B/R Gossip Roundup: Breaking Down This Week's Biggest Rumours: Pep Calms Waters

BR-UK StaffFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 23, 2014

B/R Gossip Roundup: Breaking Down This Week's Biggest Rumours: Pep Calms Waters

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    The Champions League might have dominated the football agenda, but there is always room for speculation and rumour in among the glamour ties.

    The newspapers have provided plenty of material for us to discuss over the past seven days, with Olivier Giroud, Howard Webb and Jose Mourinho among those making the headlines.

    Here, we have taken a number of articles from the past week and offered our own viewpoint on them.

Referee Howard Webb Falls Victim to Cult of Celebrity for Former Officials

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Ask any Liverpool supporter about the merits of referee Howard Webb and you were sure to receive short shrift and no shortage of industrial language last weekend.

    The World Cup official was adjudged to have denied the Reds a potential equaliser when he ruled that Arsenal winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did not foul Luis Suarez in the penalty area during the Reds' FA Cup defeat at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

    With Liverpool chasing an equaliser and a possible quarter-final date with Everton, the Anfield players were left incensed, while manager Brendan Rodgers questioned Webb's decisions after the game, as Ian Doyle of the Liverpool Echo reported:

    We absolutely should have had two penalties. For the first one, Luis is clipped and it’s a clear penalty.

    The second one was even more clear. Howard was in a great position. I’m not sure (he would give it) because it was so quickly after the first penalty.

    But it looks blatant. We’re bitterly disappointed not to have got that because it would have kept our momentum going for the final stages when I thought we were on top.

    I’ve not had a chance to speak to Howard afterwards. But for me, it’s gone. You can’t change it.

    But it would be nice to know why it wasn’t given because it was a defining moment of the game.

    No manager is going to be happy at a controversial award, so Rodgers' thoughts were always going to be an important part in the post-match aftermath.

    However, it was the words of two former Premier League match officials, which caught our eye on Monday.

    Graham Poll used his column in the Daily Mail to claim the Sheffield referee should have been "above such weakness" as he adjudged Webb to be making his decision on the Oxlade-Chamberlain challenge after previously awarding a spot-kick to the Reds earlier in the game.

    But the most scathing comments were left to another former whistler, Mark Halsey, who claimed Webb needed to make a decision on where his priorities lay, per talkSPORT, as he revealed the official was also acting as an after-dinner speaker.

    There is no doubt there is a need for referees to be accountable for their decisions, particularly the ones on which results rest as the Suarez penalty claim did.

    But it seems there is an element of trial by media now with former officials leading the charge if referees make a mistake.

    Football has always been a game for opinions, and there is always the chance of a referee making a mistake during a match in much the same way as any player can.

    However, the chances of a team-mate or manager blaming a player outright are minimal. Webb has been left at the mercy of former colleagues.

    Believability meter: Medium

    The subject of refereeing decisions will always be a thorny one.

    But current match officials must be given a mouthpiece to justify their decisions, rather than allow former colleagues to boost their media profiles with critical remarks.

    The media needs to fill the vacuum left by a lack of reaction from an official, and the emergence of former refs criticising fellow whistlers does just that.

    But it all seems somewhat unseemly when managers and players can question a decision instead.

Pep Guardiola Is Voice of Reason as Jose Mourinho Provokes Arsene Wenger

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    We always considered Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guardiola to have a bit of class, and his soothing of the waters as the Arsene Wenger-Jose Mourinho feud threatened to burst its banks underlined our view.

    The row between the Arsenal and Chelsea managers was becoming quite silly considering the two people involved were grown men.

    Newspaper headlines claimed Wenger had put pressure on Mourinho with his comment that some managers adopted a cautious approach through a "fear to fail," per the Daily Telegraph.

    The Stamford Bridge boss was unlikely to stand for that, and he promptly decided to brand his counterpart a "specialist in failure," via The Guardian.

    The tit-for-tat slanging match swung again after Arsenal defeated Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round last Sunday, and Wenger declared that Mourinho's "silly, disrespectful" remarks were "embarrassing" to Chelsea, as noted by The Independent.

    It was all becoming exceptionally silly by now, so credit to Guardiola for putting the tin lid on everything as he prepared to face Wenger in the Champions League last 16 first leg this week, as James Orr of The Independent reported.

    This life is not just about winning trophies.

    Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Arsenal compete with huge teams. Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City; they are important teams. But Arsenal remains a good team and good club.

    I have a lot of respect for my colleague Arsene. He always likes the good, good players, the good style of football.

    There might be little love lost between Guardiola and Mourinho since their days with Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, but it was a calm putdown on the Chelsea boss and placated a row which was hurtling out of control.

    It was a simple statement in support of Wenger by the Bayern boss, but it also sealed the lid on what Arsenal legend Bob Wilson described as "bullying" by Mourinho per the Daily Mirror.

    Whether it was done to back Wenger or slap Mourinho does not matter, its effect appears have slowed down a rather puerile clash becoming more ridiculous.

    Believability meter: High

    We all love a good verbal joust, and the newspapers are no different. Mourinho is always good for a quote to make a headline, and his taunts at Wenger were solid gold.

    But the row was becoming unseemly, and it needed diffusing before it spiralled into something even more unpleasant.

    With just a handful of words, Guardiola took the heat out of the situation. It was a moment of rationale among a lot of nonsense.

    However, we are still unable to fathom why Wenger refused to shake the hand of the Bayern boss before or after Wednesday's match, as the Daily Mirror reported.

Time Ticking Down for Kagawa at United

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    Shinji Kagawa continues to be a face on the outside looking in at Manchester United.

    He has failed to hold down a regular start since joining the club from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2012, and the capture of Juan Mata has only served to increase competition for the Japan international.

    Is it the end of the line for Kagawa? The Star’s Chris McKenna is firmly of the opinion that it is. In his piece, McKenna claims Turkish side Besiktas and Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund are ready to do battle for the signature of Kagawa.

    Talk of Kagawa’s future at United drawing to a close is nothing new. Reports have swirled for some time, as noted by Damian Mannion of talkSPORT, but this time it does appear that there is weight behind the rumours.

    It was felt that David Moyes’ arrival at Old Trafford would herald a fresh start for Kagawa. It has been a fresh start but not as the player had hoped. He has failed to make much impact on Moyes’ plans, and the capture of Mata only points to the manager wanting to look elsewhere.

    Kagawa has spoken of his frustration with life on the sidelines, which all points to a parting of ways being likely.

    But where will Kagawa’s next port of call be? Moyes seems certain to add fresh blood, which could well open the door for Kagawa to ease away from United.

    United have been heavily linked with Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan for some time, per Simon Jones of the Daily Mail. A swap deal is unlikely to be pushed through, they rarely come off, but common ground could see the parties work on separate deals.

    It is well documented how highly Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp rates Kagawa, which hands the Germans a huge advantage over Besiktas if it comes down to a straight fight.

    Believability Meter: High

    The impression is that Moyes just does not fancy Kagawa. The player is stagnating in Manchester and the summer would be the ideal time to head for a new challenge.

Endless Tottenham Speculation Does Tim Sherwood No Favours

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    Tottenham Hotspur head coach Tim Sherwood must be wondering just exactly what he has to do to ensure links with other managers come to an end.

    The past week has seen Italy manager Cesare Prandelli mooted as a potential new White Hart Lane boss on Wednesday, as reported by Ed Aarons of The Independent.

    Then, the following day, Holland head coach Louis van Gaal admitted contact with the north London club, according to Simon Bird of the Daily Mirror, who quotes the Dutchman as saying:

    I am mostly interested in England because I have been a coach in Spain, Germany, in the Netherlands, so I think England is the next step in my career.

    Spurs? It could be another club, it depends on the vacancies, because Spurs was already with me.

    I prefer to be focused on this World Cup and now there’s another coach (at Spurs), so as coach you cannot say I go to that club or that club, it depends on circumstances and the vacancies.

    Sherwood stepped into the breach when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked by Spurs following the heavy home defeat by Liverpool in December, via the official Tottenham website.

    The former Tottenham and Blackburn midfielder was given an 18-month contract, and his appointment has brought a reversal in fortune for the club.

    Since being handed the reins of the first team, Sherwood has overseen seven wins from 10 Premier League matches, which is no bad record for a man in his first managerial role.

    He has brought the best out of forgotten man Emmanuel Adebayor, with the Togo striker firing nine goals since being restored to the first team in Sherwood's first game, the Capital One Cup defeat by West Ham.

    But there has been little news of permanency over Sherwood as the main man in the dug-out over the past three months, which seems a little strange considering the form shown by the team.

    The White Hart Lane boss has propelled Spurs back into the Champions League frame on the back of recent results, with the last two league wins over Everton and Newcastle helping to open up a five-point gap on the Goodison Park club.

    Yet still the links with other managers continue?

    Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has had his fingers burnt with some recent managerial appointments, notably Villas-Boas and Juande Ramos.

    But the club appear to have stumbled upon someone who is proving an energising catalyst for the team.

    Levy and technical director Franco Baldini would be wise to keep faith for the moment.

    Believability meter: Medium

    There is no smoke without fire as the old adage goes, so links with Prandelli and Van Gaal are not plucked out of thin air.

    Aarons reports that Baldini has a strong bond with the Italy boss, while the contact with the Dutchman may have been in preparation for Villas-Boas' departure.

    But by continuing to allow these rumours to persist, Tottenham are showing little faith in Sherwood.

    Doubtless, though, other clubs will have noted the energising effect he has had on Tottenham.

Absence of Van Persie from Manchester Utd Potential Captain List Means Little

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    The omission of Robin van Persie from a list of potential club captains to replace Nemanja Vidic next season caused quite a stir in the newspapers this week.

    Liam Prenderville of the Daily Mirror was one of those reporters to place a question mark over the striker's Old Trafford future after the club's official website left out the Dutchman from the list of potential candidates.

    The merits of Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, David De Gea and Darren Fletcher were all discussed in the article, but Van Persie was a glaring omission.

    The Holland international is the current captain of his country, while he also stepped in at Arsenal to lead the team.

    So nobody can doubt that the experience is there but does the lack of Van Persie's name on the list have a hidden subtext as the Mirror article suggests?

    Er, no.

    Speculation over the future of the former Gunners star, 30, at United has been a regular subject for discussion in the papers in recent months.

    Alex Richards of the Daily Mirror linked Van Persie to Arsenal earlier this month, while former Liverpool defender and BBC Sport analyst Mark Lawrenson suggested the forward had handed in a transfer request, as Jamie Sanderson of The Metro reported in December.

    However, with the current malaise at United, manager David Moyes is unlikely to be considering the captain's armband as a priority for the club.

    Indeed, simply replacing Vidic in central defence will have greater resonance for the Old Trafford boss than the positioning of his armband next season.

    The team's captaincy will be a poor second-best to rebuilding a squad, which was helped by Rooney signing a new deal at the club on Friday evening.

    That was a factual item trumpeted by the club's official website, but it is unlikely that anyone at Old Trafford thought too much over the list of possible skippers.

    And neither should we.

    Believability meter: Very low

    With Manchester United eight points off the Champions League places this season, the onus is on everyone at Old Trafford to turn around the team's fortunes for next season.

    The issue of captaincy can be left for another day while Moyes and his team figure out a far more pressing conundrum.

    Van Persie will be considered when the time comes, but we seriously doubt he or anyone else at the club will be kept awake by the decision.

Arsenal Striker Olivier Giroud Naive over Tabloid Revelations

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    Will footballers never learn?

    Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud walked straight into one of the oldest traps in the book as he was caught out over spending a night with a model the night before the team played Crystal Palace in the Premier League earlier this month, as Stephen Moyes and Richard White of The Sun (subscription required) reported.

    According to the report, the French forward got club lawyers to write to the Sun On Sunday to inform that their report was false.

    However, the 27-year-old was dealing with a newspaper adept at the world of extra-marital relations of the rich and famous, a cornerstone of the publication's earlier incarnation as the News of the World.

    There would be no doubt that the News International paper would have something more substantial up their sleeve.

    And when pictures appeared of a half-naked Giroud in a London hotel room on Sunday, there was nowhere else to run for the Gunners star.

    Giroud used his Twitter feed @_OlivierGiroud_ to issue a "grovelling apology" to his club, team-mates, fans and, most importantly, his wife, as Moyes and White reported.

    Giroud tweeted before the FA Cup fifth-round win over Liverpool on Sunday: "I apologise to my wife, family and friends and my manager, team-mates and Arsenal fans."

    He then added in a further tweet: "I now have to fight for my family and for my club and obtain their forgiveness. Nothing else matters at the moment."

    The Gunners striker deserved the subsequent disciplinary action manager Arsene Wenger promised, per the Daily Mail, for his stupidity alone.

    Footballers have long since superseded pop stars as the targets for the tabloid staple of kiss-and-tell tales, and several big-name players have fallen foul of the practice.

    Arsenal are now owed far more than a club fine from Giroud as they chase silverware on three fronts.

    Ultimately, though, only one person truly will have been hurt here, and the Arsenal star is just the latest foolish soul to find himself fighting to save his relationship.

    Two goals and an assist in the win over Sunderland was the perfect start to redemption for Giroud in the eyes of the fans.

    A lot more contrition may be required elsewhere.

    Believability meter: High

    Giroud is unlikely to be the last footballer to be caught in such a way, but at the age of 27, he should really have known better.

    One can forgive such transgressions on youth, but a newspaper such as the Sun On Sunday is never going to let something lie when they are told their stories are untrue.

    Pictorial proof was only a matter of moments away once Giroud got Arsenal's lawyers to deny the claims, as Moyes and White claimed.

    The France international was horribly naive if he thought he was going to get away with playing away.