano Ronaldo sulk

Good news, City: Real Madrid have been hit by the return of the Ronaldo sulk

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UPDATED:

21:49 GMT, 16 September 2012

Just before midnight on Saturday, in the relentless heat of the Spanish night, Cristiano Ronaldo shaped to take a free-kick in his usual fashion.

Three paces back. Legs a stride apart. Arms by his side. It is so familiar, we could see it in our sleep.

Seconds later the ball was in the crowd behind the goal at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. The shot had not remotely threatened Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop and, it transpired, was the final kick of another demoralising, confusing night for Ronaldo and his Real Madrid team.

Brooding Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and his Real Madrid team have been beaten in two of four La Liga matches

Brooding Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and his Real Madrid team have been beaten in two of four La Liga matches

When the final whistle blew at 1-0 – Real's second defeat in only four La Liga games – Ronaldo left the pitch hastily, rubbing his bleeding left forearm to accentuate, once again, the physical suffering he felt he had endured from his opponents.

For him, it was one of those nights. Those of us who have watched him dozens of times for Madrid, Portugal and Manchester United, recognise the signs of discontent immediately.

Ronaldo, by nature, is a brooder. Despite the flamboyant nature of his football, he withdraws when things are not going well.

About 45 minutes later, he walked briskly through the interview area without pause. His features dark, still he rubbed that left arm.

He was red around the eyes and looked as though he had been crying. We can only presume that he had not. Within Jose Mourinho's team, Ronaldo is not the only problem.

After this defeat, the Madrid coach accused his players of not wishing to suffer enough. He bemoaned his team's lamentable defending.

'At the moment, I don't even have a team,' said Mourinho. Undoubtedly, though, Ronaldo's publicly declared unhappiness is at the heart of the malaise.

Having announced a fortnight ago he felt unloved and sad (maybe he had been crying, after all), he looks less of a talisman and more of a burden.

We have all seen the best and the worst of the 27-year-old over the years, of course. On Saturday, we saw only the ugly side.

Not his day: Ronaldo had a disappointing match against Sevilla ahead of Real's clash with Manchester City

Not his day: Ronaldo had a disappointing match against Sevilla ahead of Real's clash with Manchester City

Not his day: Ronaldo had a disappointing match against Sevilla ahead of Real's clash with Manchester City

During the first 15 minutes, Ronaldo tumbled to the ground five times. It set a pattern. He clashed off the ball with Fernando Navarro, Gary Medel and Emir Spahic.

There was not a lot of dignity involved. In the second half, pinned to the left side by the introduction of a second Madrid striker Karim Benzema, his influence waned further.

Occasionally, he shot from distance but it was selfish, wasteful football and when the fourth official – mistakenly, it turned out – held up his number for substitution with half an hour left, nobody was surprised.

Ronaldo rarely plays good football when he is not relaxed. He looks under pressure – even if it is of his own making – and that is only encouraging news for Manchester City ahead of Tuesday night's Champions League meeting.

Back on home turf on Tuesday, Ronaldo will strain to impress. He always does against English teams and on really big occasions. Often, though, the strain clouds his vision and complicates his decisions.

Mourinho certainly knows he has a problem. When asked on Saturday night about the relationship between Ronaldo's mood and the team's performance, he answered at length even if it was all rather cryptic. 'I do not think it has anything to do with it,' he said.

Unhappy camper: Jose Mourinho said he would have made seven changes on Saturday, were he allowed to

Unhappy camper: Jose Mourinho said he would have made seven changes on Saturday, were he allowed to

'Today's match was no different from those against Getafe and Granada, which we won.

'So I don't think that the rumours of the last couple of weeks have anything to do with it. It is about a state of mind and of two or three who aren't thinking like the rest.

'They are the minds of players who are not committed and for whom football is not a priority in their lives. There aren't many involved and it's complicated, but I'm coach and if there are those less committed, then it is my fault.'

We can only guess at the identity of Mourinho's private scapegoats, although the fact that Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil were hauled off at half-time may provide a clue.

'If I could have made seven changes, I would have,' added Mourinho.

'From the first to the last minute, we were poor. In the first minute, they scored a goal from a corner. 'This shows me the image of my team, lacking concentration, without being mentally prepared to suffer. At this time, my team isn't up to scratch.'

A poor man's Mario Ronaldo's brooding and melodrama was reminiscent of City's Balotelli (centre)

A poor man's Mario Ronaldo's brooding and melodrama was reminiscent of City's Balotelli (centre)

Mourinho's summation was accurate. The goal his team conceded in the second minute here – Piotr Trochowski volleying in unmarked from a corner – was as deflating for Madrid as it was uplifting for the home supporters. What is more, it set the tone.

Madrid enjoyed a lot of possession but attacked without fluency and defended poorly.

There were exceptions – Xabi Alonso and the dangerous attacking left back Marcelo – but they were few.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, was often peripheral. Too much posturing and not enough football.

On Sunday, the influential Marca newspaper described him as being 'less like Cristiano than ever'.

Certainly, on nights like this, he looks less a Ballon d'Or candidate and more a poor man's Mario Balotelli.

London 2012 Olympics: Phillips Idowu ready for Games

It's go for Idowu! Triple jumper says he's ready for Games amidst injury rumours

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UPDATED:

22:13 GMT, 11 July 2012

Phillips Idowu has been spotted alive and walking without a limp. He is fit and ready to triple jump for gold at London 2012.

For 40 days and 40 nights, since his last competitive appearance, he had kept us – and Charles van Commenee, UK Athletics' head coach whose ego he loves to tweak – guessing about his injury status.

Yesterday, he boarded a river cruiser on the Thames aware of the furore his silence had created and acted as nonchalantly as you would expect from someone who has spent 33 years practising the art.

Confident: Phillips Idowu says he has let the rumour mill spin itself about his injury

Confident: Phillips Idowu says he has let the rumour mill spin itself about his injury

So what is his medical condition 'I'm well,' he said, confirming that he will compete at Crystal Palace this weekend.

'I'm good. I'm keeping my head down and getting on with my day job. They call me the invisible man.'

His head – be it up or down – was bejewelled in his customary ironmongery: studs and rings in ears and tongue. He chewed on a piece of fluorescent gum.

'I've not mentioned anything about an injury. Nobody has heard the words come out of my mouth, or from my coach's, or from any of my team's,' he added.

'I have let the rumour mill stir itself and it has given me an opportunity to focus on my preparations for the Games, which I feel have gone really well.'

The rumour mill may have been a reference to Van Commenee himself.

Wears it well: Idowu will represent Great Britain in the triple jump

Wears it well: Idowu will represent Great Britain in the triple jump

The Dutchman had said Idowu missed the Olympic trials through injury but that 'medical confidentiality' forbade him from supplying further explanation.

Then, when announcing the athletics team for the Olympics last week, Van Commenee admitted he had no idea whether the former world champion was still crocked, claiming he had been too busy to find out.

As we pointed out here, that seemed a trifle negligent considering that Idowu is among only a handful of British track-and-field gold medal prospects.

Van Commenee's ill-informed position reflected, at least in part, the fact that the two men do not speak directly but through intermediaries after a Twitter-based row last year: Idowu told his followers that he would not be taking part in the 2011 European Team Championships; Van Commenee thought it disrespectful not to have told him first; Idowu claimed he had informed UKA; Van Commenee later claimed they had spoken about the incident and made up; Idowu countered that they had not cleared the air and called Van Commenee a liar.

This sorry impasse continues, with Van Commenee of the opinion that Twitter devotees are 'clowns and attention seekers'.

Even though Idowu did not mention Van Commenee by name on the boat that he boarded at Westminster Pier, his every comment could be interpreted as an affront to his head coach's authority.

Idowu, who typically wore a lime green tracksuit as he travelled back from the World Championships in Korea last year when everyone else wore team kit, presented himself as a man who lives above Van Commenee's law.

Focused: Idowu in Daegu last year

Focused: Idowu in Daegu last year

Of his relationship with Van Commenee, Idowu said: 'That's not an issue. This year I have kept myself to myself.

'The people most important to me are my family, my representatives and my coach.

'That is the small circle of people I work with. Nobody else needs to be involved.'

So let's clear this up. Did he injure himself in his last competition, a Diamond League meet in Eugene, Oregon, on June 1

After all, he withdrew after landing awkwardly. 'It was precautionary,' he said. 'I slipped on the board – it happens. You hit the board, your foot slips and it kind of sends the fear of God through you.

'I didn't want to take any chances.'

He then withdrew from Oslo. Why, if he was not injured

'To prepare for the Games,' he replied. 'Every year I never compete in every meet I put down as scheduled.

'There are times when things are going really well and you feel like, “OK, I can take a step back” and there are times when you feel, “I may need to compete in more competitions than I expected”.'

Then he missed the trials. Why 'Precautionary.'

He added: 'There was a lot of fatigue in my system and I didn't want to jeopardise my chances at the Games by competing when I wasn't in tip-top form.

I have always said, if I am not in the best possible physical shape, then I won't compete because people pay hard-earned money to come to see me perform well.'

My guess is that he had a niggle-cum-foot injury after Eugene – a fact confirmed at the time by his people – then enjoyed keeping Van Commenee in the dark thereafter, merrily dancing in that grey area between precaution, niggle and injury.

We are happy to report he did not slip as he left the boat.

Euro 2012: Roy Hodgson"s remarkable football journey

How a freezing dressing room set Hodgson on his remarkable football journey

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UPDATED:

21:13 GMT, 23 June 2012

When Roy Hodgson's remarkable football
journey began at non- League Gravesend & Northfleet 43 years ago,
there were none of the trappings associated with being England manager
at a major international tournament.

Even by Southern League standards,
the Kent club's Stonebridge Road ground was primitive. The unheated
dressing rooms were covered with cracked, dirty white tiles and housed
an unwelcoming single wooden bench that spread round three sides.
Occasionally, a spider would be seen in the bath.

Main man: Hodgson learned his earliest lessons lower down football's pyramid

Main man: Hodgson learned his earliest lessons lower down football's pyramid

A draught would often blow up from the Thames, leaving players to freeze as they trained at the ground on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

The highlight of the Thursday session would be to decamp to the supporters' club afterwards to receive their wages in a little brown packet from manager Alf Ackerman, in Hodgson's case about 20 a week.

ROY'S THANK YOU

Roy Hodgson has invited his agent Leon Angel to the quarter-final against Italy as a thank-you for the way he handled his ‘transfer’ from West Brom to England.

Angel negotiated a four-year contract for the coach with the FA but was not able to persuade Hodgson to include one of his other clients, Spurs’ Aaron Lennon, in the England squad for Euro 2012.

It was in such humble surroundings that Hodgson set out on the path that will see him carry the hopes of more than 20 million Englishmen watching on TV when his England team meet Italy in Kiev.

Hodgson arrived at Gravesend in 1969, having been released from Crystal Palace without playing a game. In his second and final season there as a no-frills wing-half, he helped Gravesend win promotion from the Southern League First Division to the Premier.

'Our training nights on cold damp evenings helped forge my future ideas,' said Hodgson in a contribution to the club's Golden Jubilee book.

'Distance has lent enchantment to my less-than-glorious playing career and I remember my time at Stonebridge Road warmly. I learned a lot as a young player there, the characters I played with and my geography improved as well because we played in a number of locations I never knew existed.'

During his spell, Hodgson grew close to teammate Colin Murphy, another future manager who tried to coach less than-enthusiastic colleagues. Ackerman, a fearsome South African, was known for the catchphrase: 'What is your problem, pal'

Hair we go: A young Hodgson (circled) at Gravesend

Hair we go: A young Hodgson (circled) at Gravesend

Fortunately for England's superstars, Hodgson is more diplomatic than Ackerman. But the 64-year-old can be demanding of his players, and remembers his first manager with affection.

'There was a shouting match in training because Murphy wanted to tell goalkeeper Brian Hughes where he should stand at a free-kick,' said Hodgson. 'While we stood around freezing, the manager walked out and ruled in Murphy's favour. When Hughes protested, Alf rolled up his trousers, placed the muddy ball down and told Hughes to stand where he wanted.

'Then he blasted the ball into the net and shouted at him “I told you effing Murphy was right”. Coaching at its most effective.'

Those who remember Hodgson at Gravesend recall an average player who nonetheless performed his duties as a foot soldier with diligence. But it was his personality off the pitch that suggested there may be better things ahead for the young PE teacher from Croydon who knew he would never be good enough to be a full-time professional player.

'He wasn't one of the singalong crowd but he was articulate and very intelligent,' said Gravesend's former vice-chairman Roger Easterby. 'While the other players played cards on the team bus, he'd quietly read a book or a newspaper.

'He worked hard and slotted into the team, although he wasn't particularly talented. It was far from a glamorous life but it was a good school. A few of them, like Roy and Colin, were always interested in the coaching because they knew they'd never reach the top playing the game.'

Hodgson played 59 times for Gravesend, scoring just once. But at the end of that 1970-71 season, he showed the first signs of the wanderlust that led him to a career that has so far taken in 26 different jobs in nine different countries.

The first move wasn't far – from Gravesend to Kent neighbours Maidstone – but it was controversial because the two clubs were fierce rivals.

Some Gravesend diehards still grumble about Hodgson's decision, but local photographer Phil Gunnill said: 'I was always told Roy was frustrated by Gravesend's lack of facilities, particularly when it was cold. Maidstone had heated dressing rooms. That was the clincher.'

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Euro 2012: Keith Andrews believes Ireland can do better against Spain

We're not scared of Spain! Andrews says Ireland's dream is still alive

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UPDATED:

14:44 GMT, 11 June 2012

Keith Andrews insists he will not lose any sleep over the prospect of rubbing shoulders with Spain's superstars.

The Republic of Ireland head into Thursday night's Group C showdown with the reigning world and European champions knowing defeat would end their Euro 2012 campaign with a game still to play.

Not afraid: Keith Andrews (left) says Ireland are not afraid of the prospect of Spain

Not afraid: Keith Andrews (left) says Ireland are not afraid of the prospect of Spain

Indeed, even a draw could end their hopes if the result of the Croatia v Italy match goes against them after last night's 3-1 defeat by Slaven Bilic's men in Poznan.

Stars: Xavi (right) and co will be a tough bunch to beat

Stars: Xavi (right) and co will be a tough bunch to beat

The game in Gdansk will prove a particular test for Andrews and his midfield colleagues as they attempt to contain and overhaul the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi, although he is adamant the challenge holds no fears.

Asked if the prospects would give him sleepless nights, the 31-year-old said: 'No, I don't think so. We are obviously against top teams – the three teams are fantastic sides.

'Croatia showed that at times last night and Spain will be probably an even sterner test.

'But I think we can play better than we did last night as well and hopefully we can do that on Thursday.'

Ireland's task always looked a steep one when they were drawn in such a tough group, but the gradient of the incline has grown dramatically as a result of last night's defeat.

Account opened: Sean St Ledger bagged Ireland's goal against Croatia

Account opened: Sean St Ledger bagged Ireland's goal against Croatia

However, while the thousands of Irish fans who filled the Municipal Stadium with such noise and colour left fearing the worst, Andrews will not give up hope that Giovanni Trapattoni's men can get the points they need to secure a prolonged stay in Poland and Ukraine.

He said: 'We have to believe we can or else we might as well go back to Dublin now.

'It was always going to be a difficult group and it certainly proved that last night. The way we have started, we have given ourselves an uphill task.'

That in essence is what the Republic did in their opening game.

Not at their best: Spain only managed a draw with Italy

Not at their best: Spain only managed a draw with Italy

They fell behind after just three minutes when striker Mario Mandzukic headed past Shay Given and, although defender Sean St Ledger levelled with a 19th-minute header, the respite was short-lived.

Everton striker Nikica Jelavic restored Croatia's lead two minutes before the break when, having initially looked to be in an offside position, he was perfectly placed to benefit from Stephen Ward's sliced clearance.

Trapattoni claimed afterward Jelavic had been two yards offside, but Andrews, who raised his arm immediately in a bid to attract the attention of Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers, revealed that had not been his concern.

Not over yet: Ireland must get at least a draw from Spain to keep their hopes of qualification alive

Not over yet: Ireland must get at least a draw from Spain to keep their hopes of qualification alive

He said: 'I wasn't appealing for an offside, I was appealing for a foul on Stephen Ward, which a few of us were.

'I didn't have an angle for an offside. Some people have said it was, some have said it might have come off our player.

'But I thought there was a foul on Stephen Ward, their player clipped him and the ball broke to Jelavic.

'It was just a reaction at the time. Whether it was or wasn't, I'm not too sure.'

Mandzukic made it 3-1 within three minutes of the restart when his header went in off a combination of the post and Given, and while Ireland probably should have had a penalty for Gordon Schildenfeld's crude challenge on skipper Robbie Keane, they were well beaten on the night.

And finally... Ireland must face Mario Balotelli (left) and Antonio Cassano (right) of Italy

And finally… Ireland must face Mario Balotelli (left) and Antonio Cassano (right) of Italy

Andrews said: 'It was very difficult. Basically, we conceded goals at the wrong times.

'There's never going to be a good time to concede goals, but certainly in the first three minutes and then just before and just after half-time are probably cardinal sins in football.

'You are taught that at schoolboy level. We shot ourselves in the foot.
“We were under no illusions – they are a fantastic side. It wasn't a case of us being over-confident.

'Our preparation was spot-on, our build-up, we were going in full of confidence, but with the utmost respect for the team.

'We felt we could achieve a result and unfortunately, we weren't able to do that.'