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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Wayne's World: from teen tempest to a man united... and the Egyptians quake

IT seems like just yesterday we were worried about Wayne Rooney's knee.
Today he's unstoppable, the World Cup is ours, Egypt will be flattened on Wednesday, pyramids and all.
Yes, a day can be a long time in football, especially when the England squad are gathered at The Grove with the nation's media in attendance before Wednesday's friendly against Egypt at Wembley (where the surface, according to James Milner, is as bad as World Cup venue Nelspruit, but that's another story).
Yesterday, after Sir Alex Ferguson had warned of a possible knee problem, the Wonder that is Wayne emerged to say all the right things, calming the nation from Defcon 1 to a state of calm serenity.
And as I said here three weeks ago when John Terry was stripped of the captaincy, Rooney emerged before the microphones looking every inch like the man who will lift the World Cup at Soccer City on July 11.
Well, we can dream can't we?
The Wisdom of Wayne knows no bounds. The wild Evertonian has become a man united.
Thus spake Rooney, the 24-year-old who looks like he always has but appears to have matured in every other way: "I feel good. I feel every game I'm going to score. I do feel unstoppable."
Which is exactly what all those nice foreign coaches were saying about him in Sun City last week. Good to hear our spearhead is sharp and confident.
He was even able to explain why, after his headed winner in the Carling Cup final against Aston Villa on Sunday, he has changed his method of scoring. From four headers in 345 games to eight in nine. Echoing my point yesterday about Valencia versus Cristiano Ronaldo, he said: "This year, with Antonio Valencia, the delivery has been better than previous years. But I've been working on my heading. My movement and timing has got better. It has all come together and that is probably why I am scoring more with my head.”
Ah but we've seen this before. A player in top form then suddenly, under the blazing Sun, people like Ashley Cole, John Terry and Wayne Bridge (not to mention their partners) begin to wilt.
No problem there either. After begging the Wembley fans not to boo former captain Terry, he says: “I don’t feel any pressure. I have had to deal with pressure since I was 16. You get used to it. I deal with it in a way I feel comfortable.
“What I will do is try and play my best, give my all. I am ready for the World Cup. I am in the best form of my life. I am ready
"It is difficult as a footballer because you know people look up to you.
"You are role models, whether you like it or not, and you need to try and be aware of that and try to do your best on the pitch and try and do things well for kids to see.
"When I first joined Manchester United I would go out to nightclubs, but it is very rare that I would go out to a nightclub now. It changes with age. I made that decision myself. I got into a few things that I shouldn’t have when I was younger and I tried to change that.
"I am settled at home now. It’s good. I am enjoying my life with my family. I spend a lot of time at home with them and that has obviously benefited me. When you are home you get your rest and it is definitely helping."
And yes, I agree. It all sounds too good to be true. But let's not worry about that. Roll on Egypt. Tutankahmun, Cleopatra, Sphinx, Anwar Sadat, your boys are in for one hell of a beating.

Labels: , england at wembley, , , , ,

Friday, 5 February 2010

Terry sacked as England captain, it's official. Capello: "I would like to thank the FA for letting me take this decision"

JOHN TERRY was sacked as England captain this afternoon at Wembley after a 12-minute meeting with coach Fabio Capello.
In a statement, Capello said: "After much thought I have made the decision that it will be best for me to take the captaincy away from John Terry.
"As a captain with the team, John Terry has displayed extremely positive behaviour.
"However, I have to take into account other considerations and what is best for all of the England squad.
"What is best for all of the England team has inspired my choice and John Terry was notified first."
Capello went on to say thanks to the FA for "allowing me to make the decision".
This blog suggested Terry was going at noon after receiving an email detailing further allegations to come against the £150,000-a-week Chelsea defender.
Rio Ferdinand - Capello's vice-captain - will be captain for the friendly against Egypt at Wembley on March 3.
Terry's demise was announced at around 3.30pm. I was on Sky News with, amongst others, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, PFA chief Gordon Taylor and the News of the World's Neil Ashton for about half-an-hour by phone discussing the decision.
Ashton, once a Sunday League team-mate of mine with the Warriors in Amersham, said the Terry family will not want to buy the News of the World on Sunday but Perroncel, according to Max Clifford, has now decided not to sell her exclusive story to the papers.
In a nicely worded statement she said her main concern was her three-year-old fathered by Wayne Bridge. Bit late in the day for sentiments like that, I would argue.
When the story of Terry's affair with Perroncel broke on Saturday after his super-injunction was over-turned, there was a groundswell of opinion against the immoral Chelsea leader.
But as the days passed, Ms Perroncel lost some of her allure as she joined forces with arch-publicist Clifford and hawked her story around for £250,000.
The mood changed. Why ruin England's World Cup preparations by getting rid of the captain when the woman involved apparently slept with FIVE Chelsea players (according to The Sun) and has been dabbling with celebrities like the dark-haired bloke out of Steps since her teens?
Suddenly the underwear model was the bad lass, despite a tearful reunion with Wayne Bridge, father of her child and Terry's former Chelsea team-mate. We were ready to write off Terry's affair - which allegedly featured an abortion and a £20,000 payment - as just another footballer going astray with a temptress.
Even his wife Toni, who fled to Dubai with the Terry twins after the story broke, publicly said she would forgive him when he flies over for Valentine's Day, missing Chelsea's FA Cup clash with Cardiff on February 13.
But today the mood changed. And there are several reasons for it, not all of them publishable at this point.
Word reaches me that Terry may indeed have slept with another team-mate's wife at Chelsea. The woman is a model and a mother. Hilarious. Not.
On top of that, Perroncel has apparently slept with "another household name" at Chelsea. The Mirror made that allegation on Wednesday. I have the name. Actually two. One of them is really going to shake things up.
On top of that, also in the top-secret email naming these names, came the allegations over Terry's use of a box at Wembley. Certain claims were made. Now, 24 hours later, if you read this morning's Daily Mail back page, you'll see further details of that. Terry's minders are offering to hire the box out to a third party for around for £4,000, which is "strictly prohibited".
The Daily Mail suggests this is "so much more serious" than his personal problems. I'm not sure I agree with that. The email I've seen also suggests further revelations with more women, coming on top of the eight already listed in most papers so far. I was going to keep the email to myself until the box story emerged this morning. But it looks all too accurate.
Poor old Terry. He must have thought he was slipping out of the noose when Stuart Pearce, Capello's closest English ally and the England Under 21 manager, came out on Tuesday saying Terry should keep the captain's armband (available for £4 at the Wembley shop).
But with further revelations now a promise rather than a threat, Capello - a devout Catholic and a disciplinarian nicknamed "Generalissimo" in Italy - decided to act before Sunday's exclusive hits the streets.
And the new captain? Rio Ferdinand. The Manchester United centre-back has been injured for weeks. And he was banned one game into his comeback.
What worries me now Terry is gone is that his successor will get it in the neck from the tabloids, who will remember his lengthy ban for missing a drugs test three years ago. And ultimately it won't just be Terry and Bridge who suffer. It will be England's long-cherished World Cup dream in South Africa.
Terry was the best man for the job. The only one capable of playing under such intense pressure, as he will have to do again when Chelsea play Arsenal on Sunday. Watch this space.

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Friday, 4 December 2009

Golden Balls Beckham? Or was the World Cup draw fixed?

EVER the diplomat (well, ever since France 98), David Beckham said after the World Cup draw: "As a country we're just happy to be playing a part in an historic event."
Happy? We're ecstatic! England came out of the hat as planned in Group C, with their carefully planned trips to Rustenburg's Bafokeng Sports Palace complex coming up trumps, surprise, surprise. They've been organising it for months, almost like they knew all along they were going to get drawn to play USA in Rustenburg first.
Then they'll pop down to the coast to play Algeria and Slovenia, keeping their high-altitude conditioning as they were advised by the rugby medics who are accustomed to South African conditions.
Whether every element of the draw was fixed, who knows? Suffice to say, we've got the USA, the highest ranked but not-too-scary side from Pot 2, Algeria, who needed a play-off against Egypt to make it to Pot 3 and, best of all, the weakest team from dangerous Pot 4, Slovenia, who lost all three games in 2002.
Alan Shearer, on the Beeb, said: "I think Fabio Capello will be absolutely delighted. If you'd have said that beforehand, he would have snapped your hand off."
There is already talk of England being moved to a bigger stadium for their game at Port Elizabeth. It's going to be massive! But what about the other 28 nations?
Group D looks a tough one. Serbia, Ghana, Germany and Australia. None of them are pushovers. Michael Essien, Ghana's guiding light, will come up against his Chelsea team-mate, Michael Ballack, the German captain. May the wrestle in peace.
Group A was always South Africa's and when they came out with Mexico and Uruguay, who needed a play-off against Costa Rica (who are as unhappy as Ireland about the way they went out) the hosts were happy enough despite their lowest-ever host ranking of 86th. But then France popped out to finish the group and the battle is on, hopefully with Thierry Henry suspended for his handball against the Irish in Paris last month (sorry to harp on, but it WAS cheating).
Group B puts Argentina just where they want to be, at altitude as they planned when they booked Pretoria University's sports academy this week. Should have put money on that one too. They play twice in Johannesburg and once in Polokwane, no big trips, and they're with Nigeria, South Korea and Greece. Diego Maradona always said the balls were warmed to suit the big nations. It looks that way for the Argies.
Group E sees Holland, Denmark, Japan and Cameroon doing battle with Group F featuring Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand - with all their 'stars' from Plymouth, Halifax and Worksop - plus dangerous Slovakia.
But if it's a group of death you want, try Group G. Brazil were drawn first, North Korea are unknown, but Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal came out next. Ouch. I'm going for Ivory Coast and Portugal - with Brazilian Deco - to survive.
Group H sees Spain, perfect in qualifying, up against Switzerland, Honduras and Chile. If Spain don't make it out of the group, I'll run naked across Soccer City before the final on July 11.
The bookies agree. After the draw they go Spain 4-1, Brazil 11-2, England 13-2, Argentina 10-1.
England could play Germany, then France in the quarters and Brazil in the semi-final. If things go according to plan. They certainly have so far. But then David Beckham's nickname has always been the clue. Golden Balls. They certainly were tonight.

Labels: england, south african world cup draw,

Friday, 20 November 2009

Becks backs Thierry... but there has to be a replay

AT last, somebody has risen up to defend the great Thierry Henry after his "Hand of Gaul" assist for France against Ireland on Wednesday night.
While the rest of the world - and over 194,000 people on Facebook - call for a replay after Ireland's cruel departure from the World Cup in South Africa next year, none other than former England captain David Beckham has seen fit to come out fighting for Thierry.
Despite the obvious intent shown by Henry, pictured left in one of the many viral pictures flying around the web, and his admission of a red card offence in the build-up to William Gallas's decisive goal, England's most-capped outfield player Becks insists: "I know Thierry as a player and a person. He's a good person and a great player. It's a shame to see Ireland go out because they have such great fans. These things happen in football.
"But I honestly didn't think Thierry meant it. I don't think he is a cheat.
"I've had a few headlines in the past which have not been nice. Who knows what I would have done in that situation when you're playing in a qualifier to go through to the World Cup?
"I've been involved in big games and reacted to certain things and looked back and thought I was wrong to do that."
Beckham also admits he turned down a return to the Premier League in his interview with Sky Sports. But it is the Henry verdict which will inflame opinions on a day when Shay Given has come out complaining: "We feel cheated by both Henry and the officials. It's disgusting."
And Sunderland chairman and former Republic of Ireland striker Niall Quinn described the goal as "the biggest injustice I have ever seen in sport".
Quinn added: "People talk about Maradona's Hand of God goal but I'd say Henry's handball was the biggest injustice I've ever seen in sport. Maybe I feel it more because I'm Irish.
"All that I believe in and all that I love about sport was shattered when I saw something like that. It's possibly the lowest I've felt at any sporting moment in my life."
Strong stuff, Thing is, FIFA remain unmoved by the calls for a replay, just as I predicted 24 hours ago. And whatever Beckham feels, that's wrong. The people have spoken, play it again Sepp. Let's all email FIFA, bombard the French FA, do what it takes despite their 10.15am announcement today that it CANNOT be replayed. There is a point to be made. There are precedents. Cheats, my mother told me, never prosper.

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