Category Archives: England

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.


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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.

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!”