Wednesday, 10 March 2010
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.
Wednesday, 17 February 2010
It was never about Beckham. For the next six months, it will be all about Rooney
IN THE end, it wasn't about 34-year-old David Beckham, it was about 24-year-old Wayne Rooney. And it will be all about Rooney for the next six months.
Manchester United's 3-2 win over AC Milan at the San Siro last night left Sir Alex Ferguson drooling and the rest of the world trembling.
Three hours before Beckham's Champions League clash against his old side, I said on Twitter: 'All set for the Becks and Fergie show. My money's on Man United. And Rooney to win the day.'
Rooney's two second-half headers - unlike some England players, he's starting to use his head to some effect - were his 24th and 25th goals in a best-ever season.
He is, by five goals, the best striker in Europe right now - his 21 Premier League goals have him five ahead of next-best Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
He has stepped up following the record-breaking transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo and he is ready to spearhead England's World Cup campaign in South Africa this summer. No question.
It's not as if Beckham was that bad. He should be on the flight to Rustenburg on June 1 too. And his Milan side, as he mentioned afterwards, are not out of it after a five-goal extravaganza at the San Siro. The second-leg at Old Trafford on 10 March promises to be quite a night.
Fergie drooled: "Wayne's in devastating form, they could not handle him in the second half. He was marvellous. He has to be regarded at the highest level, along with all the other players we know about."
That's the Scotsman's way of saying: "YES, BLOODY HELL, HE'S THE BEST PLAYER IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW."
And he's not far off - though Ronaldinho looked a bit special last night too.
Ferguson points out why Rooney is more important though: "He should score 30 goals this season, over the last two months, there has been a marked improvement in his game. Confidence has a lot to do with it of course. I just felt he had to improve his goalscoring, which is what he is doing now."
Beckham, hauled off after 72 industrious minutes which provided a few scares for his old boss, said: "I've always said Wayne is one of the best goalscorers in the world and he is obviously on fire again. If you give him chances he'll score goals, that's the way he is and the way his mind works."
Ronaldinho put Milan ahead, Paul Scholes scuffed an equaliser, then Rooney struck twice to give United a 3-1 edge which was drmatically cut back five minutes from the end by a lovely back-heeled Clarence Seedorf effort fromm close range.
Beckham concluded: "Clarence's second goal has made a comeback possible. It's not easy to go to Old Trafford and win 2-0 but we have made it a bit better for ourselves."
Back in the Premier League, former Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira got himself into trouble during Manchester City's 1-1 draw with Stoke City - Sky Sports News keep showing pictures of him shoving a boot into some poor Stoke lad's privates - and tonight his old side Arsenal take on Porto with five players injured. Apparently the Portuguese have injury problems too.
I suspect it won't be quite as good as last night's European extravaganza.
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
Any Porto in a storm for Arsenal as all eyes turn to David Beckham and Manchester United
ANDREI ARSHAVIN'S hamstring. Alex Song's knee. William Gallas's back. Thomas Vermaelen's leg. Manuel Almunia's hands. Cesc Fabregas's future. Porto are laughing before tomorrow's Champions League clash against once-mighty Arsenal at the Estadio do Dragao.
Guess who's gone on standby for the biggest match of the season in the one competition the Gunners could yet win to end their five-year silverware drought?
Yes, Sol Campbell. Picked up for free in the transfer window. Arsene Wenger's only signing last month. Aged just 35, walked away from Notts County, eager to extend his career, but probably not at the Emirates.
And while Wenger, ever the tightwad, was picking up one of his cheap rejects, he was allowing Luke Wilshere and Phillippe Senderos to spend the rest of the season with Bolton and Everton.
Luckily he kept the great Denilson, who will make his usual inadequate effort to help homesick Spaniard Fabregas in the midfield tomorrow night. Oh, and Nicklas Bendtner, kept while Emmanuel Adebayor was sold, may get a run too. Or perhaps the ever-improving Theo Walcott?
While all eyes will be on Old Trafford tonight and David Beckham's return to Manchester United with Milan, for belly laughs we will turn to North London before the week's European action begins.
If this were a footballing sitcom, it would be just about unbelievable. Belly laughs all round as Arsenal fly off to Portugal with a bunch of kids and the star man already planning his move home to Barcelona next season. The Carling Cup and FA Cup have already been thrown away and in the Premier League and in Europe, Wenger's comedy decisions on and off the field keep us constantly amused.
Inept in the 3-1 defeat against Manchester United, incapable of a meaningful shot on goal when they dominated possession in the 2-0 defeat against Chelsea, Wenger made a big deal of the 1-0 win which followed over Liverpool, pretending the previous fortnight hadn't happened.
But now, with the excellent Song unable to hold the midfield together, with Arshavin the pint-sized but talented striker out and problems for both Gallas and Vermaelen at the back, Arsenal are really up against it.
And so we turn to good old Sol. He last played in the Champions League in the 2006 final against Barcelona - and if my memory serves, he scored in Paris (he must have, look at the picture above).
But everything has changed since then. From that substantial, experienced squad Wenger has got rid of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Gilberto Silva, Kolo Toure, Adebayor... and lost Mathieu Flamini, Freddie Ljungberg and Alex Hleb. The list of departures is so long, we don't have room.
Most worrying of all? Jens Lehmann has been replaced in goal by the even more unstable Manuel Almunia. Against Chelsea, when Drogba's free-kick hit the bar two feet from his head, the bemused Spaniard barely moved. Just watched it. He's still capable of great saves Almunia, but the consistency is gone. And in a goalkeeper, that's everything.
Still Almunia is another casualty tomorrow night, so you might hope to see a return for Vito Mannone, the Italian who had a good run in mid-season. But no, the Pole Lukasz Fabianski has been ear-marked for the No1 shirt.
Plenty of money has been made with all the famous "Invincible" departures of course. and Gooners must consider themselves fortunate that, despite the cost of the new stadium, Arsenal aren't among the Portsmouths and Cardiffs, struggling against foreclosure for overspending.
But somehow, Wenger, in his bid to prove the most profitable manager in the history of English football, has taken his eye off the ball. Anybody who has seen his side's last three attempts at winning will know that. Despite having Robin van Persie, Johan Djourou and Kieran Gibbs on the long-term injured list, he didn't dip into the alleged £40m Arsenal claimed he was allowed to spend in January.
Wenger seems to have forgotten what it's all about. He's forgotten about scoring goals. He's forgotten about finding young, English talent, He's forgotten about the fans, who pay over the odds without the prospect of silverware.This from Arshavin, who was exposed when he was played up front alone in the awful defeat against United: "If all goes well, I will get back on the pitch as early as the next league match against Sunderland. However, I will miss the game against Porto."
So no strikers at all then. Not really. No sign of Eduardo, who never really recovered from the ankle break. His hamstring injury, supposedly nearly better last week, remains a problem. Bendtner will lead the line we are told tonight. Mexican Carlos Vela? He's out too. But they're all lightweights. If ever a club needed a striker, it's Arsenal. But Wenger did nothing in January, other than chat about how all the goal-getters were pricing themselves too high.
And at the back, half a defence. Vermaelen, evidence of Wenger's ability to buy when he really wants to, says of his badly bruised leg, picked up against Aston Villa last month: 'It turned out that I could play against Manchester United, but after that game I had some more problems, so I went for another scan.
"We could see then that there was a big bruise on the bone, and that's all - so it is painful but that can be controlled with medicine and when it is not broken, you can't do too much wrong. It is not a big problem to play - yes it is still there and will take some time to go away, but it is not dangerous.'
Yup, just like his forward line. A big problem, but it's still there and it's certainly not dangerous.
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Liverpool bitten by Lyon... now for the Europa League
DEPENDING which paper you read, Liverpool lost anything from £10m to £40m last night when they failed to qualify for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
Quite how that odd American couple, Gillette and Hicks, will take this loss of earnings on their Anfield investment is not yet known. But under-fire boss Rafa Benitez, now talking about winning the Europa League, knows he's got a job on his hands.
Sure, the Reds won 1-0 at pointless Debrecen but with Lyon understandably losing 1-0 at Fiorentina, qualification from Group E is now beyond them. Would you want to win or draw if it meant going to Anfield and playing for your lives?
Poor old Liverpool. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard have been battling injury all season and they're a modest 7th in the Premier League, five points behind Spurs in fourth. We won't even mention the beach ball.
Dramatically, Sky Sports 2 showed Gerrard watching the final minutes of the game in Fiorentina on a screen in the tunnel at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest. Gutted. He didn't stop to talk when the whistle went. Later he said: "You get what you deserve in football. The disappointing thing was having to rely on other people. We have played well today but now we have to try and move on, build on tonight and, with a lot of players coming back from injury, try and win the Europa League.
"Of course its disappointing. The Champions League is the main trophy at the start of the season but the only consolation now is to try and win the Europa League."
And Benitez emerged briefly to say: "I am 100% confident we will finish in the top four in the Premier League this season."
And all this while Arsenal were merrily skipping through to the last 32 with a game to spare. Their 2-0 win over Belgium's Standard Liege came courtesy of welcome goals for the returning Denilson and Samir Nasri (pictured).
Quite an improvement after Saturday's demoralising 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sunderland and their former Spurs striker Darren Bent. No need to mention the two penalties turned down in front of the Emirates crowd... or the double rattling of the woodwork by the Belgians, who had a man sent off late on. Funny how we don't notice these things when English clubs are winning. Former Gunner Paul Merson did. He pointed out in the Sky studios: "What worries me is they were dominant throughout but they still could have lost this game. Liege had a stonewall penalty and a couple of clear chances. Any team that plays Arsenal knows they're always in with a chance, they can always nick a goal."
Another small point before the London showdown against Premier League leaders Chelsea on Sunday: William Gallas took a nasty blow to the eye and looked concussed after clashing heads with Andrei Arshavin, while Kieran Gibbs limped off with what looked like a recurrence of his ankle injury. But still, they're through for the 10th season in a row, joining Chelsea and Manchester United, whatever they do tomorrow night.
Rangers are out too, beaten 2-0 by Stuttgart... and they don't even get the consolation of a late place in the Europa League as they finish bottom of Group G.
The good news for UEFA came in Spain where Barcelona eased the threat of non-qualification with a 2-0 win over Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan in fascinating Group F. Rumours of Thierry "Hand of Gaul" Henry diving twice in the first half have yet to be confirmed.
Bad news for Portsmouth fans with manager Paul Hart departing (former Chelsea boss Avram Grant is waiting in the wings), good news for Wycombe, the Division One strugglers, who followed up their shock 2-0 win at Millwall with a 1-0 win over Brentford last night.