BBC BLOGS - Phil McNulty

Archives for November 2011

Bent exit halted Bruce's progress

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Phil McNulty | 23:12 UK time, Wednesday, 30 November 2011

When Sunderland chairman Ellis Short was approached by a disgruntled supporter on his way out of The Stadium of Light after Saturday’s defeat to Wigan Athletic, feelings were mutual.

“We’re not happy” announced the fan, who was met with a brisk response from the American billionaire as he said: “And do you think I am?”

If Sunderland manager Steve Bruce feared his tenure on Wearside was in deep trouble, that simple message from the man who took a more hands-on role at his club in October will have confirmed it.

Short’s unhappiness led him to sack Bruce on Wednesday night and complete a remarkable fall from grace after the promise of his early work at Sunderland.

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Andre Villas-Boas and Chelsea enter crucial stage

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Phil McNulty | 10:50 UK time, Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The sight of a Chelsea fan marching into Stamford Bridge clutching a copy of "The Tibetan Art Of Positive Thinking" could be taken as a sign of these troubled times.

Not necessarily the normal pre-match reading at Chelsea - but these are not normal days at a club searching in vain for old powers and influence as Liverpool sent them emphatically out of the Carling Cup.

And whether it comes from Tibet or Tooting Bec, manager Andre Villas-Boas must find what he is looking for within the next seven days or risk further scrutiny from Chelsea's notoriously impatient owner Roman Abramovich.

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Speed the model professional on and off the pitch

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Phil McNulty | 15:25 UK time, Sunday, 27 November 2011

The sense of shock that cloaked the entire football community after the death of Wales manager Gary Speed was an accurate measure of the esteem in which he was held.

At Anfield, Liverpool supporters impeccably observed a minute's silence for the boyhood Evertonian who once headed an equaliser in a Merseyside derby at the Kop end.

The silence was also to pay respects to Luca Jones, the son of Liverpool keeper Brad Jones, following the five-year-old's recent death from leukaemia - but old partisanships were willingly set aside in memory of Speed before the meeting with Manchester City.

A sense of loss was palpable as Liverpool's Wales striker Craig Bellamy withdrew from the game at Anfield following the death of the man who was assisting his renaissance for club and country.

Speed, who was found hanged aged 42, won respect throughout the game for an exemplary playing career - and appeared to be on course to carve a similar path in management with a rapidly maturing Wales team.

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Van Persie proves his worth again

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Phil McNulty | 07:49 UK time, Thursday, 24 November 2011

Emirates Stadium was almost deserted as Roger Federer and Thierry Henry stood pitchside, obliging the final autograph hunters and posing for pictures.

The sporting superstars had brought a touch of A-List sporting celebrity to Arsenal's Champions League meeting with Borussia Dortmund - and were able to show their appreciation for another master of his craft in the shape of Robin van Persie.

The schedule of the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena allowed Federer to indulge his passion for football, while Henry was back at his former club as he takes a break from duties with New York Red Bulls.

And while Federer and Henry have graced some of sport's greatest stages, they were very much the support act on Wednesday night as the 28-year-old Van Persie continued a remarkable sequence of form with the goals that put Arsenal into the knockout stages of the Champions League yet again.

The Dutchman once again emphasised why he has become close to a priceless commodity for the Gunners by taking his goals tally to 38 in 41 matches this year.

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Abramovich must stand firm behind Villas-Boas

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Phil McNulty | 07:01 UK time, Monday, 21 November 2011

Roman Abramovich's legendary impatience ensures Stamford Bridge's clock always ticks faster in times of trouble - and it is racing already for Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas after only 12 Premier League games.

Villas-Boas knew Chelsea owner Abramovich's special demands when he took the call to succeed Carlo Ancelotti, sacked at the foot of a flight of stairs at Everton only a year after winning the league and FA Cup Double.

The 34-year-old Portuguese was acquainted with them again on Sunday after a 2-1 loss to Liverpool, following on from a 5-3 reverse to Arsenal, meant Chelsea had suffered successive home defeats for the first time since Abramovich took control in 2003.

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Youthful England give Capello grounds for optimism

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Phil McNulty | 07:42 UK time, Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Fabio Capello flies back to Italy to join his newly extended family accompanied by an impressive body of work in 2011 and quiet satisfaction that England are building momentum ahead of Euro 2012.

England followed up victory against World Cup holders Spain by securing a first win against Sweden since 1968 with their 2,000th goal to end the calendar year unbeaten with six wins from nine games.

Capello was stone-faced and unmoved when presented with this list of achievements, waving a hand dismissively and grunting: "Statistics."

Statistics indeed, but not bad ones for a team that looked at their lowest ebb after the embarrassment of a World Cup exit against youthful and vibrant Germany in Bloemfontein last year.

And while few can seriously suggest Europe's top teams live in fear at the prospect of facing England in Poland and Ukraine next summer, Capello can at least allow himself a measure of optimism.

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Terry navigates around racism storm

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Phil McNulty | 18:18 UK time, Monday, 14 November 2011

John Terry's meeting with the media started with a bouquet before barbed wire was placed around the elephant standing in the room with England's besieged captain.

Terry's opening act on his first public inquisition since the Metropolitan Police opened its investigation into allegations that he racially abused QPR's Anton Ferdinand in the recent west London derby was to present flowers to a departing member of the media corps.

Cynics could suggest the gesture was part of a charm offensive intended to draw the sting from the questions heading in Terry's direction, but the Football Association's sentiments were genuine as the captain smiled for the cameras along with coach Fabio Capello.

The FA's stance - and that of the players who have almost formed an orderly queue to support their captain since the squad assembled at their Hertfordshire hotel last week - was that it was "business as usual" despite the publicity accompanying Terry on his latest tour of international duty.

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Realism rules but England have cause for optimism

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Phil McNulty | 07:14 UK time, Sunday, 13 November 2011

When Scotland beat World Cup holders England at Wembley in 1967, the joyous Tartan Army took a cue from boxing and declared that the title of global rulers was now theirs.

England performed a similar feat in beating world and European champions Spain on Saturday - but on this occasion Wembley was awash with perspective and realism ruled amid the pleasure gleaned from Frank Lampard's winner.

Fabio Capello will not use victory as a form guide for Euro 2012 or an indication that his side is closing the gap on the Spanish artists. When and where it truly matters, in serious competition, England cannot even dream of being their equals, let alone betters.

This does not mean, however, that a victory built on industry, resilience and unbending tactical discipline is not a matter of some significance to Capello and his players.

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A marriage of inconveniences for Capello

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Phil McNulty | 23:00 UK time, Friday, 11 November 2011

Fabio Capello's failure to spot the clash of fixtures between England's meeting with World Cup holders Spain and son Pierfillipo's marriage to partner Tiziana in Milan almost sums up the confused backdrop to this Wembley friendly.

Instead of joining wife Laura in Italy to prepare for the nuptials on Saturday, Capello will be assembling the pieces of a chaotic build-up into something he hopes will provide cause for optimism in England's preparations for Euro 2012.

He said at Wembley on Friday: "I will be close to my family with the mind." But part of Capello might have secretly wished to be in Italy in body as missing his son's big day threatened to become the least of his worries.

Capello has had to deal with the fall-out from allegations of racism against captain John Terry, the furore of "Poppygate" and the task of forming plans for the early stages of the competition in Poland and Ukraine without Wayne Rooney, as his finest player serves a suspension.

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Confident Jones unfazed by Spanish test

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Phil McNulty | 23:00 UK time, Thursday, 10 November 2011

Phil Jones uses a classroom filled with tears at St. Paul's School in Lostock Hall as a permanent reminder of the responsibilities of representing England.

Jones was in that room near his birthplace in Leyland, Lancashire, as a 10-year-old when Brazil's Ronaldinho sent a free-kick floating over David Seaman to end England's 2002 World Cup at the quarter-final stage in the steaming heat of Shizuoka in Japan.

It was one of the Manchester United teenager's earliest memories of the power of football's greats - and he is ready to encounter more when England face world and European champions Spain at Wembley on Saturday evening.

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Stand and deliver

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Phil McNulty | 08:41 UK time, Sunday, 6 November 2011

Not much has slipped beneath Sir Alex Ferguson's radar in 25 years at Old Trafford - but even he failed to detect arguably the greatest tribute Manchester United have paid to any single figure in their history.

As Ferguson marched briskly through a guard of honour formed by the players of United and Sunderland towards chief executive David Gill on the centre spot to mark his silver anniversary, he was unaware of the moment his place at the famous old stadium became permanent.

What followed was pure Theatre of Dreams as Gill announced Old Trafford's giant North Stand would now be named the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.

Workmen perched along the skyline removed a veil to reveal the sign that will stand as a monument to the great manager's reign.

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Is Ferguson the greatest ever?

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Phil McNulty | 14:29 UK time, Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson's lasting legacy to Manchester United cannot be accurately measured until the day he retires - but one simple truth is already beyond dispute as he celebrates his 25th anniversary at the club.

Ferguson may be a divisive figure to some without a strong allegiance to Old Trafford, but even those who temper their admiration for the Scot cannot contest his right to be regarded among the finest managers football has known.

When the list of great managers is compiled, Ferguson's name will be near the top of some lists and at the top of others, alongside the founding father of United, Sir Matt Busby, Liverpool's Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, the maverick Brian Clough at Derby and Nottingham Forest and his own inspiration, former Celtic and Scotland manager Jock Stein.

Tottenham fans will make a case for double-winner Bill Nicholson and Leeds United fans revere Don Revie while Ferguson's long-time adversary Arsene Wenger's early successes put his indelible stamp on Arsenal.

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Gunners firing blanks without Van Persie

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Phil McNulty | 06:46 UK time, Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Robin van Persie's absence made the hearts of Arsenal fans grow fonder as the feast of Chelsea was followed by famine in his absence against Marseille.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, with a caution shaped by Van Persie's chequered injury history, restricted the hat-trick hero of Saturday's 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge to the role of substitute rather than offer him the full Champions League experience at Emirates Stadium.

And in doing so, Wenger laid bare the dilemma that will face him and his team as the importance - some might say indispensability - of Van Persie was exposed by this drab draw that denied Arsenal the opportunity to secure early qualification from the group phase.

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