Fulham’s amazing season will have the chance to reach the climax it deserves after their comeback against Hamburg booked their place in the Europa League final. Fulham’s players have been on the go since July and the Times’ Patrick Barclay is convinced Roy Hodgson deserves to be named manager of the year.
For once, the fairytale by the Thames was not just about Fulham. Ricardo Moniz, who was once a coach with Martin Jol at Tottenham Hotspur, was making his managerial debut at the age of nearly 46 in the second leg of a European semi-final. But, fortunately for Roy Hodgson, that tale had an unhappy ending.
It is said that Ruud van Nistelrooy was handed £100,000 a week by Hamburg. Hodgson would be expected to sign four or five players for that. He seems fated never to have a lavish budget; even when he was with Inter Milan in the 1990s, the club, now in the Champions League final, were going through a phase in which it was sometimes a struggle to fill the substitutes’ bench.
He nevertheless took them from mid-table to third place in Italy and also to the final of the 1997 Uefa Cup, in which they lost on penalties to Schalke 04. Hodgson has never sought nor received a semblance of the adulation being showered on the messiah now in charge of Inter — but when was there ever a manager quite like José Mourinho?
The danger to Fulham this summer is that any English club with potential would be foolish to ignore Hodgson. One thing he does have in common with Mourinho is that he seems to be inhabiting the peak of his powers. To have saved Fulham from relegation, hoisted them into the club’s best league position and then into the Europa League, in which they have outlasted some of the continent’s most famous names, is glowing testimony to a working life intelligently dedicated to the game.
No wonder he is talked about as Barclays Premier League Manager of the Year. He would not have been flattered by the award last season, despite Sir Alex Ferguson’s completion of a hat-trick of titles, and for his squad to have coped with the extra demands imposed by a long run in Europe is arguably an even greater achievement than finishing ninth.
Time for redemption
The World Twenty20 gets underway on Friday and it is a chance for West Indies cricket to right the wrongs of the shambles that was the World Cup, writes Mike Selvey in the Guardian.
Three years ago the International Cricket Council ran a World Cup in the Caribbean so inept that it made the Atlanta Olympics seem like a roaring success by comparison. The region, so keen to take advantage of the profile offered by the event, instead was humiliated.
Overshadowed by the death of Bob Woolmer, it was – beyond a memorable opening spectacular in Trelawny – a fiasco, culminating in the farcical finish it deserved. In wanting to present the essence of Caribbean cricket the ICC missed the point memorably. New stadiums were built, designed to hold the thousands who never came because they had been priced out, alienated and subjected to ludicrously overstated security. The disincentives to gaining enjoyment might have come straight from a puritan handbook.
But over the next three weeks or so there is a chance of redemption. That the World Twenty20 comes so soon after the last edition, an outstanding success in England, is unfortunate, not least for the reigning champions Pakistan, but represents a recalibrating of the international calendar. However, the opportunity for the region to re-establish its cricketing credentials is huge, with a hit-and-dash schedule to match the cricket.
The format is snappy, with group matches mainly in Guyana and St Lucia, all double-headers, designed to pare back a dozen teams to make a Super Eight series in Barbados. Then come semi-finals in St Lucia and a final on 16 May at the magnificently redeveloped Kensington Oval. The women's tournament takes place on St Kitts, with semi-finals and final following those of the men.
The failure of India and Pakistan to make it through to the Super Eight stage of the last World Cup was a financial disaster for rights holders on the subcontinent. From that perspective the biggest game was supposed to have been in Bridgetown between the two great rivals: Bangladesh against Ireland did not have the same allure.
For the next World Cup and indeed this tournament ICC has gone out of its way to try to ensure such an anomaly cannot happen. But the shorter the game, the greater the chance of an upset. T20 is set up for surprise results and so, if Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan after their brilliant story are marked down as the fall guys, then the warm-up games – in which Zimbabwe have beaten Australia and Afghanistan thumped Ireland – have shown what a dangerous presumption that can be.
With politicians frantically campaigning for your vote, The Telegraph's Brian Moore takes a look at how much emphasis the three major parties have placed on sport.
Sport occupies an enormous slice of media attention compared to its direct contribution to the UK economy, but it also provides huge benefits to the country – and considerably more than its siblings of culture and media.
At its best, sport also effectively backs up many government departments in their initiatives on key issues such as childhood obesity, anti-social behaviour and the decline of respect in society.
As sport is also the only activity where partaking and succeeding does not depend on your wealth, connections or race, you would think it would have a high priority with all parties.
Add to this the position sport plays in the voters’ psyche and the vicarious popularity a sporting success brings a government and you would expect politicians to recognise the unique position of sport; but no, it remains lumped with the others in Whitehall, fighting for every inch of territory.
A look at the party election manifestos shows how much regard the politicians really have for sport.
The Labour manifesto is 78 pages long and out of 30,755 words there were 550 dealing with sport; 1.8 per cent. The Conservative Party equivalent is 131 pages in total, containing 28,850 words of which are 123 words on sport; 0.43 per cent. The Liberal Democrats manifesto has 21,600 words, with 96 words on sport; 0.44 per cent.
The Labour document, at Chapter Seven, focuses heavily on the 2012 Olympic Games in London, pledging that: “We will ensure that the Olympics are delivered on time and on budget, to the highest standards. Britain will be the first Olympic hosts to create a world-class sports system, from elite level to the grass-roots.”
Labour also promises to bring “mutualism to the heart of football” and promises that: “Sports governing bodies will be empowered to scrutinise takeovers of clubs, ensuring they are in the long-term interests of the club and the sport. We will develop proposals to enable registered Supporters Trusts to buy stakes in their club.” This falls short of a leaked earlier claim that Labour would legislate to allow fans to buy 25 per cent of clubs.
In the Tory manifesto, the Conservatives promise “to reform the governance arrangements in football to enable co-operative ownership models to be established by supporters”.
The Labour statement about creating the first world-class sports system is nonsense. The Australians produced world-class Games in 2000 and their national Institute of Sport was delivering world-class athletes and coaches 20 years ago and continues to do so.
Tiger Woods may have made his comeback in the relative sanctuary of Augusta, but there will be no such protection if he chooses to play at the Open. Golf fans will be allowed to heckle the world No. 1, providing it is not distracting to other players, writes Neil McLeman in The Mirror.
Golf fans will be allowed to heckle Tiger Woods at St Andrews, the head of The Open said yesterday.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson said British fans will be free to express their opinions at The Open in July because “we are not a police state.”
But he warned: “People can say what they like, but if they start putting players off then we will have something to say about it.”
But with over 200,000 fans expected on the Old Course, Dawson said fans could make any comments they like as long as it is not intrusive to the game and the playing of the Championship.
“The marshals are there to deal with that,” he added. “They have their instructions about asking people to stop.
“If they don’t stop, eventually they will be asked to leave the premises.
“Everybody gets a chance at the Open of correcting their behaviour – they are not just thrown out straight away. I don’t think there will be a negative reaction to Woods but I could be badly wrong.”
Manchester City’s bid for fourth place and a spot at Europe’s top table next season suffered a blow when Shay Given was ruled out for final couple of games on account of a dislocated shoulder. The cash-rich City have a classy understudy on their books in Joe Hart, but he is on loan at Birmingham. So the spotlight falls on Gunnar Nielsen: an international keeper – albeit with Faroe Islands. But he is seemingly deemed not good enough as City are seeking dispensation from the Premier League and FA to bring in a keeper on an emergency loan – something Tony Cascarino in the Times is not happy about.
The “emergency loan” rule should be for skint teams in Coca-Cola League Two with squads of 18 players who have been hit by an unprecedented injury or illness crisis, not to get the richest club in the world out of a hole caused by their failure to build a balanced squad.
It’s not bad luck that Manchester City find themselves short of an experienced goalkeeper after Shay Given’s injury. It’s bad planning. Why should the Barclays Premier League bail City out of a mess that is of their own making? After all the millions they have lavished on players’ wages, it’s daft that City didn’t spend a small sum on a veteran who could have served as a solid third choice and done some coaching.
In an era when squads are so large and rotation is the norm, City’s squad is so lopsided it’s crazy. Felipe Caicedo, Jô, Robinho, Benjani Mwaruwari: four capable forwards out on loan because City have another four, better, attackers at the club. They are well set to cope with a raft of absences up front, yet they can’t deal with injuries to two senior goalkeepers. Even if Stuart Taylor, the back-up, had been fit, he’s hardly a great option. Why take the risk with so much at stake?
And whose idea was it to let Joe Hart — who has been the most impressive English goalkeeper this season — go on loan to Birmingham City without any recall clause? If City had been smarter, they would be smugly sticking Hart into their line-up, knowing that the best second-choice goalkeeper in the league was at their disposal.
If I read that a club have signed a goalkeeper under an “emergency” rule, I expect to see that it is because there is no fit option on the books over the age of 16. But that isn’t the case at the City of Manchester Stadium. They do have a goalkeeper: Gunnar Nielsen, who came on for Given at the weekend against Arsenal and did OK. He is 23! He has even played international football, albeit only for the Faeroe Isles.
So it’s not as if City would be forced into playing Carlos Tévez in goal against Aston Villa on Saturday unless the Premier League granted their request. It’s not like they’d be handing Gareth Barry a pair of gloves in training this week and seeing if he is any good on crosses. It’s that City don’t fancy their third-choice goalkeeper much in the heat of a battle for fourth place, so they’d like to get in someone better. That is not a good enough reason.
The Premier League should tell City, “Tough. You have a fit goalkeeper. If you don’t want to play him, that’s your problem. You should have signed an alternative when the window was open.”
Lamps left in the shade
The PFA awards were dished out at the weekend and Wayne Rooney was rightly lauded for his efforts this term. But the Team of the Season did not include one Frank Lampard and it is something that left Sun columnist Ian Wright scratching his head in disbelief.
Frank Lampard has weighed in with a hefty goals tally for Chelsea. Yet again. Any top-class striker would be delighted with 25 goals yet Frank does this season after season.
He has scored 20 of those in the Premier League, which is two more than Jermain Defoe and Fernando Torres. People talk about Bobby Zamora going to the World Cup and he has scored just eight league goals.
Frank may not be playing at his best but his contribution in the goals department is still staggering. For this reason, combined with such consistency over the years, I found it absolutely staggering that he was not on the four-man shortlist for the PFA awards.
I'm amazed not more professionals voted for him.
But for Frank, it will be a special moment if he ends up with another winner's medal. Few will argue that in terms of consistency and quality, he takes some beating.
Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premier Rugby, recently announced the proposal to expand the Guinness Premiership from 12 to 14 clubs. McCafferty himself identified the increase in games as a possible negative of the idea, but Brian Moore, writing in the Telegraph, believes such a decision could have serious ramifications for the development of fresh English talent.
Although the business aspects of the plan can be rationalised, the one thing that this proposal cannot claim is the wider interests of the English national team.
The best way of preparing players to compete at international level is for them to play an agreed number of games in the most competitive environment possible, thereby reducing the gap in standards between clubs and international rugby. Additionally, the most effective way of developing nascent talent is distilling it into a limited number of teams.
If you had a blank sheet of paper and wanted to draw up the best possible structure for non-international rugby you would never include the current arrangement.
It is clear from the present Guinness Premiership that there is simply not enough talent in England to fill 12 squads, never mind 14. This format has spread potential international players across the league and they have been supplemented with foreign players in the clubs’ attempts to either win the competition or avoid relegation. The clubs do whatever they feel is necessary to achieve one of these goals, because no clubs are going to sacrifice themselves for the national good.
That leaves Premier Rugby as the body charged with the responsibility, and expansion is going to make things worse on a national level. An increased number of games will boost revenue but it exacerbates the club v country issue and does nothing to produce more English qualified players.
As politicians tear off their right arms in order to avoid answering questions ahead of the election, it makes a refreshing change to hear a bit of honesty from the world of football. Not many people dislike big Peter Crouch, and that's because he'll give you an honest answer, as Gary Lineker reveals in the Mail...
GARY LINEKER: Your 20 goals in 37 games is a great record in international football. So are you frustrated you’re not an automatic choice for England?
PETER CROUCH: Yes, sometimes. All I can do is take the opportunities when I get them. Hopefully, I did well enough scoring twice in the last game against Egypt to play a big part in the next one, against Mexico, and in the World Cup.
GL: Do you get the impression Capello likes you, or is he a difficult man to read?
PC: He is difficult to read, to be honest. He rarely takes anyone to one side. Players will tell you, it doesn’t matter if you have a hundred caps or are in your first squad, you don’t know where you stand with him. Some players had their places cemented under previous managers. Now if you have a couple of bad games he isn’t afraid to drop you, whoever you are. It keeps everyone on their toes.
GL: Is he scary?
PC: He is one of those characters, if he walked into a room now, you’d know it. The United players say Sir Alex Ferguson has the same thing about him.
Arsene Wenger and his young side saw their title ambitions all but snuffed out by three goals in ten minutes at the DW Stadium last weekend. The Frenchman’s current squad has been criticised for its lack of attacking options in the absence of Robin Van Persie and well-documented problems between the sticks were brought back into focus by last weekend’s capitulation, but Kevin Garside, writing in the Daily Telegraph, believes the one man who could have held the north Londoner’s title challenge together this season will be lining up against them later today.
Were Wenger to hold his blueprint up to the light, the beady eye of scrutiny would not only illuminate technical shortcomings in goal and at centre forward, but also a hole the size of a gloved fist that Vieira used to fill. That visceral quality invoked by the uber competitor when the house goes up in flames is the attribute Arsenal have lacked most this season, not the embroidery of fancy feet.
The want of a fireman of Vieira's standing had Wenger casting through his memory box yesterday to 1996, when the Frenchman arrived from AC Milan to form the Gallic axis with Emmanuel Petit of Wenger's first championship-winning team. This was the start of Wenger's shift from the English template. Arsenal retained their English yoke but Vieira slotted in sweetly, melding continental vision with the hobnail boot. Vieira's Arsenal did not blow two-goal leads with 10 minutes to go in sweet shops like Wigan.
Barcelona may be widely regarded as football's most aesthetically pleasing outfit, but that didn't stop Inter Milan defeating them 3-1 in the Champions League. Jose Mourinho, the Inter coach, masterminded his side's triumph by conceding possession of the ball and calling on his side to be clinical on the rare occasions that an opportunity manifested itself. It worked - meaning Inter's spoiling tactics overcame Barcelona's eye-catching pass-and-move style. Simon Barnes, writing in the Times, questions our preference for beautiful football over a more pragmatic, yet no less effective, style:
But beauty is an add-on. It is not essential to football, it is just very pleasing when you come across it. For a real purist, football is just a struggle between two teams; beauty is a complication. The people who love Barcelona’s style are not purists at all, they are actually seeking something extra. And that’s the way of it. In sport, we are all seeking something extra. We are none of us purists.
Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former president of the International Olympic Committee, died at the age of 89 on Wednesday. He is credited with reviving the fortunes of the Olympic games, but was a man who divided opinion. Jacqueline Magnay in the Daily Telegraph has described him as a visionary ruler who divided and conquered.
Juan Antonio Samaranch may have overseen the most turbulent periods of the Olympic Movement that encompassed boycotts, bribery scandals and increasing athlete doping, but it was his undoubted diplomatic skill to manipulate people and circumstances that has enabled the Olympics to not only survive, but prosper.
No-one doubted Samaranch's ability to pull off the most outlandish proposition, a skill he established early on in his leadership when he ensured that Seoul, ahead of Nagoya, was elected to be the host of the 1988 Olympics back in 1981.
Remember, this was a time when the two Koreas were at war with each other, there were curfews in the streets and Seoul in South Korea was just a half hours drive from the Demilitarised Zone.
Yet, somehow, Samaranch ensured that the boycotting countries from the Los Angeles Olympics attended Seoul, but masterfully out-negotiated North Korea from being involved.
In his first negotiations with broadcasters, Samaranch wrested US $309 million for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, compared to the US $86 million secured for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The staggering amounts from broadcasters ever since has underpinned the success of the Olympics.
Samaranch had a strong army of supporters, and a small band of detractors, throughout the 100 or so IOC members. But throughout his 21-year tenure, Samaranch ruled the IOC with none-too-subtle persuasion.
What he wanted he got, and while that was an effective way of controlling the IOC members, his demands for royal-like status were criticised heavily in the media.
Robert Hardman in the Daily Mail praises Samaranch for his work in dragging the Olympic movement off the floor, but feels it was not all rosy.
In his 21 years as president of the International Olympic Committee and, thus, as the most influential figure in world sport, Juan Antonio Samaranch took the Olympic movement on a turbulent journey from ruin to riches — but at great cost to its reputation.
His reign began in 1980 in the dismal aftermath of the Moscow Olympics. Many Western nations had boycotted the Games following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Olympic rings were starting to crack.
Within a few years, however, Samaranch had transformed the Games into a multi-billion pound industry and he would go on to preside over some of the greatest sporting occasions of modern times.
But it was also Samaranch who turned the IOC into a personal fiefdom which became synonymous with arrogance and corruption. And for all his imperious talk about the role of the ‘Olympic Family’ in ‘the harmonious development of man’, it was, ultimately,
Samaranch who allowed the movement to become mired in scandal.
Snub a timely boost for Monty
England continue to overlook Monty Panesar, with the latest snub to the spinner being his omission from the Elite squad. But Mike Selvey in the Guardian feels it could act as a spur for the twirler to rediscover his best form.
The spinner's exclusion from the England Elite squad allows him get back to basics and reclaim a place for the Ashes tour
The announcement that the England performance squad includes no fewer than four spinners and that not one of them is called Monty Panesar should not be a cause for concern for fans of the Sikh of Tweak. It has been documented well enough that the last year, since his unlikely derring-do diligence with the bat in Cardiff, has not been kind to him.
But far from seeing this as a rejection and a further setback to his career, my guess is he will understand that this is Andy Flower and Geoff Miller looking after his best interests by keeping him out of the firing line until his rehabilitation as a world-class spin bowler is complete.
I am sure – at least I hope – that is what both have told him. Aside from good management of a considerable asset, it speaks strongly to me, if they have spoken to him in these terms, of an understanding of human nature and a complex individual. Monty will be back, and I would hope it is for next winter's Ashes tour. At any rate, they can now leave him alone for the season to enjoy his cricket at Hove.
There are times when the word ‘expert’ can be rather ill-used, like when Andy Townsend provides his analysis on top-level European football. But there are a chosen few who ‘know their onions’. For instance, for boxing you would go to Muhammad Ali, for athletics you might try Michael Johnson, while Jeremy Kyle might be your best bet for domestic feuds. In the cricket world, Garry Sobers isn’t a bad shout, which is why it is interesting to hear his views in the Sun on who England’s top men could be at the World Twenty20...
Graeme Swann, Kevin Pietersen and new-boy Craig Kieswetter are the players I believe can fire England into the World Twenty20 final.
The Barmy Army may have plenty to celebrate here in the Caribbean over the next few weeks as Paul Collingwood's side could be the tournament's surprise package.
The South African connection of KP and hard-hitting wicketkeeper Kieswetter can be the difference for England along with their spinners - especially the impressive Swann who is now one of the best in the world and will be suited to the slow wickets.
The world-famous London Marathon takes place on Sunday, but thanks to the travel chaos caused by the volcanic ash cloud, it could be a decidedly local affair, writes Simon Hart in The Telegraph
It is meant to be the ultimate endurance test over 26.2 miles but for many of the leading runners due to compete in Sunday's Virgin London Marathon, the race to the finish line could be thousands of gruelling miles long.
The cloud of volcanic ash that has turned Britain into a no-fly zone has forced athletes from as far afield as Kenya, Ethiopia, Japan and the United States into a race against the clock just to make it to the start-line. Unless the flight ban ends and air travel returns swiftly to normality, they face punishing journeys on planes, trains and automobiles every bit as energy-sapping as the race from Blackheath to The Mall.
One athlete, Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede, who was runner-up in last year’s race, is booked on a nightmarish trip that begins in Addis Ababa on Tuesday and then takes him by air to Tel Aviv, followed by another flight to Madrid and then a gruelling overland trip to London, via Paris.
Kebede has had the added problem of having to obtain new visas for his re-routed journey. He will deserve a medal just for making it to the capital.
As other runners contemplate trips every bit as difficult, race organisers were on Monday drawing up emergency travel arrangements to smooth their passage to London and ensure a top-quality field for the world’s richest marathon.
Among the options being considered was chartering a jet to pick up athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia, who form the bedrock of the men’s elite field. Money would be appear to be no object to save a race that has been billed as the strongest men’s marathon in history.
On the women’s side, Mara Yamauchi, the Japan-based Briton who made a major breakthrough to finish second in last year’s race, has also been caught up in the travel meltdown. She flew into Madrid with her husband from Japan at the weekend and on Monday night the pair were in a hire car halfway between the Spanish capital and Paris with a reservation on Tuesday for the Eurostar to London.
With 3,449 overseas athletes entered for the mass participation race, the flight chaos could also have an impact on the number of fun runners who make it to the start-line, with possible knock-on consequences for the amount of money raised by charity.
On Monday night organisers were confident that the alternative travel plans being put in place would ensure that the cream of the world’s marathon runners would still be able to compete. But should the worst-case scenario happen and the race be stripped of its overseas stars, there will still be domestic interest.
Andrew Lemoncello, the United States-based Scot who will be making his marathon debut in London, beat the flight ban by two days when he flew in from his training base last week. He will be joined by Dan Robinson, who finished 11th in the 2007 World Championships in Osaka and whose journey to London involves a 90-mile drive from Stroud.
If it keeps pumping out its noxious gas cloud, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano could even deliver Britain’s first men’s winner since Eamonn Martin in 1993. Now that would be an act of God.
Jenson Button's second victory of the season at the Chinese Grand Prix was a triumph of composure over the spirited display of team-mate Lewis Hamilton. In the first British one-two since David Coulthard and Eddie Irvine at the Austrian Grand Prix 11 years ago, Jonathan McEvoy in The Daily Mail compares the ying and the yang of the McLaren pairing to that of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
There was one British driver who illuminated a bewitching Chinese Grand Prix with his now-you-see-me-now-you don’t rampage. And then there was the Briton who won it by stealth.
This was a race of extremes: Lewis Hamilton, all blood and guts, in second place. Jenson Button, clean and composed, victorious for the second time this season to go top of the drivers’ standings. It was Hamilton’s Senna against Button’s Prost; Botham versus Boycott; Rooney versus Lampard.
But as well as the two McLaren world champions bringing their own contradictory fascination, we were treated to rain, spins, a jump-start, safety cars, reprimands and a lamentably age-ravaged performance from the great — and that word is not misplaced — the great Michael Schumacher.
Button evidently felt surefooted enough shod as he was, and sensed the rain would not come down hard. It did not, at least for a while. In fact, Hamilton was in again three laps later to revert to slicks. His ins-and outs relegated him from the top 10 while Button was ensconced in second spot behind Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes. ‘It was tricky out there but we called it right,’ said Button.
‘It’s not just about being quick; it’s about reading the conditions.’ Was that a dig at Lewis, by any chance?
Now to the runner-up. He zoomed past his rivals and then, when various pit stops caused him to fall back again, did it all over again. It prompted the question: is there a more exhilarating competitor in all sport than Hamilton on the charge? He had started sixth, one place behind Button.
But before the thrills came a spill. Well, nearly. He veered perilously close to sliding off entering the pits on his first of four stops — compared to Button’s two — at the gravel trap which wrecked his title hopes in 2007. Next came his wheel-to-wheel entry to the pits with Sebastian Vettel, who started on pole but suffered a terrible start. They sparred again on the way out.
Hamilton, who had driven with his heart, had lost out to Button, driving with his head. It was the same in Melbourne last month, when Button’s immaculate tyre choice won out over his confrere’s blasting approach.
Hamilton, 11 points off the summit, was weak-voiced with disappointment afterwards. Asked if it was a fantastic race, he said: ‘Maybe for you it was. I just felt that every time I made a place, I lost it. It was very, very hard. But to climb my way to second was great. Jenson made the right choice on his tyres; I didn’t.’
In one of Tottenham's most memorable weeks; crashing out of the FA Cup to Portsmouth before beating London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea, Oliver Brown in The Sunday Telegraph looks at Spurs' role in deciding the title race.
How do a team lose to Portsmouth as their prelude to beating Arsenal and Chelsea, all in the space of one madcap week? Harry Redknapp, manager of this most mercurial Tottenham side and unlikely kingmaker in the season’s title race, is not quite sure.
He confessed he would have gladly accepted five points from a run of games against three of the Premier League’s top four, and yet he has wound up taking six from two.
“The great thing about the game is days like this,” Redknapp said, as Tottenham fans streamed out of White Hart Lane scarcely believing that their team had managed to surpass Wednesday’s triumph in the north London derby with another logic-defying, potentially season-changing result. He still confronts a daunting visit next week to Manchester United, but he thinks they can make even more of an impact on the title race. “The championship is wide open,” he said.
It emphatically is, and the dramatic shifts of advantage at the top of the table are all coming courtesy of Tottenham’s inspired play. The dejection of the humbling by Portsmouth in last Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final is already distant in Redknapp’s memory. “There was disappointment, but to come back with two unbelievable performances was top class. I said we needed to raise our level against Chelsea and we did.”
Tottenham’s capacity to spring such shocks was no surprise, though, to a wise old owl of the English game. Redknapp has observed the team’s victories in seven of their last eight matches with quiet contentment and this display against a Chelsea side who have been scoring goals with abandon was his greatest vindication yet.
With all the furore surrounding Carlos Tevez right now, wouldn’t it just be typical if Dimitar Berbatov outshone the City man in Saturday’s Manchester derby? Telegraph writer Mark Ogden cannot see it though, and he wonders if the title would already be secured for another year in the Old Trafford trophy cabinet had Tevez stayed with the Red Devils...
It was in the rural town of Herning, the unremarkable capital of the Danish region of Midtjylland, that Manchester City began to plot their audacious attempt to hijack Manchester United’s year-long pursuit of Dimitar Berbatov.
Senior City officials, having watched Mark Hughes’s team squeeze past FC Midtjylland to win their Uefa Cup second qualifying round tie on penalties, had been informed that associates of the financially-crippled owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, had struck black gold by tempting ‘seriously wealthy people’ from the Middle East to accelerate their exit strategy from Eastlands.
It was August 28, 2008, and Hughes had been told that Berbatov, a player on the manager’s fantasy wish-list, was now within City’s reach should he wish to add him to his squad. Hughes, already frustrated by Shinawatra’s false promises, brushed aside his scepticism and went along with the plan, assured that, this time, it was for real.
Four days later, a financial earthquake hit Manchester as Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan emerged from the ether to complete an astonishing £210 million takeover of Eastlands and, from scraping together Shinawatra’s loose change to complete the £6.45 million deal for Pablo Zabaleta 24 hours earlier, Hughes now possessed football’s healthiest transfer fund.
Andy Murray's dismal performance against Philipp Kohlschreiber was his third straight defeat, and Kevin Mitchell in The Guardian assesses the inexplicable slump in fortunes of the British No. 1.
Monte Carlo, like any gambling resort, is not a place for certainties. It is a paradise of contradictions, too, wearing a patina of glamour but, underneath, a bit frayed around the stitching.
Andy Murray, not one of life's natural gamblers, saw through its charms on Wednesday, when he was dumped out of the singles at the Masters Series event here, with the billionaires at the champagne-heavy tables on the terrace above whistling their derision upon him on Court Central like so many sans-culottes.
The wild card Murray's grateful hosts had given him for what he imagined would be a week's gentle rehab on the Riviera turned out to be a P60.
Ejected from the red dirt after a mere three-and-a-half hours' tennis, he has only five weeks left in which to find some form before the French Open. It will not be easy. In fact it could wreck his summer, this wretched run that stretches back to the third set that January night in Melbourne when Roger Federer brought tears to his eyes in the Australian Open final.
As a nation, England loves nothing more than to build a sportsman up into the greatest thing since Lionel Messi, only to then dance on their grave when they turn out to be the new Darius Vassell. The sport of cricket is no different. Take David Lloyd, everybody’s favourite cricket pundit. If his below prediction from the Daily Mail is correct, England are in the early stages of unearthing just about the best bowler to have ever played the game...
Steven Finn made a cracking start to the county season with 14 wickets in the opening game for Middlesex against Worcestershire but still finished on the losing side! I reckon with the Ashes series coming up in the winter; this is a vital season for the likely lads of English cricket.
Ajmal Shahzad has impressed with England and should be better for the experience.
Both of them remind me of other players: Finn bears an uncanny resemblance to Glenn McGrath with Shahzad a dead ringer for Matthew Hoggard in his pomp.
It had to take something a bit special to knock Tiger Woods off the headlines at the Masters; Phil Mickelson provided it. Short of form coming into the tournament and understandably distracted by his wife’s and mother’s battles with cancer, he produced some thrilling golf to win the tournament for the third time. And, according to Matthew Syed in the Times, his go-for-broke shot on the 13th from a seemingly impossible position highlighted exactly why he is so adored by the public.
Jack Nicklaus once said that the art of winning tournament golf is to understand when to defend as well as when to attack. It is a strategic insight with which most of us would agree, particularly in the context of Augusta National, a course where mistakes tend to extract penal consequences.
But in the pine needles at the side of the 13th fairway on Sunday, Phil Mickelson, a mild-mannered, gentle, some might almost say anaemic character, offered us a rather different philosophical proposition.
Faced with an aperture only a few feet in width between two encroaching trees, and with the potential for catastrophe staring him squarely in the face, the American went for broke.
It was a 200-yard carry over Rae’s Creek, with the pin just a few paces on to the green — the kind of shot that would require scrupulous accuracy even with an obstacle-free trajectory and a perfect lie. In the circumstances, the shot seemed not merely brash but insane. Even when he took his six-iron from his bag, many of us assumed that he was laying up with a low scuttler rather than risking his chance of winning a third Masters by tilting for the green.
It was a shot selection that invited not merely dissent but ridicule. The headlines would have written themselves. Mickelson led by a shot, he had time on his side, the coming holes suited his game, he might still have made his birdie by laying up and Rae’s Creek was snaking its way across the trajectory of his ambitions. Everything spoke against the decision he made.
But it is for moments such as this that golf, and sport, have meaning. In the instant he struck the ball, the 2010 Masters, which had already provided thrills and spills aplenty, was elevated into one of the great sporting events of recent times.
It was not just the sweetness of the shot, the soft landing of the ball just inches from the edge of the water and its gentle passage to within a few feet of the hole; it was, even more so, the thrilling audacity of its contemplation.
Mickelson is adored by the American public not simply because he is a decent chap with a nice demeanour, but because he has an affinity with boldness and adventure no less profound than that of Ballesteros, Arnold Palmer and the other swashbuckling legends who illuminated the history of golf.
It is because, when playing shots such as those from the pine needles on the 13th hole at Augusta, he provides a glimpse of the way life could be if we dared to live it beyond the cocoon of safety and certainty.
Has Tiger really changed?
Sorry, we couldn’t keep Tiger out of the headlines. Daily Mirror scribe Oliver Holt was left with a nasty taste in his mouth following Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf at the Masters.
You want my best guess on Tiger now that he's got a few days of golf out of the way? He's a big game bounty hunter on the booty trail again, bigging it up at the MGM Grand in Vegas with MJ and Charles.
He's tipping 16 per cent at the local Granola Cafe in Isleworth because he figures that will bust all the rumours about him being a 15 per cent tightwad.
He's still a little irritated that Phil Mickelson, of all people, stole his spotlight on Sunday by winning another Green Jacket.
He's still thinking about Phil giving his wife a hug at the back of the 18th green. The emotion looked real but Tiger's sure it wasn't. He calls up his caddie, Steve Williams, and they have a good laugh about how Phil is still such an idiot.
He's heard Phil always tips $50, even at Waffle House. He's guessing that is why people are always writing nice things about him. He's read that Phil took his daughter to the doctor at Augusta on the eve of the final round after she'd broken her wrist rollerskating. He's read that Phil took his kids to a local coffee shop every morning during the tournament for breakfast and a game of chess. He's thinking Phil must have tipped pretty good to get those stories decent space.
He knows it's only a matter of time until he reels Phil back in anyway. He'll put him in his place at the US Open at Pebble Beach in June.
He'll have discarded all the garbage about being a changed man by then. He hasn't changed at all. Change is for wimps.
He's the best and he makes the most. That's all that matters.
After Phil Mickelson won his Masters title on Sunday evening, Richard Williams in the Guardian pays tribute to a devout family man - quite in contrast to Tiger Woods, who dominated headlines prior to the start of the tournament. Mickelson, whose wife and mother both have breast cancer, triumphed despite difficult personal circumstances.
As the round approached its climax, Amy Mickelson and her mother in law, Mary, prepared to leave for the course. They arrived in time to see Phil make the final par with which he fended off Lee Westwood's challenge, and the hug that Phil and Amy shared by the side of the 18th green in the last rays of the day's sunlight will live a lot longer in the memory than the 27 seconds it took to complete.
Tony McCoy's wait for a Grand National winner finally came to an end on Saturday, and in the Daily Telegraph 14-time champion jockey McCoy reveals that even being pulled over by the police for talking on his mobile phone while driving couldn't dampen his spirits.
Quite apart from the fact that I was beginning to think it might never happen, I never, for a moment, thought winning the Grand National would be quite so emotional. Maybe it is because I had been trying for so long and had so often walked out of Aintree on a Saturday night disappointed and deflated but, until you win it, you have no idea of the effect it will have on you.
Not many things have reduced me to tears but I found it incredibly emotional that wave after wave of well-wishers were so genuinely pleased and happy for me. Two of the first people to congratulate me were Ted Walsh, Ruby's father, and Martin Pipe, my old boss, two of the biggest names in the sport. I could see how happy they were for me and, for some reason, it just opened the floodgates.
I know well enough no one has a divine right to win this race, it can happen to anyone. But now when I do retire I will retire a happy man. It would have always irked me if I hadn't won it.
I had always tried to comfort myself with the thought that better jockeys than myself, like John Francome, Peter Scudamore didn't win it and that Jonjo O'Neill, Don' Push It's trainer, couldn't even get round. Each year you come back hoping for, though never expecting, better luck. But by the time I had jumped five fences on Saturday my mentality changed and my mood was much more optimistic because I felt the horse was loving it.
As Lee Westwood nears his first Major title - and the first won by an Englishman since 1996 - many column inches have been dedicated to the quality of the strokeplay he has displayed at The Masters. David Walsh, writing in the Sunday Times, agrees with this assessment - but also suggests that Westwood would be a worthy winner for another reason. Westwood, writes Walsh, has done tremendously to turn his career around in the past few years:
If there’s one reason Westwood deserves to be on the list of major winners, it is because it had seemed that for almost a decade he would be one of the game’s underachievers. A serial winner in the years after he first turned professional, he rose to No 4 in the world rankings at the age of 26. Perhaps it all came too easily because as quickly as the wins and impressive world ranking came, they disappeared.
Ian Poulter has earned more headlines for his crazy dress sense than his golf over the years, but there is a different look to the Briton at Augusta, a look that may just lead to a new jacket being added to his wardrobe writes Oliver Brown in the Telegraph...
Ian Poulter might be a fully paid-up member of American golf's expat elite, but he toasted his inspired first round of 68 at the Masters with a meal that was quintessentially English and followed that with another four-under-par score.
“Just sat down for my dinner, steak and ale pie, couple of spuds, get in there,” he wrote on a Twitter page that has acquired almost a million followers. You can take the boy out of Stevenage...
But then this fast-talking, curry-loving Arsenal supporter has always had a touch of the 'cor blimeys’ about him, whatever his peculiar line in pink clothing suggests. Shortly after he propelled himself into the American consciousness by winning this year’s World Matchplay in Arizona, he was portrayed by the CBS sports network as “the cockney cockatiel”.
Poulter is feted here for the boldness and brashness of his self-exposure. Indeed, sometimes it seems all you have to do in this country to be passed off as an endearing Brit is to feign a few Estuary glottal stops and don a pair of Union Jack trousers. Poulter can assume whatever affectations he likes, though, if he has the game to lead the Masters.
So Tiger Woods breezed back into the public eye on Thursday, hit a couple of killer shots, and everything is forgiven. As Oliver Holt points out in the Daily Mirror, Woods' apparent show of remorse appears to have disappeared rather quickly, other than a rather ill-advised Nike advert...
The world got its best golfer back yesterday. Not a broken man. Not someone so tortured by his demons he could not compete. Not a great player suddenly transformed into an ordinary guy who might struggle to make the cut. But a man who looked like he had never been away. A man who looked as though he will reclaim his greatness with relative ease.
A man who has lost none of his charisma and none of his showmanship. He even chucked his club when he flunked an approach shot on the 14th. So much for his new respect for the game.
The suspicion is that for all his expressions of vulnerability and atonement, Woods has not really changed at all. He's served a sentence. And now it's over.
Forget Tiger Woods the philanderer, forget the guy who's so desperate to please his sponsors he will even let them use his dead father for an advertisement.
With all eyes on Tiger Woods this week as the world No. 1 prepares to make his highly-anticipated comeback at the Masters, the Daily Mail's Martin Samuel pays tribute to the one man who stands between Woods and history.
The issue here is esteem. Jack Nicklaus will strike the ball that ceremonially starts the 74th Masters Tournament today and, good or bad, it will be carried down the fairway on a wave of love and affection. A year ago, this would have been considered Tiger Woods’s destiny, too: a lifetime of adulation, of being feted and revered. Now, who knows?
If Nicklaus stepped under a bus tomorrow, his obituary would lead off with just one salient detail: 18 major championships. If the same happened to Woods, his 14 titles would share equal billing with the same number of girlfriends. Maybe they always will. Monica Lewinsky might not make the first sentence when Bill Clinton passes, but she would certainly muscle her way into the opening paragraph.
Even if Woods plays his public rehabilitation perfectly, he may never find the easy charm Nicklaus exudes in his autumn years. His conversation is an eloquent history of the modern game, from Ben Hogan through Arnold Palmer to Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros. And Tiger; always Tiger. It is impossible to escape talking Tiger this week, although Nicklaus manages to, skilfully, whenever he suspects an answer might lend itself to a judgemental headline.
So, forget Tiger for a moment. Listen to Nicklaus talk about playing with Hogan (nine majors, including two Masters) and Palmer (seven majors including four Masters) and be prepared to fall in love with golf again.
It would take something special to knock that man Tiger Woods off the back pages and Lionel Messi provided it. Arsene Wenger described him as a Playstation following his four-goal super-show for Barcelona and Matt Dickinson in the Times has suggested the Argentine proved himself one of the greats of the game.
"The Nou Camp hosted a football match last night, but this mighty stadium was simply a stage for one man to parade his genius. The Hall of Fame at Barcelona is full of great names such as Cruyff, Stoichkov, Rivaldo and Ronaldo but very few have been fêted like Lionel Messi, whose name rolled down the steepling terraces as he walked off, almost bashfully, bouncing the match ball like a little kid.
Cristiano Ronaldo could score five goals for Real Madrid against Barcelona on Saturday and yet still face a forlorn battle to usurp Messi as World Player of the Year.
The debate may now be taken into other realms, such as where Messi stands in the all-time pantheon. Still below his compatriot, Diego Maradona, who was not only the maestro in successful teams; at Napoli and for Argentina, Maradona was the team.
Of recent greats, he sits below Zinédine Zidane, too, in that Messi does not aspire to be the conductor of his side, simply the dazzling virtuoso.
He can, as Arsène Wenger pointed out, move in and out of games; it is just that his interventions this season have been so often and so spectacular that you begin to run out of superlatives."
Brand Tiger ready to return
Tiger Woods’ press conference on Monday is still a talking point and the moment when he made a plea to potential sponsors caught the attention of the Times’ Matthew Syed.
"It is the closest thing we have seen to a marketing pitch in a press conference. Asked about being dropped by so many of his sponsors, Tiger Woods seamlessly morphed from the vocabulary of the Penitent to that of the Salesman.
“I totally understand why they dropped me,” he said. “But going forward I hope I can prove to companies that I am a worthy investment. That I can help their company, help their company grow and represent them well.”
Not that we can blame Woods for reaching out to the giants of the corporate world. That, after all, is how the world’s top golfer amassed his unprecedented billion-dollar fortune. Where Muhammad Ali symbolised the unhinged political radicalism of the Sixties, Woods represents the sportsman as walking billboard: a gun for hire, at the right price.
“Go on, be a Tiger” was the Accenture slogan that greeted passengers at airports around the world, alongside a photo of Woods sizing up his next shot, his beautiful eyes blazing with competitive intensity. “The best a man can get,” was how Gillette sought to harness the Woods phenomenon. Gatorade asked: “It’s in Tiger; is it in you?” Meanwhile the doyens at Lasik Eye Surgery plumped for: “What could you and Tiger have in common?”
And Woods was (and hopes to be again) a potent, almost irresistible force in the contemporary marketplace. He ticked all the right boxes: a mixed-race kid who achieved excellence amid the racial conservatism of modern golf; a swashbuckling sportsman who never flunked a challenge or choked on a putt; a decent man with decent values who adored his late father and was devoted to his wife and kids. This was not merely the American Dream, it was a kaleidoscope of resonance and meaning.
I bought into it. I was one of the millions who added to the global viewing figures whenever Woods was in the hunt for a major championship. I was also one of the millions inclined to switch off whenever his challenge faded. I pulled for him without inhibition, revelled in his fist-pumping heroism and revered his ability to keep his nerve as others were losing theirs. And, yes, I even bought his razor blades, without ever stopping to think why."
It had to be about Tiger Woods, following his first appearance before the press since. Well, since. There was the odd probing question, he did admit using controversial doctor Tony Galea, but the Times’ John Hopkins felt it was the world No. 1 still controlling things.
How should we view Tiger Woods after his press conference in Augusta yesterday? With disappointment and with dissatisfaction. Although some questions were answered, too many were left unanswered. This was a frothy, light-as-air souffle when one had been hoping for something more substantial.
Is it too much to expect that if Woods was prepared to be questioned, then we had a right to expect him to answer those questions. And although some of his answers were germane to the question he had been asked, many were not. Overall, it was a masterclass in evasion and avoidance, of speaking without saying much, of being elliptical, of answering questions but often not the questions he was asked.
We know little more this morning than we did yesterday morning about certain important issues. Why, for instance, did Woods become involved with a Canadian doctor who is known to administer human growth hormone and is under investigation by the police?
Another example. Many of those who listened to his stumbling mea culpa in Jacksonville in February got a clear impression then that he would be away from golf for a long time. Yet only eight days later he had returned from his therapy clinic and was hitting balls, raising the question of why Woods had spoken in the week of the Accenture Match Play Championship when he could have waited another ten days.
Woods was asked about this apparent contradiction and again he gave an answer that barely dealt with the question. “When I gave my speech in February, I had no intentions of playing golf in the near future at all,” he said. “I just had barely started practising two days prior to that. That was the first time I hit balls. And then I started hitting more balls and more balls and more balls and I started getting the itch again to start playing again. . .”
So his long-term commitment to staying away from golf, to sorting out his marriage, his family, his friends, that all went out of the window because he “started getting the itch again”. That is what we are left to conclude from this rambling answer.
To give credit where it is due, while the conference was ended after only 35 minutes, which was rather short, there was no attempt to censor the questions. Woods looked relaxed and composed, much more like the Tiger Woods of old and not at all like the heavily directed, nervous individual who had appeared in front of a hand-picked, sympathetic audience in Florida two months ago.
Yet this is what creates a sense of dissatisfaction. Woods answered nearly fifty questions and he made sure he looked his questioners in the eye when he did so. He declined to say what he was in therapy for and he explained that Elin, his wife, and their children will not be joining him at Augusta.
But did he really convince us that he was genuine in his contrition? Not really. Did he address the key issues? Not really. Does he think that he has played the most difficult shot of this Masters week and that from now on there will be a a lot of players saying, “Welcome back, Tiger”. Probably.
Bedser a giant of the game
Sir Alex Bedser passed away at the weekend at the age of 91 and he was a true giant of the game. Derek Pringle pens a fitting tribute in the Telegraph.
Few bowlers ever get to be knights of the realm and as Sir Alec Bedser used to point out, not always in jest, he was the first since Sir Francis Drake. The honour was thoroughly deserved, not just for his selfless deeds as a bowler for Surrey and England but for the lifelong loyalty to a game he cherished deeply.
In a sporting era where materialistic rewards were few, his playing career was the very epitome of service, a foreign word to most modern players. His 236 Test wickets were the most ever taken by the time he played the last of his 51 Tests in 1955. His total would have been even greater but for the Second World War denying him the opportunity to take advantage of his physical prime.
big man, 15st and 6ft 3in, his bowling was based on rhythm and economy, being brisk rather than quick. Inswingers and a nagging accuracy were his main weapons, though their effectiveness increased once he learned to bowl the leg-cutter by wrapping his enormous fingers around the seam. It was a leg-cutter that famously dismissed that other cricketing knight, Sir Don Bradman, for a duck at Adelaide in 1947. Bradman, who remained a lifelong friend, maintained it was the best ball that ever got him out.
Set your loved one free
Steven Gerrard looked bewildered when Liverpool took Fernando Torres off against Birmingham with the game still in the balance and Ian Wright, writing in his column in the Sun, feels it was the moment that suggested the time had come for him to move on.
It was the moment that may have broken the camel's back as far as Steven Gerrard's Liverpool love affair is concerned. The look of dismay on the skipper's face when Rafa Benitez inexplicably substituted Fernando Torres with 25 minutes to go in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Birmingham said it all.
For the first time since he broke into the first team 11½ years ago, Stevie G looked like he wants out of Liverpool. And, with the way things are at Anfield right now, who could blame him?
With Premier League and Champions League hopes having long disappeared, the consolation prizes of fourth place in the table and the Europa League are now even touch and go.
It appears the only certainties on the horizon at Liverpool this year are more in-fighting and uncertainty.
Gerrard deserves better. Much better. He turns 30 at the end of next month. It's a milestone that is bound to make him take a long, hard look at himself and his career.
It would be totally understandable if he came to the conclusion that he needs a new club. I know the Kop will be up in arms at this view, as they were when their inspirational captain came close to joining Chelsea in 2004.
Gerrard turned down a reported £20million switch to join Jose Mourinho and it proved the right decision. He led Liverpool to a Champions League triumph over Milan 12 months later, an incredible FA Cup final win over West Ham a year after that before another Champions League final appearance in 2007. But things are totally different this time. Gerrard's body language as he trudged off at St Andrew's suggested he needs a new challenge and the Koppites should respect that.
As the old saying goes, if you love somebody set them free. That is how Liverpool fans should be with Gerrard.
Tiger Woods is on the brink of a return to competitive golf, but ahead of his opening shot at the Masters he must face the press on Monday. It is believed that there will be a scrum to gain attendance and journalists are likely to be limited to one question. It remains to be seen if the questions will be vetted, but Mark Reason in the Daily Telegraph has put down on paper the questions that need to be answered.
1 You have repeatedly reacted angrily to suggestions of domestic violence. Why then did you not talk to police at the time of the accident and why was Elin not allowed to ride to the hospital with you? If she didn’t hit you, what exactly happened? And no, it’s not in the police report.
2 It has been reported recently that you paid Rachel Uchitel $10 million for her silence. Have you paid Uchitel or any other woman money to keep quiet?
3 A hospital chart indicated you had taken an “overdose”. In the months before the incident had you been taking large quantities of Vicodin, Ambien or any other painkiller or sleeping draught? Were you addicted to pills?
4 Although there are plenty of doctors in Florida who could have administered the blood-spinning treatment allegedly used in your recovery from knee surgery, you chose to use Tony Galea. Why employ a Canadian who is being investigated for drug practices that are illegal in the United States?
5 Last year your behaviour on the golf course was criticised by greats of the game like Tom Watson and Peter Thomson. Do you plan to start signing more autographs and to stop swearing, spitting and throwing golf clubs? In short, do you plan to be more like Phil Mickelson?
6 You have constantly denied that your inner circle knew anything about your sexual activities, but in recent days a couple of women have made allegations that you used a friend to arrange trysts and that Mark Steinberg, your agent, was involved in a cover-up. Do you continue to deny their involvement?
7 Why did you say six weeks ago: “I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don’t know when that day will be – I don’t rule out that it will be this year.” It gave the impression that your return was not imminent. Why did you continue to deceive your fans?
8 In view of everything that has happened why is your inner circle still intact? Steve Williams was justly critical of you – will he keep his job? Is Steinberg fireproof? How will Elin believe you have changed if all the old cronies stay in place? Are there just too many skeletons to fire people?
9 What would be an achievement this week? You say that you never play in a tournament that you don’t expect to win. Do you expect to win at Augusta or is a top 20 a good performance? Can you win a major this season? Can you catch Jack Nicklaus’s record?
10 If you play in the Ryder Cup in October you are bound to be heckled. It has never been your favourite event, so do you have any ambition to play in this year’s Ryder Cup?
As the Grand National looms, Marcus Armytage in The Sunday Telegraph takes a look at the story behind outside hope Dream Alliance, a real rags-to-riches tale.
A horse reared on an alotment above an old slag heap and owned by a group of amateurs, including an Asda cleaner, a pub landlord and a retired noodle maker, is in the running to win Britain's biggest horse race.
It is the unlikeliest of Grand National stories.
But when the tape rises on Dream Alliance and the 39 other starters at Aintree on Saturday, thousands of punters will be hoping that the nine-year-old gelding will rip up the form book once again to provide the fairtale ending the script requires.
Dream Alliance will be cheered on in Liverpool by a syndicate of twenty-three friends who have spent £10 a week each to bring him to the point where he can compete with racehorses owned by some of the sport's richest patrons.
Born at a local vet's, the horse spent his first formative winters on a tenth of an acre mud patch with his mother and chickens and ducks for neighbours.
The view from his 'stable' was the rear of a terrace of old, grey council houses and keeping him in were various types of chain link fence, an occasional rail and six-foot high steel mesh more commonly used to keep people out of building sites.
His summer turn-out was an acre of grass next to some playing fields.
As David Haye prepares to make his first defence of his WBA heavyweight title in Manchester, Kevin Mitchell in The Guardian takes a look at the journey of David Haye under the guidance of his father Deron.
David Haye loves to fight. It is in his genes, handed down from his karate-fighting father, Deron, and, he admits, probably resides in those of his own young son, Cassius. However, when he steps through the ropes at the MEN Arena against the American John Ruiz tonight, Haye's father will be hoping he has retained some of the ring smarts he showed in bamboozling Nikolai Valuev in Nuremberg to win the WBA heavyweight title in November.
"My dad used to teach martial arts in Waterloo," he said not far from there the other day, in a gym uncannily similar to the one in a railway arch where he learned his trade for Fitzroy Lodge in north Lambeth as an amateur.
"We always argue over my boxing. There is a clash of opinions nine times out of 10, technical bits and pieces. He's a massive fan of Lennox Lewis and the way he boxed, more cautiously, on the outside. And all the time I want to get inside.
"He really loved the Valuev fight. That was punch-perfect for him. As his son, he doesn't want to see me take unnecessary punishment. He wants me to hit them and not get hit. At all. Ever."
I saw Haye Snr's concern for David in a slightly different light one night 11 years ago when the rising star was knocked out in the amateurs by a single blow from the light-hitting Jim Twite. Haye was inconsolable in the changing room afterwards. He just wanted to walk away from the sport he had lit up like a firecracker, the next Big Thing. As he moved to go home by the back door, Deron, a fierce presence, insisted he walk back through the hall and confront his friends and many fans. He did.
Had he not done so, it is not inconceivable that Haye would have been finished with boxing there and then. Since he was a skinny 10-year-old under the tutelage of Mick Carney at Fitzroy Lodge, he wanted to be the heavyweight champion of the world. Getting knocked out by Twite was not part of his plan but it says much about his resolve that he recovered from the blow to his chin and his ego. He'd been living the life. So, he knuckled down – for a while. He had hooked up with Adam Booth by then and they left the Lodge, determined to make their own way. When he turned pro, all went smoothly until, after partying again, he was reminded of the dangers of his sport by Carl Thompson. The 40-year-old rock from Manchester, very much a wrecker of favourites, stopped the breathless kid in five.
There followed another examination of his conviction. In 13 fights since then, Haye has grown into the man his father always wanted him to be, a disciplined and dedicated practitioner in a dangerous undertaking.
Haye loves that danger still, though. It is what will turn him from the relaxed, media-friendly character and prankster known to the public into a fighting animal. For those who have witnessed the transformation in the dressing room, just a few moments before a fight, it is scary.
Most fighters are like that, even his dad's laid-back hero, Lennox Lewis. But the former champion also warns Haye against succumbing to his instincts against Ruiz. "Lennox knows he's a tough guy and he says as long as I do what I do and don't get involved, no clash of heads, that sort of thing, I will beat him.
"But nothing matters unless I win this fight. You need to stay hungry, and not allow someone like John Ruiz to come over and mess you up in front of all your fans."
Bobby Zamora showed his class in front of the ESPN cameras with another goal for Fulham in their Europa League clash with Wolfsburg and he certainly caught the eye of the Times’ Patrick Barclay who claims the striker did his England cause no harm at Thursday evening.
The goal, Bobby Zamora’s seventh in 13 Europa League matches, was a classic and the way he set up one for Damien Duff was reminiscent (it is barely hyperbolic to say) of how Marco van Basten used to make the game look elegant simplicity. But there was so much more to admire.
Seconds from half-time came a perfect illustration of Zamora’s value to Fulham. A Wolfsburg attack had foundered and Simon Davies, in possession deep in Fulham’s half, might have been tempted to roll the ball to Mark Schwarzer. Instead he looked up and measured a long ball for the ever-alert Zamora, whose deft chest-pass sent Duff hurtling into the German penalty area.
No goal resulted on that occasion, but the switch from defence to attack was contemporary football of a quality that has caused speculation that Zamora, at 29, might be called to join England at the World Cup. A year ago, when his goalscoring rate was making Emile Heskey look prolific, the notion would have been laughable (though not entirely foolish), but this season Zamora has done everything that could be asked of a centre forward.
Don't move the cap
Rugby’s finances have been in the spotlight in recent days, with money extremely tight for most clubs. Despite, this there are calls for the salary cap be increased to help English clubs remain competitive. Shaun Edwards, writing in the Guardian, feels this would be a foolish move.
What a difference a day makes. Sunday at the Madejski, plenty of parking, music, entertainment and nearly 22,000 watching London Irish versus Sale in the Premiership in a smart all-seat stadium. Monday, the Exiles second XV versus Wasps at Sunbury, home to Irish before they moved closer to the M4. It's like a potted history of rugby in England since it went professional and a real warning of what there is to lose.
Just recently we've heard those siren voices asking that the salary cap be raised from the current £4m. Spooked by the fact that only one English club have made it through to the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup this season, they argue that French sides, currently without a limit on what they can pay, are gobbling up all those players who would otherwise be coming here. According to Leicester for one, things will only get worse if the ceiling is not raised, with France's Top 14 and even the Magners League proving ever more attractive.
Looked at in isolation they might seem to have a case. After all Jonny Wilkinson and now Carl Hayman have been lured to Toulon, Ricky Flutey is in Brive and James Haskell in Paris, but a few more voices have been heard this week and some interesting figures released which suggests we won't be taking to the life rafts just yet.
At 2-0 down to Barcelona in their Champions League tie, Arsenal appeared powerless to prevent a quarter-final exit from the tournament. That they managed to claw the tie back to 2-2, leaving all to play for in the second leg, was in no small part down to the influence of substitute Theo Walcott. The right-winger, criticised this season after a series of ineffectual showings, produced one of his final Arsenal performances - scoring the first goal and regularly tormenting the Barca defence. Martin Samuel, writing in the Daily Mail, thinks that Gunners boss Arsene Wenger missed a trick by not starting Walcott from the start:
So what would have happened had he started Theo Walcott? Oh, it may seem churlish to question the manager; two goals down against the best attacking team in Europe, ends up drawing 2-2.
And, after all, as the banner says: Arsene knows. Yet just as Barcelona will return to Spain wondering how the hell that happened, so the most demanding souls in the Arsenal camp will always have the nagging suspicion that they might – just might – have produced an even greater surprise had Walcott been on from the kick-off.