THE comparison that England boss Fabio Capello made on his own plight and that of Italian national manager Marcello Lippi is understandable – but doesn’t really stand up when you look at the players involved.
“I have (Michael) Owen as a tormentor, with Lippi it is (Antonio) Cassano. Everyone has one,” said Capello, referring to the fact that both managers have resisted the pressure from the football media to include these players in their squads.
In truth Capello probably has the harder choice to make.
In Owen he is trying to weigh up whether he should involve a striker proven at international level, as the United front-runner’s 40 goals from 89 caps illustrate, against the softly spoken front-runner’s ability to pick up injuries for fun.
In Lippi’s case he is thinking over whether to gamble on Cassano’s current stunning form for upwardly-mobile Sampdoria against a long history of scandal and controversy that has surrounded Toni over his seasons at Roma and Real Madrid.
Such is Cassano’s talent for causing trouble that he was once wonderfully described as being ‘so hot-headed that they probably have to put fire retardant in his hair gel’.
However, something tells me that between them, Capello and Lippi are such seasoned and pragmatic campaigners that the outcome in both camps will be the same – Owen and Cassano will share the same fate of watching the events out in South Africa next summer unfold from the comfort of their living room sofas.
THE history books show that all empires come to an end.
After last weekend’s latest tirade against a referee by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, I do wonder whether the cracks are beginning to show at Old Trafford.
It would seem that patience among the men in the middle is finally beginning to wear thin when it comes to Ferguson – and it could be a telling end to the ‘relationship’ that those who don’t support the Red Devils perceive to have existed for many seasons.
While in England we as ever remain guarded when it comes to suggesting bias, in Italy they have no such qualms.
For years the players and supporters of Juventus have been habitually referred to as ‘gobbi’ – the nickname meaning hunchbacks.
This is not quite the straight-forward insult it appears.
Hunchbacks are regarded as lucky in Italy and the insinuation made by anti-Juve fans on the peninsula is that the Turin club always seem to get the decisions that matter – quite simply referees have always favoured the men in black and white.
Since the inception of the Premier League, United have at times been perceived by some non-Reds to have gained the ‘rub of the green’ in a similar manner.
However, Ferguson’s recent attacks on Alan Wiley’s fitness (physical) and Andre Marriner’s fitness (in terms of experience) might just have been the straws to break the camel’s back.
Former referee Jeff Winter even went so far as saying that Ferguson does not understand the laws of the game and that ‘there are signs that his temper is getting worse’.
For the referees it has been like Chinese water torture with Ferguson over recent seasons, and of the 18 whistlers who can take charge of United’s Premier League games this season only seven have escaped the wrath of the United boss. Of those seven the majority have never taken charge of a United game.
While United fans do not seem to be worried that their glorious leader may be becoming a loose cannon, I would have thought there were grounds for them to be concerned.
Firstly, there does not seem to be a personality at United who could pull Ferguson into line should the need arise – he does indeed seem to be bigger than the club.
Secondly, if I was a United fan (which I’m not) I would be worried that history could repeat itself when Ferguson does step down (I cannot imagine for a second that he will be removed from the position).
When Sir Matt Busby walked away in 1969 the job proved too much for Wilf McGuinness, who barely lasted a year, and after a short return by Busby the reign of Frank O’Farrell was almost as short and sowed the seeds for the Reds relegation from the top flight in 1974.
While I’m not suggesting United’s fall from grace would be quite so dramatic on Ferguson’s departure, you do have to wonder how they will fill his shoes – and I am sure those regarded as candidates to take the hotseat at the Theatre Of Dreams will be thinking long and hard about the implications of taking over the mantle.
IT WAS understandable that the focus would fall on Gareth Ellis in the build up to tomorrow’s Four Nations rugby league clash between England and Australia at Wigan’s DW Stadium.
With the former Wakefield and Leeds star currently plying his trade with Wests Tigers in Sydney he is marked out as the man who can give England the ‘insider’ edge on the Aussies.
Fortunately Ellis is unlikely to react in the same way as the last player who was touted as the man to undo the Kangaroos – one Adrian Morley.
Mozza, then of Sydney City Roosters, entered the 2003 home series against the old enemy having been hyped up as the man who could fire up Great Britain for success.
Sadly the second rower was so fired up that he managed to catch Robbie Kearns with a high shot after just 12 seconds and earned a place in the record books as the fastest sending off in the history of Test matches.
However, Ellis has gone on record as saying: “They are great players, but they are not supermen.
“I have seen the brilliance of some players, but they also knock on and miss tackles and make the same mistakes as I do.”
After taking in the first round of Four Nations matches, I remain to be convinced that we have reached the standards required to deny the Aussies and New Zealand their re-match of the World Cup final.
While England eventually discovered good enough form to see off France, the intensity of the antipodean clash at The Stoop was just incredible.
If England manage to just live with the Kangaroos and the Kiwis, to me that would be a huge step forward – but I would be very happy if our guys go out there and prove me wrong!