Comment & analysis round-up
Before you read any further, in order to understand all the brouhaha this Saturday, Rafa Benitez’s now controversial gesture after Liverpool’s second goal against Blackburn last weekend can be seen here.
Quote of the day: “To get that kind of contempt, I don’t think any other Liverpool manager in the past would ever have done that. But he [Benitez] is beyond the pale… There’s one thing with his [Benitez's] arrogance that you can’t forgive and that is his contempt for Sam Allardyce last week. Did you see it? Absolute contempt! He went like that [crossing his arms back and forth] as if to say: ‘Game finished!’ I don’t think Sam Allardyce deserved that. A guy who has worked so hard for the League Managers Association, looking after young managers and players, he didn’t deserve that… I saw it and I’m surprised nobody picked it up. I think you should respect a manager. I don’t think you’d ever get me doing something like that - you won’t. You have to have humility.” - Sir Alex Ferguson. (Watch here.)
Runner-up: He [Benitez] opened his arms out and then crossed them over as if to say: ‘That’s it!’ The gestures he made were dismissive to myself and to Blackburn Rovers. They were disrespectful and quite humiliating… I went to have a word with Benitez after the game but unfortunately and, as usual, he didn’t turn up.
"He probably was avoiding me and that shows you the measure of the man. It was a gesture that said to me: ‘Finished, you’re done.’ He didn’t do it directly at me, but it was more or less in my direction. I’ve looked at it three or four times, I’ve taken all week to have a calm and clinical look at it. I can only be of the opinion that’s what he meant by it. From someone of his standing I’d expect better—but that’s the way the man is. He needs to show a bit of humility.” - Sam Allardyce. (Watch here.)
Today’s overview: All of a sudden things have got vicious in the Premier League. Just as Liverpool are said to be taking the high moral ground against Charles Itandje for acting the fool during the Hillsborough memorial service, accusations of underhandedness and unprofessionalism are being hurled against Rafa Benitez from all quarters. Bring on the cat-fight!
Bitching from the Merseyside sidelines, Daniel Taylor and Andy Hunter stoke up the flames of discontent by penning “there is a strong suspicion that Ferguson and Allardyce, both of whom dislike Benitez, collaborated before their respective press conferences yesterday. ‘Rafa has laughed off what is clearly a co-ordinated attack on him,’ said a source close to the Liverpool manager.” James Ducker also wades into the muck by spreading the rumour that “Ferguson probably sees a lot of himself in Benitez - they are both ruthless, single-minded and dictatorial - and is struggling to accept that and worried that the Liverpool manager may be in the process of acquiring precisely the same kind of power the Scot exerts at Old Trafford.”
The Daily Mail attempt to play the role of the mediator, Ian Ladyman announcing “The Liverpool manager is adamant the gesture was a message to his players and not to Allardyce… The TV footage appears inconclusive, and Benitez’s gesture, delivered with a smile on his face, is ambiguous. There was no evidence to suggest it was even aimed at Allardyce.”
The Independent’s scribes line up to take pot shots at Fergie, beginning with Ian Herbert. “Ferguson is clearly spoiling for a fight at the slightest opportunity and the flimsiness of his latest ‘evidence’ against Benitez – what he and his old friend Sam Allardyce… perceive as a “game-over” gesture… reveals as much.” Glenn Moore follows suit arguing that yesterday’s outburst “is proof that Ferguson is genuinely concerned about Liverpool’s challenge to the champions’ defence of the Premier League.”
Ahead of the FA Cup semi-finals, Andy Hunter credits Everton manager David Moyes for “changing the perception of a club whose grandeur had vanished.” More praise is heaped on Moyes from James Lawton writing that Everton are a team that makes you proud to be English. While Terry Venables calls David Moyes his manager of the year.
Barney Ronay mocks Theo Walcott’s claim that Arsenal are scary. “The idea that Walcott might decide instead to overpower or give the willies to the Chelsea defence in this afternoon’s FA Cup semi-final seems not just wrong-headed but also impossible.”
There is a clash of the tabloids as the Daily Mail and The Sun go head-to-head over whether the English dominance in the Champions League is positive or otherwise.
Des Kelly argues “the Premier League is dominating Europe because the top teams are run in a more thoughtful and professional manner than the likes of Madrid.” However Harry Redknapp argues the opposite in the red-top. “Three English teams in the last four of the Champions League is not a great advert for English football. It is a great advert for the Premier League, the best league in the world. But - as with today’s FA Cup semi-final - where are the English players?”
Predictably, and somewhat annoyingly, the FA Cup is taken to task by a variety of hacks. David Lacey farts “this weekend it will be hard to avoid the feeling that for Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United the old trophy will be a passing fancy on the way to higher things.” Kevin Gardside bleats “[the FA Cup] simply slots into place, reduced in importance and meaning by the omnipotence of the Premier League and the Champions League.”
With ownership of West Ham set to change hands in the next few weeks, Jason Burt attempts to comfort Hammers’ fans by reporting that the new owners have promised not to sell the club for three years. More good news for Hammers’ fans appears in the Daily Mail, who report “Gianfranco Zola is set to end speculation he will leave for Chelsea and commit his long-term future to Upton Park.”
In other domestic news, The Times report on how Sepp Blatter’s ’six plus five’ plan has garnered support for a group of British MPs who believe the initiative “would not be illegal under European law.” Patrick Barclay opts to focus his attention on the MK Dons, celebrating the fact that “kids in Milton Keynes now grow up supporting their local team instead of glory-hunting in the shirts of giants.”
For a change there is only a limited selection of transfer rumours this Saturday. Nick Szczepanik quotes Guus Hiddink to categorically deny any truth in tales of Chelsea tracking Spurs Heurelho Gomes. Spurs’ latest transfer target is aid to be Portsmouth’s Niko Kranjcar according to James Nursey.
The Saturdays have the usual featured interviews. In the Guardian, Stuart James chews Mick McCarthy’s ear ahead of Wolves near-certain promotion to the Premier League. Fellow Guardian journalist Daniel Taylor meets “the natural successor to Paul Scholes,” Michael Carrick. While in the Daily Mail, Matt Lawton speaks to David Moyes - “Hopefully I’ll get the money at Everton to show what I can do, because we need it to stay up there, to keep competing.”
Lastly, after Barack Obama’s call for America to host the 2018 World Cup, Giles Smith sees the British bid as torpedoed. “I mean, no disrespect to Sir Geoff Hurst, but… football’s not coming home in 2018. It’s going to America instead… That’s just a foregone conclusion, isn’t it, now that its gone and got the leader of the free world involved?”