Sandro gives Harry Redknapp a selection headache

Joe Jordon, Tottenham Hotspur’s assistant manager, is not the only person to have perennial “beef” with the bearded and occasional barbaric AC Milan captain Gennaro Gattuso. Like Gattuso on Jordon, the Spurs midfielder Sandro must have fancied grabbing the 33-year-old by the throat rather than the hand after the final whistle at the San Siro back in February. For despite Sandro’s courageous display on the pitch, it was the Italian’s childish petulance off it that so cruelly stole the headlines.

Injuries to Luka Modric, Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas, gave Sandro the chance to shine in Europe’s biggest competition in Milan, albeit in an untried and untested central midfield partnership with the combative Wilson Palacios. Neither were overawed by the occasion, and despite Palacios being his combative best, it was the young Brazilian who really caught the eye, using an admirable dose of intelligence and grit to halt any Milan advances while also readily setting up new ones for his own team. A single goal by Peter Croach was enough to send the English club back home 1-0 up.

While most spectators were anticipating a baptism of fire for the South American – how wrong were we? – his manager Redknapp had plenty of faith in the youngster’s ability to make an impact in such a match. Sandro, on his Champions League debut, outshone a gifted yet ageing AC Milan midfield, none more so than a frustrated Gattuso whose histrionics overshadowed the 22-year-old’s man of the match performance.

Speaking after finally ending a year-long pursuit of Sandro after agreeing a fee that could rise to £9 million with his former club Internaciol, Redknapp beamed: ““He is an outstanding young player. He is the verge of the Brazilian team, he has already played for Brazil and captained the U18s, 19s and 21s.

“He is strong and he looks a very, very good player so I am looking forward to getting him here.”

Judging by his footballing credentials, Redknapp had every right to purr with delight at the deal. Sandro had already captained a Brazil u-20s to glory at the 2009 South American Youth Championships in Venezuela, before making his full international debut in September 2009 coming off the bench in a qualifier against Chile.

But for those thinking this was an average player’s five minutes of football fame, think again. In the return leg at White Hart Lane, Sandro, as dominant in the middle of the park as he was in the away leg, was the catalyst to the Londoners’ sturdy stalemate, a winning result if ever there was for a draw as it saw them progress into the quarter-finals at the very first attempt.

Yet more options can sometimes cause more problems. Sod’s law gives Harry Redknapp a section headache as the former Internacional player is now starting to produce similar displays in the Premier League. And with Modric and Jenas now fully fit, and Tom Huddlestone back in full training, it would take a very brave, perhaps silly, manager to break up a so far winning formula.

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Torres move perfect tonic for Chelsea and Liverpool

So Chelsea finally bagged their main target, a proven European goalscorer, in Spain’s Fernando Torres for a hefty £50 million on the final day of the January transfer window; but, for both the London club and his former employers, Liverpool, it was money well spent.

Torres’ move to the Premier League champions should come as no surprise, what with the former Atletico Madrid man, who left his hometown for Merseyside in search of trophies, yet to win any silverware in a barren four-year spell at Anfield. Add to the equation no Champions League this season (and possibly next as well), a player with Torres’ ability – a European and World Cup winner with Spain – must surely be competing for football’s most coveted prizes.

One former Liverpool teammate of Torres, Luis Garcia, told BBC Five Live in January it was only right Torres and Liverpool should part company: “Torres left Atlético looking for trophies and titles and he has not achieved any of them and maybe it is time to think about it [a move],” adding,” “Liverpool are in a position where they are struggling in the league and maybe with all the changes they have done it is a good moment [to leave].” And, unfortunately, with the sudden downfall at Liverpool these past 12 months, Chelsea’s offer was too good to turn down for their beloved El Nino who took only 84 games to reach 50 goals at Liverpool, the quickest in the club’s history.

The closest Liverpool came to winning their first Premiership trophy was in 2009 when, despite being favourites at one stage towards the end of the season, they were piped to it by Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United by four points. Since then, the departures of two key figures from that team, Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid and Javier Mascherano to Barcelona without being replaced properly, has to many unsurprisingly coincided with Liverpool falling off the forever demanding top four pace, making Torres question where his future should lie.

Chelsea’s gain, however, should not be seen as Liverpool’s loss. Far from it. The London side’s season has not gone according to plan, having looked far beyond their old reliable ways, particularly when they went to the Emirates in December when they were made to look, mainly by Theo Walcott’s pace, well, old. Torres’ arrival will come as a timely boost to boss Carlo Ancelotti and the team’s defence of their title, and will surely add greater potency in front of goal which has been severely lacking, as fans and it appears the club have become frustrated with the bit-part performances of their current strikers Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou. Chelsea currently lie fourth in the league but, with the Spaniard now theirs, the Blues will feel quietly confident of overturning a nine-point margin with leaders Manchester United who they still need to play twice.

Liverpool, on their part, were right in accepting Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich’s millions simply because Torres needed a new challenge and, right now, so do Liverpool. Failing to finish in the top four last season was a huge blow and has ultimately modified Liverpool’s priority. To get back to where the club feel they belong, they will need new and ambitious blood; the signings of Luis Suarez, the former Ajax star who made the headlines in South Africa for the right and sometimes wrong reasons, and Andy Carroll, a handful of a striker if ever there was one, which were funded by the sale of Torres, will add more hunger and desire to a historic English club that was in danger of going dangerously stale.

The sale of Torres could yet prove the makings of a new and prosperous chapter in Liverpool’s history. Yes, Liverpool still need to add to a squad lacking in numbers and quality, which is why the likes of Aston Villa’s Ashley Young, Stuart Downing and Blackpool’s captain Charlie Adam have all been linked with a summer move to Anfield. With Kenny Dalglish back in charge and doing, it seems, everything right to impress the owners, it is not so fanciful to think that that long awaited Premier League title may come sooner rather than later.

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Magic Moments

Maybe it’s just me, but what do you remember most from the 1973 FA Cup final between Don Revie’s all-conquering Leeds United against Second Division Sunderland ? The greatest double save ever, right? From Jimmy Montgomery? Lying on the floor, having seconds miraculously denied a Trevor Cherry header , the rebound fell kindly to Peter Lorimer to equalise, only Montgomery somehow managed to surpass that Gordon Banks’ Pele save with what has in some quarters been called a “Gordon bleeding Bennett!”

For those still wondering, Sunderland caused a major FA Cup upset and eventually won 1-0, thanks largely to a goal from Scotland’s Ian Porterfield coupled with Monty’s heroism between the sticks, which was to be The Black Cats’ only major trophy since before the Second World War.

Montgomery played over 500 games for his hometown club in North East England before having spells at Southampton, Birmingham and Nottingham Forest, where he picked up a European winner’s medal despite not playing a single game. Monty, who unfortunately never had the honour of representing his country, retired in 1980 but was soon back in the game as a goalkeeping coach for both Birmingham City and Sunderland .

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In Defence of a “true English gent”: Kevin Phillips

"Sorry, the toilet is currently occupied by Master Kevin Mark Phillips I'm afraid Mr S. Gerrard".

 

Referees have it easy, dont they? They hover behind football managers who time and again find themselves awkwardly standing face-to-face with a journalist post-match having to explain another controversial decision made by those in black (sometimes blue, or green, occasionally orange) that has occurred on the pitch. Last night it was Birmingham City general Alex McLeish’s turn to do so and explain just why referee Kevin Friend awarded his side a 77th minute penalty – which Craig Gardner scored to make it 2-2 against Man City, which was the final score – after striker Kevin Phillips fell inside the box after a collision with Patrick Vieira.

In a situation like this, those in question can 1) provide an in-depth analysis of why it was a penalty by saying, “For me that is a penalty because Kevin turned Vieira, has flicked the ball past him, and Vieira has clattered into him”; 2) add a bit of rhetoric to your case, “How is that not a foul?”; and if that doesn’t work and you start to panic 3) say something irrelevant like that your player who was involved in the incident is some sort of a saint or, better still, that “He is a true English gent”.

McLeish, who by the way never lies because he is a true Scottish lad who eats haggis and drinks Im Bru while wearing a kilt, decided to use all three in his defence of Phillips. Because if you were still unsure as to whether he did in fact dive – which, i must add, i don’t – with the first two replies, surely, being told the accused wears a top hat, sips port, has good table manners and is an all-round courteous young fellow is all the proof you need to see that the man is innocent, I tell you!

Too bad Cesc Fabregas isn’t English, hey Wenger? Maybe you could try a true Spanish gentilhombre perhaps?

 

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Who would be a football manager?

Who would be a modern-day football manager, hey?

Okay, so most get paid handsomely. However, like the players, the men in suits – tracksuits if you’re Martin O’Neill – get bombarded with verbal abuse continually – and not just from the fans.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is often labeled a pedophile by a few childish away fans. While former Hull City boss, now gardener extraordinaire, Phil Brown was dubbed “Tango” for most of last season for his rather unusual “tan” which held more than a hint of orange (the colour, not the flavour).

But if you thought that was paticularly distasteful, think again. And again.

After Tottenham lost 1-0 at home to Wigan (the team they tore apart 9-1 less than a year ago) their manager, ol’ Harry Redknapp, had to suffer further heartache when one Sky Sports reporter had the nerve to call him, the boss, the guv’nor, the gaffer…a “wheeler, deeler”!

Thankfully, Redknapp handled the incident with admirable professionalism and with a touch of class.

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Who is to blame for Walcott’s omission?

  • Shocked Walcott wishes team ‘best of luck’
  • Martin Keown says Walcott is ‘a one-trick pony’

Arsenal’s Theo Walcott was the surprise omission from England manager Fabio Capello’s final 23-man squad for this summer’s World Cup in South Africa.

However, despite the media’s best efforts to blow up the Italian’s decision, many people in the game saw it coming.

Chris Waddle pretty much called it earlier in the year, when he said Walcott didn’t have a “football brain”.

Okay. So, we’ve got over the shock of Walcott being left out. The real question lies in why has the 21-year-old – who Capello crowned “one of our most important players” back in March – not progressed since his move from Southampton to the Gunners back in 2006?

Who’s to blame?

Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown told BBC 5live he believes Walcott has plenty to work on if he is to fulfill his full potential:

“He has become a bit of a one-trick pony in terms of going for the line. People just double up on him.

“When he has got time and space then he finds it a problem and he has got to sort that out with his game.

Keown, who made 42 appearances for England, feels the youngster’s loss of form is partly down to his current club manager Arsene Wenger:

“Under Capello it seemed as if he has been getting it right in the main, under Wenger, no, there has been a problem, whether or not that is the coaches’ fault, it has to be the players, he has just not played enough games.

I would have to agree with Keown’s observations. I’d also like to add that Walcott has suffered a number of serious injuries in the last couple of seasons. Exhibit A, B and C.

Wenger should be partly blamed for Walcott’s poor performances on the pitch, simply for playing him out of position.

The striker – yes striker not winger – has played on the right and left side of Arsenal’s midfield and has even played at right-back on the odd occasion as a substitute.

He has largely been used to help balance the team out as opposed to playing to his true strengths.

Support

When the Arsenal manager signed him, he said Walcott would eventually lead the line up front.

Well, after four years and now an omission from England’s World Cup squad, I think it’s time Walcott played in his best position and where he prefers to.

After surfing the web in search of support for Theo Walcott, this is all I could find.

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England’s not-so-magnificent seven

  • Spurs’ Dawson and Huddlestone expected to miss out
  • Football pundits say Walcott should not go to South Africa

England manager Fabio Capello will today announce his final 23-man squad for this summer’s World Cup in South Africa.

The Italian will have to tell seven players that their World Cup dream is over – but that’s easier said than done.

England have played two recent warm-up matches against Mexico and Japan, and despite winning both, the results were disappointingly not matched by the performance.

Sunday’s 2-1 win over Japan was by far the most worrying. Think it’s safe to say that Capello went with his strongest back four of Johnson-Ferdinand-Terry-Cole. But he also added one or two players who were still fighting to get on that plane to Africa.

Huddlestone fails to impress

Tom Huddlestone partnered Frank Lampard in midfield, whilst Darren Bent was given a run out alongside Wayne Rooney. Unfortunately neither did themselves a favour, with both struggling throughout the entire time they were on the pitch.

For all the Spurs midfielder’s technique on the ball, he lacks pace and is too slow at international level. Japan pressed our midfield admirably at the weekend and deserved to go in at half-time one up, yet they did so due to our inept performance off the ball.

Huddlestone looked one step behind everyone, taking one too many touches and far too long to pass it. Yes it was a warm-up match, but it must have been a concern to Capello to see a young, supposedly hungry player, lack commitment and determination in his battle to make the final squad.

Bent was his normal self. It seems strange Capello and the England fans watch in anticipation as the Sunderland striker gets a chance to impress- again. Yet he’s played plenty of games for England for us to realise what he offers the side.

We continually observe with baited breath as to whether Bent can reproduce his fantastic goalscoring domestically, only to be shown time and again that he cannot. I think it’s time to be bold and brave and admit that Bent is not international material.

Parker must be disappointed

Why Scott Parker did not get a game, or at least a substitutes appearance, is beyond me. Against Mexico and Japan England’s midfield was clearly lacking a combative player who would courageously compete for possession. The West Ham captain is that player.

With Gareth Barry’s injury still making him a doubt for the tournament, a player tough in the tackle who sits in front of the defence should be a top priority for the England boss.

We found out that Carrick couldn’t do it against Mexico or Huddlestone versus Japan – a team who are placed 45th in Fifa’s World rankings.

And we already know Gerard and Lampard play like two bemused strangers in the centre of midfield. So, if Barry fails to recover, who can Capello rely on? There is now no room for experimenting. From 12th June, every match counts.

Walcott out?

So, is Arsenal’s Theo Walcott in danger of missing out this summer?

Former Tottenham player Alan Mullery said he would leave the striker behind as he’s failed to impress in his recent performances for England.

Mullery also said that England should pick a similar side to the one that beat Croatia 4-1 in the qualifiers. Only the former Tottenham man forgot to realise that three of those goals were scored by…yes you’ve guessed it, Theo Walcott.

Personally, I’ve been left distressed and, well, let down by Walcott. His potential is frightening, yet it only seems to hamper his performance rather than his competitors.

But to suggest Shaun Wright-Phillips should go instead of Walcott is a mystery to me. There is more of a chance of Walcott coming off the bench to score or create something special than Wright-Phillips. Walcott is far from perfect, yet he’s definitely a useful weapon.

The unlucky seven

Picking the unlucky seven wasn’t as hard as everyone is making out. Yet, I don’t have the nation’s hopes in my egotistical hands.

Anywho, here are the seven that I believe will be somewhere other than South Africa this summer:

1. Michael Dawson 2. Stephen Warnock 3. Scott Parker 4. Tom Huddlestone 5. Shaun Wright-Phillips 6. Adam Johnson 7. Darren Bent

Am I right or what? No? Well, who do you think will miss out? Leave your chosen seven below

p.s. would love to see Adam Johnson go – think he’s England’s answer to Arjen Robben! Tricky, direct and loves to have a go at defenders.

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