Tag Archives: perils

Rafael Benitez under pressure at Chelsea as Roman Abramovich ponders his options again

Stick with Rafa Call for Avram Or go all out for Guardiola Just 12 days into the Benitez era, Abramovich is at the crossroads again…

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UPDATED:

11:58 GMT, 3 December 2012

Just two weeks ago, Roman Abramovich thought he had chosen the right man and the right path.

Sure, the appointment of Rafael Benitez as manager came with the caveat of the word ‘interim’ but, the Russian believed, that would do nicely for now.

However, just a few footsteps along that new path and Abramovich finds himself confronted with yet another crossroads. He is standing there scratching his head in disbelief, trying to solve another colossal dilemma.

Much to ponder: Following a poor start to the Rafael Benitez era, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich finds himself facing another dilemma

Much to ponder: Following a poor start to the Rafael Benitez era, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich finds himself facing another dilemma

Slow start: Chelsea have collected just two points from nine since Benitez took charge and were beaten 3-1 by West Ham United at the weekend

Slow start: Chelsea have collected just two points from nine since Benitez took charge and were beaten 3-1 by West Ham United at the weekend

He has three routes to select from. The first is to break habit and show faith in his appointment, to overlook the two points gained from nine thus far, to have patience and give time and money so Benitez can gradually impose his ways and whims on the club and its players. This route looks long and winding.

The second is to give Benitez a helping hand – to bring back former manager Avram Grant as an adviser in the hope his familiarity with the club’s inner workings will help to arrest a slump in form that has had some pundits already handing the Premier League title to Manchester. This route looks shorter and straighter, but is not without its perils.

Third is to radically shake things up again, to thrown every conceivable ruble, incentive and sweetener in the direction of Pep Guardiola, the man Abramovich surely sees as the proper long-term choice. This route looks particularly arduous but it could lead to a pot of gold at the end.

It’s almost like the dilemma of a contestant stuck on a question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire Does he phone a friend in Avram for a 50:50 It’s probably best not to ask the audience right now.

Helping hand: Avram Grant (right), who was in charge of Chelsea when they beat Benitez's Liverpool in the 2008 Champions League semi-final, could return in an advisory role

Helping hand: Avram Grant (right), who was in charge of Chelsea when they beat Benitez's Liverpool in the 2008 Champions League semi-final, could return in an advisory role

CHELSEA'S BUSY DECEMBER

December 5 – Nordsjaelland (H) Champions League
December 8 – Sunderland (A)
December 13 – Club World Cup semi-final in Yokohama
December 16 – Club World Cup final or third place play-off in Yokohama
December 19 – Leeds United (A) League Cup quarter-final
December 23 – Aston Villa (H)
December 26 – Norwich City (A)
December 30 – Everton (A)

And as he stands at the crossroads pondering his options once again, Abramovich can hear the dissent of the fans – the jeers and the pointed vitriol at Benitez, the choruses of ‘Roberto Di Matteo’ – and above even that clamour, he can hear a clock ticking.

Whatever his choice, he needs to make it quickly. Chelsea are now entering a frenetic and unforgiving month of eight matches in 26 days. /12/03/article-2242179-16260C1D000005DC-645_306x431.jpg” width=”306″ height=”431″ alt=”Victor Moses of Chelsea” class=”blkBorder” />

John Obi Mikel of Chelsea

Absentees: Victor Moses (left) and John Obi Mikel will be playing in the African Cup of Nations early next year

Rafa's records panel

This is where the second path looks less appealing. Avram Grant isn’t going to suddenly reinvigorate the faltering energy levels of an apparently ‘small’ group of players – and his appointment could prove more trouble than it’s worth.

Benitez and Grant have a cordial relationship but how quickly this will sour under the pressure of chasing results. There will be uncertainty and conflicting ideas on who to field and how to play.

While both know the way to the Champions League final – Grant’s Chelsea beat Benitez’s Liverpool, of course, in the 2008 semi-finals – it’s doubtful they can work well together in such an environment, with the axe swinging above their heads.

The bottom line is that the arrival of Grant would fatally undermine Benitez and hasten his exit. It would not be possible for him to be more ‘Interim.’

The Spaniard’s credibility, already running on empty in the eyes of most Chelsea fans, would hit rock bottom. While Grant is more popular among the Stamford Bridge faithful, he’s hardly the charismatic ‘fixer’ that is required and not a great deal better than Benitez.

Not wanted: Chelsea fans have been quick to make their frustrations known over the appointment of Benitez

Not wanted: Chelsea fans have been quick to make their frustrations known over the appointment of Benitez

If Abramovich stands by Benitez, he will feel obliged to ask his manager for a list of players to chase in the transfer window. If Benitez is saying now – and he made this very clear to the owner within days of his arrival – that his squad isn’t big enough, then by the end of December, after another eight games and a trip round the world have taken their toll, he’ll be practically hammering on the door calling for reinforcements.

The question is whether Abramovich will be willing to spend having paid the best part of 50m in the summer and over 90m last season on exciting players intended to deliver the attractive, attacking brand of football he demands. The kind of attractive, attacking football they were playing earlier in the season under Di Matteo.

Benitez has identified a left-back, a central midfielder and a striker as priorities, but there’s every chance the Russian will turn around and say ‘chequebook closed’ and order his stopgap boss to make the best of the expensive bunch he has.

He will expect Benitez – as the manager who knows him best – to get the best out of 50m Fernando Torres and, if the faith he has shown in the Spanish striker so far despite his patchy form is anything to go by, will be reluctant to bring in a front man who could usurp him.

Out of sorts: The sight of Fernando Torres looking dejected has become one of the defining images of the season

Out of sorts: The sight of Fernando Torres looking dejected has become one of the defining images of the season

Or Abramovich may see the third way as a more worthwhile outlay. Approaching Guardiola would be costly, involve difficult negotiations and destroy the reputation of Benitez, but that may be a small price to pay for accelerating his desired long-term appointment of someone who would deliver not only wins but a way of playing that matches his vision.

Pep would be an elixir for Chelsea but persuading him to cut short a sabbatical from the game he seems to be really enjoying will be tricky – remember, Abramovich failed to convince him to make a comeback after Di Matteo went last month.

And, frankly, he may decide, with other top clubs including Manchester City after him, it isn’t worth the bother.

Benitez is 12 days in to his reign at Chelsea and it’s already looking ominous for him. If the 12 Days of Christmas prove similarly unkind, then Abramovich will once again be choosing a different path.

Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is Ukraine injury doubt – England"s big match dossier

Big match dossier: Ukraine worry over injury doubt Tymoshchuk

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UPDATED:

21:51 GMT, 10 September 2012


Doubtful: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk might be injured for the game

Doubtful: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk might be injured for the game

Ukraine have been struck with their own injury problems with doubts surrounding Anatoliy Tymoshchuk’s fitness after he pulled out of training on Monday night. It would be a huge blow for manager Oleh Blokhin if he is without the 33-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder, who has a record 120 caps.

So much for planning

England
started last season with a resounding away win in Bulgaria but Roy
Hodgson has only two players available from the team which started in
Sofia. One is Joe Hart and the other Gary Cahill, who seems unlikely to
start. It all underlines the perils of long-term planning.

The goal is… goals

Without
Andriy Shevchenko, who retired after Euro 2012, Ukraine’s squad finds
itself short of goals. Only two players have reached double figures in
international football — Serhiy Nazerenko (53 caps) and Oleh Husyev (76
caps), who have 12 goals each.

England's lucky 13

If
you overlook the penalty shootout defeat against Italy in the
quarter-final of Euro 2012, England have a healthy unbeaten record in
competitive games. It stretches back 13 games to Germany in
Bloemfontein, although it includes two draws against Montenegro.

Four-time losers

Ukraine were aggrieved by the Marko Devic goal that never was when beaten 1-0 by Roy Hodgson’s side at Euro 2012 in June but their record against England is not good. In five games, they have lost four, winning a dead-rubber home World Cup qualifier in 2009.

Practice: Ukraine training at Wembley

Practice: Ukraine training at Wembley

New look: Only Gary Cahill (centre) and Joe Hart are available from the squad that played in Sofia

New look: Only Gary Cahill (centre) and Joe Hart are available from the squad that played in Sofia

Well out of it, JT

Perhaps it is as well John Terry is not fit for England tonight because the referee is Cuneyt Cakir, the Turkish official who sent him off for kicking Alexis Sanchez during the second leg of Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final in Barcelona, forcing him to miss the final.

Brundles to link up at Le Mans as father and son team go for glory with Greaves Motorsport

Brundles to link up at Le Mans as father and son team go for glory with Greaves Motorsport

Teaching your kids to drive must surely rank as one of the most stressful endeavours a parent can undertake. Wisely, in the clan Brundle that task was left to a family friend.

But away from the Highway Code, three point turns and parallel parking, dad Martin had already passed on plenty of driving tips to son Alex. Genetics took care of a large part of that.

Brundle Snr will get the chance to check first hand just how much Alex has inherited when he takes a break from the Formula One commentary booth to partner his offspring at the gruelling Le Mans 24 hour in June.

Fatherly advice: Brundle

Fatherly advice: Brundle

The Brundles will share the driving duties at the wheel of a Nissan-powered Greaves Motorsport LMP2 prototype with Spaniard Lucas Ordonez. And Martin, a winner of the oldest sportscar endurance event in the world with Jaguar in 1990, is itching to pass on the benefit of his experience to his young co-drivers.

‘I have done a lot of long distance racing,’ says Martin. ‘I was world sportscar champion, I won Daytona, and I won Le Mans. I think I won 18 long distance races. I can help these two guys with playing the long game.’

Such fatherly advice, of course, extends to Alex’s entire motorsport career. This season he will combine his Nissan duties with racing in GP3, two rungs below the promised land of Formula One.

Martin is customarily frank when discussing the perils of allowing your son to partake in what remains a highly dangerous sporting pursuit, acknowledging it is his wife Liz who will have the most to fret about come Le Mans.

‘Ron Haslam’s wife came up with an amazing quote which I thought was harsh but then I realised how good it was,’ recalls Martin of the veteran British motorbike racer.

‘She said you can replace your husband but you can’t replace your son. I think it will be harder for Liz. But the cars are safe and the track is a lot safer now.’

As for attempting to persuade Alex not to follow in his footsteps, Martin acknowledges attempting to do so would have been both futile and hypocritical.

‘What could I say to Alex “Look what it has done for me son, don’t go anywhere near that!” Formula One has been very kind to me with a couple of careers as has motorsport in general.

‘He has grown up in the paddock of F1 and international motorsport. I can’t be that surprised that he wanted to do it.’

Alex, in voice remarkably similar to that which is familiar to millions of Formula One fans, if a semi-tone higher, chips in.

‘I
have always been the driving force behind my motorsport to this point.
It is something that I love to do and I don’t remember there being a
massive decision point, it just seemed obvious. I had the inclination
and the opportunity and I took it.

‘At
the end of the day one of the beauties of motorsport is that you are in
there alone. No matter how much support you have got in the pit lane
and around you, you are the guy, the guy alone, in the car making the
decisions.’

Vital experience: Brundle participates in the 1998 endurance race

Vital experience: Brundle participates in the 1998 endurance race

Even so, there are no shortages of debriefs with dad, especially on the subject of maintaining a healthy sense of realism over just how difficult it will be for Alex to make it all the way to Formula One.

As Alex points out: ‘We have spoken about his at length and about where we are going to go next. It is a no brainer to understand some other areas of motorsport and get some experience in them so that you have got somewhere to go. If you have made a success of any form of motorsport then you are a professional guy doing a good job.’

At much the same stage of his career as Alex is enjoying now, Martin was sparring with none other than Ayrton Senna in Formula Three.

This season Bruno Senna, Ayrton’s nephew, will be behind the wheel of a Williams. And although Martin acknowledges the difficulties Alex will face to make it to the pinnacle of motorsport, there is noticeable twinkle in his eye when asked about the prospect of commentating on his son in the not too distant future.

‘It would be great wouldn’t it’ admits Martin. ‘How exciting would that be, to have Brundle and Senna again in F1. I might retire then because he could pay me all the money back!'

Lee Westwood apologises after swearing on live TV

Sorry! Westwood apologises after Mum catches him swearing on live TV

Lee Westwood was forced to apologise after his mum caught him swearing on live television at last week's Qatar Masters, the world No 3 revealed on Tuesday.

The incident occurred during the 38-year-old's closing 69 on Sunday, a round that left him in a tie for 12th place behind tournament winner Paul Lawrie who finished on 15-under-par.

'My mum was the first person on the phone and she said you might want to apologise,' Westwood told reporters ahead of this week's Dubai Desert Classic.

Mum's the word: Lee Westwood was caught on TV swearing by his mum

Mum's the word: Lee Westwood was caught swearing on TV by his mum

'I didn't think that down at four-under-par I would be on TV. It's amazing how sensitive these microphones are.'

After the conversation with his mum, Westwood issued an immediate apology on his Twitter account.

'Sorry about swearing on the 16th tee. Came off like a rocket and thought it was going further! Wash my mouth out! Perils of live tv!', he wrote.

Westwood, who also finished in a tie for 17th at the Abu Dhabi Championship two weeks ago, said he had mixed feelings about his early-season form.

Gearing up: Westwood plays in this week's Dubai Desert Classic

Gearing up: Westwood plays in this week's Dubai Desert Classic

'If I was making an appraisal of the first couple of weeks, I've hit it a lot better than I normally do,' he explained.

'My putts are quite nice, I'm starting to roll a few longer ones in, but it's just been early-season sloppiness really, making too many bogeys and not making a birdie when I should.

'My wedge shots also haven't been quite as sharp as they ought to have been.'

Westwood said he would need to be accurate off the tee at the Dubai Desert Classic starting on Thursday.

'Normally they grow the rough up a little bit here,' he said. 'They've also got the greens firm so it puts a bit of a demand on hitting the fairways.'