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Still a week or so short of becoming a worn out and protracted transfer saga, the sale of Robin Van Persie to Manchester United sees them now having the top two scorers from last season in their first team. A deadly combination I’m sure we can all agree. And yet, I still can’t help but feel that Arsenal have got the better deal out of all of this.

Of course it would be crazy to say they won’t miss their talismanic striker and captain. Any side would feel the effect of the departure of a player who scores and provides the amount of goals that Robin Van Persie has done. However, let’s take a step back cast a critical eye over Van Persie and his relationship with Arsenal and transfer to United. He’s now 29 and whilst last year he managed to stay injury free – playing in all 38 games of the league campaign – there is a lingering feeling that was a one off. Van Persie has suffered from injuries all his career. It’s nothing short of wishful thinking to believe that because he had one year free of them that they won’t recur once he gets the wrong side of 30. That he’s tied down to a four year contract and presumably on big money represents a significant risk for a player with his injury record and who will have little re-sale value.

Then there’s the issue of his role within the team. Presumably he’ll be a starting player. You don’t spend £20 million plus on a squad player unless you’re Man City or Chelsea. This then creates the dilemma of who plays alongside him. There’s no way Rooney’s getting dropped, which further reduces the number of spaces available within the squad. Add in Kagawa and the return of Cleverley and you’re suddenly getting short of places. It would be hard on Antonio Valencia, arguably the best right winger in the league, to be left out. The same could also be said of Nani, who over the past two seasons has matured tremendously as a player. Ashley Young will surely be worried for his place in the side now as he’s nowhere near as talented as any of the above players. Then of course you have the likes of Hernandez, Welbeck and Berbatov who will now be warming the bench (or in the case of Berbatov keeping an eye on the team bus).

I definitely don’t think it’s a bad signing by Manchester United. Certainly if he manages to stay fit then Van Persie is one of the best players in the world. My most immediate concern would be his fitness and the effect it would have on the rest of the squad. As for Arsenal, they really shouldn’t get too down about his departure. Better for him to leave now for a decent fee that leave next summer for nothing. Plus, the signing on Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud leaves the squad in a much better place up front. Add to that the transfer fee from the Van Persie sale and there’s money left for new players.


This evening I went to my local watering hole to watch the England game. I’d been there the previous night for the Spain vs Italy game and also for the last day of the Premier League season a few weeks earlier and had a good time. Tonight, however, I witnessed some of the worst incidences of “support” I’ve ever come across. I don’t mean people booing their side, I don’t mean people not caring. What I mean is ignorant, drunk Sun readers displaying obscene amounts of partisanship, hypocrisy and vulgarity.

On at least three occasions I heard shouts of: “BREAK HIS LEGS”, usually when an England player had committed a foul and was then rightly brought up for it. Added to that was the ridiculous levels of hypocrisy dished out by the attending supporters. Every time an England player committed a full blooded challenge which was more often than not a foul, it was applauded and the ref abused. Yet, when the reverse happened, the French player would be accused of diving. It was absolutely ridiculous. The sheer reversion to type was startling as well. There were many calls of: “HOOF IT” and applauding last ditch blocks and tackles, despite it being a sign of poor defending. If you told these people that the sign of a good defender was clean sheets and clean shorts, they’d probably have an aneurysm.

Obviously not all England fans are like this. However, there seemed to be an overwhelming amount of “IN-GER-LUND” idiots who probably couldn’t give a rats arse about the rest of the tournament, just their national side. Really, it’s quite depressing. It’s not at all helped by the frankly awful punditry and commentary we’ve had so far from the BBC and ITV. Completely devoid of insight or intelligence. I long for a day when the audience isn’t treated like a moron, but going on the people watching the game in the pub today, most of them are. Maybe the BBC and ITV should take it on themselves to educate football fans and shine a light on the more intricate and intelligent aspects of the game rather than appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Consequently, I shall no longer be going to the pub for the England games. In fact, I hope England progress no further just to piss in these deluded idiots cornflakes.


Tom Jenkins/Guardian

It took them long enough, but Chelsea have finally won the Champions League, after a nail-biting penalty shootout against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. It was a culmination of the efforts of the likes of Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech, Frank Lampard and John Terry and the money of Roman Abramovich to see them finally lift the trophy that’s always been tantalisingly out of reach. It’s been an impressive turnaround for a club that started the season so poorly and were one game away from getting knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages.

Normally such a turnaround would be the toast of the town, with neutrals everywhere rallying behind the plucky underdog. And yet, Chelsea still manages to be a club that fosters hostility and negativity towards it, like some petulant children clutching onto its coattails. If you’d been watching ITV’s coverage last night, you’d think that the only people opposed to the idea of Chelsea winning were Spurs fans, who had their Champions League place hanging in the balance. This was far from the truth and a concept that the pundits and executives at ITV in particular have difficulty wrapping their brains around. A significant number of people don’t want Chelsea to win, or any English club to do well when it’s not their own. You spend a season rooting against such clubs, why would you stop for European competition? The unrestrained cheering in the commentary box when Drogba put the decisive penalty away was incredibly grating.

Be that as it may, the performance of Chelsea wasn’t up to their usual standard like it was against Barcelona. But then it didn’t really have to be. Bayern were very much off the boil, with one or two exceptions. Gomez had a torrid time in front of goal. His first touch was nearly always heavy and his shooting was more of the clay pigeon variety. Robben also had a shocker, surprising considering he was playing against another former club. His runs very rarely came to much, his corners were poor and he missed a penalty in extra time. That being said, I thought Schweinsteiger and Lahm both had good games. Joachim Low will have his work cut out building their spirits back up after such a heartbreaking defeat.

As for Chelsea, though I don’t think they were as composed as they were against Barcelona, some of their players played out of their skins. Most notably Ashley Cole absolutely bossed that game and was easily man of the match. Over the past few months I’d been thinking that Leighton Baines had laid his claim to the England left-back spot, but Cole has re-affirmed himself as one of the best left backs in the world and a big game player. Gary Cahill was also a rock at the back and a much needed cool head next to the occasionally rash David Luiz. Drogba also did well, despite his lack of service, challenging Neuer, holding up play and scoring an absolute bullet of a header. That he conceded a penalty is the only blemish on what was a massive night for the Ivorian. I really do think that Chelsea would be mad to let him leave the club considering how often he turns up in big games. Such an athlete easily has a couple of years at the top left in him, the only question is will he be willing to sit out some games as younger, fresher faces come in?

You’d think now that Roberto Di Matteo would have done enough to get the Chelsea job full time by now. Not only has he delivered the one trophy that Roman Abramovich has craved more than any other, he also has the ability to get the most out of this aging group of players. Whether he has the ability to bring much needed re-structuring to the club is unsure, but Di Matteo has earned the chance to try.

The one aspect that has left a distinctly bitter taste is the mouths of football fans is the presence of John Terry lifting the trophy, in full kit, despite being suspended from the game. Unlike the other suspended players present, who were there through accumulated yellow cards (a silly rule that hopefully is abolished), Terry was suspended due to his own rash stupidity. In a career filled with incidences that have made him one of the most hated men in the game, it’s this display of shallow-minded, self-centred egotism that serves as a perfect example of why he is so loathed.

However, it does not do to dwell and one must congratulate Chelsea on their victory, no matter how much of a bitter taste it may leave in the mouth. I dread to think of the hangover you get after a night of premium Russian vodka…

Being a sports fan in Britain can be a marvellous thing. Yes, Sky has gobbled up the rights to virtually all the sports under the Sun, but there’s no shortage of ways to tune in to your favourite competition via the radio, highlights shows or other less-than-legal methods. We’re also blessed with one of the best football leagues in the world, a decent cricket team, an above average rugby team (when it isn’t dwarf tossing), two great Formula One drivers, the men’s World Number Four tennis player and some half-decent boxers. So, with the Olympic games being hosted in London this summer I should surely be salivating at the prospect of a veritable smorgasbord of sport, right? Wrong. I can’t stand the Olympic Games.

Unsurprisingly, for someone who dislikes the Olympics, I have absolutely no love for athletics. I find it soulless, passionless, dull and anti-climactic. So when you base an entire competition around it with a few other sports tacked on, it’s not going to be pushing my buttons.

But, its supporters will chime, there are sports in there that you do like! Football, tennis and boxing are all represented at the Games. True, but the standard isn’t the highest. The football is an Under-23’s tournament (with three over 23 players per team) and in a year when there is a dedicated football tournament to my mind it’s thoroughly redundant. I’d be lying if I said the Team GB football side didn’t annoy me as well. Football does not belong at the Olympic Games. The football season is long enough as it is with the league and international tournaments. The boxing is amateur with protective head gear and less rounds per fight, with only the tennis resembling its own competitions.

To make matters worse, you can’t avoid it. It’ll be everywhere and it’s already starting to encroach on my life with that ridiculous London 2012 logo in the corner of every bloody thing. Not only that, but you’re made to feel guilty for not getting into the spirit of things. If you want to spend your summer days watching the tedium of the Olympics then fine. Just don’t expect me to. And of course this is without mentioning the ridiculous cost of the thing and the ongoing farce that is what will happen to the Olympic Stadium after the games are over.

So no, I won’t be watching the Olympics, I’ll stick to the football thank you very much.

On the surface, Robbie Savage and Joey Barton are two footballers cut from the same cloth. Both are/were immensely physical players, tearing around the pitch like men possessed and picking up their fair share of bookings along the way. But something else now links these two: Twitter.

Savage and Barton aren’t the  only footballers to have joined the social networking site. It’s become very popular with sportsmen around the world as a way of communicating with fans without pesky journalists twisting their words and mining for quotes. Where these two differ from many others, and to a greater extent, is in how much Twitter has helped to change peoples opinions towards them both.

For example, were it not for Twitter then the lingering impression of Joey Barton would have been one of a violent thug. Instead, Twitter has allowed us to see him as a rather intelligent person, fond of quoting philosophers, who has quite a strong social conscience (see his campaigning for the release of documents relating to the Hillsborough disaster) and regrets his problems in the past, both on and off the pitch. Similarly, Robbie Savage has developed from one of the most loathed men in football to a top BBC pundit and has even got his skates on to enter this years Strictly Come Dancing.

I wouldn’t dare say that these two have gone from pariah to paragon in the eyes of all the public. That would clearly be nonsense. You only have to look at some of their re-tweeted messages that are full of abuse to see that they’re still divisive members of the footballing community. But I think it’s fair to say that they’ve changed a lot of peoples preconceptions of them. They’ve certainly changed mine and I can’t be the only one to have developed a far more favourable view because of their Tweets.

I guess it goes to show that Twitter can not only be an instrument for social change, but also a handy PR tool.

Again the international merry-go-round spins and yet again England look promising in one match, only to come down to Earth with a bump the next game. England’s game against Bulgaria resulted in an emphatic 3-0 win and hopes were raised that the team had turned a corner. With a good mix of youth and experience, Rooney on fire and even some hunger from those wearing the Three Lions to go out and get the win, it looked like England finally had a formula that, even if it couldn’t win Euro 2012, could certainly make up for the terrible performance in South Africa last year.

Fast forward to tonight and yet again it’s same old England. An abject display, no fire (except from Rooney as usual and the fantastic Ashley Young), sloppy passing, frustration, dismal service to the front line and players too past it to even be in the squad. Yes England won, but it was hardly inspiring stuff.

Capello’s starting XI was not altogether awful, apart from a couple of exceptions. I can understand Capello not starting Scott Parker. He’s one yellow card away from suspension and will be crucial against Montenegro. Bringing Milner in to replace Walcott was a clever change. Should Garth Bale have pulled a San Siro and started playing like a Welsh Leo Messi then Milner could assist in defense where he has proven capable.

However, where I have problems with Capello’s team is his reliance on old heads. Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry should be nowhere near that starting XI unless Jack Wilshere, Steven Gerrard, Tom Huddlestone, Scott Parker, Tom Cleverley, Jordan Henderson or even young Phil Jones had all been somehow incapacitated. At some point the younger players like Cleverley, Jones, Henderson and Huddlestone need to be blooded on the international stage and players like Lampard and Barry who have nothing to offer any more are standing in the way of that.

England should take a look at their opposition from tonight and what they’re doing to give themselves the best chance of performing on the international stage. Gary Speed has identified Welsh qualification for the World Cup as his main goal and is using the European Championship’s qualifying campaign to give his young squad the time to bond and get much needed experience. Yes they have been beaten often and yes they won’t qualify. But with all fairness to Wales, England’s young players are of a better quality so qualifying would not have been an issue.

Chances are we wouldn’t do well in Poland and Ukraine, although youth didn’t stop Germany being superb in the World Cup last year. Regardless, with that tournament experience would be a better chance of succeeding in Brazil, yet for some reason these young players are still playing second fiddle to an over the hill generation. Yes you need experienced heads in a squad, but they shouldn’t be standing in the way of those who will be there in three years time. The older players like Lampard, Barry, even Rio Ferdinand, should retire before they scupper any chance of success.

It may be easy, following yesterdays clash between Arsenal and Liverpool, for their fans to get caught up in emotion. In Liverpool’s case, an omen of glories to come and maybe even a realistic title challenge following their first victory against Arsenal in London in 11 years. In contrast, for some Arsenal fans a sign that the club is in decline and at real risk of being left behind by the likes of Liverpool, Man City and, dare I say it, even Spurs. Though this is hasty talk from both sides, it that doesn’t stop there being some genuine concerns for each team.

Examining the team sheets, there is a real lack of depth in the Arsenal side. Potential by the proverbial bucketload for sure, but proven quality should there be injuries? Sorely lacking. Look at Arsenal’s starting XI yesterday. The likes of Van Persie, Vermaelen, Wilshere and Nasri will be class players well into their thirties. However, Nasri will soon be leaving and both Vermaelen and Van Persie are injury prone, leaving just Wilshere. The rest of the team really comes up short. Arshavin was by all accounts useless, Walcott is wasted out on the wing where his lack of crossing ability and technique was easily exposed by José Enrique and defensively there isn’t even quality in the first XI bar Vermaelen and Sagna. Thankfully for Arsenal, Frimpong looks like a promising youngster and, as mentioned, Vermaelen was the rock at the back that they sorely lacked last season.

On the other hand, Liverpool have more quality in depth than they’ve had in years to compliment the decent spine the squad had in place from Benitez’s reign. The problem area of left back has been solved, with José Enrique acquitting himself well in his first major test of the season. Jordan Henderson looked lost on the right wing and may be best used as a utility player for a while, particularly when Gerrard comes back. Charlie Adam on the other hand looked assured and I can only see him getting better. Of concern for Dalglish, however, will be how off the pace Carroll looked. The next two or three games will be key for for him. Personally, It may be wise to play him against Exeter in the League Cup tie Wednesday, where he really should score to help try and build some confidence and get him off the mark.

Despite all this, both clubs fans should not get carried away. It’s ridiculous to assume, as some fans have done, that Liverpool will now go on and qualify for the Champions League or even put up a title challenge. Or indeed that Arsenal are doomed and are destined to mid-table mediocrity. Arsenal still have probably the second best manager in the league in Arsene Wenger. Should they sign a centre back or two to bolster their back line, they’ll be competitive. In Frimpong they also have a young lad with fire in his belly capable of sitting in front of the back four allowing their attacking players to swarm forward with the pace we know they have. If he can control his temper and not be so rash and impulsive, then he’ll be a good player for Arsenal and will push Song for a starting place.

Liverpool also don’t look like title contenders yet and will struggle against stronger sides like Man City, Chelsea and Man Utd. That a depleted Arsenal side were able to match Liverpool until Frimpong’s dismissal shows that Dalglish still has work to do there and might not be sure what his first XI is yet. What is certain is that Suarez will be key to Liverpool’s season and changed the teams dynamic completely when he came on, along with Meireles. What isn’t so sure is whether Suarez can link up well with Carroll and what will happen when Gerrard, who loves to play behind the main striker, returns. Spurs also cannot be ignored as they’ve a strong squad, a good manager and will be desperate to get back into Europe after being so convincing last season.

To me, it seems that there will be a three-way battle between Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs for the fourth Champions League spot, much like there will be between Man City, Man Utd and Chelsea for the title. I reckon that it will come down to who stays the most injury free and with both Arsenal’s and Tottenham’s track record in that regard, it may just be Liverpool that pip both to the prize.