Interesting & eventful

Fabio Capello (right), the new England football coach, shakes hands with the English Football Association’s Chief Executive, Brian Barwick, during a press conference.-AP Fabio Capello (right), the new England football coach, shakes hands with the English Football Association’s Chief Executive, Brian Barwick, during a press conference.

Fabio Capello becomes the new England manager. A sensible choice but why the massive Italian entourage? What need of a fitness coach for an international team, asks Brian Glanville.

About the football year 2007, one thing can hardly be in dispute. The clean living, immaculate, highly-gifted young Brazilian, Kaka, very justly became world player of the year. Not to mention European footballer of the year.

The former title almost automatically to follow. Kaka represents Brazilian football at its best, its most adventurous, its most innovative. Even to a manager as inclined to caution as Dunga, never the most self-expressive of players in his international days, Kaka is an essential and potentially match-winning figure. With Milan, he is simply irreplaceable, so capable of scoring goals, from his position just behind the firing line which win games that otherwise might elude his team.

No other player came close to him in the European vote, but Ronaldo, Manchester United’s Portuguese winger is another footballer of immense talent and a superb source of entertainment.

Tall, strong, a master of the free-kick and formidable even in the air, Ronaldo has been the salient star of the Manchester United team which is still in contention for the European Champions Cup and the Premier League title.

Speaking of which, I have no hesitation in repeating the name I gave this League when it was so controversially and in my view shamefully initiated in an unholy collusion between Graham Kelly, then the chief executive of the Football Association, for the leading clubs, of the then English First Division.

Television money has since poured in by the millions so that now, the clubs in the top league are swimming in money. Chelsea of course, hardly need it; they are still subsidised to a massive extent, their former vast debt a mere memory, by the so-called oligarch, the Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich.

Not that it has been by any means all smooth sailing at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho, you might say, was virtually on his way out the day Aston Villa in Birmingham scored their second goal against Chelsea in a 2-0 win, and Abramovich immediately and sulkily walked out of the director’s box. Not long after that Mourinho departed. Reasons were given. The team had not been doing well or playing bright football. But this had a great amount to do with the injuries to its essential component, Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast, a centre-forward of tremendous power, efficiency and drive, deadly with both head and foot. It was a major blow to Chelsea, when towards the turn of the year he was not only injured, but insisted on a knee operation which they wanted him to postpone, with a view to being fit to play in the African Cup of Nations when fit again. Which, in common with other African stars of the Premiership, such as Chelsea’s tough little midfielder Essien and Portsmouth’s Nwankwo Kanu and Utaka, would be denied to their English clubs in January for weeks on end.

Years ago I once asked Ken Bates, then the domineering owner of Chelsea why he wouldn’t go looking for players in sub-Saharan Africa. His answer, pertinently enough, was because the club could always be liable to lose them when their countries demanded their presence for this competition or that.

Michel Platini has become the new, much younger, President of UEFA, full of ideas. I’m sorry that he could not get everything he wanted regarding the European Champions Cup which is so utterly misnamed. He would have liked to cut entrants to a couple per country rather than four. It now does at least come down to three but that is still far too many. The once interesting and populist European Cupwinners’ Cup has been killed, the UEFA Cup is a farce. How ludicrous that clubs knocked out of the European Champions Cup can enter it some halfway through and as often as not, win it.

England won’t be taking part in the European Championship finals. This, though they were given a wonderful 11th hour chance by the gallant little Israeli team with nothing to strive for but pride beating Russia in Tel Aviv. The Russians under Guus Hiddink have been overall a disappointment. England beat them easily at Wembley and only McClaren’s absurd selection policy and defensive tactics condemned England to a 2-1 defeat in the return in Moscow. Overall I cannot see it being an impressive tournament in Austria — whose team is so weak that there has been a movement to withdraw it and the country as co-hosts from the finals — and Switzerland.

Scotland, under the management of McLeish, who promptly jumped ship for English money just after his promising team had been knocked out of the Euros, were deeply unlucky to lose in Glasgow to Italy in their final game, to a goal which should never have been allowed. Only a blind or demented linesman, right on top of the incident on the right flank of the Italian attack could have decided that Scotland’s Hutton had fouled Chiellini rather than the other way around. The resultant free kick was headed in for the winner by full-back Christian Panucci. But the Scots had only themselves to blame for an expansive defeat in Georgia in their previous European game, against a team which included three teenagers.

Milan, easily outdistanced in Serie A by Inter, largely as a result of having points deducted for their previous malfeasance, duly got their revenge on Liverpool in the European Champions Final, but for me there was further proof that Rafa Benitez is a much over-rated manager. He had the luck of the devil two years earlier, in Istanbul, when he got his first-half tactics hopelessly wrong, going 3-0 down. In the second-half he at last decided to mark Kaka who had been running wild and free, and Liverpool hit back to 3-3 to win on penalties. In the 2007 final, Benitez got things wrong again, inexplicably deciding not to use the rapid Craig Bellamy against the ageing Milan central defence, and foolishly deploying his key midfielder, Steven Gerrard in what the Italians call a three-quarter role, just behind the spearhead attack, meaning that, instead of being able to thunder through in his usual way, he was obliged, as often as not, to take the ball with his back to goal.

This season, Liverpool made a dismal beginning to their European group even managing to lose at home to the struggling Marseille team. But they rallied in their last games, with an 8-0 win against Besiktas — who had beaten them in Turkey — and a 4-0 crushing of Marseille, in France. Benitez, constantly asking for more money to spend on transfers despite the millions made available to him by Liverpool’s American owners, which enabled him to buy the splendid striker, Fernando Torres from Atletico Madrid, has seriously been dicing with death, risking dismissal. Recent results would seem to have consolidated his position. But Liverpool now seem to have dropped their grandiose plans to build a huge new stadium away from Anfield. Money these days is too tight.

Meanwhile, the Greed Is Good league continues on its amoral way. The former Thailand President Thaksin Shinawatra, accused of instigating murder and torture and of peculating vast sums of money, was welcomed as the new owner by an almost bankrupt Manchester City; without an official word of condemnation from the Premiership or the Football Association. Money talks indeed.

Fabio Capello, whom I’ve known and liked for 35 years, becomes the new England manager. A sensible choice but why the massive Italian entourage? What need of a fitness coach for an international team?

FIFA remain shameless. In a USA court their two representatives Jerome Valcke and Chuck Blazer were excoriated by the judge as liars; in the case which stopped FIFA denying their contract with Mastercard to change to Visa. Briefly suspended, Valcke is now the senior FIFA executive!