Bizarre Love Triangle

It’s a tabloid editor’s dream, but for John Terry and Wayne Bridge it’s the fixture they’ve been dreading for weeks. All eyes will be on the pre-match handshake at Stamford Bridge tomorrow lunchtime, as these two rivals in love take their very public feud out of the bedroom and onto the playing field. Not since Blur and Oasis vied for the top of the Britpop charts has such a media frenzy surrounded a Chelsea-Manchester City showdown: the Premier League clash arrives just two days after Bridge announcing his permanent withdrawal from the England national team, a decision based on revelations of Terry’s affair with Vanessa Perroncel, Bridge’s former girlfriend and the mother of his child.

Bridge informed Franco Baldini of the news by phone, before releasing a statement in which he described his hard choice. “It has always been an honour to play for England. However, after careful thought, I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive. Sadly, therefore, I feel for the sake of the team and in order to avoid what will be inevitable distractions, I have decided not to put myself forward for selection. I wish the team all the very best in South Africa.”

It’s hard not to feel sympathy towards Bridge. His personal life torn apart by a former teammate (in addition to national duty he and Terry played at Chelsea together for five-and-a-half seasons) the Manchester City full-back has now been forced to renounce on his involvement in the World Cup.

The whole saga has posed a tricky predicament for England coach Fabio Capello. Many have suggested that as the guilty party Terry should be the one to step down from England duty, so as to avoid creating further disharmony in the team camp. Terry was stripped of the England captaincy just days after news of the story broke, though his place in the squad (and the starting eleven) apparently remains assured. Meanwhile Chelsea granted him compassionate leave to attempt to save his own marriage (he is the father of twins with Toni Poole). The light punishment unleashed on Terry demonstrates the awkward moral and sporting implications faced by Chelsea, Capello and the English FA. Captain of club and – until recently – country, for the fact is that Terry is a far more essential component for England than the peripheral Bridge, whose appearances for his country have been limited since Sven-Goran Eriksson resigned as coach in 2006. It’s perhaps fair to say that had their parts been reversed in this affair, Capello would have had few qualms about eliminating Bridge from the England set-up entirely.

Were it not for “Terrygate”, Bridge would in all likelihood have reprised his role as England’s first choice left-back in South Africa, given the ankle injury which is expected to keep Chelsea’s Ashley Cole (his own private life the stuff of tabloid fodder this week) out of action for three months. It’s a sad irony which undoubtedly influenced Bridge’s tough compromise for the good of the team: starting for England would have meant lining up alongside Terry in a defensive back four. Though Capello hopes there is still time for the player to change his mind, it’s hard to imagine Bridge getting many more opportunities to add to his 36 caps, assuming Terry remains the rock at the heart of England’s defence. Both players turn thirty later this year.

Terry himself today weighed in on Bridge’s dramatic announcement, questioning its timing and even labelling him “a bottler,” a term he suggested is representative of how Bridge is commonly perceived among fellow professionals. Following the Champions League final in 2008, in which Terry missed a penalty in the shoot-out after slipping, Chelsea’s captain was described by Frank Lampard as “a man’s man.” I’m not sure what that means, but in Terry’s case it apparently refers to an immoral, unprofessional, tactless traitor who also happens to be an important footballer. Something tells me Bridge is much better off.


Ronaldo “The Slave” keeping busy in L.A.

Cristiano Ronaldo conducts business at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles, CA.

LOS ANGELES — When Cristiano Ronaldo publicly referred to himself as a “slave” last week, it was no surprise the remark made the headlines. The man could take a bite from a tuna salad sandwich and it would no doubt appear on Sky Sports as “Breaking News”. As I write, the young Portuguese star is caught in a battle for his footballing services, a tug-of-war match between his current club, Manchester United, and their European rivals Real Madrid. The Spanish champions have reportedly offered Ronaldo a contract worth up to £10 million a season, but United’s chief executive David Gill remains adamant the player will not be heading to the Bernabeu anytime soon. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson travelled to Portugal last week to convince the unsettled winger to see out his contract at Old Trafford, and this week suggested moving to Madrid would be “the worst thing for Ronaldo’s career.”

Asked this week to comment, Ronaldo coyly suggested money would not be a factor in his decision, casually stating, “I’ve always been hounded.” But he has made no secret of his ambitions to play for Real next season, causing some United fans to turn against him. They’re right to question his loyalties, judging his record with women. This guy changes girlfriends like most men change underwear.

Ronaldo and Nerieda canoodle in Sardinia following Portugal’s early exit from Euro 2008.

Following Portugal’s quarter-final defeat to Germany at Euro 2008, Ronaldo escaped to the Italian island of Sardinia with Mallorcan girlfriend Nereida Gallardo. The two were photographed frolicking on the beach, and Nereida even hinted to her friends that marriage was just around the corner, but sadly found herself promptly dumped at the end of the trip.

Two weeks ago in Holland, Ronaldo underwent surgery on his right ankle which will keep him out of action until October — plenty of time for him to mull things over and weigh up his tricky career options. Ronaldo has been recovering from his operation in California, where after a week in Los Angeles the 23 year-old’s romantic conquests already total four. Three of these were girls he picked up at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a fourth is Letizia Filippi, a 30 year-old serial footballer-dater who finished third in the Miss Italia contest in 1994. The two met on Fabio Cannavaro’s yacht in Capri, where Ronaldo also vacationed with Nereida. Since their break-up Ronaldo has apparently ignored all Nereida’s pleas for his return, refusing to answer phone calls from his heartbroken ex.

The predator Ronaldo — here in his natural poolside habitat, eyes up his next victims.

This kind of behaviour is nothing new amongst the spoilt, the immature, the overpaid or the unintelligent. Sadly for Ronaldo, he happens to fall into all four of these categories, as his “slave” remark confirms. His thoughtless stupidity and selfish arrogance have several times very nearly cost his side on the pitch (he missed consecutive penalties in the Champions League semi-final and final which luckily for him did not prove fatal). The same unenviable traits are bound to cause turbulence off the pitch as well. “I don’t know about the future, only God knows it,” Ronaldo claimed this week, perhaps attempting to elicit a tinge of Diego Maradona’s uncanny knack for pompous statements. But when Maradona spouted such comments you kind of half went along with it, such was his talent for audacity. With Ronaldo it comes off as pure arrogance, and the only thing he currently shares with Diego is a guarantee that it will all end in tears.

Ronaldo hobbles on crutches outside popular celebrity
lounge Coco de Ville, West Hollywood, CA.

Nike disappoints purist fans of Arsenal and Barça, but the players seem happy

William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott model
the new Arsenal home shirt in an online Nike ad.

It’s that time of year again. The season is over, players are on the beach, transfer sagas are drawn out, and the sports newspapers are filled with pages of talk, speculation, rumour and very little football. It’s the one moment in the calendar where people like me (and if you’re reading this probably you also) can devote a little time to something other than football. But any true fan knows there is always something to keep his interest alive during the close season. In my case, it’s the excitement and anticipation which can only be caused by the unveiling of the big clubs’ new kits. There is always that hope that every shirt will revert to a classic design, but sadly in reality only rarely do kits adhere closely to those that grace the hallowed turfs of my football fantasies.

Arsenal recently unveiled their new 2008-09 home strip, sparking a fresh controversy amongst some of the North London club’s most purist supporters. In an unexpected break with tradition, manufacturers Nike have ditched Arsenal’s famous white sleeves — which the Gunners have worn since former manager Herbert Chapman introduced the design in the 1930s — instead opting for a somewhat nondescript red shirt with a white sleeve stripe. Ardent Gunner fans say the new look removes all of Arsenal’s visual individuality, making them look like half the other teams in the world. Arsenal will wear the shirt for home games until 2010.

Thierry Henry celebrates a goal during Arsenal’s last ever game at Highbury against Wigan Athletic. The Gunners wore a “redcurrant” home strip for the entire 2005-06 season.

The only previous drastic modification to Arsenal’s home strip came in the 2005-06 season, when a shirt based on a 1913 design was worn to commemorate the Gunners’ last season at Highbury. The club officially described the kit’s colour as “redcurrant”, with reference to the darker strip Arsenal wore in its early years. I actually liked this shirt — even if it had nothing to do with any Arsenal team I’d seen before or since.

For the 2006-07 season, the first at their new stadium, Arsenal reverted to a classic traditional strip, as worn here by Dutch forward Dennis Bergkamp.

One player who is not concerned about these alterations is Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who has admitted turning down offers from Real Madrid and Barcelona to stay at the Emirates Stadium. “I get excited about a new kit and really like trying on new shirts,” says the newly-crowned European champion. “It makes you start looking forward to the new season.” It may be worth mentioning that Nike is one of Fabregas’ personal sponsors. Arsenal teammate Theo Walcott is also unconcerned: “It’s a great design,” says the 19 year-old. “It feels good on, it’s really comfortable, and I’m looking forward to wearing it next season.”

Nike posters feature Bojan Krkic and Carles Puyol in the latest
Barça home and away styles for 2008-09.

I wonder what the Catalan Fabregas would make of Barcelona’s new strip. The La Liga giants are also kitted out by Nike, and this year’s home shirts have also upset their fiercely traditionalist contingent. After almost a century of stripes, for the 2008-09 season Barça’s famous blaugrana will be worn as halves. This is not the club’s first recent alteration to their classic look: Barcelona memorably reverted to red-and-blue halves with navy sleeves and shorts for their centenary season in 1999 — a shirt that proved extremely popular with fans around the world. Sadly, this season’s new shirts have none of the centenary kit’s unique details, instead they look like a quickly knocked off alternative to last season’s strip, and make the mighty Barça look a lot like Genoa or Cagliari.

Rivaldo and Luis Figo during the 1999 centenary season, the last time Barcelona wore halves; Ronaldinho sports Barça’s Champions League-winning strip: note the narrower stripes and red shorts.

Barcelona have worn their usual wide stripes in the last two seasons — a welcome return following the narrow stripes and red shorts combination of 2005-06. For anyone with a sense of the club’s kit tradition this strip was quite a departure, although it didn’t affect the side: Barcelona won the Champions League that year, beating Arsenal in the final. In 2007 Barcelona — the last major team in Europe never to wear a sponsor — secured a deal with the charity organization Unicef, whose logo now appears on the front of their shirts. At least Barcelona will look the part away from the Nou Camp: recent dalliances with orange and turquoise have given way to a new second strip based on the classic yellow shirts of the 1970s and early 1980s.

Diego Maradona leads out Barcelona in yellow at Old Trafford, March 1984; Barça coach Terry “El Tel” Venables (far right) presents new signing Steve Archibald (in classic blaugrana strip) to the Nou Camp, August 1984.

Portugal’s current stars no match for “Golden Generation”

Cristiano Ronaldo contemplates Portugal’s exit from Euro 2008.

LISBON — For any child developing an interest in football over this past year, you could forgive them for believing Cristiano Ronaldo to be the greatest player the game has ever seen. The popularity of the Portuguese winger’s club, Manchester United, combined with the generally over-hyped Premiership coverage on Sky Sports would be enough to fool any impressionable youngster. But the fact that the football media can so strongly influence adult fans is much more surprising. Following Ronaldo’s fine form for United this season — in which he scored 31 goals (a Premiership record for a midfielder) — there was much talk amongst fans and journalists before Euro 2008 that the player might “do a Maradona”, and single-handedly (no pun intended) lead Portugal to European glory.

Of course, this suggestion was both unlikely and pointless, least because Portugal need not rely solely on one player. Deco, the naturalised Brazilian, is a playmaker in the South American mold, combining a compact physique with fine control and vision. But he can drift in and out of big games, often without ever leaving his mark. When I first saw Deco play — for José Mourinho’s FC Porto side which won the UEFA Cup and Champions League in successive seasons — I was impressed. He was skillful and tricky, and the team revolved around him. At star-studded Barcelona he was one of many, sharing top-billing with the more imaginative (and popular) Ronaldinho. A similar fate may await him at Chelsea, for whom he signed following Portugal’s lacklustre quarter-final exit from Euro 2008 at the hands of Germany, and where he will be reacquainted with the now ex-Portugal coach, Felipe “Big Phil” Scolari.

Portugal’s two biggest stars enjoyed their best performance against the Czech Republic at Euro 2008.

At Euro 2008 Portugal perhaps peaked too early, making them instant favourites. Ronaldo and Deco combined well in the 3-1 victory over the Czech Republic, but neither player could galvanize the team enough to overcome the might of a German team in its stride. Though I risk descending into common football cliché by saying so, both Ronaldo and Deco also suffer from attitude problems, particularly when it comes to winning a free-kick, feigning injury, and, at worst, ensuring an opponent is booked. These cynical tactics are obviously common-place in football in all countries, but I find it unfortunate for a country that is renowned for its attractive football, that its two most celebrated players should adhere so closely to this ugly stereotype. Each is no stranger to controversy, on and off the pitch. At the 2006 World Cup Deco received a red card in the match with Holland, and Ronaldo was seen as provoking the dismissal of Wayne Rooney in the quarter-final with England. Meanwhile, both players have been involved in incidents concerning prostitutes and organized sex romps.

At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Deco scored a great goal against Iran, but saw red in the next match with Holland.

None of this does anything for either player’s likability — both Ronaldo and Deco are far too talented to resort to such lowlife behaviour, yet perhaps simply too stupid to recognize how they are tarnishing their image. This, for me, is one of the primary differences between the current Portugal team and the oft-heralded “Golden Generation” which helped win the World Youth Cup in 1991 and afforded the senior team the title of “Brazilians of Europe”, which had to do with much more than historical connections between the two countries.

By the late-1990s this crop of talent had spread itself throughout the best leagues in Europe, ensuring Portugal’s position as serious contenders at major championships. The national team’s two biggest stars in this period were Luis Figo and Manuel Rui Costa, without doubt the two finest players Portugal has produced since Eusebio. Like Ronaldo, Figo began his career at Sporting Lisbon, before making a name for himself at Barcelona and, in a controversial move, Real Madrid. A marauding winger in the old-fashioned sense, his slightly hunched-over forward stance meant he could beat players with just a drop of the shoulder and shove of the ball. He wasn’t as fast as Ronaldo, nor did he share the United star’s heading ability, but he won the Ballon d’Or in 2000, and the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2001.

Figo at Euro 2000; the Portugal captain embraces former Real Madrid teammate Zinedine Zidane after Portugal’s defeat to France in the World Cup semi-final, Munich, 2006.

Rui Costa was Portugal’s heart and soul, a serious man who lived and breathed football — the very first word to come out of his infant mouth was “Benfica.” (Cristiano Ronaldo was named after President Reagan — who do you prefer now?) After several fine seasons at the top in Lisbon, Rui Costa joined Fiorentina in 1994, where together with Argentine striker Gabriel Batistuta he shared an excellent understanding on the pitch, and idol status off it. Perhaps unlike Figo, Rui Costa was an elegant playmaker in the mold of a classic number ten, and a joy to watch in full flight. The Florence club’s bankruptcy caused Rui Costa to somewhat reluctantly transfer to Milan in 2001 — he famously broke down on a local radio station trying to explain his move to la Viola‘s disappointed fans. He was also hugely popular at San Siro, but after an instrumental Champions League-winning season in 2003, he became marginalized by the arrival of an extraordinarily talented young Brazilian named Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite — otherwise known as Kakà.

Rui Costa’s joy after his spectacular goal against England was forgotten following Portugal’s painful home defeat to Greece in the Euro 2004 final.

Portugal were semi-finalists at Euro 2000 but flopped at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea. Deco and Ronaldo overlapped with the older generation at Euro 2004, which was held in Portugal, although the host’s campaign was marred by behind the scenes bickering. Figo allegedly disapproved of Deco’s presence within the squad, stating that he wanted to win with a team that was “100% Portuguese”. Despite the tension within the home side — and coach Scolari’s indecision over whether to field Deco or Rui Costa — this was undoubtedly Portugal’s best ever chance to win a major tournament. They almost did it, reaching the final only to lose 1-0 to surprise package Greece (for the second time in the competition).

Figo left Madrid in 2005 to sign for Inter, where he has won three consecutive Serie A league titles (although Inter’s detractors would recall the effects of calciopoli on these successes). In 2007 he even changed his mind on lucrative transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United States in order to stay with the Milanese giants for another season. Rui Costa left Milan in 2006, taking a significant salary-cut in order to fulfill a boyhood dream and end his career at Benfica. He made a final emotional farewell to football in May of this year at the age of 36, making his last appearance in front of Benfica’s home fans in a 3-0 victory over Vitória de Setubal at Lisbon’s Estadio de Luz.

An emotional Rui Costa salutes the public as he prepares to play his final professional match in the colours of Benfica, Lisbon, May 2008.

Domenech proposes, and keeps his job

Raymond Domenech looks to the heavens — even he didn’t expect to still be France coach following the team’s poor showing at Euro 2008.

PARIS — Raymond Domenech might just be the luckiest man in football. Seventeen days after his France side were dumped out of Euro 2008 following three wretched performances, the Féderation Français de Football (FFF) today announced it would be holding onto the coach’s services for another two years, much to the disbelief of French fans and media. Despite France’s disastrous results in Austria and Switzerland, a meeting with the 56 year-old coach led to 18 of the FFF’s 21-member federal council voting in favour of Domenech’s tenure, with one abstention and two absentees. France’s uninspired displays at Euro 2008 earned them just one point in the game with Romania, which was followed by successive defeats against Holland and Italy. Les Bleus appeared consistently lethargic and uninspired, with many players seemingly lacking motivation, including Thierry Henry, who scored his side’s only goal of the tournament in the loss to Holland.

Not even Thierry Henry could prevent France’s exit — the Barcelona forward appeared tired and out of form at Euro 2008.

Moments after France’s 2-0 defeat to Italy, Domenech appeared on live French soccer show 100% Foot, where he was invited to explain his side’s apathetic exit from the tournament. The unapologetic Domenech avoided the question, instead taking the opportunity to propose to M6 channel hostess, Estelle Denis, who also happens to be his girlfriend and mother of his two children. “The only thing I can think of in this moment is for me to marry Estelle,” he said during the interview en direct. “It is in moments such as this that one needs close relations. And now I need them.” When he did finally address the issue of Euro 2008, he blamed France’s abject failure on bad luck, harsh refereeing and unfavourable weather.

Estelle Denis presents 100% Foot on France’s M6 channel.

A defender with Lyon, Strasbourg, Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux who won eight caps for France, since taking over the national team in 2004 Domenech’s relationship with the French public, and press, has been strained. A keen amateur dramatist and astrologer, his team selection and tactics have often raised eyebrows. He is said to be distrustful of those born under the sign of Scorpio, resulting in his decision to leave Robert Pires out of the World Cup squad in 2006. Ludovic Giuly was also omitted after rumours led Domenech to suspect the Barcelona midfielder of having an affair with Denis. In his autobiography, Giuly claims he and Estelle only ever exchanged one text message, and that “Estelle Denis doesn’t attract me — we never had a relationship, or wanted to have one.” Domenech was somewhat reprieved after France finished runners-up in Germany, but in August 2007, he refused to accept Claude Makalele’s retirement from international football, forcing the Chelsea midfielder to participate in qualifying games for Euro 2008 and the tournament itself. The exclusion without explanation of other talented players — particularly Philippe Mexes and Matthieu Flamini — from this year’s squad left fans frustrated and mystified.

Domenech in the colours of PSG, 1981-82.

Given his troubled history, not to mention France’s shameful recent form, Domenech was expected to be replaced following this latest débacle. Despite obtaining the support of current captain Patrick Viera, several members of France’s 1998 World Cup-winning side — including Bixente Lizarazu, Christophe Dugarry and even Zinedine Zidane — had spoken out against Domenech’s methods, calling for former captain Didier Deschamps to be offered the job. Even FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes — one of Domenech’s supporters — had harsh words for his coach. Speaking immediately after the council’s decision, he revealed how Domenech had admitted making “a whole series of mistakes” during his time in charge, citing “public relations that were at times disastrous because they were too personalised” and “excessive aggression and a lack of transparency” as combining to “rub salt in wounds”. A sense of relief grew amongst French journalists as Escalettes seemed to seal Domenech’s fate: “Euro 2008 was a resounding failure, not very glorious from a sporting view point and, perhaps more seriously, in terms of how it tarnished the image of the French national team. The first person responsible is the manager. He isolated himself, and today he explained to us how. The players share responsibility too, as do the president off the FFF and the members of the federal council who didn’t want to detect the failure because of the success of 2006.”

Domenech applauds Zidane after the French captain’s
infamous red card in the 2006 World Cup final.

Then came the unexpected news. “If we were going to look for someone else, there would be a period of uncertainty,” pondered Escalettes, before adding, bizarrely, “The bravest solution is not to go with what the public or the media want.” Escalettes did not remind anyone of the fact that he had also granted Domenech a two-year extension to his contract on the eve of Euro 2008. He did attempt to fan flames by announcing that Domenech’s position will be reassessed after the first three qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup. Escalettes has been henceforth warned to “communicate only about the team, not his own mood and feelings.”

As for Estelle Denis, the 31 year-old has yet to make public her decision regarding a future with Domenech.

Raymond and Estelle at a match at Parc des Princes, Paris, last year.

Royal return for kings of Europe

The Spanish players pose with the Euro 2008 trophy at Madrid’s Barajas Airport.

MADRID — The victorious Spanish national side arrived home from Euro 2008 to a heroes’ welcome last night, as around 100,000 jubilant Spaniards crammed into Madrid’s Plaza de Colon to greet them. The team’s private plane — decorated with the word “Campeones” — left Innsbruck at 5pm local time and landed at Madrid’s Barajas Airport at around 7:40pm. Coach Luis Aragonés and captain Iker Casillas were the first to appear with the Henri Delaunay trophy.

Many fans were at the airport, and thousands more lined the streets, as the team made their way through the capital aboard an open-top bus, the sides of which were emblazoned with a roja shirt and the words ¡España Siempre!” Spain’s players were dressed in their red shirts, with the exception of Sergio Ramos, who chose this moment to remember Antonio Puerta, the young Sevilla defender who collapsed and died during a game last summer. As the bus arrived in Plaza de Colon, squeezing between people deliriously waving Spanish flags, fans began to sing (to the tune of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”) “Fer-nan-do Tor-res, la-la-la la-laa-laaa!” On a specially constructed stage, outgoing coach Aragonés took the microphone: “I have the best team in the world!” he declared. Iker Casillas then led the usual rendition of Queen’s “We Are The Champions”.

Fans in Madrid’s Plaza de Colon greet their heroes.

The following day, the more formally attired European Champions enjoyed a reception at the royal Zarzuela gardens. King Juan Carlos saved most praise for outgoing coach Aragonés, apologizing for not having a cape for him to wear. Queen Sofia, Prince Felipe, Princess Letizia and Infanta Elena were also excited to greet Spain’s winning team, as they posed for photos together with the trophy. The players later met with Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Spain coach Luis Aragonés presents the trophy to the royal family.

Since Spain’s European success on Sunday, there has been some talk about this triumph unifying the the country by uniting its various political regions, putting an end to the division which dominates Spanish society and football. I doubt this will happen. My friends in Barcelona — Catalans and Barça fans — were hoping for a German victory on Sunday night. I’m sure they agree that it will take more than a simple football team to make people forget years of cultural oppression, and give up a fight for political and economic independence which has been going on for decades.

An official photograph of the European Champions and the Spanish royal family in the Zarzuela gardens.

John Motson says “Goodnight Vienna”

John Motson at his last live broadcast, the Euro 2008 Final in Vienna.

LONDON — Last night’s Euro 2008 final was the last live broadcast by John Motson, BBC Sport’s most senior commentator and voice of its football coverage for over thirty years. His decision comes after the BBC lost the rights to screen live football as of next season. Motson will continue to commentate on BBC1’s Saturday night Premier League highlights show Match of the Day and BBC Radio 5 Live, but will not be present at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. “I’d been thinking about it at the start of the season,” says the 62 year-old, “but now I’ve decided I don’t want to be tearing around South Africa at the age of 65. It’s physically and mentally challenging.”

Motson was hired by the BBC in 1968 as a sports reporter for Radio 2, and replaced Kenneth Wolstenholme on Match of the Day in 1971. The son of a Methodist minister, Motson was born in Lancashire in 1945 but educated in Suffolk, where to his dismay football was not among the sports played. Famed for his sheepskin coat and encyclopaedic knowledge of the game, Motson habitually spends evenings before matches compiling statistics and laminating team-sheets. “People who know me think its an obsession,” he says. This unwavering method of preparation and boundless enthusiasm for facts and trivia have often led to derision amongst critics and armchair fans, though I for one have always admired such old-school professionalism. It’s certainly preferable to the smug, pat-on-the-back, 19th-hole boy’s club banter that passes for BBC football coverage these days.

Motson commentating at a match between Manchester United and Sheffield United in 1971.

Motson’s first appearance on Match of the Day was non-league Hereford United’s shock victory in an FA Cup fourth round replay over Newcastle in 1972. He went on to commentate at 34 FA Cup finals, nine European Championships, nine World Cups and more than 200 England internationals. Motson excelled at major tournaments, where his true appreciation of drama and unparalleled ability to evoke a sense of occasion were most valuable. He picks out Italy’s Paolo Rossi-inspired win over Brazil in the 1982 World Cup and the epic France-Portugal semi-final at Euro 84 as two of his most memorable games.

For a brief moment in the mid-1990s, Motson was replaced for big games — including most famously the 1994 World Cup final — by Barry Davies. Though well-respected in sports broadcasting, Davies’ style often suggested snobbery towards both players and viewers, especially later in his career, and his over-pronunciation of foreign names — plus occasional bias — began to grate. I remember listening to him getting into a live heated debate with John McEnroe while commentating at Wimbledon the day after Italy knocked Holland out of Euro 2000, and in doing so revealed himself to know less about football than a former tennis pro from New York.

Motson however made good use of his co-commentators. For many years his partner for big matches was the calm and intelligent former England and West Ham player Trevor Brooking. Sometimes, when handing over to Brooking, Motson would literally shout his name in full at the end of a particularly excited sentence: “And with that goal Gary Lineker has yet again saved England in this World Cup Trevor Brooking!” Less memorable have been his more recent collaborations with the charmless and patronising Mark Lawrenson.

Motson attends the 2008 PFA Player of the Year Awards at London’s Grosvenor Hotel.

Like all live commentators, Motson was prone to the occasional on-air gaffe or ridiculous outburst. Here are some of my favourites:

“It’s a football stadium in the truest sense of the word.”

“For those of you watching in black and white, Spurs are playing in the yellow strip.”

“So Arsenal 0, Everton 1, and the longer it stays like this the more you’ve got to fancy Everton.”

“On a scale of one to ten that was one hell of a strike.”

“And Seaman, just like a falling oak, manages to change direction.”

“That’s an old Ipswich move — O’Callaghan crossing for Mariner to drive over the bar.”

“I think this could be our best victory over Germany since the war.”
— On England’s 5-1 defeat of Germany in Munich, September 2001.

“Northern Ireland were in white, which was quite appropriate because three inches of snow had to be cleared from the pitch before kick off.”

“The referee is wearing the same yellow-coloured top as the Slovakian goalkeeper. I’d have thought the UEFA official would have spotted that — but perhaps he’s been deafened by the noise of this crowd.”

“It must be like being stuck in the middle of a giant Outspan.” — Motson tries to imagine life as a Holland fan.

“You couldn’t count the number of moves Alan Ball made… I counted four, and possibly five.”

“I’ve just heard that in the other match Real Madrid have just scored. That makes the score, if my calculations are correct, 4-3! But I’m only guessing!”

“I’ve lost count of how many chances Helsingborg have had. It’s at least five.”

Chelsea haven’t got any out and out strikers on the bench unless you count Zenden who’s more of a winger.

“In a sense it’s a one-man show… except that there are two men involved, Hartson and Berkovic, and a third man, the goalkeeper.”

“And what a time to score! Twenty-two minutes gone!”

“The World Cup is a truly international event.”

“Middlesbrough are withdrawing Maccarone the Italian, Nemeth the Slovakian and Stockdale the right back.”

“Trevor Brooking’s notes are getting wet with the rain. I must lend him some of the perspex I always bring to cover mine.”

“It’s so exciting we’re talking at the same time for the first time ever!”

“I was about to say before something far more interesting interrupted…”

“Actually, none of the players are wearing earrings. Kjeldberg, with his contact lenses is the closest we can get.”

“It’s so different from the scenes in 1872, at the Cup Final none of us can remember.”

“That shot might not have been as good as it might have been.”

“Not the first half you might have expected, even though the score might suggest that it was.”

“He’s not quite at 110 per cent fitness.”

“There is still nothing on the proverbial scoreboard.”

“Whether that was a penalty or not, the referee thought otherwise.”

“Bruce has got the taste of Wembley in his nostrils.”

“This is the biggest thing that’s happened in Athens since Homer put down his pen.”reacting to Greece’s surprise triumph at Euro 2004.

“Koller shares a hairstyle with Jaap Stam. Of course, they have no hair.”

“Say something, Mark, say something!”For once at a loss for words, a shell-shocked Motson implores his co-commentator Mark Lawrenson to make sense of England’s disastrous defeat to Croatia in the Euro 2008 qualifier.

Most famously, during the 2002 World Cup Motson developed something of a fixation with the fact that games being played in the evening in Japan and Korea were broadcast live in the early morning in the UK, and attempted to insert references to cooked English breakfasts into his live commentary at every opportunity:

“Just one minute of overtime, so you can put the eggs on now if you like.”

“You can have your breakfast with Batistuta and your cornflakes with Crespo.”

“I can confirm that Trevor Brooking did have his own eggs and bacon before setting off this morning.”

“England will be having Sweden for breakfast.”

“Hold on to your cups and glasses… You can smash them now! David Beckham has scored!”