Friday, 29 January 2010

Sky brings a new dimension to football

Sky is bringing the third dimension to football this weekend when it broadcasts the first match in the UK in 3D to nine pubs on Sunday.

Arsenal and Manchester United's Premier League game will be viewable in 3D in pubs in London, Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh. In three months, Sky will expand its 3D coverage to hundreds of other pubs.

For the home veiwer, Sky 3D will be made available to all Sky+HD customers later in the year, with a range of content on offer, including movies, sport, documentaries and entertainment. For those with Sky+HD boxes, Sky 3D will initially be available as a free add-on.

Viewers need to wear a special pair of glasses to watch the content.

Gerry O'Sullivan, Sky's director of strategic product development, said: "People have already embraced 3D cinema and because Sky's 3D service uses the same kind of technology, we're confident there will be demand for sport, movies, concerts and drama in 3D."

The 2010 World Cup will also be filmed in the format.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Rooney on fire, but will United have to sell?

Wayne Rooney is becoming as important to Manchester United as Cristiano Ronaldo was in the previous two seasons. Last night Rooney fired United into the League Cup final with a last-minute goal against local rivals Manchester City.

This followed Rooney's four-goal salvo to destroy Hull City at the weekend, and puts the striker on 21 goals for the season.

Rooney's importance to United will be mirrored by his importance to England in this World Cup year, and boss Fabio Capello and all England followers will be praying that no injuries ruin the chances of Rooney spearheading England's assault on the world crown.

There is another worry for United. The only way they managed to turn in a profit last year was in the selling of Ronaldo. The profit was almost exactly what Ronaldo was sold for. Does that mean that to service their massive debt, United will become a selling club? Does it mean that come the summer, Rooney will have to go to pay off more interest?

No wonder United fans are up in arms about the debt of late.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Money means points as Palace go into administration

Money talks louder than ever in football these days. The billionaires in charge of Chelsea and Manchester City have made sure of that.

A few years ago, lack of funds meant Leeds United slipped out of the Premier League and two seasons of deducted points (25 in total) send them down to the third tier from which they are still trying to escape.

Rotherham United and Bournemouth suffered large points penalties for going into administation and , last season, a 30 point deduction for reasons including administration condemned Luton Town to relegation to the Conference before the season had even started.

Chester City started this season in the Conference with a 25-point penalty After 27 games, they're still not "in the black", and ow they face a winding-up order fo the sake of a £26,000 unpaid tax bill. The club is today up for sale for one pound. What about one ten thousandth of Manchester City's first billion to bail them out?

Crystal Palace face a 10 point penalty for going into administration yesterday. From play-off hopefuls to relegation candidates in a trice. Their unpaid tax bill is £1.2 million.

Meanwhile, Mancehster United's debt £700m+ debt has been in the news recently. How on earth can they have gone from being "the world's richest club" to this? Ask the Glazers.

Without player investment, it could spell the end of United's (not quite total) recent domination of the English game.

How about a table compiled out of club money in future? It's the way we're heading.

Monday, 25 January 2010

The FA Cup still fails to shine

The FA Cup is a chameleon-like beast this season, and is refusing to show its true colours.

It revels in shocks - Leeds United, having knocked out Manchester United in round 3, will now take Tottenham Hotspur back to Elland Road for a reply; Reading knocked out Burnley; Southampton beat Ipswich Town; Notts County will play Wigan Athletic again; and Crystal Palace were close to humbklin Wolves.

Yet, with Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal now gone, the draw for round 5 lacks a certain sparkle.

All the weekend headlines were stolen by four-goal Wayne Rooney in the only Premier League match, despite the heroics of Jermaine Beckford, Gylfi Sigurdsson et al.

Attendance ranged from the sublime: 39,725 at Villa Park, 35,750 and White Hart Lane - to the ridiculous: 10,315 at Portsmouth (for an all-Premier tie), 16,102 at the Hawthorns for a top-of-the-Championship pairing.

The Cup has lost some lustre. It has history and tradition on its side, but whereas, before the days of wall-to-wall live games, the only live game of the domestic season was the FA Cup final, now it has competition from everything from the Johnstone Paint Trophy to the Champions League final.

The FA Cup no longer stands out. Many managers may it quite clear that it's little more than a nuisance in their quest for the Premier League/ Champions League. Top 4/ Promotion (delete as applicable).

Perhaps the award of a Champions League place for the winners would give the FA Cup back some much deserved glitter.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Wenger must reject the ugly side of the game

Arsenal's turning point may have come, as is popularly thought, at half-time in the fixture at Anfield when they were 1-0 down to Liverpool. That is when Arsene Wenger let rip at his team in a way that he is not accustomed to doing. Having been accused by their boss of being "not fit to wear the shirt", the Gunners turned that game round to win 2-1 and have remained unbeaten since.

In the seven league games since that Anfield date, Arsenal have won five and drawn two to push themselves all the way to the top of the pile, nudging ahead of Chelsea on goal difference.

If Arsenal were to win the league, it would be - in the main - a victory for the beautiful passing game.

What then, of William Gallas?

His tackle on Mark Davies during the 4-2 win over Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night was not in the spirit of beautiful football. It was definitely the ugly side of the game? Can you have one without the other and be suucessful? It is to be hoped so.

I hope Arsene Wenger tells Gallas that there is no room for that kind of thing in the current Arsenal team. I hope he says that they'll win it without resorting to brutal tackles, or they'll not win it at all.

We need someone to stand up to these kind of tackles and take them out of their own team, while still being victorious. Arsene Wenger is our best chance right now.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Tevez wakes City from their sleep

It's advantage the Blues after Manchester City beat Manchester United 2-1 in last night's Carling Cup semi-final first leg.

And it was - so far - sweet revenge for City's inspiration, Carlos Tevez, who scored both their goals to remind United what they could have had if they had chosen to shell out for the Argentinian during the summer. Instead Tevez went to City and his form in the last few weeks has been stupendous.

Last night City were soporific for most of the first half, except for Tevez's insatiable appetite closing United down - but he couldn't do it all on his own.

Ryan Giggs put United ahead after only 17 minutes, but, despite long periods of possession, they didn't increase their lead; there seemed little need, as they were dominating so much.

Then fate took a hand. Craig Bellamy was adjudged to have been fouled in the box by Rafael and referee Mike Dean gave a penalty. TV replays showed that the fould had been committed outside the box, but Dean did not have that benefit. Tevez lashed the penalty down the middle: 1-1.

Now the power was with City. Now United looked a one-man show as Wayne Rooney put in huge efforts to raise his team from their over-confident slumber.

Tevez had the momentum. He headed the winner after 65 minutes as United dozed in defence, and the Reds couldn't find a way back.

It looks set for a tasty second leg at Old Trafford next Wednesday

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Sullivan and Gold take control of West Ham

Erstwhile owners of Birmingham City, David Gold and David Sullivan, have taken over the running of West Ham United. Their 50 per cent holding gives them final say on all decisions at the club.

Sullivan and Gold will become joint-chairmen, and Karren Brady – also previously of Birmingham City – will become vice-chairman.

Sullivan told the BBC: "We're taking on a huge task at a club with enormous problems and it will take time for us to turn it around.”

Scott Duxbury will no longer be chief executive with Sullivan and Brady running the club.

Sullivan added: "We have short-term goals and long-term goals. In the short term, we want to stay in the Premier League and in the long term we would like to be challenging for the top four and the Champions League."

He also said: "Myself and David Gold will be honest with the fans about the books, the imbalance of the squad and the crazy wages the Icelandic owners paid out that has brought the club to its knees.

"But this is an important day for us. For 20 years, this is the club we wanted. The club is now back in the hands of East Enders, people who understand the community and its passion for the Hammers.

"I believe that depth of feeling will also bring us through what has been a difficult period."

It was confirmed that Gianfranco Zola would remain in place as team manager.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Gunners eye top spot

If Arsenal can match their 2-0 win against Bolton Wanderers when the two sides meet again at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, then the Gunners will go to the top of the Premier League.

The visit to the top would be by goal difference and with a game more, but it would make a real statement of intent.

Manager Arsene Wenger said on Sunday: "We know that we are in an interesting position, that nobody expected us to be in. We have the belief."

Returning Cesc Fabregas proved how crucial he is to the North Londoners, with a goal and a typically inspirational all-round performance from the Spaniard.

It seems amazing that Arsenal could hit top spot after Chelsea's rampant 7-2 victory over hapless Sunderland on Saturday. Chelsea's next game will be an interesting challenge against the in-form Birmingham City.

Manchester United remain unconvincing despite a 3-0 win against Burnley. Nevertheless, they are still only a point behind Chelsea from a game more.

It promies to be an interesting second half of the season.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Hart leaves QPR

Paul Hart has left QPR after just five games in charge. Following defeat at home to Sheffield United in the FA Cup on Tuesday night, Hart became the ninth managerial casualty at QPR since Italian Flavio Briatore took over as chairman in August 2007.

A statement form the club said: "The club can confirm that manager Paul Hart has decided to leave QPR with immediate effect. Assistant manager Mick Harford will be taking charge of first-team affairs, starting with this weekend's Championship fixture at Blackpool."

Strangely, three of Hart's games in charge at Rangers were against Sheffield United: one-all draw in the Championship and FA Cup and Tuesday's cup defeat. Hart was booed on Tuesday as Rangers fell 3-0 behind, when he brought off midfielder Alejandro Faurlin, to replace him with Adel Taarabt.

Under Briatore, managers John Gregory, Luigi De Canio, Iain Dowie, Paulo Sousa, Magilton and Hart have departed while Harford, Gareth Ainsworth (twice) and youth coaches Steve Gallen and Marc Bircham have had spells in caretaker charge.

Hart was sacked from Portsmouth earlier in the season.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Liverpool reach a new nadir

Liverpool's chances of bagging a domestic trophy this season melted away faster than the snow covering much of the country last night as they were dumped out of the cup by Championship side Reading.

One misery follows another for the Anfield club, already 12 points adrift and in seventh place in the Premier League, and out of the Champions League. But they keep reaching new nadirs.

Leading one-nil and deep into injury time, a penalty thwarted their hopes of seeing off the Berkshire Royals, who equalised from the spot and then went ahead through Shane Long's header in extra time. It proved to be enough.

Liverpool started with both Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, but lost Torres to a twisted knee after half an hour, and Gerrard to a hamstring strain at half-time. Replacements David Ngog and Ryan Babel didn't quite match up.

How long Liverpool fans - who booed their team off at the end - can stand for this is open to question. They must be numbed by the dismal failure of the team, and thus, of manager Rafa Benitez, to pull things round. An optimistic end to last season has disintegrated yet again.

Will fourth place (to qualify for next season's Champions League), or being crowned Europa Cup winners be good enough?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Campbell set for return to Arsenal

I’m sure I’m not the only one to be amazed at the possibility of a Sol Campbell return to Arsenal before the January transfer window ends.

Campbell, 35, played the first half of an Arsenal Reserves 4-2 win against West Ham at Upton Park last night, with, said the Gunners, “a view to a permanent move back to Arsenal Football Club”.

Campbell said: “I hope to sign for Arsenal until the end of the season. I need to get minutes under my belt, a couple of reserve games at least, before I can start looking any further ahead. There are still a few technicalities to iron out but it's fantastic, great, marvellous. I'm ecstatic to be back and I have worked hard to get there. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is not stupid. He wouldn't have taken me back if he didn't like what he has seen."

Well, no, but Wenger and Arsenal are now famous for not wanting to pay top dollar to get players. Campbell will sign “on a free”, and his contract is not likely to be long. Therefore, it’s not a huge gamble by Wenger.

Campbell joined Sven-Goran Eriksson at Notts County in August, but played only one game – a defeat at Morecambe – before quitting. The turmoil since then at Meadow Lane has perhaps proved his decision right.

Stepping back into the Premier League, though, will be difficult for the former England defender, who has not played there since playing for Portsmouth last season.

With Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas the main-stays of Arsenal’s central defence, Campbell is obviously going to be emergency cover, with the odd cup game, but I can’t see him making a position his own in the league.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Fans don't understand as Coyle leaves Burnley

ew Bolton Wanderers boss Owen Coyle cannot be surprised at the 'Judas' and 'betrayal' accusations coming from Burnley fans after he left their club to move less than 20 miles south to the Reebok.

Coyle said he could understand that people would be hurt and disappointed, as it's an emotional game.

No fan can understand why anyone would want to leave their club. The beast that is so dear to them should - in their minds - be just as dear to anyone else who has ever been part of their club.

So it doesn't matter that Coyle previously turned down boyhood heroes, Celtic, or that he played for Bolton in the '90s. He should turn down Celtic, and his time with Bolton is irrelevant to the fans.

Coyle says Bolton are five to 10 years ahead of Burnley, but they are currently two points and four places behind them.

The Burnley fans will be thumbing the fixture list for the next game against Bolton. Ha, ha, of course, it's not far away. 26th January: Bolton v Burnley at the Reebok.The shouts from the away fans will be loud and vociferous.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Togo had to withdraw

It's one of the toughest decisions anyone has to make. In the wake of the awful gunfire attack on Togo's team coach, the decision has been made to withdraw Togo from the African Cup of Nations in Angola.

The decision must have been so difficult. Torn between withdrawing for safety and reasons of respect, and carrying on in spite of security concerns and refusing to be beaten by terrorists, either decision can be viewed as right or wrong.

Commentators in England, calling for Togo's withdrawal, might have a different view come similar circumstances in the World Cup in South Africa later this year, or if something happened in the Olympics in London in 2012.

The deaths of people on the bus almost make it a non sequitur; the team has to withdraw. It is a tragedy too far for the Togolese team, and no one could expect them to play in the circumstances.

The rest of the teams must be playing on in almost unbearable tension. We must hope that nothing further happens in this tournament.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Vieira set to galvanise City

Patrick Vieira is 33 years old and does not have the same dynamism that he used to have with Arsenal. However, in arriving from Inter Milan to Manchester City the Frenchman will fancy a couple more tilts the English Premier League before signing off.

Vieira is expected to be unveiled at Eastlands today, with an 18-month contract under his belt.

Joes Mourinho decided that Vieira wasn't required at his Italian league leaders, and no doubt the terms at City were as enticing as the football challenge for the player.

It will be fascinating to see if Vieira can galvanise City for a push at the title. New boss Roberto Mancini has already had the desired impact, winning all three games since taking the helm. With the top teams all showing vulnerability, City are ten points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand. That could reduce the gap to a manageable seven points. City have lost the least games of all teams in the Premier League.

Monday's game - assuming it goes ahead - against Blackburn Rovers, will make for interesting vieiwing.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Fixture chaos looms in World Cup year

Football is due for a big freeze this weekend as Britain suffers from the biggest snow fall, iciest and coldest period for years - apparently.
Well, it is bad, that's for sure.

Both midweek Carling Cup semi-final ties were postponed, as was Arsenal's home game with Bolton last night. It's not always the state of the pitch that causes a postponement; in many cases these days it's the travel considerations for the thousands of fans, and their safety in and around the ground.

One game already called off for Saturday is Sheffield Wednesday's home game with Peterborough United. With icy pavements and roads a serious issue, Sheffield Wednesday took the precautionary mesaure of postponing the game.

"While we are still two days away from the fixture against Peterborough, the areas surrounding Hillsborough Stadium are covered in snow and ice," said Sheffield Wednesday chief executive Nick Parker

"It is highly unlikely these areas could be cleared to the extent that would allow fans to come to the game and be guaranteed of their safety.

"Obviously the safety of our supporters is the club's main concern in these circumstances and we would not want to put fans in danger by encouraging them to use icy roads and pavements around Hillsborough."

In League One Oldham v.Leyton Orient, Brighton v. Brentford, Southampton v. Huddersfield and Charlton v. Hartlepool have all fallen victim to the weather, as has Cheltenham's clash with Hereford in League Two.

There are likely to be many more games that fall victim of the weather. With little room in the football calendar for rearrangements the possibility of good old-fashioned "fixture chaos" is beginning to loom large.

And this in a World Cup year. The snow could be bad for England's prospects.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Notts County have a chance while Sven stays

It's fascinating the position that Notts County have found themselves in. The apparent huge investment over the summer never really appeared, and the club is facing a winding-up petition from HMRC.

Yet the club managed to secure the signatures of a number of pretty good players, and, famously, of course, the signature of Sven-Goran Eriksson as director of football. Despite the turmoil, the disappearance of investors, Eriksson remains. This, surely, is the key to County's retaining a high profile and chances of future investment. If they can keep Sven they'll stay in the news.

Chief executive Peter Trembling took over the club, purchasing it for a nominal fee from previous owners Munto Finance only five months after the Middle Eastern consortium took over at Meadow Lane.

Currently the club is placed fifth in League Two. The playing record of Won 10, Drawn 7, Lost 5 is not particularly impressive, but a continuation of the form would give them a good chance of making the play-offs.

But what of the winding-up order?

Chief executive Peter Trembling is confident the club's tax bill will be covered "by the end of next week".

At the same time the club has apparently secured a six-figure sponsorship deal with Norwegian firm Ludo.

It seems Notts County are destined to stay in the news for a while yet - Sven willing.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Carling Cup ties fall foul of the weather

Both Carling Cup semi-final first leg matches have been postponed due to the snowy and icy conditions in the north-west of England.

Tuesday night's game between Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa at Ewood Park was called off on advice from the police, despite the pitch being playable.

Wednesday night's game between Manchester City and Manchester United at Eastlands has been called off on Tuesday. A statement on City's website read: "It is with regret that the club can confirm that due to extreme weather conditions in the North West of England, tomorrow night’s Carling Cup semi-final tie against Manchester United has been postponed.

"After discussions with the relevant parties including Greater Manchester Police, the Safety Advisory Committee, the Football League and Manchester United, the decision was unanimously reached that the game should be re-scheduled due to safety concerns, particularly with regard to travel for supporters."

The second legs of these ties were originally scheduled for the week starting Monday 18 January. At least none of the four have FA Cup replays which would have been in the week starting Monday 11 January, but whether the first legs can be scheduled for then, I don't know.

At times like this, Sir Alex must be relieved that his team lost to Leeds in the FA Cup on Sunday, thereby by reducing fixture chaos in weeks to come. United are the only one of the four Carling Cup semi-finalists still in European competition.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Leeds United humble Manchester United

The third round of the FA Cup was bumbling along in rather boring style until Leeds United knocked out Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon.

Once mighty Leeds have been sent crashing down in recent years, but this year head League One by eight points, having only lost once in the first half of the league season, and only once in any other competition (0-1 at home to Liverpool in the Carling Cup).

Their performance in knocking out the English Champions and last season's Champions League runners-up amply demonstrated why Leeds are looking certainties for a return to the Championship next season. This wasn't a fluke; this wasn't a "backs-to-the-wall" win. Leeds took on Manchester United, scored a good goal through top-scorer Jermaine Beckford, and they might have had more, Robert Snodgrass notably hitting the home cross bar in the latter stages.

Of course, Manchester United had chance, but they squandered them or were met by firm resistance from the Leeds defence and goalkeeper Casper Ankergren. If Fergie called his team's performance "shocking", then he might consider his own team selection, although with Rooney and Berbatov up front, and a defence that he would have dreamed of having in their defensive crisis a month ago, it was really only the midfield that was under strength.

As for Sir Alex Ferguson calling the five minutes added on at the end "an insult to the game and the players out there", he really should listen to what he says: that was embarrassing. Five minutes was plenty and fifteen would probably not have been enough anyway.

Simon Grayson has begun to shape a Leeds United team that can take on the best. Although Tottenham Hotspur away might be too tough in the fourth round, the real goal for Leeds is promotion, and for that they look a sure thing.