Tag Archives: stranger

AP McCoy is set to release a crime fiction novel

Stranger than fiction: Jockey McCoy set to write crime thriller book

By
Marcus Townend

PUBLISHED:

19:26 GMT, 15 January 2013

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UPDATED:

09:59 GMT, 16 January 2013

Is there anything he cannot do AP McCoy might be chasing his 18th consecutive jump jockey title but the iron-man of jump racing is now set to turn his hand to being an author.

Plans for McCoy to produce a crime thriller in November were announced yesterday by Orion, who published his autobiography in 2011.

The jockey will join an established tradition of racing figures who have produced works of crime fiction based on the sport dating back to former royal jockey Dick Francis.

Man of many talents: AP McCoy released an autobiography in 2011 but is a newcomer to the world of fiction writing

Man of many talents: AP McCoy released an autobiography in 2011 but is a newcomer to the world of fiction writing

Others to have tried their luck as authors are Jenny and Richard Pitman, and John Francome.

With a relentless work schedule, it is hard to believe McCoy will have much time to sit at his keyboard but a spokeswoman for the publishers said: ‘AP will be getting advice but will be writing the book himself.’

Jon Wood, Deputy Publisher of Orion Books, said: 'I’m so excited that A.P. McCoy has decided to turn his hand to fiction.'

Champion: McCoy became the first jockey to win Sports Personality of the Year in 2010 and has ridden over 3,800 winners

Champion: McCoy became the first jockey to win Sports Personality of the Year in 2010 and has ridden over 3,800 winners

'With his unrivalled knowledge of the racing world and what it is like to be champion jockey, few are as well placed to create a brilliant new character in this genre.

'I’m sure these novels will have massive success with his army of loyal fans.'

McCoy has won the jump jockey’s title a record 17 times, and has ridden over 3,800 winners with his sights now fixed on becoming the first man to reach a total of 4,000 winners in National Hunt racing.

He said: ‘Having published my autobiography a couple of years ago, this time I will be writing a thriller, which is something very different, but I’m up for the challenge and looking forward to getting started!'

Lionel Messi stretches calendar year record over Gerd Muller after taking tally to 88 goals

88 and counting… Messi can't stop scoring as Barca striker doubles up to further exceed Muller's record

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UPDATED:

23:13 GMT, 12 December 2012

Lionel Messi simply can’t stop scoring. The Barcelona talisman increased his record tally of goals scored in a calendar year to 88, after netting twice against FC Cordoba to secure a 2-0 win in the first leg of the Copa Del Rey tie.

The Argentina striker equalled and
surpassed Muller’s 1972 record of 85 goals in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over
Real Betis when he scored another brace.

But he doesn’t seem content with beating the great German hitman, as he marched on with another two goals this evening.

You again: Lionel Messi (right) scored his 87th and 88th goals of 2012 against FC Cordoba

You again: Lionel Messi (right) scored his 87th and 88th goals of 2012 against FC Cordoba

The 25-year-old was the difference once again for Barcelona, fresh from breaking the record at the weekend.

He scored his first of the match
after just 11 minutes with a routine tap in, and expertly slotted home
as the match drew to a close to kill the game off at the Estadio Nuevo
Arcangel.

The Barca No 10 should really have
bagged a hat-trick at Cordoba, but he failed to capitalise when Gerard
Pique put him through on goal with 20 minutes left to play.

Familiar sight: Messi surpassed Gerd Muller's record of 85 goals on Sunday after scoring twice against Betis

Familiar sight: Messi surpassed Gerd Muller's record of 85 goals on Sunday after scoring twice against Betis

Swing and a miss: Messi could have had a hat-trick if he converted Gerard Pique's through ball

Swing and a miss: Messi could have had a hat-trick if he converted Gerard Pique's through ball

Reaching triple figures in 2012 may be a bridge too far for Messi though. Especially with La Liga’s winter break.

The prolific forward will only play
twice more before 2013 kicks in, meaning he’ll have to average six goals
per game if he wants to reach 100 goals for the year.

Stranger things have happened…

Impossible Messi is unlikely to reach the milestone of 100 goals

Impossible Messi is unlikely to reach the milestone of 100 goals

Smashed: Gerd Muller held the record for most goals in a calendar year with 85 for Bayern Munich

Smashed: Gerd Muller held the record for most goals in a calendar year with 85 for Bayern Munich

All in all it was a great night for Messi, and everyone affiliated with Barcelona.

Especially as arch rivals Real Madrid lost their first leg of the Copa Del Rey last 16 tie away at Celta Vigo.

Despite having avoided defeat away at Celta for 10 years, Jose Mourinho's side were outplayed and lost the match 2-1.

Real rekindled realistic hopes of progression after Cristiano Ronaldo popped up late in the game to claw a goal back.

They will remain optimistic that they can progress to the next round when Celta travel to the Bernabeu in the New Year.

Hopeful: Real Madrid were beaten 2-1 in their first leg match away at Celta Vigo

Hopeful: Real Madrid were beaten 2-1 in their first leg match away at Celta Vigo

First in a long time: Real have not lost away to Celta Vigo for ten years

First in a long time: Real have not lost away to Celta Vigo for ten years

Elena Baltacha scotches rumours of retirement

Baltacha rubbishes rumours of retirement as she eyes return next year

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UPDATED:

16:28 GMT, 16 October 2012


Return: Elena Baltacha, who played for Great Britain in the Olympics, has scotched rumours of retirement

Return: Elena Baltacha, who played for Great Britain in the Olympics, has scotched rumours of retirement

Former British number one Elena Baltacha has put aside thoughts of retirement and revealed she is fully intending to return to professional tennis next season.

The 29-year-old has not played since the Olympics, where she announced she was planning to have foot surgery that would keep her out for six months and could signal the end of her career.

But, after going under the knife earlier this month, Baltacha is ready to put in the hard work needed to return to full fitness, although she admits her body may have other ideas.

The Scot said: 'I do really want to come back. Over the last couple of months I've realised I do want to compete again.

'The competition is the one thing I really miss about it, when it's 4-4 in the third set and 30-30. You can't really replace that playing a game of cards.

'But it all depends on my recovery. I remember when I had my back surgery when I was 19 and it wasn't really that much of a blow because you recover so quickly. But I'm 29 now and it's completely different.

'So we'll see what my body says. If I can't come back then I'll accept it and move on and look forward to getting on with the next part of my life.'

Baltacha is no stranger to injury and illness having battled back problems and a chronic liver condition but she has enjoyed significant success over the last three years in particular and reached a career-high ranking of 49 in September 2010.

Her inactivity has seen her drop to 134th and she will not be back on a tennis court for at least another six weeks following the operation to remove a bone fragment.

Progress: Baltacha beat Karin Knapp in the first round at Wimbledon but was knocked out in the second

Progress: Baltacha beat Karin Knapp in the first round at Wimbledon but was knocked out in the second

Baltacha has enjoyed her break, though, which has enabled her to devote a lot more time to her tennis academy for girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in Ipswich.

She said: 'At the moment I'm really enjoying being at home and not getting on another plane. And once I'm up and about again I'll be back at the academy. I love seeing the girls and I'm learning and developing as a coach.

'And I'm so looking forward to Christmas, and having a tree. I've never had one before because I normally have to leave home on Boxing Day.'

The baton in British women's tennis has been passed to the new generation this season, with Heather Watson and Laura Robson now the country's top two players and making waves on the WTA Tour.

Robson, 18, reached the fourth round of the US Open and became the first British player for 21 years to make a WTA singles final in China last month.

New girl: Laura Robson reached the fourth round of the US Open this year

New girl: Laura Robson reached the fourth round of the US Open this year

That feat was then surpassed by 20-year-old Watson, who on Sunday ended Britain's 24-year wait for a WTA singles champion with victory in Osaka to take her just into the world's top 50.

Baltacha is thrilled to see the two young players thriving and believes the friendly rivalry will push them forward, as it did for her and Anne Keothavong.

'It's so good to see them doing so well,' said Baltacha. 'I'm really delighted for both of them.

'I remember my rivalry with Anne, seeing what she achieved and thinking, 'I can do that, I can be better'. It really drives you on.'

Kenny Miller shocked by Hampden Park atmosphere

We need to pull in the same direction! Miller shocked by Hampden boo boys

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UPDATED:

22:34 GMT, 11 September 2012

Scotland striker Kenny Miller admitted the team 'severely under-performed' in their 1-1 draw with Macedonia – but he felt unusual negativity around Hampden did not help.

Miller levelled for Scotland 43 minutes into a first half dominated by Macedonia, who took an early lead through Nikolce Noveski.

The draw leaves Scotland with two points from two home games in World Cup qualifying Group A, with manager Craig Levein under pressure to take points from away fixtures in Wales and Belgium next month.

Take that: Kenny Miller punches the air after scoring

Take that: Kenny Miller punches the air after scoring

Miller has seen his hero status with the Tartan Army diminish suddenly over the past week, mainly because of the emergence of Jordan Rhodes, whose name has been chanted before coming on as a substitute against Macedonia and Serbia.

But there was widespread and general booing early in tonight's game and Miller, despite admitting the team had themselves to blame for failing to raise the tempo of their play, was disappointed with the feeling among the 32,400 crowd.

'There has obviously been a lot of negative things from Saturday, rightly or wrongly, it's not up to me to say, but it's definitely a stranger atmosphere than I've ever played in at Hampden,' Miller said.

'You (normally) have everyone pulling in the same direction and for whatever reason it didn't seem like that tonight.

Unsatisfied: Craig Levein was booed by fans at Hampden

Unsatisfied: Craig Levein was booed by fans at Hampden

'I have never played at a game at
Hampden when they have not been behind us. I'm not having a go at the
fans, I understand the frustrations.

'We had two home games and were looking for six points and if not four, so I can understand the frustration.

'But I think that can be let known towards the end of a game but not during a game. It can transmit down to the pitch.'

Miller, who slotted home from a Jamie Mackie pass before going off in the 58th minute, added: 'Listen, I'm not making excuses. But any other game the fans are there to the end and the Tartan Army have been superb in my time as an international.

'Tonight it was a different feeling. I don't know if they have turned against the manager or turned against the team or whatever, but there was definitely a different feeling and that maybe transmitted on to the pitch.'

No excuses: Miller says he can understand the fans' frustration

No excuses: Miller says he can understand the fans' frustration

Miller backed Levein, who bore the brunt of the jeers towards the end of the game.

'That doesn't change since I spoke about it yesterday just because we put in a poor performance,' the Vancouver Whitecaps player said.

'We believe in everything that he's doing, be it systems or personnel. He freshened it up tonight and other lads were given a chance.

'We believe what we're doing is the right way to go but it's up to us to do that. Once we cross that white line it's up to us to go out and perform and for some reason tonight we severely under-performed.'

Sir Alex Ferguson wants Mark Hughes to take revenge on Manchester City

Hughes must seek revenge on City! Fergie hopes former United hero can swing title race Old Trafford's way

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UPDATED:

19:39 GMT, 6 May 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson has called on Mark Hughes to take brutal revenge on Manchester City by masterminding a last-day miracle to send the Barclays Premier League title back to Old Trafford.

City took a massive step towards clinching their first title since 1968 as a double from Yaya Toure secured a 2-0 win at Newcastle, hours before Manchester United beat Swansea by the same score at Old Trafford.

Both Manchester clubs have 86 points going but City have an eight-goal advantage. Ferguson accepts destiny is no longer in United’s hands but he is clinging to the belief that former Old Trafford great Hughes can come to his rescue with Queens Park Rangers.

Hope: Sir Alex Ferguson will not give up in the hunt for the title

Hope: Sir Alex Ferguson will not give up in the hunt for the title

'QPR need a point and they're fighting for survival,' said Ferguson.

'The whole future of the club could be resting on the game and I only wish Sparky was playing.

'But Mark knows his job all right. He was sacked by City in a very unethical way and he'll remember that.'

And that could contribute to a collapse as dramatic as the one suffered by Devon Loch in the 1956 Grand National when he appeared to have the race at his mercy.

'There could be a Devon Loch. You never know,' said Ferguson. 'Stranger things have happened in this game of football.

'They're red-hot favourites but we've won the title on three occasions on the last day and we don't mind doing it again.'

Speaking on the pitch, addressing supporters after the final whistle, Ferguson told them to get ready for 'the biggest celebration of their lives' at Sunderland next week.

Yet earlier, he had conceded 'they probably have two hands on the trophy'.

'The crowd will be right behind them,' he said. 'And they will be into the referee as they were doing against us.'

A dish best served cold: Mark Hughes could take revenge on his former club

A dish best served cold: Mark Hughes could take revenge on his former club

Should City win, it leaves United open to becoming the first team to lose the league on goal difference since they inflicted a similar fate on Leeds in 1965.

'We did what we had to do, we won the match,' said Ferguson.

'There was optimism from our fans and ourselves about scoring a lot of goals but it was over-optimism.

'It wasn't too difficult to lift them before the game.

'They all knew their responsibility. They know the expectation of this club that whenever you play, wherever you play and whoever you play we are expected to win.'

Ferguson said he expected both Rio Ferdinand and Chris Smalling to shrug off groin injuries for next weekend's trip to the Stadium of Light.

And, no matter how the title races unfolds, Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers is certain United will be a formidable force next season.

'I have never been in the position City and United are in next week,' he said.

'It is so exciting. It is brilliant. You are talking about two great sides.

Nearly there: Man City just need to beat QPR to win the title

Nearly there: Man City just need to beat QPR to win the title

'The professionalism of Manchester United today was exemplary. They were probably watching the game beforehand and when Manchester City got those two late goals it could have really deflated them.

'Manchester United are serial winners. What makes them great winners is how they respond to not winning trophies.

'So if it is not for them this year, when you look at their history, they always come back the next year and win, so they will be there or thereabouts next season.'

Rodgers will be completing the season at Liverpool, having confounded the pundits who almost unanimously tipped the south Wales outfit to go straight back down.

'Next week is going to be brilliant,' he said.

'I will be asking all the fans if they can wear as many Elvis Presley costumes as we can because when we got promoted the bookies said there was more chance of seeing Elvis Presley than us staying at this level.'

Patrick Collins: Roy Hodgson has spent his career becoming perfect for England

Patrick Collins: Hodgson has spent his career becoming perfect for England

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UPDATED:

22:00 GMT, 5 May 2012

The England manager Roy Hodgson… there, that wasn’t difficult. Only a week in and the phrase fairly trips off the keyboard. The man himself still seems a touch bewildered by the pace of events, but already the novelty is fading and a kind of normality is starting to take hold.

There have been one or two irritating sideshows. With prattish predictability, the front page of The Sun made a few infantile jibes at his manner of speaking while, elsewhere, there was the odd, mean-minded effort to depict his career record as no more than mediocre.

But Hodgson set his own course. Aware of the preposterous expectations which the job attracts, he was the very model of moderation; promising little and offering no hostages to fortune.

Fighting his corner: Roy Hodgson has emerged from a whirlwind week in credit as the England boss

Fighting his corner: Roy Hodgson has emerged from a whirlwind week in credit as the England boss

He remains a relative stranger to most of the nation, but after this first week, I suspect that the nation quite likes what it sees.

In fairness, this second-guessing of national opinion is a hazardous business. We had been ceaselessly assured that Harry Redknapp was the nation’s choice. So implacable was that assertion that any doubt or deviation was treated as heresy. The job was Harry’s; not if, but when.

Yet the Football Association quartet charged with making the decision gave no indication of the appointment being a done deal. In fact, they appear to have acted responsibly all along the line.

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They kept their own counsel, even through the absurd attempts to blame them for the slump in Tottenham’s form. And when the chosen candidate was produced, their smugness was decently subdued.

It should be said that Redknapp has behaved with good grace. I wouldn’t know about his private thoughts, since we are not on confiding terms, but clearly he imagined that the job was his, so the disappointment must have been acute. Yet publicly at least, his reaction has been impeccable.

It is easy to see what the Spurs manager might have achieved for England. Redknapp is a glorious tap-dancer, a man who blossoms in the spotlight. He would have won the trust of his players and persuaded them to express themselves with energy and flair. He would have acquired a wider audience for his one-liners, and he would have revelled in his reputation as a card. And he would have showed any amount of ‘passion’, that attribute for which English football has such a curious regard.

But when the inevitable bad times arrived, then Redknapp might have struggled. A man of notoriously thin skin, he would surely have been affronted by the resulting criticism.

Denied the opportunity to play the transfer market and aware that mature English talent is in perilously short supply — the Spurs team who started at Bolton the other evening contained just three men qualified to represent England — he might well have come to curse the day he accepted such a thanklessly restrictive task.

Hodgson, I suspect, will approach things differently. Like Redknapp, he does not react well to criticism, reasonable or otherwise. And while he was never given the extended support he deserved in his short spell at Liverpool, he was patently affected by the level of abuse.

But he understands the rhythms, the snares, the dynamics of international football, having managed three countries in a total of 80 international matches. It is the most impressive single aspect of his curriculum.

In the spotlight: Sure, Harry Redknapp would have been a 'popular' choice, but was he the right one

In the spotlight: Sure, Harry Redknapp would have been a 'popular' choice, but was he the right one

And something else. When the FA chairman David Bernstein was introducing the new man the other day, he said, in what was almost a throwaway line: ‘You mustn’t underestimate the importance of St George’s Park in all of this.’

Indeed not. It is the FA’s intention that the future of the English game will be found in those sprawling acres of Burton on Trent, upon which some 100million of investment has been lavished.

The feeling is that Hodgson will embrace this concept more enthusiastically than any other candidate. He has witnessed at first hand the influence of these institutions in other major, more successful European nations.

Abuse: Graeme Le Saux suffered taunts simply because he was a reader of a broadsheet newspaper

Abuse: Graeme Le Saux suffered taunts simply because he was a reader of a broadsheet newspaper

So he will throw himself into the task of
coaching the coaches, of persuading teams to travel in the same
direction, of influencing the culture of the game and elevating the
ambitions of the young men who play it.

The popular impression in this country is that footballers keep their brains in their boots. Expectations are depressingly low.

I recall a striker with a London team who was once caught flicking through a Jeffrey Archer potboiler on the team bus. He was forever after known as The Professor.

And who can forget the distinguished international full-back Graeme Le Saux suffering disgraceful homophobic abuse from dullards up and down the country on the grounds that he read The Guardian!

It will take time, patience and a degree of wisdom to alter such attitudes when the pressures demand that you chase the next result or risk the clamorous consequences.

The new manager has just enjoyed an easy week, full of high hopes and supportive smiles. Next week could be quite different, and all the weeks and months which follow.

But Roy Hodgson’s entire career has been a preparation for such a task. He has earned the chance to take it on.

Fabio sees what he's missing

After a two-month holiday, an old friend is ready for action. And Fabio Capello wants it known that he would welcome a return to English football.

Capello, you will recall, was paid around 6million per year to manage England. It seemed a lot of money at the time, although not enough to persuade him to master the language of his adopted country.

After presiding over a disastrous World Cup campaign, Capello took up a contract extension to take him through to Euro 2012. When the FA, quite properly, decided that John Terry could not remain as England captain after being charged with a racially aggravated public order offence, Capello flounced away.

Sign him off: Fabio Capello is interested in getting back in the dugout

Sign him off: Fabio Capello is interested in getting back in the dugout

But that was February. Now the world has changed. Now he wants ‘one more challenge’.

Nothing to do with money, of course. ‘I don’t work for money,’ he says. ‘I want to manage a team that want to win something.’

Cue Mrs Merton’s immortal question to the lovely Debbie McGee: ‘Tell me, what was it that first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels’

/05/05/article-2140083-12EF5CD6000005DC-659_634x534.jpg” width=”634″ height=”534″ alt=”Pressure cooker: Alex McLeish's players are lacking discipline and the fans want him out” class=”blkBorder” />

Pressure cooker: Alex McLeish's players are lacking discipline and the fans want him out

McLeish himself had left his players at the ground. He was ‘shocked’. He said: ‘There was alcohol in the suite, but not on the players’ tables. I thought, naively perhaps, that they would all just go home.’ A good man, Alex McLeish. But I fear that last, unworldly sentence may be the one which brings him down.

PS They are unveiling a statue of Sir Bobby Robson at St James’ Park this morning. A handsome bronze to commemorate a local hero. ‘This is where his love of football began,’ says his widow, Lady Elsie. ‘As a boy he’d come here with his dad. He was always a Newcastle fan at heart.’

Bobby would have been thrilled by this honour in this place. It is a proper tribute to a beguiling man. Sometimes, the rackety old game gets it just right.

Mick McCarthy in trouble after derby defeats – the firing line

Firing Line: Rovers return lifts Kean but pressure mounts on McCarthy

It’s a quiet time of year for the Firing Line as the ‘back me or sack me’ season has passed, and prospective employees are put off with the notion of having hours rather than weeks to rebuild a team.

But that hasn’t stopped question marks appearing over a number of managers in the Premier League, with Wolves’ Mick McCarthy coming under scrutiny following a season where his side have failed to kick-on after a summer spend-up.

In fact, the the West Midlands based club haven’t progressed at all since winning promotion in 2009 and supporters will be less than pleased with a third successive season battling relegation.

Each week we bring you our latest chart of the managers under pressure, and those on Easy Street. Here are Sportsmail’s sack-race rankings – otherwise known as the Firing Line.

No 1: Mick McCarthy – Wolverhampton Wanderers

Wolves: Mick McCarthy

It’s going to take more than a few decent results to gain
the majority of support from fans, but suffering just one league defeat since
Christmas is a decent enough way to start for Kean. Critics will argue though
that Rovers are still in the bottom three. DOWN ONE

No 3: Andre Villas-Boas – Chelsea

Chelsea: Andre Villas-Boas

Stranger things have happened but stuck 13 points behind the league leaders, Chelsea are rank outsiders to win the title. It’s a position that has cost previous managers their job but fans at least appear to be backing Villas-Boas in this transitional season. DOWN ONE

No 4: Owen Coyle – Bolton Wanderers

Bolton Wanderers: Owen Coyle

Despite his ongoing trial, Redknapp will take charge of his
side’s game at Watford in the FA Cup, but how prepared will the Premier League
high-flyers be having spectacularly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at
Manchester City UP SEVEN

No 6: Alex McLeish – Aston Villa

Aston Villa: Alex McLeish

Entertaining and Villa hasn’t been mentioned too many times together this season, but the introduction of Robbie Keane to the squad certainly helped inspire them to a derby win at Wolves. McLeish appears to at least know his way around the loan market. DOWN TWO

No 7: Roberto Martinez – Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic: Roberto Martinez

Wigan are bottom of the table but chairman Dave Whelan still trusts Martinez by giving him funds to spend this month. Whelan probably expected a striker to come in and boost the awful goal tally though rather than Birmingham’s Jean Beausejour. NON-MOVER

No 8: Martin Jol – Fulham

Fulham: Martin Jol

Jol is arguably the king of half-time team talks right now after wins against Newcastle and Arsenal this month came courtesy of turgid first periods followed by barnstorming performances after the break. Needs to improve the poor away record of one win though. NON-MOVER

No 9: Roy Hodgson – West Bromwich Albion

West Bromwich Albion: Roy Hodgson

Made a number of surprising changes for the win at Stoke, showing his years of experience that ended West Brom’s poor run of one point from a possible 12. An all-Premier League cup clash with Norwich is up next for the Baggies. NON-MOVER

No 10: Alan Pardew – Newcastle United

Newcastle United: Alan Pardew

Best news of the week for Pardew came from Africa, where Senegal’s early exit from the Cup of Nations means Demba Ba and new signing Pappis Cisse could return for Newcastle’s next league fixture. Brighton next in the cup. NON-MOVE

No 11: Brendan Rodgers – Swansea City

Swansea City: Brendan Rodgers

A first defeat in a month at Sunderland, but Rodgers will be proud of his side who controlled large sections of the game and were only outdone by two excellent strikes. Swansea may rest a few players when they visit Bolton in the FA Cup next. NON-MOVER

No 12: Tony Pulis – Stoke City

Stoke City: Tony Pulis

For the first time in a long while, Stoke look fatigued in their last outing against West Brom and Pulis may use this weekend’s game at Derby as a chance to rest a large majority of his first-team squad. The Potters are still a highly credible eighth in the table though. UP TWO

No 13: Arsene Wenger – Arsenal

Arsenal: Arsene Wenger

Lambasted by fans for bringing on Andrey Arshavin for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Manchester United as his side crashed to a third straight league defeat. Forget titles, even a top four place is starting to slip away from Arsenal. UP TWO

No 14: David Moyes – Everton

Everton: David Moyes

A disappointing performance in the draw against Blackburn where the Toffees were arguably lucky to even get a point. Everton look safe from a relegation fight but a failure to bolster a stale squad is leaving Moyes’ side languishing in the bottom half. DOWN TW

No 15: Mark Hughes – Queens Park Rangers

Mark Hughes

Even Joey Barton thinks QPR look more organised under Mark
Hughes and there can be little doubt the Welshman’s very presence has generated
a reaction from within. A signing or two in the final week of the
transfer window should boost the Hoops further. NEW ENTRY

No 16: Martin O'Neill – Sunderland

Sunderland: Martin O'Neill

The results continue to come in for Sunderland under O’Neill and they look more equipped for a late assault on a European spot than a relegation battle. O’Neill can boost his popularity further with a Wear-Tees derby win against Middlesbrough in the cup. UP ONE

No 17: Paul Lambert – Norwich City

Norwich City: Paul Lambert

Many claimed Norwich’s form was going to plummet like Blackpool and Hull’s did after Christmas in recent years, but Lambert’s side appear to be made of much sterner stuff. In fact if anything they are improving after securing a first clean sheet against Chelsea. DOWN ONE

No 18: Roberto Mancini – Manchester City

Manchester City: Roberto Mancini

A semi-final Carling Cup exit at Liverpool didn’t come without some misfortune, but City can count themselves lucky to have beaten Tottenham under controversial circumstances days earlier. Either way, Mancini will take comfort from topping the table still. NON-MOVER

No 19: Kenny Dalglish – Liverpool

Liverpool: Kenny Dalglish

After progressing to the Carling Cup final, the emotion on Dalglish’s face was clear to see after guiding Liverpool to their first Wembley visit since 1996. We just hope he doesn’t let the occasion get to him by ordering a bunch of white suits for the occasion. NON-MOVER

No 20: Sir Alex Ferguson – Manchester United

Manchester United: Sir Alex Ferguson

Ferguson’s side survived a second-half rally at Arsenal to secure a win and hang on to rivals City in the title race. But it’s another tough draw in the FA Cup as United’s reward for knocking out the holders is a trip to another bitter rival, Liverpool. NON-MOVER

Benoit Assou-Ekotto: Racism is worse in France

Benoit Assou-Ekotto: English football has had its problems with racism but I'd rather be living in London than back home in France

The shop assistant looked up as Benot Assou-Ekotto walked into the television showroom in France. Then, seemingly uninterested in his young, black customer, he turned back to his work.

But Tottenham's French-born Cameroon left-back was in no mood to be ignored.

'So I go to him and I ask, “How much is this TV” And the man didn't even put his head up but just said, “Expensive.”

'I said: “Yeah, but how much” He said, “Yeah, expensive.” I said: “OK, so tell me!” So he stood up and said, “It's about €10,000. Expensive.”

'So I showed him my watch and said, “About the same price as my watch” Then he started to respect me.'

Capital gains: Assou-Ekotto says London is a cool city

Capital gains: Assou-Ekotto says London is a cool city

It is not something you sense Assou-Ekotto would have done unless pushed.

He does not come across as a
footballer given to vulgar displays of wealth or one who would thrust
his designer wristwatch into the face of a stranger to illustrate his
purchasing power.

He is affable in conversation and no
polemicist. But while he was born in France and grew up in Arras, about
60 miles south-east of Calais, he opted to play for Cameroon, the
country of his late father.

And as Assou-Ekotto talks, sitting in a bar beneath his Canary Wharf apartment, he explains why he loves his London life and takes issue with the country of his birth, where he feels his race marks him as an outsider and the kind of person who would not be able even to contemplate paying €10,000 for a television.

Thoughtful and eloquent: Spurs star says racism is worse in France

Thoughtful and eloquent: Spurs star says racism is worse in France

'I think here there are better racial relations than in France,' he says, 'better interaction and better co-existence. For example, in England I see more [black] people with responsibility than in France. Here at Canary Wharf, there are black people and Asian people wearing suits and with good jobs.'

His perception is that the children of migrants to France – his father moved there from Cameroon when he was 16 – are still viewed as outsiders because of the colour of their skin.

'In France, I tell you how it feels,' he says. 'When you have colour, you are [seen as] poor people and a problem. When you are from France, you can be surprised by some things you see in England.'

One example, he agrees, is the racial diversity of those in London with positions of authority. He was taken aback, for example, to see a police officer wearing a turban.

And of the French shop assistant he encountered last summer, he is disdainful.

'This kind of behaviour is not cool,' he says. 'So we start to respect you only because of your money'

Settling in: Manchester City's Sergio Aguero feels the force of Assou-Ekotto's challenge

Settling in: Manchester City's Sergio Aguero feels the force of Assou-Ekotto's challenge

Assou-Ekotto , 27, does not live in a footballer's bubble.

He is often around the Tottenham neighbourhood which experienced rioting last summer – he has his hair braided there – and he is acutely aware of the allegations against Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, banned for eight matches for his racial abuse of Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, and Chelsea defender John Terry, who in court next month will deny the claim that he racially abused Anton Ferdinand, of QPR.

But Assou-Ekotto insists that, for a Frenchman with his ethnic background, England is a better place to work and live.

'Yes, I saw your problems in the last few months,' he said.

'When you are in your position in England I can understand that you look at yourself but when you are from France you say, “Ah, England is cooler”. You are more tolerant.'

He seems determined to demolish as many stereotypes as he can in a one-hour conversation.

On the run: Wolves' Michael Kightly can't get past Assou-Ekotto

On the run: Wolves' Michael Kightly can't get past Assou-Ekotto

But while he is self-evidently a thoughtful man, questions are invariably met with a playful grin and when he describes why he changed his tiny Smart Car for the marginally bigger Audi A1 his eyes dance mischievously.

'The Smart Car is in France now because last season I nearly had an accident with Aaron Lennon,' he explains.

'We were about to go to Blackpool and at the last minute, when we were at Stansted Airport, they said the game was cancelled, so the manager said, “OK, you can go back home but be careful” because it was cold and icy.

'So we started to drive, me and Aaron, in the Smart Car on the motorway and we made a spin. Three times we spun round and I was so scared. Aaron was like, “Benoit!! Benoit!!” We stopped and I thought, “Oh cool”. But then, like in the movies, we looked and heard, “Neeeeeeee!” (He mimics the sound of a horn blasting).

Firm favourite: Assou-Ekotto's goal against Everton helped Tottenham scale the dizzy heights of the Premier League

Firm favourite: Assou-Ekotto's goal against Everton helped Tottenham scale the dizzy heights of the Premier League

'And I saw a truck coming towards us. I thought, “Oh ****!” I was very scared and Aaron, too.'

Thankfully, the lorry stopped in time and Spurs manager Harry Redknapp was not left searching for a new full-back and winger.

There was one casualty, however, as Assou- Ekotto admits: 'After that I said, “No more Smart Car in the winter!”'

This winter the more pressing issue is Tottenham's title challenge.

Assou-Ekotto's long-range strike against Everton earlier this month propelled the club into almost unprecedented territory, three points off the lead in January (the last time the club occupied such a position was 1985).

But the draw at home with Wolves last weekend damaged their cause and Sunday's game at top-of-the-table Manchester City will be seen as a genuine test of third-placed Tottenham's credibility, especially as they lost the corresponding fixture at White Hart Lane 5-1.

That was their second Premier League game of the season and it followed a 3-0 defeat at Manchester United.

Assou-Ekotto admits: 'After the City game, I said, “Oh ****. This season can be very difficult if we don't wake up”. We have maybe a few players of experience – maybe William Gallas and Scott Parker – who are not old but experienced. If we had 10 players like that, you wouldn't be worried. But we have players who are young and I thought, “If we don't wake up quickly we will be finished”. But after that we didn't lose for 10 games or something like that [it was 11].'

The victory over Arsenal in October was a turning point.

'There are some teams we should beat, there are others we should beat but it's still hard to do that, and there are one or two teams where you think it's possible but very difficult. But after we won the Arsenal game we believe we can beat anyone.

'There isn't really pressure on us because everyone expects City or United to win the league. Our goal is to make the Champions League, but if the teams above us slip, we won't say No. There are two challenges for us now as players. We can become a part of history and in 100 years they can say, “That was the group of players who qualified for the Champions League”. Or we can be the players who gave Spurs their third ever league title.'

Even when discussing such momentous achievements, Assou- Ekotto maintains his perspective, He is at his most earnest when discussing his support for the United Nations Millennium Campaign to end global poverty by 2015.

No pressure: Assou-Ekotto and Tottenham face a crunch clash with City on Sunday

No pressure: Assou-Ekotto and Tottenham face a crunch clash with City on Sunday

'If my career stopped today and in 50 years someone was to say, “What did you, the person who stopped school at 16 and took a gamble on football, achieve” and all I could say was, “I scored two goals and you can go to YouTube and see them and I made money and I bought my house, maybe even before the teacher who taught me in class,” that would be a sad indictment.'

Instead, he would rather be remembered for supporting a campaign that, among many admirable goals, aims to provide fresh drinking water to every community.

'That makes an unbelievable difference,' he says. 'It is so much more important than the goals I score or any of that nonsense.'

All of which is self-evident; it is just not usually expressed so directly or succinctly by young footballers. Not that Assou-Ekotto is likely to lie awake at night worrying about the reaction.

'I am like this maybe because I feel good in my skin and I don't really need many people. If journalists want to speak about me, it's cool. If they don't want to speak about me, I will do my job on the pitch, go home and sleep very well.

'So maybe that's why I can say what I want. For me, there is no point in speaking just to try to make the people who listen to me happy. If you are happy with what I say, it's good; if not, read another paper.'

Jens Lehmann wants to be Premier League manager

Will he make another return Arsenal favourite Lehmann wants to be Premier League manager

Former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has revealed he would love to manage a Premier League team.

Lehmann was taken back to Arsenal by Arsene Wenger last season, as a short-term solution for their goalkeeping crisis.

And he told the Mirror: “I can well imagine working for a club in England.”

Arsenal favourite: Jens Lehmann at Blackpool towards the end of last season

Arsenal favourite: Jens Lehmann at Blackpool towards the end of last season

Lehmann was in the Arsenal team that went unbeaten for the whole Premier League season in 2003-04.

He is no stranger to holding controversial views, and recently caused a storm when he hit out at Manchester City, calling them “boring”.

He said: “Man City play very, very boring football. They just make their opponents fall asleep with lots of possession

“But to be honest, that is not tactically very demanding. The way they play here is the way any amateurteam plays, only not on such good grass.

“Theyjust pack men behind the ball, have five against two and just move the ball around. The goal then just comes from a fortunate circumstance.”