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Friday, 12 March 2010

Wayne's World: bald patches, nappies and high hopes of knocking out Cristiano Ronaldo

IN 1998, when Michael Owen was tearing Argentina apart before David Beckham got sent off in that notorious World Cup quarter-final, Wayne Rooney was watching on the sofa at his nan’s on Merseyside.
Twelve years later, Owen and Beckham are fading fast and it’s Wayne’s World – with only 90 days of normality left before the big kick off in South Africa on June 11.
As he toured the nation with the trophy England haven’t won since 1966, Rooney opened up a bit after his four-goal blitz put Milan out of the Champions League (below) – and placed him firmly above the rest as the world’s best striker.
Speaking at Earl’s Court in London after a gig for World Cup fans by The Enemy, Rooney said: "I remember watching Michael score that goal. I was watching with my family round at my nan's, only a young boy at the time. It's a dream to play for your country in anything - to do so in the World Cup is unbelievable.
“You try not to think too much about the World Cup but it’s always in the back of your mind. It’s a bit weird it’s so close now.
“We will be going to South Africa well prepared. Hopefully we'll have a great tournament and have this (he said, patting the World Cup) back here come the end of July.”
As for the debate over the world’s best player, Rooney said: “It’s nice to hear these things, but you don’t read too much into it. I’d go for Cristiano Ronaldo. He's a great player - but it would be nice to knock them out."
As for his recent run of headed goals – seven of his last eight have come from the forehead – Rooney said: "I've worked a lot on my heading. It's going well - perhaps it's coming off my bald patch!"
But more important things have happened off the pitch for the former Everton striker. Like the birth of his son Kai. Still just 24, he grinned: "I've enjoyed being a dad. You could say it’s changed me. It's different and hard work but a great feeling.
"I've changed a lot in the last couple of years anyway, and becoming a father means you have to be a role model for your son and be someone he can look up to.
"Changing nappies is probably the hardest thing so far - and I hear it gets harder as well.
"He's been to a few matches, even though he probably doesn't know what's happening yet."

Labels: cristiano ronaldo knock-out, earl's court, headers, manchester united four goal blitz, neal collins in south africa, the enemy, , wayne's world, world cup 2010 trophy tour

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The two 35-year-olds pushing for a last hurrah in South Africa - and I don't mean Beckham, he's only 34

FABIO CAPELLO could be forced to consider two 35-year-olds when he names his initial 30-strong World Cup squad on May 11. And no, I don't mean David Beckham. He's not 35 until May 2.
Take a deep breath. These two are by no means the most popular men in football. But they may be the best we have in a defence hit by injury and off-field scandal.
If Arsenal and Manchester United continue to vie for the Premier League and Champions League crowns, the claims of Sol Cambell (18 September, 1974) and Gary Neville (18 February, 1975) have to be considered. Gasp!
Yes, I know Spurs fans hate Sol. And those at Portsmouth and Notts County have mixed views. Arsenal fans were hardly leaping about when unattached Sol became Arsene Wenger's only signing in the January transfer window.
The feeling was he would play occasionally and look for another club. But then came the disaster everyone feared - injury and unhappiness from want-away William Gallas, who looks like he's off to Roma.
Who would partner Dutch discovery Thomas Vermaelen with Philipe Senderos gone to Everton? Mikael Silvestre, the Manchester United reject? Johan Djourou, the limited stand-in? Alex Song pulled out of his midfield holding role? No. Sol got one of the toughest jobs in football, at the heart of a defence struggling behind a talented but lightweight midfield.
And the man who came so close to immortality in the 1998 World Cup quarter-final against Argentina and the Euro 2004 quarter-final against Portugal - he had storming headers unfairly disallowed in both tight games - has done a stirring job.
Then look at the problems surrounding our current centre-back options. John Terry's well-documented problems at Chelsea have seen him stripped of the England captaincy while West Ham's Matthew Upson is hardly rock-solid and Rio Ferdinand has had a torrid time with injury, distractions and suspensions at Manchester United this season. With Wes Brown crocked, England could turn to Manchester City's over-priced Joleon Lescott or Everton's Phil Jagielka, coming back strongly after a broken leg.
But just this morning, after Tuesday's stirring 5-0 Champions League win over Porto which put Arsenal into the last eight in Europe, Sol said: "I'm going to give everything I've got every time I play. The World Cup? You never know. I might get a sniff if I keep on playing. Why not?"
And with Jeremiah Sulzeer Campbell - the only man ever to represent England in six consecutive major finals (Euro 1996, 2000 and 2004 and the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups) - hoping to add to his 73 caps at centre-back, how about the older of the Neville brothers, Gary Alexander, taking his tally to 86 at right back?
Neville made his England debut under Terry Venables back in 1996 and has played under five international coaches. Injury has pushed him out of Capello's plans - but fresh injuries may force the Generalissimo to think again.
Manchester United's Wes Brown - awful at right back against Egypt, but considered a utility defender who could also play centrally - has broken a bone in his foot while Liverpool's Glenn Johnson is on his way back after medial knee ligament damage. Manchester City's Micah Richards may be considered a possible but he captained the Under 21s in their defeat against Greece last week.
In that same quarter-final against Portugal in 2004 (see picture above, with Sol and Gary in turbo-whinge mode), England seemed to lose their way when Neville, always the leader when his old pal David Beckham wore the armband, went off with Wayne Rooney.
And last night, as Manchester United crushed Milan in Europe, there was Neville providing the cross for Rooney's opening header - a devastating partnership that could be neatly replicated in South Africa this summer.
Why was Neville playing? Because Ronaldinho tored Argentine diddyman Rafael apart in the first leg. Using his nouse, his mouth and his never-diminishing energy, Gary kept Ron very quiet last night, just as Sir Alex Ferguson had planned.
Look, I'm not saying either of these veterans will survive the cut when Capello trims his squad from 30 to 23 on June 1. But our best goalkeeper David James (born 1 August, 1970) will be 40 three weeks after the World Cup final at Soccer City on July 11 - so let's not rule them out on age alone.
On popularity, Campbell would struggle and the ever-moaning Neville - reviled on most terraces from Merseyside to London - wouldn't have a sniff.
But the other 31 countries at the World Cup (apart from Spain) would certainly find a place for two 35-year-olds plying their trade at the top of the Premier League and the last eight of the Champions League.
And who knows, Sol could get the chance to score that glory goal he was unfairly denied in two huge quarter-finals. Or Gary Neville could finally score his first goal for England. We can dream can't we?

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A bad night for two Manchester United legends - and Becks goes off in a rebels' scarf

AS predicted here yesterday, there are not one but two very unhappy former Manchester United legends wandering around Europe with the vacant knocked-out stare this morning.The world's most famous footballer, David Beckham, and the world's most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo, both saw their sides plunge out of the Champions League last night.
For Beckham - clad in the rebel green and gold - it was an embarrassment. A late substitute, he came on when AC Milan were 3-0 down for his first competitive game at Old Trafford since he left for £23million after a decade of brilliance in 2003. He had one chance, messed up one pass... and saw Sir Alex Ferrguson's side score another after a standing rendition of "There's Only One David Beckham" from the United faithful.
For Ronaldo, the £80million man, there was the embarrassment of a 1-1 home draw against gallant Frenchmen Lyon at the Bernebeu. And this after his early goal had given the Galacticos a great chance of turning the tie around after their 1-0 first leg defeat.
United then go through 7-2 after their 4-0 win. Wayne Rooney took his tally to four in the tie with an early header followed by a neat finish. The leader in Europe's League-based chase for the Golden Boot, he is unstoppable in Europe too.
His first was his seventh successive headed goal, he now has 9 headers in his last 10 games after scoring just four in his first 354 games. And his total in all competitions? Thirty in 34 games. Incredible.
Ji-Sung Park and Darren Fletcher added the a miserable night for Becks and crew who had not lost in four previous attempts against United. Like Arsenal the night before, winning after a first leg deficit for the first time in 31 years, United have rewritten a little bit of history.
And all this in front of two of the Glazers, Joel and Avi, with thousands protesting about the American owners' debt in the green and yellow of Newton Heath, the founding club. The slogan: "Green and gold until the club is sold". The Red Knights will no doubt be encouraged by Beckham's decision to don a green and gold scarf as he wandered off, though he later claimed he "didn't realise the significance" of his act.
Clearly emotional, the former England captain said: "You know, it was a disappointing night because we lost the game but returning here is always special. The reception was really unbelievable. It was really incredible. A tear in the eye? I don't know. It was nice to be back.
"I had a volley, I caught it too well but by then it was too late. They're a good team. They deserve to go all the way. When you don't start in games, it's one of those things where you want to play but you know, we're a team. We have to win together and we lose together.
"This is possibly my last game here. I will take a lot of memories away from here.
"Wayne Rooney is such an exceptional talent. He's always scared defenders. Without a doubt he's one of the best, if not the best, player at the moment with Messi and Ronaldo."
Sir Alex agreed: "Wayne has been absolutely sensational this season and I'm delighted he's got to 30 goals. Can he surpass Cristiano Ronaldo's 42? That's the challenge isn't it."
For Real and their £250m-worth of talent, it was even worse. Ronaldo fluffed a late chance, the 90,000 fans were leaking out of the stadium and Lyon failed with two one-on-one efforts to make it a seriously awkward result for boss Marco Pellegrini.

Real have now failed at the first knock-out stage for the last six seasons - and the final is scheduled for the Bernebeu this year.
So United and Lyon go through to join Bayern Munich - who benefited from former Real and Chelsea star Arjen Robben's late wondergoal - and an impressive Arsenal, 6-2 victors over Porto.
As a Gooner, I've got to go against Arsene Wenger's comments last night and say... anyone but United.
Chelsea, 2-1 down against Inter Milan, must wait until next week at Stamford Bridge to earn their place in the last eight. Given what we've seen from the two Premier League sides so far, I wouldn't be against them.

Labels: arsenal champions league, darren fletcher, david beckham substitute, european quarter-finals, wayne rooney header

Like so many other football fans, watching Manchester United makes David Beckham sick. Tonight, he returns to add nauseum

LIKE so many other football fans, David Beckham admits watching Manchester United makes him sick.
And not sick in the way the youth of today use the word. The former England captain, who left Old Trafford in 2003 after 394 games, 85 goals and 10 years, explains: “It made me feel physically sick to even, you know, just turn the Manchester United game on the television.
“Not because I hated the club or hated the fact I’d left. I just missed it that much. I’m sure it will feel like coming home tonight. United is where I grew up and it’s the club I’ve always supported and will continue to support.
“It will be amazing because the relationship I have with the United fans is still important to me.
“I went through some difficult times, but they never stopped supporting me and I wouldn’t have got through everything without them.
“Over the years, it hasn’t felt right coming back. There was something about going back to Old Trafford as an opposition player that just didn’t sit well with me. But now, seven years on, it feels right.
Beckham, 34, returns to his old stamping ground - as a substitute - attempting to extricate Leonardo’s Italians from a 3-2 first leg deficit suffered at the San Siro a fortnight ago.
Then, two headed goals from Wayne Rooney gave United the edge. This time Rooney is recovering from a knee injury and Beckham, who came on as a substitute for Milan over the weekend when Mathieu Flamini was injured, is hoping for something better.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who hates questions about Becks in his press conferences, said: “We’ll try and do it in our normal way, I don’t think we should be confused by the score of 3-2. It’s a very difficult game and one we need to win.
“That’s the way we will approach it. We hope to kill the tie with our own attacking ability. AC Milan have to score, which should make it a really open match.
“We don’t know for certain if David is going to start. He hasn’t started a match for a while. It would be good to score an early goal.”
That was the sum total of Fergie Beckhamisms. And not much was said about United’s record against Italian teams – and Milan in particular.
Four times the sides have met, four times United have crashed out. Last season Becks played 20 times for Milan, scoring two goals. This season? Just 11 games and no goals yet. Boss Leonardo said: “For Beckham it is something very, very special. When he saw the draw, it was unbelievable. Beckham is someone very, very timeless, he is very professional.
“The most important thing is how he will react in this match. It’s not important what happened before.”
Given last night’s incredible Champions League action – Arsenal saw off Porto 5-0 with a Maradona from Samir Nasri while Bayern Munich edged past Fiorentina with a stunning last-gasp effort from Arjen Robben – it would be impolite to expect anything less tonight.
And it’s not just United - 11-time winners Real Madrid are 1-0 down after the first leg of their clash with Lyon. Another former Old Trafford idol, Cristiano Ronaldo, is expected to play at the Bernebeu.
I've got a feeling both Becks and Ron will suffer tonight.

Labels: , cristiano ronaldo, , manchester united versus milan, real madrid, , sir alex ferguson said

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Nasri does a Maradona, Bendtner does the trick, Arsenal sink Porto in a storm. High-fives all round for Gooners

SO what do you want to hear about? The Samir Nasri goal that makes Diego Maradona's 1986 effort look timid? The Emmanuel Eboue dream finish which made it 4-0 and left every Arsenal fan dreaming? Or Nicklas Bendtner's first ever professional hat-trick which made it 5-0?
Oh Porto, this wasn't a good night to come across an Arsenal side seeking their first European win from a first leg deficit for 31 years. In the end it wasn't just a first Champions League comeback, it was an apocalypse wow.
The Portuguese visitors, who relied on two bizarre Arsenal blunders to win 2-1 at the Stadeo da Dragao, were completely outplayed for the first half-hour.
Andrei Arshavin's little legs left them bemused, Alex Song didn't miss a tackle or a pass, Tomas Vermaelen and Sol Campbell were imperious at the back.
And of course there was Nicklas Bendtner, after five glaring misses against Burnley on Saturday, to stick away the first two goals and get Arsenal to half-time on a wonderful high. Bendtner had the goalkeeper stretching as he sought a hat-trick, Arshavin missed a glorious chance of his own. Any Porto in a storm? And all this without the spine of the team: William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie were up with the 60,000 in the stands.
Ruud Gullit said at half-time he was worried Arsene Wenger's wonderboys couldn't sustain the pace. To an extent he was right. But just when Gooners were beginning to worry, Nasri - having saved a Porto header off the line at one end - produced the Mardona goal. He jinked his way through four defenders - clean around the outside of one of them - and stuck the ball in off the far post from the narrowest of angles.
The roars had barely died down when, 150 seconds later, Gael Clichy''s headed clearance reached Arshavin, who ran 50 yards before releasing the ever-popular sub Eboue. One of 13 children from the Ivory Coast, popular in the dressing-room and increasingly talismanic outside it, Eboue took a touch past the keeper and stuck it away with his left foot. Game over. What a night.
By the time sub Theo Walcott, the subject of my delirious preview, emerged, it was all over. Andy Gray was reduced to claiming the Portuguese League is rubbish, neatly overlooking Porto's Champions League success with Jose Mourinho in 2003. As he came off, Nasri took a standing ovation. And when Eboue was felled for the last-minute penalty (wish we had this ref every week) up stepped Nicklas Bendtner for his first-ever hat-trick. Bosh!
Bendtner said afterwards: "Today I put it right. Every time I play a game I put it behind me. The Burnley game was forgotten. It was good for me to score early.
"I haven't seen Andrey win a header before, so it was good for my first ball. I didn't know you get to keep the ball for a hat-trick!
"When we got the penalty, all the guys just wished me luck."
Wenger said: "Bendtner shows how quickly football can change but I hope he doesn't get too confident! I hope it gives him the desire to work even harder.
"Maybe it's good for us to play an English team in the quarter-final. We haven't done well against Chelsea and Manchester United this season, I have a funny feeling it would be a good opportunity we can do it against them."
Graeme Souness chose to inform us that the tackling was poor for Nasri's wondergoal, but he wouldn't last five minutes in the current card-happy climate.
It was a goal to wonder at, a goal which will be watched for years to come. Shut it Souey. Forget it Gray. For one night only, Arsenal are the best team on the planet. End of.

Labels: , , , , ,

Arsenal must rewrite 31 years of history - time for a Theology lesson for Chris Twaddle

FRANK STAPLETON is 53. He hasn't played football professionally for 15 years. So he must have choked over his cornflakes when he saw a picture of himself in today's papers, in action for Arsenal against Hajduk Split in 1978, 11 years before Theo Walcott (above) was born.
But of course there's a good reason for that Frank. It illustrates the last time Arsenal survived a European tie after losing a first leg away from home.
And tonight, as they try to repair a mostly self-inflicted 2-1 defeat at Porto two weeks ago, they have to manage it having accepted Cesc Fabregas's hamstring has forced him out for the second time this season.
Oh, and there's no William Gallas (Arsene Wenger accepts responsibility for that, saying he made the Frenchman train too hard), Robin van Persie, Aaron Ramsey... need I go on?
Wenger today gave a smiley press conference, saying: "We have good confidence. We are in a good position. Let's just go for it. There's always something new in our game and er... that's why we can change history. We have a good opportunity. This side has a good chance to make history."
Let's hope so - in all they've won just 3 out of 12 after losing the first leg in Europe. And perhaps more worrying than all those injuries is the fact that Nicklas Bendtner looks like he'll be playing up front again tonight. I counted five misses against Burnley on Saturday. The Sun does a lovely photo strip of Wenger choosing a wall dummy instead of the Great Dane on page 54 today. Harsh but fair.
Wenger accepts: "It is true at the start of the season you would want Gallas, Fabregas and Van Persie to be the spine of the team. Without them we can show we are still strong enough."
If he does it, Wenger will have restored his reputation quite thoroughly after the disastrous defeats against Manchester United and Chelsea barely a month ago.
In that short time, he has put Arsenal back in contention in the Premier League and, hopefully, the last eight in Europe once more.
Porto have lost their last six games in London and Arsenal beat them 4-0 at the Emirates last season, so victory is not out of the question. But on the 24 occasions Porto have led after a home leg, they have always progressed.
Some point to Porto's recent form - a 3-0 defeat against Sporting Lisbon and a 2-2 draw at home to Olhanense, but they've apparently been resting players to prepare for tonight.
Key to Arsenal's progress will be Theo Walcott, lambasted for his "brainless" performance against Egypt for England last week but looking a lot more assured as he scored and made three for Bendtner (who failed to convert them) against Burnley over the weekend.
Walcott says today: "I remember losing in a youth cup final with Southampton, I've lost the Under 21 final, lost the Carling Cup.
"I've got plenty of experience of the pain of losing. It makes you stronger for next time. And it would be nice if that next time was this year."
Former England winger Chris Waddle, who claimed live on radio at Wembley that Walcott "hasn't got a football brain" continues his attack today. He tells us how hard he worked on his weaknesses as a player to win 62 caps and insists Theo shouldn't go to the World Cup.
But I'll tell you younger readers something. There were times when Waddle, a gifted player, looked like he had no brain at all. He was an infuriating winger, the Berbatov of his time. Lazy, shoulders rounded, incapable of raising his game when it matters. And we won't mentioned the missed penalty.
If ever there was a time for Walcott to prove the critics wrong - and secure his flight to South Africa - it's tonight. And remember Gooners, no matter how bad things get at the Emirates, it can't be as bad as Liverpool were in their 1-0 defeat against Wigan last night.
Tomorrow: Manchester United welcome back Milan and Sir Alex Ferguson says: "Please God, don't let them ask about Beckham again."

Labels: 31 years, arsenal champions league, , chris waddle, emirates stadium, hajduk split, , theo walcott

Monday, 8 March 2010

The Wembley pitch killed Rooney. But Sir Alex proves his astonishing powers once more.

AH, the limitless power of Sir Alex Ferguson. Oh to be omnipotent like Scotland's finest, feistiest export. Hyperbole? Hardly. How many other football managers have the power to resurrect 24-year-old centre-forwards just before the most vital game of the season?
On Saturday night, after an unimpressive 1-0 win over Wolves at Molineux, Sir Alex issued this solemn death notice: "Wayne Rooney? The Wembley pitch has killed him."
This morning, miraculously, we have "EuROO joy" splashed across the back of The Sun. Yes, Europe's leading goalscorer is fit to play David Beckham and his Milanese pals at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Incredible. Sir Alex's healing hands have worked their Lazarus-like magic once more. How many times have United's players been unfit to play for England, at death's door internationally... only to recover just in time for the Red Devil's next domestic fixture?
Rooney's rapid recovery is clearly an act of God. His "inflamed knee cap tendon" was all Fabio Capello's fault. How do we know? Because Sir Alex spake thus: "He shouldn't have played at all in England's friendly against Egypt. But he played 90 minutes (actually it was 86). He is now very doubtful for the Champions League game."
And of course, it was all down to that spongy Wembley pitch. Nothing to do with the completely unrelated knee problem which saw him start the Carling Cup final on the bench... he came on to replace Michael Owen (out for the season with a hamstring, another Wembley victim) and scored the winner.
Poor old Milan. They must be reorganising as I write, having set up their side for Wednesday's fixture at Old Trafford on the basis that Rooney was on the verge of amputation or cremation.
Yes, Rooney, who scored twice in the 3-2 first leg win at the San Siro. Phew, how those Man U fans must be breathing sighs of relief. Mind you, given Rooney's current form - 8 headed goals in ten games after scoring four headers in 354 attempts - the knee if far less important than the forehead.
More worrying of course is that Sir Alex the all-seeing Rooney ruler. Will his £70m-rated £110,000-a-week striker suddenly suffer an injury just before the end of the season, ruling him out of the World Cup adventure?
Surely not.
Incredibly, Sir Alex has also turned the obviously lazy £30million Bulgar Dimitar Berbatov into a workaholic too. After Dim's lacklustre performance against Wolves, Sir Alex opined: "If you look at the statistics, you'll see that he's one of the hardest runners in our team and that he covers the most ground.
"He's a bit languid and whatnot but he really puts the effort in."
But there appears to be little he can do about the orange idol Wes Brown. He's broken a bone in his foot and may be out for the season - with the World Cup in doubt too. Given his performance against Egypt, that may not be a bad thing.
And who'd want to play at right back against the USA in Rustenburg on June 12 with former England skipper John Terry parading around shirtless with his captain's armband (as he did after yesterday's FA Cup quarter-final triumph over Stoke) and Ashley Cole on crutches at left-back with his psychologist in tow?
Amid all this of course, there's the other big one. Arsenal at the Emirates tomorrow night. They lost 2-1 after inflicting damage on their own chances at Porto. And Cesc Fabregas has a non-Wembley hamstring problem. The same one that kept him out for a month over Christmas. Can Arsene Wenger find those recuperative Fergie powers...? I think not.
It's going to be quite a week.
FOLLOW UP TO YESTERDAY'S BLOG: Portsmouth coach Avram Grant has apparently telephoned Spurs boss Harry Redknapp, wishing him well for the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Fulham. Grant said: "I've just spoken to him. I weish him well for the replay but I hope he loses the semi!" The winner of Spurs v Fulham will play financially-challenged Pompey while Aston Villa take on Chelsea in the other semi, both to be played at Wembley on the 10th and 11th of April.

Labels: "wembley killed him", ashley cole psychologist, cesc fabregas hamstring, john terry armband, manchester united sir alex ferguson, wayne rooney injury nightmare, wembley surface