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Roberto Mancini and Rafa Benitez locked in a battle for survival only one can win

Two years ago, Benitez’s tactical superiority directly led to Roberto Mancini’s departure from Inter Milan. Now working on these shores, the Italian has the opportunity to settle a score — as it is quickly becoming evident the two talented managers are fighting for just one job-saving Champions League spot…

Battleground: The first meeting between the two was explosive an explosive appetiser. Now fans look set to be treated to an enthralling saga

Roberto Mancini: Roman gladiator or Renaissance man?

English fans are yet to discover whether the new Manchester City manager is more of the former or the latter. Robinho might be doing his best to test the waters, but so far the scarf-wearing Italian has been a picture of placidity since arriving at Eastlands.

But if the 45-year-old does have a combative side, it might be Rafa Benitez, rather than the mercurial Brazilian, who should be sweating about his future.

It was the Spaniard’s Liverpool side, after all, that knocked Mancini’s Inter out of the Champions League in first knockout round that year.

In the first leg of their tie, Fernando Torres tortured Materrazzi in front of the Anfield faithful, eventually engineering the defender’s sending off and enabling the Reds to grab a late 2-0 win (Kuyt and Gerrard) that the Spanish striker added to in the Guiseppe Meazza to earn a comfortable 3-0 aggregate success.

That defeat, especially the manner of it, effectively spelt the end of Mancini’s rain at the Nerazzurri, despite having successfully steered the club to three Serie A titles (one handed to them in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal) in his four years in charge.

Such success (which also included two Coppa Italia triumphs) meant little when what chairman Massimo Moratti craved above all was Champions League success.

Using an emotional outburst from Mancini in the aftermath of the Liverpool defeat (where he announced his intention to resign at the end of the season, before retracting it a day later) as a reason for dismissal, at the end of the season Moratti engineered Mancini’s exit and oversaw the arrival of Jose Mourinho—a man with experience of winning the European game’s biggest prize (with Porto in 2004). Continue reading

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , | Leave a comment

Was Tom Hicks Jr.’s resignation from Liverpool FC part of a deliberate plan?

It’s an insult that will doubtless find its way into footballing lore. But events after Tom Hicks Jr.’s regrettable email outburst might suggest that the whole saga was more carefully managed than many have considered…

On the ball: But Tom Hicks Jr. was left to carry the can for his expletive-strewn error

The recent resignation of Tom Hicks Jr. is just the latest in a long line of controversies between Liverpool’s American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks, and the fans they have failed so spectacularly to connect with since buying the club in 2007.

But it might be the most interesting.

Hicks Jr.’s resignation was confirmed this week after the public leaking of a now-infamous email he sent where he encouraged a concerned Reds fan, Stephen Horner, to “blow me, f***face. Go to hell. I’m sick of you.”

After the tirade was publicly leaked, Hicks Jr.’s resignation was quickly proffered, despite the suspicion that he could have held onto his job if a whole-hearted apology — which came anyway — was quickly released:

“I am very sorry for my harmful words. To the fans and club, please accept my sincerest apologies,” Hicks Jr. said. Continue reading

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , | 2 Comments

Bungling foreign owners serve up more competitive Premier League — at either end of the table

How many words does it take to point out that foreign owners at the top and bottom of the Premier League have given hope to the rest of the competition? Err… quite a few apparently. Nevertheless, the likes of Tom Hicks and George Gillett have somehow managed to make the league far more interesting this season…

George Gillett and Tom Hicks: Hampering Liverpool's ambitions since 2007?

When the influx first looked like coming, foreign ownership of clubs was rallied against as the beginning of the end for English football — with dire warnings that fans would lose the connection with their local club as the sport became more about making money than providing entertainment.

The same was said of foreign players, of course, when they suddenly began descending on their Premier League around 15 years earlier.

The likes of Eric Cantona and Dennis Bergkamp would obstruct English talent from shining, it was widely believed. In fact, the opposite has been proven to be true, as the many others who followed those legendary players to English shores have helped improved the native technique and ability beyond almost all recognition.

Few predicted the Premier League would get stronger with foreign players but, having contributed Champions League finalists in each of the last five seasons, that has proven to be the case.

Few predicted foreign ownership would lead to a more competitive league but, perhaps belatedly, even unexpectedly, that is suddenly becoming the case.

After all, some of the traditional powerhouses of English football have seemingly been handicapped by their foreign owners in recent times, while others from the middle of the English pack have been able to burst forward under the ambitious direction of new men in charge.

In the former corner, unfortunately for their long-suffering fans, is Liverpool. Just this week Rafa Benitez, the club’s beleaguered manager, attempted to deflect attention away from his own troubles by admitting publicly what everyone already suspected about the way the club is now run:

“One of the priorities this year was to reduce the debt so the club is working very hard to do this and I think that our position will be much better,” the Spaniard said. Continue reading

December 16, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Impending Transfer Saga of the Summer: Glen Johnson?

The rumours have already begun in earnest. Once the World Cup Qualifiers are finished, expect Portsmouth’s right-back Glen Johnson to quickly become one of the transfer stories of the summer… 

Glen Johnson: Joining Defoe at Spurs, or giving Malouda hairstyle tips at Chelsea?

Glen Johnson: Joining Defoe at Spurs, or giving Malouda hairstyle tips at Chelsea?

With Gareth Barry having already made the leap up North to join Manchester City and Kaka apparently close to signing an agreement with Real Madrid, the newspapers are fast running out of high-profile transfers to write about. The never-ending Cristiano Ronaldo-Real Madrid saga is still alive, but it is looking increasingly likely that the Portuguese winger will stay at Old Trafford for another season, at least.

In summary then, there appears a shortage of column-fodder for the traditional media. A new target must be found, to keep readers interested for the majority of the summer.

That man could be Glen Johnson.

The Portsmouth right-back has long been coveted by the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool, and now Chelsea are believed to be in the race to sign a player they sold to the Fratton Park club in 2007 for £4m.

Continue reading

June 6, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , | Leave a comment