BBC BLOGS - Phil McNulty

Archives for June 2009

Who will be market movers?

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Phil McNulty | 10:30 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

Manchester City's "stratospheric" efforts to muscle in on the Premier League's elite Gang of Four have set a searing pace in the summer transfer market.

Gareth Barry has already been snared from Aston Villa, along with Blackburn Rovers striker Roque Santa Cruz - but they increasingly appear to be mere warm-up acts for the forthcoming main attractions.

Carlos Tevez looks certain to swap Manchester sides by exchanging United for City - a notion that would have been laughed out of Old Trafford 12 months ago - while Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o would be elevated to one of the world's highest-paid players in the increasingly unlikely event that he takes the Abu Dhabi riches on offer at Eastlands.

Arsenal's Kolo Toure and Everton defender Joleon Lescott are two other priority names on Mark Hughes' shopping list. And all the smart money is on the pair being successfully recruited to add some foundation to the attacking riches City intend having at their disposal.

City may be claiming the headlines and signing the largest cheques - while neighbours United bank the biggest in receiving £80m from Real Madrid for Cristiano Ronaldo - but it is a safe bet that the rest of the Premier League will not be shy in spending to reshape their squads for next season.

So who will be the prime movers in the market as clubs prepare to return to pre-season training this week?

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Is Owen still worth a gamble?

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Phil McNulty | 09:51 UK time, Monday, 15 June 2009

As Cristiano Ronaldo parties with Paris Hilton in Los Angeles in preparation for his coronation as Real Madrid's latest galactico, spare a thought for one of his predecessors in that elite group.

It was the summer of 2004 and Michael Owen was the Premier League superstar lauded by Real president Florentino Perez, the man who signed off the world record £80m bid for Ronaldo, after his capture from Liverpool.

Owen was handed his Real shirt by the legendary Alfredo di Stefano and Peres greeted him with a message he is likely to repeat when Ronaldo arrives in Madrid: "Signing him is following in our tradition. He fits perfectly into the Real Madrid culture."

How times change. While Ronaldo's history-making price tag did not even make Real blink, Owen is forced to send out a buyer's guide to potential purchasers reminding them of the talent that was once a magnet for the world's biggest clubs.

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Man Utd right to sell Ronaldo

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Phil McNulty | 09:56 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

Sir Alex Ferguson once claimed he would never sell Real Madrid a virus let alone Cristiano Ronaldo - but a cheque for £80m holds unique powers of persuasion for Manchester United and their manager.

Ferguson infamously put down Real's pursuit of Ronaldo last summer with the words: "Do you think I would get into a contract with that mob? Absolutely no chance."

And yet Ferguson, who has never turned his back on a tough choice and made it his mission to keep Ronaldo from The Bernabeu the last time Real came calling, is unlikely to have lingered long in striking a deal with "that mob" this time.

Ferguson has a sure touch when it comes to sensing a player's era is over at Old Trafford, and he will have detected all the vital signs from Ronaldo last season that it was time to part.

Real's world record bid will ease any pain of separation - and makes this the right deal at the right time for Ferguson and United.

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Capello close to World Cup goal

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Phil McNulty | 00:51 UK time, Thursday, 11 June 2009

At Wembley Stadium

Fabio Capello's public stance is a stone-faced, unblinking insistence that England's mission to qualify for next summer's World Cup is not yet accomplished.

And yet even Capello's notoriously cold and calculating mind will struggle to come up with a formula that results in England missing the plane to South Africa next summer after the demolition of Andorra.

England would need to develop a strain of incompetence and amateurism on an Andorran scale to fail now after a seventh successive win put them 10 points clear of Croatia in Group Six.

If industrial action on the underground meant England's fans had it tough - and a wonderful turn out of almost 58,000 was testimony to their enduring loyalty and optimism - then Capello's players had it easy.

The suffering of the journey to Wembley and the grim prospect of car park gridlock on the way home almost made an England goal-fest compulsory. Luckily, they were aided by opponents who downed tools as effectively as the RMT.

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Capello & Kazakhs satisfied

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Phil McNulty | 23:25 UK time, Saturday, 6 June 2009

Almaty, Kazakhstan

Fabio Capello gave a nod to Almaty's image-makers with a glowing recommendation for the National Museum and England's coach ended a tortuous trip to Kazakhstan three points closer to World Cup qualification.

It was smiles all round in the musty, over-crowded room where Capello pored over a satisfactory conclusion to England's visit to this eastern outpost of European football.

Capello did not make this 7,000-mile round trip to do the tourist bit, but he was happy to oblige England's welcoming Kazakh hosts one final time before sweeping away from the Central Stadium en route to the plane back to London.

Business is business and the only real Almaty keepsake Capello wanted accompanying him on that long flight was a sixth successive win in Group Six and the prospect of spending next summer in South Africa coming into sharper focus.

And it was duly delivered, despite early alarms, with another prime example of the pragmatism that is becoming the trademark of Capello's England reign.

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England embrace Almaty mission

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Phil McNulty | 15:03 UK time, Friday, 5 June 2009

Almaty, Kazakhstan

England's main mission on their long trek east to Kazakhstan is to take another stride towards next summer's World Cup in South Africa - but diplomacy is also on the Football Association's agenda.

While coach Fabio Capello and his backroom team make adjustments to combat the effects of jetlag from the 3,500-mile journey, the FA has been ensuring England's warm welcome off the field in Almaty has been reciprocated.

England's presence in Almaty has been the catalyst for another demonstration of the power of the Premier League.

A group of Kazakhstan-based Liverpool fans gathered outside England's hotel as they made the short journey to the Central Stadium on Friday, and the colours of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal were prominent in the crowd as they went through their work out.

This game has gripped the imagination of Almaty and the whole of Kazakhstan, and the FA has taken steps to ensure they embrace the interest they have created.

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England play part in Kazakh history

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Phil McNulty | 12:15 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009

Almaty, Kazakhstan

England's 7,000-mile round trip to Almaty stretches far beyond the 90 minutes of football that will be played out at the Central Stadium on Saturday - it is an historic and symbolic moment for Kazakhstan.

The presence of England superstars David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard has been warmly embraced in European football's most Eastern point. Fabio Capello's players are often mobbed by fans on foreign soil for souvenir photographs - and here local journalists were at the front of the queue.

Kazakhstan will not qualify for the World Cup, so the importance of this match transcends next summer's showpiece in South Africa. It is an opportunity to put a part of Kazakhstan on public view and demonstrate its development.

The match is a 26,000 sell-out with prices ranging from 2,000 Tenge to 12,000 Tenge (around £8 to £48), with demand from regions outside Almaty mostly unsatisfied, meaning far more could have been sold.

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Barry gets England talking

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Phil McNulty | 13:48 UK time, Wednesday, 3 June 2009


Gareth Barry had plenty of time to ponder his decision to quit Aston Villa for Manchester City as he flew almost 3,500 miles to Europe's Eastern extremity.

Barry was part of England's squad that travelled on Wednesday to Kazakhstan's second city, Almaty, where they will play a World Cup qualifier on Saturday night. As European trips go, this is football's longest and Barry's preparations were interrupted by a deal that will have caused plenty of mid-air turbulence among his team-mates.

Steven Gerrard had hoped the midfield partnership that is expected to propel England further along the route to South Africa in this oil-rich part of Eurasia would be transported from Almaty to Anfield next season.

Instead, almost as the words left Gerrard's lips, Barry was concluding a deal that takes him to Eastlands and a club not even in Europe next season - flying directly in the face of his long-stated desire for Champions League football.

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