If it wasn't for my local dog-fighting league, I don't know how I'd get my fix of clean, competitive sport - Des Kelly

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Please note, in this week’s newspaper there are a few references to actual sport. If you look carefully you will find them.

Should you wish to read genuine sporting information I advise you to confine yourself to these sections and skip quickly through the rest.

The coverage is often dominated by organised crime, drug use, match-fixing, illegal gambling, issues of medical confidentiality, unprofessional conduct, questionable business practice, spitting and associated incidents of anti-social behaviour, which all bubbles away in a stinking, unholy stew of corruption. If it wasn’t for my local dog-fighting league, I don’t know how I’d get my fix of clean,  competitive sport?

Shocking: Europol announced this week that a Champions League match in England, reported to be Liverpool v Debrecen, was one of hundreds of football games to be fixed

      More from Des Kelly...   DES KELLY: Well, nothing lasts forever... it's been a blast! Sportsmail's brilliant columnist bows out after almost a decade at the top 31/05/13   Des Kelly: When it came to the most important tick of his career clock, Sir Alex bowed out at the perfect moment 10/05/13   DES KELLY: The idea that governing bodies are serious about exposing drug cheats is a myth... the cover-up makes my blood boil 03/05/13   Des Kelly: Sorry Liverpool, this isn't a conspiracy by the PM, FA, MI5, British Dental Association, and Society Against Cannibalism in Sport 26/04/13   Des Kelly: An immense river of humanity will flow through London... the marathon must produce mighty roar of defiance 19/04/13   DES KELLY: Fans come a distant second to Cup cash 12/04/13   Des Kelly: Forget his politics... is Paolo really up to the job? 05/04/13   Des Kelly: The evidence is so subtle many missed it... is this bonfire a case of smoke and mirrors? 29/03/13   Des Kelly: British taxpayers have just handed West Ham a stadium worth half a billion pounds... where's my bit of this £630m council house? 22/03/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

In fact, without the pictures of MP Chris Huhne burying the remains of his career in the car park recently vacated by Richard III’s skeleton it would have been difficult to tell the front of the newspaper from the back.

Our national pastimes are under more scrutiny than ever and the forensic evidence being uncovered is truly appalling. It’s like watching hotel inspectors arrive at a five-star institution, train an ultra-violet light on seemingly pristine white sheets, and reveal previously hidden stains of ghastly disease and contamination.

Within the past few days, police chiefs have said European football is rife with match-fixing deceit, the Australian government has announced their sports are riddled with drug use and the never-ending scandals in cycling now threaten to suck other sports into the mire.

Europol, the police liaison body, declared they knew of almost 700 games where Asian gambling syndicates had influenced results. They included FIFA internationals and a Champions League match involving Liverpool and the Hungarian side Debrecen, although there is no suggestion the Anfield club were implicated.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger described this as a ‘tsumami’ for football and added ‘sport is full of legends who are also cheats. It is time that we tackled this problem in a very serious way’.

How did football’s hierarchy react? With a shrug, of course. What else would you expect with Sepp Blatter in charge? The old duffer supposedly running FIFA insisted with tragi-comic timing: ‘Most of the matches which they put in this tray — 600 or 800 — have already been analysed, dealt with and were even at court.’

That’s right— 600 or 800, what’s 200 between friends? His message was ‘there’s nothing to see here, move along’ — 24 hours after FIFA launched a website where whistleblowers could report corruption among its 209 member nations. No doubt the server crashed.

Shocking: Australian sport was rocked by news of 'widespread' drug use, including in Aussie Rules

In Australia they have no time for such evasion. The Australian Crime Commission brutally laid waste to the country’s sporting landscape by saying performance-enhancing drugs were in widespread use across many disciplines, with sports scientists, doctors, coaches and support staff dealing directly with organised crime networks.

Banned human growth hormones in rugby and Australian Rules football are at the heart of this case, but the ACC said ‘multiple athletes’ in ‘a number of sporting codes’ were ‘cheating with the help of criminals’.

Sponsors are already running away faster than rugby league and Aussie Rules organisers can set up their ‘integrity commissions’.

Lance Armstrong didn’t start this, but his disgrace has brought a new focus to the process of re-examining sport. The American dope cheat is also saying he will now ‘assist in efforts to clean up cycling’ by co-operating with investigators.

Devastating: Arsene Wenger said sport is full of legends who are cheats

Good. He was the most cynical culprit to date, but he was never the only drug cheat. We have always known that. But if he dares to whine about his so-called persecution and claim he is some kind of  ‘scapegoat’, I’d suggest he watches the Nike advert where he boasts: ‘This is my body and I can do whatever I want to it. Everybody wants to know what I am on. What am I on? I’m on my bike busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?’

Personally, I’m on a mission to tie Armstrong to a chair, hold his eyelids open with toothpicks and make him watch that garbage over and over again, slapping him around the face with the remote control until he comes to his senses. And if he doesn’t, who loses? Or maybe I’m just having a bit of ‘roid rage, there.

So there is more scandal to come. The names that fall could be even bigger than Armstrong. Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the centre of a pivotal doping trial in Spain, says he ‘worked with all types of athletes — footballers, cyclists, boxers and tennis players’.

Cheat: Lance Armstrong admitted, in an interview with Oprah, to doping in all seven Tour de France wins

Investigators seized 200 bags of blood marked with codenames in 2006. So far the judge has not encouraged Fuentes to volunteer the identity of any names implicated beyond the world of cycling.Fuentes said: ‘I could identify all the samples (of blood). If you give me a list I could tell you who corresponds to each code on the packs.’

The judge used privacy as a defence, because doping was not even a crime in Spain until a law change in November 2006. But the names will emerge and the fear is that champions may be about to fall.

Perhaps football is next. Maybe tennis after that. When we don’t believe in what we see, when sport becomes a pumped up, drug-fuelled, line-dance of pre-conceived cheating and dummy moves, like the charade of WWE wrestling, then it’s done. It’s over. The whole house of cards comes crashing down. Someone pass me the tablets.

New wage rules are a total sham

Having spent years defending the power of market forces, Premier League clubs are now busy pulling up the drawbridge behind them.

Club owners are placing limits on spending and wages not because they are suddenly concerned about concepts of ‘financial fair play’ or the wider implications of fiscal restraint.

They are slapping on the shackles to stop players taking a bigger chunk of their vast new TV riches. They’re filling their boots just like everyone else. Something fishy must be going on when Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich — the poster boy for buying success — votes in favour of a clampdown.

Moneybags: Man City have splashed the cash in their bid for Premier League domination

Rolling in it: Chelsea have spent hundreds of millions under Roman Abramovich

There are restrictions on debt, which is right, and threats of points deductions, but no limits on spending from sponsorship income. That is an open invitation for the big clubs to be more creative with their accounting. Billionaires can sponsor themselves and it will be hard for any court to prove otherwise.

The direct link between match-day income and spending also means ticket prices may rise. And it is worth noting that while players’ wages were being curbed, no club representative in the room was calling for restraint on executive pay. Funny that.

Premier League chief Richard Scudamore brokered a tricky compromise between clubs with vastly different aims and budgets. What we’ve ended up with won’t solve much, won’t change much, but apparently we had to act anyway.

Brian O'Driscoll... a true sporting role model

Want a sporting role model? Try Brian O’Driscoll. The Irish rugby legend grows in stature by the year and his performance against Wales last weekend was exemplary. O’Driscoll did everything; from inspiring a magnificent first-half battering, to filling in at scrum-half, orchestrating the defence when a Wales comeback threatened, and making a gourmet dinner for the team afterwards.

Only one of those is made up. I hope he wins the Six Nations. I hope he leads the British and Irish Lions Down Under this summer, too. He deserves it. Wherever your allegiance, you must acknowledge his excellence.

Role model: Brian O'Driscoll scored a try in Ireland's win over Wales last weekend

Spurs in trouble now Adebayor is flying solo

All week I have been reading how Tottenham Hotspur were ‘racing Emmanuel Adebayor back’ from the Africa Cup of Nations, making ‘special flight arrangements’ for him, or simply sweating on whether he would arrive in time for today’s encounter with Newcastle United.

The player has been in South Africa, not some obscure backwater.

There are plenty of direct flights to London every day. His team were knocked out of the competition last Sunday and yet he only managed to return to his day job yesterday afternoon.

Thin: Jermain Defoe's (left) injury means Tottenham's only fit striker is Emmanuel Adebayor (right)

The injury to Jermain Defoe has left Spurs with one fit, senior attacker. Unfortunately for them, it is Adebayor.

‘He had issues to take care of,’ said manager Andre Villas Boas. Adebayor always has issues. That’s the trouble.

The Champions League returns with a mouth-watering glamour tie

Real Madrid host Manchester United this week. It is exactly the sort of glamour tie the Champions League was designed for - Cristiano Ronaldo versus Robin van Persie; Wayne Rooney versus Luka Modric. OK, so it’s not just about glamour, but there’s history and grandeur as well. It’s a special encounter, but the Special One has been quiet of late.

Jose Mourinho is clearly on his way from the Bernabeu at the end of the season.

While United are clear at the top of the Premier League, Mourinho’s Real are 16 points behind Barcelona and seven behind Atletico Madrid, with reports of dressing-room splits and turmoil.

Giants: Manchester United will travel to Real Madrid this week for an eagerly-awaited Champions League tie

With his La Liga campaign in tatters, a Champions League exit in the last 16 against United will mark the low point of his career.

The rumour is he might even accept a job back at Chelsea, the club that booted him out for being ‘unmanageable’.

It’s looking distinctly less than special - and all the more fascinating for it.

  More... Blood pressure: Wenger demands that new tests are introduced to help snare football's drug cheats United v Real? No, it's Ronaldo against Van Persie, insists legend Van Nistelrooy Ireland unchanged for England clash to make intriguing Lions battle of the backs














Des Kelly: Swansea could lose Michael Laudrup, but Huw Jenkins should cope

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Running a football club is like building a house in a hurricane. Put one wall up and the roof blows off. Fit a new door and the television flies through the window.

It's almost impossible to make plans. People in the game talk of establishing foundations and 'long-term objectives', but we live in a world afflicted by attention deficit disorder, a world where the phrase 'long term' refers to a time span somewhere between the career of an X Factor winner and the life of a mayfly.

Players and managers come and go with dizzying regularity, but a few not only set out their masterplan but also cling to it with a grim determination even when crucial parts are being swept away by the wind.

Charismatic: Swansea manager Michael Laudrup could be persuaded to leave the Libert Stadium

    More from Des Kelly...   DES KELLY: Well, nothing lasts forever... it's been a blast! Sportsmail's brilliant columnist bows out after almost a decade at the top 31/05/13   Des Kelly: When it came to the most important tick of his career clock, Sir Alex bowed out at the perfect moment 10/05/13   DES KELLY: The idea that governing bodies are serious about exposing drug cheats is a myth... the cover-up makes my blood boil 03/05/13   Des Kelly: Sorry Liverpool, this isn't a conspiracy by the PM, FA, MI5, British Dental Association, and Society Against Cannibalism in Sport 26/04/13   Des Kelly: An immense river of humanity will flow through London... the marathon must produce mighty roar of defiance 19/04/13   DES KELLY: Fans come a distant second to Cup cash 12/04/13   Des Kelly: Forget his politics... is Paolo really up to the job? 05/04/13   Des Kelly: The evidence is so subtle many missed it... is this bonfire a case of smoke and mirrors? 29/03/13   Des Kelly: British taxpayers have just handed West Ham a stadium worth half a billion pounds... where's my bit of this £630m council house? 22/03/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE  

Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins is one such figure.

After helping rescue the club from bankruptcy in 2002, Jenkins has been forced to watch a succession of young managers head for the exit - Roberto Martinez to Wigan, Paulo Sousa to Leicester and Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool.

In five seasons, he has seen four bosses depart.

But, through every enforced change, Jenkins has moved his club forward, winning promotions through the four divisions, claiming that precious Premier League status and now heading to Swansea's first-ever domestic showpiece in the Capital One League Cup Final against Bradford City on Sunday.

It's a wondrous achievement. For a change, the powerhouses of the English game are notable only by their absence.

In the past decade, at least one from Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal or Tottenham has featured in this final, barring the encounter between Middlesbrough and Bolton in 2004. So it is a rare day to cherish.

The fans wandering along Wembley Way will be full of hope and excitement. The flags will wave with more enthusiasm. The songs will be sung with more gusto.

And the chairman of either side will be wondering if he is going to lose his flourishing boss some day soon. Success has a price and while everyone involved will be quite rightly told to 'enjoy it', drinking from the trophy can leave a bitter-sweet aftertaste.

Over-achieving managers and players attract attention and chequebooks are soon waving in the air.

In the spotlight: Laudrup could lead the Welsh club to their first major domestic trophy

In training: Swansea's players are put through their paces ahead of the Capital One Cup clash with Bradford

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Throughout Swansea's rapid ascent, no manager has stayed with the club for more than three seasons. The norm is fewer than two.

Their current 'star boss', the charismatic and calm Michael Laudrup, is being touted for every big job going - and even some that aren't - with Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City all mentioned.

If he wakes up on Sunday morning to find he is being touted as Sir Alex Ferguson's potential successor at Manchester United, he will have a full set. But that is where Jenkins seems to have achieved an ideal scenario many other clubs can only dream about.

He has set down a template the manager must fit into, not the other way round. Losing Laudrup would not be such a devastating setback.

The financial structure at Swansea is not built on foreign investment or wild spending, but prudent investment.

The football is essentially the same passing game that became the hallmark of the club under Martinez back in 2007 and was adapted by Rodgers and Laudrup along the way.

The Dane may decide to stay. He may think his grounding at Swansea will stand him in good stead. Or, more likely, he may find the challenge of Madrid too alluring to resist if they call. And who could blame him?

But Jenkins says he already has his sights set on possible replacements. I hear Bradford City's Phil Parkinson is a promising young coach.

What about me: Bradford boss Phil Parkinson would fit the bill at Swansea, should Laudrup depart

 

Sure enough, Di Canio's huff calls his bluff

Late one night, Paolo Di Canio stormed into the offices at Swindon Town to tear down some old pictures and recover other memorabilia after quitting the club in an angry huff.

The Italian has painted himself as a martyr, forced out by intolerable interference from the board.

But former club owner Andrew Black presented a more measured portrait of an unmanageable individual who scorned budgets, 'thought he was bigger than the club' and 'was an accident waiting to happen'.

Justified: Paolo Di Canio left Swindon in a huff

Justified: Paolo Di Canio left Swindon in a huff

Black even admitted he was 'pleased' to see him go. Nothing in Di Canio's behaviour contradicts Black's view.

As this newspaper revealed, Swindon had to change the locks after CCTV captured Di Canio's night raid on the County Ground.

Coincidentally, the TV news in the West Country has been reporting that 150 cars in Swindon's city centre had their tyres slashed in the dead of night by a mad, mystery attacker.

It has to be a complete coincidence. Obviously.

 

The sideshow rolls into Paris

The focal point for English and French sporting combat is at Twickenham on Saturday.

There is no other place to be. But an amusing sideshow is taking place across the Channel on Sunday when Marseille visit Paris Saint-Germain.

Hype: France Football published this image of Joey Barton (left) and David Beckham (right) ahead of the clash

Sideshow: Barton (right) and Beckham should go head to head this weekend

It should pit Joey Barton against David Beckham - if Barton is still on the field when Beckham makes his expected debut as a PSG substitute.

The match is not a sell-out, but the press box is overflowing, which tells us something. France Football magazine have also done their best to hype the encounter, with a front cover depicting Beckham as an angel and Barton as a devil.

At least they've got it half-right.

 

Boast of the week

It's difficult to knock the amusing arrogance of Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who claimed he has so little work to do during many matches that 'sometimes I don't even have a shower'. That's cockiness for you.

Cocky: Bayern Munich's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer

Harry's an admirer

Harry Redknapp says that if John Terry leaves Chelsea, 'there will be a queue of clubs as long as your arm to take him on'. I'm guessing Harry's arm is 3ft long. Mine's about the same. That's not a very big queue.

Let's be honest, Gill's hands were tied

Manchester United chief executive David Gill is to depart at the end of the season and many of the tributes commended him for 'allowing Sir Alex Ferguson to do his job'.

I'm sure he is just as amused as I am by the idea that he had a choice.

Arsene's here to stay... can we talk about something else now?

Arsene Wenger is not going to be sacked - and he will honour his contract, which runs until the end of the season in 2014. Can we move on?

Moving the goal posts: Arsene Wenger is staying at Arsenal

 SHOWMAN OF THE WEEK

If you haven't seen Adrien Broner, the WBC world lightweight champion, believe me, you soon will.

The 23-year-old fighter makes Floyd Mayweather look like a shy, self-effacing introvert.

In Atlantic City last weekend, Broner rapped his way to the ring via a microphone while dressed in the kind of robe Liberace would dismiss as 'a bit over the top'.

But after he climbed through the ropes he treated his plucky Welsh opponent, Gavin Rees, with the kind of contempt Benny Hill used to reserve for his bald sidekick, Jackie Wright.

Broner is beyond good. Annoyingly, he has everything in his armoury: power, speed, technical finesse and sublime defensive skills.

You'll love and loathe watching him in equal measure, but you'll definitely watch him.

All's dandy on planet Audley

Audley Harrison is back! Like winter flu, Keith Chegwin and cockroaches, he appears indestructible.

If an asteroid ever obliterates the planet, I fully expect the first television broadcast in a scorched, post-Armageddon landscape to feature Harrison declaring how he has finally been vindicated in his belief that he would one day be crowned world champion.

Chegwin will probably be doing the interview. Having said that, Chegwin might fancy his chances.

One punch would do it. It's a contradiction that a man so fragile inside the ring can be so resilient out of it when it comes to criticism, or even common sense.

However many times Harrison is knocked down, he still pops back up somehow through a fog of scorn to deliver baffling TV interviews forecasting imminent global domination.

He was on Sky Sports declaring that the Prizefighter scrap this weekend is part of some grand plan, just weeks after being knocked out by David Price in the first round.

You'd think the all-too-familiar, self-deluding claptrap about proving the doubters wrong would have played out by now. But in the absence of planetary annihilation, I have a solution.

Someone should just create a new boxing authority especially for him - and declare Harrison the undisputed world champion of the Audley Boxing Organisation.

Then he'll be happy and the men in white coats can quietly lead him away and administer the appropriate medication, leaving Harrison to rock to and fro clutching his ABO belt.

Really? Audley Harrison will be back in the ring... again

 

Nike flailing after hasty Pistorius axing

Nike urgently need to find themselves a new advertising slogan. Having backed Lance Armstrong to the hilt in the face of overwhelming evidence of his serial drug taking, the sportswear manufacturer have now suspended Oscar Pistorius from their books with indecent haste.

Their decision has been made long before any court verdict on whether or not Pistorius's girlfriend was killed in a tragic accident.

Hasty: Oscar Pistorius has been dropped by Nike, before even going on trial

The circus that played out all week is only a bail hearing and yet it feels as if the concept of justice in any future trial is being trampled underfoot by a voracious, rubbernecking mob. Others have been more measured.

BT and The Mineseeker Foundation wisely deferred any decision on their existing sponsorship deals with Pistorius.

Nike elected to do otherwise, but then their Pistorius advertisement stank the place out anyway. It said: 'I Am The Bullet In The Chamber'.

So what should the new Nike catchphrase be? 'Just Do It - Badly'? 'Just Do It - Without Class'?

From the MoBot to the SloBot

Mo Farah is being paid between £100,000 and £250,000 to run only half of the Virgin London Marathon. People are asking why would the sponsors pay him this amount of money?

I think the welter of headlines generated answers that. A few months back the lovely (sadistic) folk at Virgin invited me to take part in the event.

However, one of my knees decided to come out in protest at the idea. But I could still make it halfway like Farah. Maybe I could pick up where he leaves off? From MoBot to SloBot?

Lucrative: Mo Farah is set to make between £100,000 and £250,000 to run half a marathon

  More... Stephen Darby: Can Bradford win the Cup? It will be tough, but we are not here to make up the numbers Something for the weekend: Bradford seek to lift season's first major trophy... Beckham set to take on Barton... Mario's out to sink Inter... and will Barca bounce back? Guest of honour Muamba to present League Cup trophy at Wembley Read the latest Swansea news and views here














Des Kelly: Rafa Benitez rant - let's see if John Terry can do any better

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Chelsea supporters can boo as loudly as they like on Saturday — they’ve paid their money after all. But the first thing to say is that pretty much everything Rafa Benitez said was right.

He was undermined at Chelsea from day one by the bizarre decision to invite him to take charge, only to chop his legs away with the title of Interim Manager.

Benitez said it was a ‘massive mistake’. So did we all.

Speaking out: Benitez caused a storm on Wednesday night when he gave his take on the goings on at Chelsea

    More from Des Kelly...   DES KELLY: Well, nothing lasts forever... it's been a blast! Sportsmail's brilliant columnist bows out after almost a decade at the top 31/05/13   Des Kelly: When it came to the most important tick of his career clock, Sir Alex bowed out at the perfect moment 10/05/13   DES KELLY: The idea that governing bodies are serious about exposing drug cheats is a myth... the cover-up makes my blood boil 03/05/13   Des Kelly: Sorry Liverpool, this isn't a conspiracy by the PM, FA, MI5, British Dental Association, and Society Against Cannibalism in Sport 26/04/13   Des Kelly: An immense river of humanity will flow through London... the marathon must produce mighty roar of defiance 19/04/13   DES KELLY: Fans come a distant second to Cup cash 12/04/13   Des Kelly: Forget his politics... is Paolo really up to the job? 05/04/13   Des Kelly: The evidence is so subtle many missed it... is this bonfire a case of smoke and mirrors? 29/03/13   Des Kelly: British taxpayers have just handed West Ham a stadium worth half a billion pounds... where's my bit of this £630m council house? 22/03/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE  

The Spaniard’s complaint that a section of supporters have created a toxic atmosphere at the club is also correct. Whether it actively undermines the performance of the team is a matter of debate, but the jeers, banners and mood of seething animosity generated certainly cannot help.

At best, they are a distraction; at worst, a huge disincentive.

Yet Benitez was described as having set off on an ‘uncontrolled rant’ in midweek for repeating what every observer, journalist and objective fan has been saying since he walked through the door.

It wasn’t some wild tirade. It was a carefully measured two fingers aimed at the idiocy of his situation. But the resulting ire of some Chelsea supporters is just as illogical as much of what has happened at Stamford Bridge this season.

The fans slaughtering Benitez appear to be strangely unhappy he has noticed their abuse and reacted to it. Funnier still, they seem offended he is offended by their efforts to offend him, I think. It’s all a bit confusing. So the stadium will boil with self-righteous indignation from fans scorning their manager, and they will call for the dismissal of a man who has already said it’s ‘a waste of time’ as he is leaving soon anyway, which essentially proves his point.

For some his departure cannot come soon enough, but what would Chelsea really gain by removing Benitez now? If owner Roman Abramovich makes another change, the likelihood is he will replace his caretaker with that regular nightwatchman and part-time Nosferatu stunt double, Avram Grant. How is that any better?

Benitez is right about something else, too. Many decisions taken at Chelsea of late have been nothing less than ‘massive mistakes’. Add to that some horribly damaging race rows and strange sackings.

The only certainty is Abramovich will walk into the Chelsea boardroom any day now and announce: ‘I’ve changed my mind.’

Waiting in the wings: Abramovich and former Blues boss Avram Grant remain close

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The reply should be: ‘Will it work any better this time?’, or at least it would be if the assembled suits had any sense or balls. Abramovich is always changing his mind, and the workings of the owner’s brain are a constant subject of speculation.

He stares out from the back of his executive box, rarely betraying emotion, unless it is to hail a performance by (former) striker Fernando Torres, the £50million albatross he has hung around the neck of a succession of bosses.

Usually, Abramovich wears his trademark Forrest Gump expression, seemingly clinging to the belief that football ‘is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get’.

Whatever it is, you can be pretty sure he will bite half off, spit it out and put the rest back, hoping no-one notices if he buys an even more expensive selection next time.

But the fans hankering for the return of Jose Mourinho or Roberto Di Matteo appear to forget who fired those managers in the first place. Their memory also blots out the fact that Abramovich put the Spanish boss they despise so much where he is now.

Andre Villas-Boas was another who wasn’t considered capable enough. The young tyro dared to threaten the old guard at the club and was hounded out by that cabal and many of the supporters haranguing Benitez now.

But having been betrayed by Abramovich’s decision to cave in to their demands, I’m sure that AVB is thoroughly enjoying his tussle with Chelsea for a Champions League place right now.

Flourishing: Villas-Boas seems to be enjoying life away from Abramovich at Tottenham

So who is next? Gus Poyet has been mentioned, Gianfranco Zola, too. Ray Wilkins is even in the betting, the same Wilkins that mystifyingly was fired by the club without warning in November 2010. Mourinho, as ever, is on the list. He makes sure of that. But why not just give the job to John Terry. ‘Captain, leader, legend’ says the banner. Let’s see what he’s made of?

Terry is reportedly the man fronting up to Benitez on the training ground, or urging the club to extend the contracts of other players on the books, or being cast as the man who ‘runs the dressing room’, the character any incoming boss needs to get onside if he wants to survive.

One adoring internet fan page describes Terry as: ‘The man who bleeds blue, the man who is a walking-talking symbol of the club itself — Mr. Chelsea.’

Why not try him? Let’s see how the dressing-room politics work then when Terry’s in direct contact with Abramovich about his own job, rather than someone else’s. Let’s see how long Mr Chelsea’s marriage lasts.

Mr Chelsea: Some fans want to see captain John Terry in a player-manager tole

 

Catch Giggs if you can

Ryan Giggs clocks up his 1,000th senior match as a professional footballer on Saturday having signed a new one-year contract to continue playing at Manchester United into his forties.

It is an extraordinary story — one that is turning out to be as long as Lord Of The Rings — of dedication, professionalism and sublime talent.

I was inside the Bernabeu when the Real Madrid crowd rose to acclaim Giggs’ entrance as a United substitute. It was a glorious moment of collective sportsmanship during a fierce Champions League battle, and a timely reminder of the respect Giggs commands across the globe.

Evergreen: Giggs on Friday signed another one-year extension at Manchester United

Wear a daff...

You will see a number of sporting figures wearing yellow daffodil pins on their lapels this weekend. The managers, players and officials are supporting the Marie Curie Great Daffodil Appeal, a charity campaign that raised £6.68million for cancer care last year.

So buy one too and support a fabulous cause.

If you need it, the Twitter hashtag is #wearadaff.

History usually wears rose-tinted glasses and we often fail to appreciate an individual’s gifts until they are gone. But there is no question the Welshman now ranks alongside the club’s all-time greats of Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best, Denis Law, Duncan Edwards, Eric Cantona and Bryan Robson. It’s not even an argument. Not with 33 medals on the table.

So I was going to suggest that you hurry along to a game to catch sight of 39-year-old Giggs while you still can.

He is approaching that age where people start to worry about the phenomenon of ‘ear hair’, restaurant menus suddenly appear to be printed in letters the size of bacteria, and doctors approach you with long plastic tubes saying things like ‘this will only cause mild discomfort’.

But, now I think about it, there’s no need to rush. The way the evergreen Giggs is going you probably have half a dozen years or so yet.

 

Joey Barton distinguished his performance for Marseille against Paris Saint-Germain by repeatedly calling Zlatan Ibrahimovic ‘big nose’.

He also added an appropriate mime, just in case his opponent proved unable to comprehend the insult.

Class apart: Barton couldn't stop Ibrahimovic seeing off Marseille on Wednesday night

Heads up...

Air traffic controllers imposed a no-fly zone over Staffordshire today.

Planes crossing the UK have been re-routed amid fears that the match between Stoke City and West Ham United could be a threat to passing aircraft.

In French, big nose translates as gros nez. Or, as Barton would have it in his Franglais: ‘beeeeeg noozze?’

Of course, Barton is factually correct. Ibrahimovic does have a big nose. In fact, during the match, the striker could have lit a cigar and shielded it from the rain under his considerable hooter, such was the difference in class.

For the record, Ibrahimovic scored twice. PSG beat Marseille 2-0. And Barton is 30 years old, apparently.

 

It was a toss up for the honour of Least Surprising News Item Of The Month between: a) The revelation that abattoirs in Romania weren’t too fussy about what they consider to be ‘meat’ — which is hardly a shock from a place formerly known as Transylvania.

Or b) the widespread lack of amazement that greeted the announcement that snooker star and serial quitter Ronnie O’Sullivan was coming out of retirement after just 10 months.

That’s the trouble with retiring these days. In order to keep yourself in the manner to which you were accustomed in retirement, you have to work.

Back for more: O'Sullivan will defend his world title at the Crucible

  Stepping down: Elliott became the first black footballer to receive a CBE last month

Trial by text...

Paul Elliott has resigned from the Football Association after sending an abusive text to former Charlton footballer Richard Rufus.

One of the angry exchanges over a collapsed business venture contained the n-word. This exchange was private and between two black players, but it seems this is still not OK and Elliott left his post.

Someone had best inform sections of the black community using the n-word of this development since a number of rap artists and movie stars would appear to have fallen foul of a similar ‘crime’.

There is a question of context here.

I genuinely don’t know whether it is intolerable for the word to be used in a row between two black men. What I do know is Elliott has done an enormous amount of work for race relations in football. I also know that these private texts somehow appeared in a national newspaper, which is pretty despicable in itself.

Elliott’s departure is a loss to the FA, but not to the game, as I’m sure he will be back soon.

  More... It's official! There really is Madness at Chelsea as Benitez remains on the ropes Giggs signs new one-year deal to keep on playing for Manchester United beyond 40th birthday O'Sullivan eyes title takeaway! Rocket Ronnie gets the 'buzz' back after playing with Chinese delivery driver Elliot misses out on six-figure salary at Chelsea after N-word rant at Rufus










Gareth Bale is a diver... stop the excuses! Why only call Luis Suarez a cheat? - DES KELLY

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The moment the supremely accomplished British footballer Gareth Bale falls over an imaginary leg during a match, it sparks outbreaks of copycat behaviour right across the land.

Not on our football pitches, but in the nation's television studios and press boxes as pundits trip over themselves, too, in a desperate hunt to find excuses for the player’s behaviour.

Rather than condemn Bale as  a cheat and a diver, every euphemism in the lexicon of Footballspeak is dutifully offered up in an attempt to excuse his deeds.

Falling down (again): Gareth Bale was booked for this dive against Inter Milan on Thursday night

    More from Des Kelly...   DES KELLY: Well, nothing lasts forever... it's been a blast! Sportsmail's brilliant columnist bows out after almost a decade at the top 31/05/13   Des Kelly: When it came to the most important tick of his career clock, Sir Alex bowed out at the perfect moment 10/05/13   DES KELLY: The idea that governing bodies are serious about exposing drug cheats is a myth... the cover-up makes my blood boil 03/05/13   Des Kelly: Sorry Liverpool, this isn't a conspiracy by the PM, FA, MI5, British Dental Association, and Society Against Cannibalism in Sport 26/04/13   Des Kelly: An immense river of humanity will flow through London... the marathon must produce mighty roar of defiance 19/04/13   DES KELLY: Fans come a distant second to Cup cash 12/04/13   Des Kelly: Forget his politics... is Paolo really up to the job? 05/04/13   Des Kelly: The evidence is so subtle many missed it... is this bonfire a case of smoke and mirrors? 29/03/13   Des Kelly: British taxpayers have just handed West Ham a stadium worth half a billion pounds... where's my bit of this £630m council house? 22/03/13   VIEW FULL ARCHIVE  

Accordingly, we are informed that the Spurs player:a) Goes down easily. b) Travels at such speed the slightest contact can affect him.c) Is often merely trying to avoid injury.d) Has an inner ear infection that causes him to lose his balance.e) Was momentarily caught out by the rotation of the Earth.

The ITV pundits examining Tottenham Hotspur’s victory over Inter Milan called on a selection of these alibis, but the remarks essentially amounted to little more than an admission that while Bale might be a diver, nobody wanted to call him a cheat out loud because he’s a pleasant lad and he scores marvellous goals.

But no such courtesies are accorded to Uruguayan Luis Suarez. When he tumbles over nothing and waves his arms about appealing for a foul, he’s slated as a cheat. Not with any subtlety, either, but in great big headlines usually proceeded by the word ‘filthy’ and followed by an exclamation mark.

Even when excuses are offered up for his behaviour, phrases such as ‘he dives because he’s adjusting to the Premier League’ are usually wheeled out.

The subtext here is Suarez only cheats because he’s a foreigner. The chap’s from Uruguay, you see? I mean, you could probably stand around for long enough in South America and see people doing that sort of thing on the streets. Those pesky Latinos just don’t understand the British game.

It is a lousy argument. Suarez isn’t doing anything different to Bale. There is no ‘cultural divide’ on diving. Even if Bale dispatches himself over an invisible boot and forms a very British queue ofone in front of the official to politely insist a molecule of air brushed his ankle and caused hispersonage to topple over, it is still cheating.

Reputation: Luis Suarez has been vilified for diving, but the Liverpool striker has cleaned up his act

Hotshot: Luis Suarez in training at Melwood alongside Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers on Friday

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We just treat the players differently. We choose to vilify the foreigner.

When Suarez and Bale meet on Sunday at Anfield, there is a distinct possibility it could resemble an episode of the primetime show Splash! if the pair parade their least admirable skills.

But it is worth pointing out that while they are playing at a level right now that puts them in contention for the Player of the Year award, only one of them has made an effort to clean up their act.

Suarez is no longer the arch-villain of the Premier League. As things stand — and it certainly makes a pleasant change when he does — the Uruguayan appears to have heeded the entreaties of his manager Brendan Rodgers and senior figures in the Liverpool dressing room to cut out the antics and concentrate on applying his talents.

Bale, however, continues to try his luck and the patience of officials.

His yellow card in the Europa League tie against Inter was the sixth he has collected for diving in the past 15 months and the fourth this season.

I doubt there has been a player in the game that has had half a dozen cautions for ‘simulation’ in that space of time, not even Cristiano Ronaldo during his formative ‘showpony’ years.

But Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas admitted he was pleased Bale was booked. This meant he was clear of cautions for the competition’s latter stages, and he added: ‘With this result we would have asked him to get the yellow card to be clean and ready for the last eight.’

Yes, the manager was glad his player cheated.

Going down: Bale has earned four bookings for diving this season alone - and six in the last 15 months

In fact, if he hadn’t cheated by diving, he’d have asked him to cheat another way ‘to clean it all up’. Anyone else need a shower?

LAST WEEK: American basketball star and mobile staple-gun target Dennis Rodman visits North Korea to meet dictator Kim Jong-un and ‘promote world peace’. 

THIS WEEK: North Korea threatens to launch a  pre-emptive nuclear strike on the USA in time, possibly as soon as Monday. 

We can only pray Rodman does not have any imminent plans to visit the Middle East.

 

Chelsea are currently testing a new missile on behalf of the North Koreans. It is called the Torres. It doesn’t work and it can’t be fired.

Just as depressing are those who seek to justify this pathetic charade as ‘part and parcel of the game’.

The usually sensible Gary Neville, a hugely experienced defender and now a Sky Sports pundit, had this to say: ‘If you are disgusted by Bale diving, go sing in the choir, go play the violin, or play the recorder.’

Actually, I’d even pick up the infernal bagpipes rather than be forced to accept that kind of cheating as the norm.

We know it happens, we see it in every game, but that doesn’t mean — to extend Neville’s strange  analogy — we have to beat a drum for it.

Coming over all worldly wise and claiming the rules don’t really matter in this cynical age is simply preposterous.

There has to be some honour in sport, otherwise it is irrelevant and futile. It doesn’t matter what the excuses are, it doesn’t matter where the participants come from, a cheat is a cheat and we should always say so.

 

Hopefully they don’t serve horse meat at Old Trafford, but in midweek they certainly dished up a huge ham. Jose Mourinho stepped into the so-called Theatre of Dreams and put on the worst acting performance since… whatever Madonna’s last movie was.

He pouted, he played the statesman and grandly announced ‘the best team lost’ before heading back to his dressing room in a puff of face powder. It was a show designed to convince the Manchester United hierarchy that he can be trusted not to start a civil war, as he has done at all his other clubs, if he were ever made boss at Old Trafford. We’ll find out if they have been taken in. One day.

More ham than Tesco: Jose Mourinho put on a show at Old Trafford on Tuesday night

  Paul Gascoigne is leaving his drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic after just one month. Either Gazza has been a model patient and is now equipped to fight his addictions, or it is all horribly premature.

Of course, we wish him well. But we know he is leaving because the story appeared in a national newspaper, possibly in return for a few bob.

Next comes the interview where he vows to ‘never touch the stuff again’, followed by some mawkish TV chat-show slop.

Then the days and weeks will pass, the fuss will die down, Gascoigne will be left to his own devices and, despite all the good will and his absentee benefactors, the miserable cycle will start again. 

I hope I’m wrong but I fear not.

The 2022 con is on

Football is a wonderful sport. The trouble is it is often presided over by duplicitous, deceitful charlatans. To save time here, let’s just call these people ‘FIFA’.

When this governing body handed the Arab state and outdoor barbeque known as Qatar the rights to host the 2022 World Cup finals, nobody could discern why.

With temperatures averaging 41°C in the summer, players always faced the prospect of spontaneous combustion should they risk anything as strenuous as running after a ball.

So the Qataris’ original proposals to counter the heat included air-conditioned stadiums covered by floating inflatable sun shields, and other fanciful schemes such as towing the planet further away from the sun for a month.

But FIFA seem to be inexorably heading towards a much more mundane solution. They’re going to shift the entire competition to the winter instead, destroy every domestic league programme in the process, and pay all those involved enough cash to keep their mouths shut about it.

FIFA categorically said this was not an option before the vote. Now it’s being peddled as the only solution to a problem they created themselves.

It’s a scandal. A massive, multi-billion pound con trick. And, like the best swindles, it will take place in full view and we’ll still all wonder how it happened.

 

Sir Alex Ferguson could be fined by UEFA for not attending the mandatory Champions League press conference after Manchester United’s controversial defeat by Real Madrid.

It was probably wise on his part, since  he would have racked up a greater fine sounding off about Nani’s dismissal than his self-imposed silence may cost.

But, for the entertainment value alone, it was a shame. Especially when you hear Fergie’s talent for delivering a well-timed insult.

Asked about Chelsea’s interim manager, Rafa Benitez, Ferguson replied: ‘I’m not going to kick anyone when they’re lying down. It’s not my style.’

Not kick anyone? That boot was higher than Nani’s.

Sly as ever: Sir Alex Ferguson at his press conference at Carrington on Friday morning

  Becks deserves same credit as corner flag

Did you see all the coverage chronicling the efforts of a Champions League hero?

‘Beckham flies flag’ cried a giddy headline this week, betraying the sort of blind fandom even Justin Bieber would find excessive.

It referred to French tourist and minimum wage temp David Beckham. He received the plaudits as Paris Saint-Germain, the club he has adopted for 20 weeks, reached the quarter-finals following a draw against Valencia.

Benched: David Beckham played no part in PSG's progress to the Champions League quarter-finals

According to one report, he was the ‘centre of attention’. If you even bothered to make a cursory examination of the facts, the total idiocy of this remark became as transparent as Posh Spice when held up to the light.

Beckham remained on the bench throughout and played no part whatsoever in the entire 90 minutes of the match.

Yet he was still said to be ‘flying the flag’.

On that basis, you might argue the corner flag also deserved a mention for its part in the victory. At least it was on the pitch.

  More... Suarez vs Bale: Two Player of the Year favourites go head-to-head on Sunday - but who's better? Something for the weekend: Old Trafford casts shadow over Suarez v Bale... Harry's ready to put the jitters up relegation rivals... and what price Barnsley to upset Man City? Charged! Arsenal fan who threw banana at Bale will appear in court I'm GLAD Bale was booked! Star man will miss Inter return leg after 'dive'... but boss AVB is pleased










Premier League clubs doomed in Europe, until next time - DES KELLY

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English football is in crisis. Just look at the failure of this nation’s clubs in the Champions League. The statistics are damning. They show that no Premier League side has won the competition in a dismal run of failure stretching back to… er, what is it now? Oh, yes — 10 whole months.

No club from this country has been crowned champions of Europe since last May. What a shocking indictment that is. Some will try to gloss over this demise by pointing out there hasn’t been a final since last May. But failure is failure.

We can only shake our heads and wonder where that long-lost golden age of 43 weeks ago has gone to. Those heady days when we were still unable to leave the front door unlocked, a pint of beer was about the same price as it is now and we had complete faith in our game. When did it all change?

Not so bad: It is just 10 months since Chelsea were crowned kings of Europe

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The fact that no English side was involved in the Champions League quarter-final draw for the first time since 1996 provided the cue for a Dad’s Army of Private Frazers to run around impersonating the wild-eyed undertaker crying ‘We’re Doomed!’

Suddenly, the Premier League was washed up, those pesky continentals playing over here were less technically proficient than those pesky continentals playing over there and the world order had changed for ever.

But if the presence of Galatasaray or Paris Saint-Germain in the last eight ahead of an English club leads you to believe the Premier League is worse than Turkey’s Super Lig, or that our clubs need to take their lead from France’s underwhelming Ligue 1, then I suspect you might also assume I’m not the sort to employ sarcasm in an argument.

The most shameless prophet of doom was Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, who announced that the exit of his side from Europe was the sign of a wider malaise.

‘It’s a massive wake-up call for us to have Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal all out before the quarter-finals,’ said Wenger. ‘The rest of European football has caught up with us and we have to take that into consideration about the way we think about the future of the Premier League.’

Of course, the absence of a club in the latter stages is disappointing. But when it comes to ‘massive wake-up calls’ there is no manager more in need of a bucket of cold water over the head than the Gunners boss.

Wenger is sleepwalking if he thinks Arsenal are merely the victims of some domestic decline. If so, he should have taken advantage of it with a trophy or two over the past eight years.

Are you sure, Arsene? Wenger deflected the attention away from his side's woeful defending at the Emirates

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The more sensible among us know he was craftily deflecting attention away from his own failings. There was nothing collective about the exits of the English clubs. The Gunners proved they were quite capable of making a mess of their European campaign all by themselves.

Wenger’s team failed because they betrayed their familiar flaws. The defensive performance in the first leg against Bayern Munich was so woeful they looked like the sort of team that could not form a pre-match huddle without being overpowered.

When the pressure was off in the return they showed they can perform on their day. Unfortunately, that day is often a day too late.

Put it this way, I didn’t hear Sir Alex Ferguson or Roberto Mancini making excuses about everything being worse.

There was nothing to separate Manchester United and Real Madrid until the Nani red card; Manchester City could console themselves with the theory that they landed in one of the most formidable groups for years, even if they didn’t rise to the challenge and played as if they’ve never been abroad before. While Chelsea are an ongoing implosion that nobody can predict.

But who does Wenger believe the Premier League should learn lessons from in the future? Is it France, where Qatar’s billions bought a place at Europe’s top table for Paris Saint-Germain and Zlatan  Ibrahimovic is on a salary of £250,000 a week?

Or maybe Turkey, where Galatasaray bust the bank to recruit veteran Didier Drogba and the wandering mercenary Wesley Sneijder?

Turkish delight: Didier Drogba has helped Galatasaray reach the last eight

It can’t be Spain, where two clubs rake in practically all of the television cash. Or is he thinking of following the example of their surprise quarter-finalists, Malaga, currently banned from European football next season after defaulting on their debts?

The truth is this season is an aberration. The more significant statistic is the fact that there has been an English club in seven of the last eight Champions League finals.

That dominance will not continue. It never does and new powerhouses are springing up in Europe. But the Premier League will continue to punch its weight in the future. One way to help ensure it happens would be for Wenger to get his own house in order, rather than complain about the rest of the street.

  Afraid to say, Sepp's right

Wash your hands after reading this item. If you look at it online, use eyedrops.* For I am about to confess something quite repulsive and I don’t wish to be responsible for unwittingly passing on any contagion.

There’s no easy way to say this, but this week I’m afraid I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with FIFA president Sepp Blatter. It is a horrible burden for anyone to bear, like finding you are a distant relative of Jim Davidson, or that someone has posted a video of you drunkenly dancing to ‘Play That Funky Music, White Boy’ on YouTube.

At odds: Blatter (right) does not agree with Platini's restructuring of the European Championships

Sir Alex Ferguson was none too keen to discover his injury-prone defender Rio Ferdinand has been recalled to the England squad. Now we’ll find out how much Rio really wants to play for his country...  

But when Blatter laid into UEFA chief Michel Platini about the hideous plan to turn the 2020 European Championship into a multi-venue circus with no host nation, I could not quibble with a single thing the old codger said.

‘A tournament should be played in one country,’ protested Blatter. ‘That is how you create identity and euphoria. They have fragmented the 2020 tournament. So it is not a European Championship any more. It has to have a different name. Such a Euro lacks heart and soul.’

Sadly, there is said to be no known cure for Blatteritis. You can only clean the affected area with powerful antiseptic and hope for the best.

*To all those about to send an email or tweet saying: ‘I scrub after every item on this page’, save yourself the electricity. I’m ahead of you.

 

Paul Gascoigne is out of rehab and, predictably, has stepped right back on the path to self-destruction…I mean, ‘the path to recovery’.

In a series of unsettling interviews, Gazza revealed that he intends to enter the I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here camp to ‘keep his recovery on track’. He even wants to host his own chat show (one possible working title is Hic!).

Get me out of here: Gascoigne says he wants to appear on the ITV reality show

‘It’s about staying sensible,’ Gazza said, while sounding anything but.

Gascoigne then countered any comparison between his situation and George Best’s by saying: ‘I’m sitting here — and George has passed away, God bless him. That’s one comparison.’

Yes, but Best passed away aged 59 and Gascoigne is 45. Let us pray we never return to that quote again for at least 14 years.

 Rogue Moss is evergreen

There was an unseemly fuss over reports that motor-racing legend Sir Stirling Moss declared that he did not want a ‘poofter’ to play his character in any film of his life.

‘I’ve spent my whole life chasing crumpet. It wouldn’t obviously work if I was played by that lovely chap Kenneth Williams, who played upon being poofy,’ he said, missing the point about acting entirely. Moss added he’d prefer ‘the guy from Skyfall’ (wouldn’t we all, darling?)

People instantly queued up to be upset — since we live in an age where any opinion can provoke a froth of outrage.

Clanger: Moss

Lovely: Williams

I’ve met and interviewed Moss. He is a charming, debonair, old-school daredevil. In his heyday, he was the sort who could land a plane without spilling his martini, disappear into the team trailer with a pitlane groupie, jump behind a wheel, race at 180mph in a car with no seatbelts, and depart from the winners’ podium clutching a magnum of champagne and two more pitlane models.

Moss has never been ‘politically correct’, but he still picked up a knighthood and an OBE along the way.

He offended some people and what he said was downright daft.

But anyone who expects an 83-year-old ex-Formula One playboy rogue to act as a moral compass probably needs to take a look at themselves, too.

 

Wales winger George North says his countrymen ‘want a bloodbath’ in Saturday’s Six Nations decider against England. A physical scrap might actually play into English hands, but it’s the kind of trash talk that doesn’t bode well for the contest.

Bloodbath: North has stoked the fire ahead of the Six Nations decider

Too many matches in this Championship have been tedious wars of attrition settled by a referee awarding arbitrary penalties for offences in the scrum. During the Welsh victory over the Scots, I heard the official’s name mentioned more than any player involved as he blew his whistle every 30 seconds or so.

Whoever emerges triumphant from all the noise and fury in Cardiff, all I ask is the players forget about spilling blood and serve up something that stirs it instead.

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