Sunday, 25 October 2009

Fernando Torres beats Ferdinand for speed to lift Anfield gloom

An eternal fascination of games between elite clubs is that sometimes they come down to a duel between two world-class players. For all the sound and fury here, Liverpool and Manchester were prised apart when Fernando Torres went mano e mano with Rio Ferdinand and blasted a goal that blew away the depression settling over Anfield.

Bringing El Niño to Merseyside was the best piece of business Rafael Benítez is ever likely to conduct. Not that joy ever shows on the martinet's face. After Torres had beaten Ferdinand for speed and strength to breach Edwin van der Sar's goal in the 65th minute Benítez merely flicked his hand to convey a tactical signal to another Liverpool player and then glanced at his watch, perhaps to make sure he had turned it back an hour. This austere, dispassionate response concealed the scale of Torres's contribution to the manager's survival campaign in the wake of four consecutive defeats.

As Benítez said later: "Eighty per cent of Fernando can make the difference." The other 20% was still in a physiotherapy room. Torres had not trained properly all week. He missed the midweek Champions League defeat against Lyon and seemed unlikely to haul himself back into action for such a frenetic and physical encounter. On the coach on the way to Anfield Benítez gambled, mindful maybe that the alternatives were Andriy Voronin, Dirk Kuyt or David Ngog, who raised his lowly profile with his team's second, deep into added time.

Liverpool's alternative motto: Find a corner, then fight your way out. Their almost clinical need for adversity is baffling. A fifth defeat would have matched the club's worst sequence since 1953. "Playing as a team and working hard the way Liverpool do, we can beat anyone," Torres said. A player of such lavish gifts is entitled to sprinkle a bit more poetry into his post-match comments. But the foundation of all Liverpool's efforts is defiance and even Torres reflects that spirit. He can have a war with you or beat you with beauty. This volcanic derby required him to do both.

By the end arguably the world's best centre-forward could hardly stand. His body trembled with exhaustion and his eyes called out for him to be rescued. After 80 minutes he was replaced by Ngog. The ovation rocked the stadium: a sharp counterpoint to the venom directed at Michael Owen, once of this parish. "Judas, traitor, Manc," they howled, then chanted "Once a Manc, never a Red."

In such a febrile atmosphere no allowance was going to be made for the fact that Owen would have returned to Anfield on several occasions since his move to Real Madrid but was not pursued and might have finished up at Stoke or Hull had United not offered him work when his Newcastle contract expired. The denunciation of Owen in an arena where he once performed the Torres role was so fierce that Wayne Rooney made a point of consoling him as Sir Alex Ferguson's men traipsed off.

Ferguson ruminated on "the wounded animal aspect" of Liverpool's tenacious performance. "We had to win to get back in the title race," Torres beamed. For every reveller there is a victim. Somewhere deep in hostile territory Ferdinand would have been agonising over the private battle he lost when Yossi Benayoun, the closest this Liverpool squad have to a Steve McManaman, collected the ball from Kuyt and slipped it down the inside-right channel to bring Torres into combat with the England centre-half.

There was, in Ferdinand's heavy-footed response to this threat, another hint that he mistrusts his body and lacks the pace and agility to smother all forms of danger, as he can in his pomp. Torres was quicker and more robust as the two reputations came together. As Ferdinand leaned and lagged, Torres composed himself and had time to thump his shot into Van der Sar's top left-hand corner. The Kop is known for its eruptions of pleasure, belligerence, relief and this one will pass into the top-10 goal celebrations of Benítez's uneven reign.

Torres has now scored 34 goals in 35 league games at Anfield. Tormenting United's central defenders is one of his favourite pastimes. Though Ngog later put the game beyond Liverpool, there is no question that industry and organisation alone would not have brought them victory without the brilliance their £26m striker brings to the forward areas.

Frankly, without him, Liverpool are a severely diminished force. It was a measure of Benítez's desperation that he had to risk him when he "was not 100% fit". On Tuesday Steven Gerrard limped off against Lyon. Gamble failed. This time it worked. Kuyt (last weekend at Sunderland) and Ngog (against Lyon) had demonstrated the paucity of Liverpool's resources in the striking department. Whether internal politics or lack of foresight is responsible, the front of this team has been mismanaged and Liverpool's chances of sustaining this revival hang on Torres's ability to stay sound in a league that has caused him to be increasingly grumpy and querulous under the weight of incoming challenges.

He may resent the philistines who knock him about and the referees who sometimes fail to protect him but sheer force of talent always carries him to the heart of the drama, where his athleticism and grace usually do the rest.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Manchester United's poor play provoked Alan Wiley criticism, says Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson claims his anger at Manchester United’s performance against Sunderland two weeks ago prompted his stinging criticism of referee Alan Wiley, which has left the Scot facing an FA charge.

Ferguson accused Staffordshire official Wiley, 49, of taking thirty seconds to book players as he ‘needed a rest’ and also suggested that he was not fit enough to referee a game at Premier League level.

The United manager has since apologised publicly for his comments and a letter explaining his remarks was received by the FA on Friday.

His apology was dismissed as ‘half-hearted’ by referees’ union chief Alan Leighton and Ferguson is still facing a fine and possible touchline ban. The FA are expected to charge him with improper conduct on Monday.

But in his programme notes prior to United’s Old Trafford clash against Bolton on Saturday, Ferguson claimed that his referee rant was due to his frustration at a poor performance by his players.

Ferguson said: “We got out of jail in the final seconds for a 2-2 draw (against Sunderland) but frankly we had an off day.

“We kept going and we had a bit of luck with our late equaliser. We certainly weren’t firing on all cylinders in that game.

“Our passing was quite out of character which is perhaps why my feelings afterwards got the better of me with regard to the referee.

“I felt later that it was fair to apologise. I hope he has accepted my apology because I have always respected Alan Wiley, who is a good referee, and my remarks were not intended to be a slur on his integrity.

“By the time you read this (programme notes), I hope I shall have had the opportunity to speak to him personally after taking a break in the States.”

Thursday, 8 October 2009

What exactly is the Premier League’s ‘fit and proper person’ test?

The influx of foreign owners into the Football and Premier League and uncertainty over who actually owns Leeds United and Notts County, as well as doubts over Flavio Briatore’s involvement with QPR, has brought the ‘fit and proper person’ test in to focus. But what is it?

The ‘fit and proper persons test’ was first introduced in 2004 as a way of safeguarding clubs against falling in to the ownership of unscrupulous owners, with nothing in place before that time to stop those previously convicted of offences such as fraud from buying and running clubs.

Rules were established jointly between the Premier League, Football League and the Football Conference that any prospective director of a football club or someone looking to buy over 30 per cent of the club’s shares needed to satisfy.

The details of the test are myriad but the most important points forbid anyone with unspent criminal convictions relating to acts of dishonesty or someone who has taken a football club in to administration twice from taking charge of a football club.

The only person currently known to have fallen foul of the restrictions is Dennis Coleman, who as director of Rotherham United was responsible for twice taking the Yorkshire club into administration.

The exact criteria vary between the Premier League and the Football League after government pressure saw the former tighten up it’s rules while those of the latter remain in their 2004 form. However, the Football League’s chairman, Lord Mawhinney is seeking to correct this imbalance, in agreement with other interested football bodies.

The Premier League now asks members to publicly declare the names of anyone who owns over 10 per cent of the club. The Football League asks for names of owners of clubs but does not currently make them public. The Premier League also seeks assurances about where money is coming from to fund a club.

An important difference remains that the Premier League applies the test before a takeover is approved whereas the Football League garners information only after a deal has gone through.

Premier League fit and proper person test – disqualifying events in full:

A person shall be disqualified from acting as a director and no club shall be permitted to have any person acting as a director of that club if:

  • Either directly or indirectly he is involved in or has any power to determine or influence the management or administration of another club or Football League club
  • Either directly or indirectly he holds or acquires any Significant Interest in a club while he either directly or indirectly holds any interest in any class of shares of another club
  • He becomes prohibited by law from being a director
  • He is convicted on indictment of an offence set out in the Appendix 12 Schedule of Offences or he is convicted of a like offence by a competent court having jurisdiction outside England and Wales
  • He makes an Individual Voluntary Arrangement or becomes the subject of an Interim Bankruptcy Restriction Order, a Bankruptcy Restriction Order or a Bankruptcy Order
  • He is a director of a club which, while he has been a director of it, has suffered two or more unconnected events of insolvency
  • He has been a director of two or more clubs or clubs each of which, while he has been a director of them, has suffered an Event of Insolvency.

Schedule of offences:

  • Conspiracy to defraud: Criminal Justice Act 1987, section 12
    Conspiracy to defraud: Common Law
    Corrupt transactions with (public) agents, corruptly accepting consideration: Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, section 1
    Insider dealing: Criminal Justice Act 1993, sections 52 and 61
    Public servant soliciting or accepting a gift: Public Bodies (Corrupt Practices) Act 1889, section 1
    Theft: Theft Act 1968, section 1
    Obtaining by deception: Theft Act 1968, section 15
    Obtaining a money transfer by deception: Theft Act 1968, section 15A + B
    Obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception: Theft Act 1968, section 16
    False accounting: Theft Act 1968, section 17
    False statements by Company Directors: Theft Act 1968, section 19
    Suppression of (company) documents: Theft Act 1968, section 20
    Retaining a wrongful credit: Theft Act 1968, section 24A
    Obtaining services by deception: Theft Act 1978, section 1
    Evasion of liability by deception: Theft Act 1978, section 2
    Cheating the Public Revenue/Making false statements tending to defraud the public revenue: Common Law
    Punishment for fraudulent training: Companies Act 1985, section 458
    Penalty for fraudulent evasion of duty etc: Customs & Excise Management Act 1979, section 170
    Fraudulent evasion of VAT: Value Added Tax Act 1994 section 72
    Person subject to a Banning order (as defined) : Football (Disorder) Act 2000, Schedule 1
    Forgery: Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, section 1
    Copying a false instrument : Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, section 2
    Using a false instrument: Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, section 3
    Using a copy of a false instrument: Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, section 4
    Cheating the Public Revenue/ Making false statements tending to defraud the public revenue: Common Law
    Punishment for fraudulent training: Companies Act 1985, section 458
    Penalty for fraudulent evasion of duty etc: Customs & Excise Management Act 1979, section 170
    Fraudulent evasion of VAT: Value Added Tax Act 1994, section 72
    Person subject to a Banning order (as defined): Football (Disorder) Act 2000, Schedule 1
    Forgery: Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, section 1
    Copying a false instrument: Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, section 2
    Using a false instrument: Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, section 3
    Using a copy of a false instrument: Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, section 4
Source: The Telegraph

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Can Seville crash Galacticos' party at top of La Liga?

Cristiano Ronaldo's scintillating start to his Real Madrid career has left the club's supporters doing some simple maths – nine goals in seven games so that's 81 for the season if he keeps up his current scoring rate.

Tomorrow's visit to Seville might serve to rein in the euphoria – Manolo Jimenez's side lie third in La Liga and are promising to gatecrash the two-team title race between Real and Barcelona.

Largely because of Ronaldo's efforts, Real Madrid are the only team in Europe's major leagues to have won all their league and Champions League games and have out-scored the rest of the continent with 24 goals. President Florentino Perez told Spain's Barcelona-supporting prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, as much this week as the pair were caught talking football by Spanish TV when they should have been pushing Madrid's Olympic bid.

"We are the only team in Europe to have won all our games," began Perez. "I'm not going to tell you that there is another team playing very well," responded Zapatero. "But they have drawn," said Perez. And when Zapatero fired back with, "But they play very well," Perez said: "They play well but we don't need that... this year our time has come."

It was a feisty exchange that assumes only Barcelona and Real Madrid will contest the league. However, Jimenez disagrees. "It is not just about Madrid and Barça," he said. There is a long way to go and having a World Cup at the end of it also influences things."

Seville will be hoping Ronaldo has the World Cup on his mind with the Portugal international away on qualifying duty as soon as tomorrow night's six-pointer at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium is finished.

The team that rattled four past Rangers in midweek in the Champions League will be a tough test for Ronaldo, who should overcome an ankle injury to start what, on paper, is Real's most difficult fixture of the season after the games against Barcelona.

"They are capable of losing possession," Jimenez said. "They are still a new side and the understanding is not always there but they look very well balanced. They are not playing as badly as people are saying."

Those people would be Real supporters who, despite the side's great start, are anxious to see their team match the mesmerising football produced by Barcelona, who face Almeria at home tonight. Barça sweep you off your feet, with Real Madrid it is more clinical, but Real's former Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso believes the aesthetics will come with time.

He said: "As far as results go we can't ask for more but we are still working to reach a level where the play matches the result. We are not completely satisfied with how we are playing. There is plenty of room for improvement and we know it's important to not just win but to play well."

Tomorrow night three points will suffice leaving them six clear of Seville, who will have striker Alvaro Negredo out to make Real regret for letting him go in the summer. With Karim Benzema signed from Lyons, there was no room for the home-grown striker who has already scored twice in the league for his new team.

Seville have no first-choice players out injured while Madrid will give Ronaldo's ankle a late test. The Seville winger Jesus Navas said: "He is a fantastic player and it will be a shame if he cannot play." Jimenez was slightly more honest: "Sincerely, I hope he is out. Then after Sunday let him have a great season."

Spotlight on... The early-season crises at Atletico and Milan

Milan and Atletico Madrid are both expected to sack their managers this weekend if they fail to win and if Atletico fire coach Abel Resino it could even spell a surprise return to Spain for Juande Ramos.

Resino is clinging on with his side in the bottom three ahead of tonight's home game against Real Zaragoza. Jermaine Pennant should start for Zaragoza and if they take even just a point then Resino is likely to go. Atletico want the former Seville, Tottenham and Real Madrid coach Ramos, who would welcome a move back to Spain but could struggle to free himself from his CSKA Moscow contract before December. Another former Real Madrid coach, Bernd Schuster, and the one-time Spain manager Luis Aragones are other options. Both are former Atletico players and Aragones won La Liga with them in 1977 as manager. Schuster is friends with the Atletico owner, Gil Marin, and is favourite to step in if the club cannot get Ramos.

At Milan, Brazilian coach Leonardo, who replaced Carlo Ancelotti in the summer, has picked up just eight points from his first six games in charge and a 1-0 defeat in the Champions League at home to Zurich has left owner Silvio Berlusconi's hand hovering over the trap-door lever. Former Netherlands coach and Milan legend Marco van Basten has been tipped to take over but another ex-player, Alessandro Costacurta, has also emerged as a serious candidate.

They're all talking about... Real Madrid's record shirt sponsorship deal

It's Florentino Perez's grand master plan – buy the world's best players and then recoup the money through increased sponsorship revenue. His critics question the viability – €258m (£236m) is a lot of advertising space – but this week Real Madrid began chipping away at their £296m debt by agreeing a new deal with current shirt sponsors Bwin for €23m (£21m) a season. The new contract runs until 2013 and represents a €6m (£5.5m) a season increase on the previous agreement because of the incorporation of Ronaldo and Kaka.