BBC BLOGS - Phil McNulty

Archives for March 2012

Wolves' plight exposes 'patchwork' Connor choice

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Phil McNulty | 22:04 UK time, Saturday, 31 March 2012

The silence was so deafening you could hear Wolves drop. No real dissent from the Molineux stands, simply the ominous echo of resignation and now surely relegation.

Wolves caretaker manager Terry Connor was conceding nothing after the morale-crushing 3-2 loss to fellow strugglers Bolton that left them six points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League.

Connor, with one point from 18 since succeeding sacked Mick McCarthy, would be foolish to say anything else but an eighth successive home defeat in league and cup suggests the search for hope of survival would be a fruitless one.

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Pitch-perfect tribute as Bolton return to business

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Phil McNulty | 23:15 UK time, Saturday, 24 March 2012

The multi-coloured carpet of shirts, flowers and messages that stands as a monument to the recovery of Fabrice Muamba was still spreading late on Saturday afternoon as Bolton Wanderers celebrated an emotional victory.

It was exactly a week on from the moment Muamba collapsed after suffering a cardiac arrest in the FA Cup quarter-final at Tottenham and supporters of Bolton and Blackburn were standing at the spot in the Reebok Stadium that has become a shrine of support and hope for the 23-year-old.

The floral tributes and mementoes offered a stark reminder that the stadium could have been hosting a much more sombre occasion had it not been for the remarkable work of the medical teams at White Hart Lane and at London's Chest Hospital, where Muamba remains in intensive care.

The young midfielder may have been continuing his recovery more than 200 miles away but his presence was everywhere from the moment fans started arriving in glorious sunshine hours before the meeting between these two fierce Lancashire rivals.

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'Tevez remains a player who can change a game'

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Phil McNulty | 09:38 UK time, Thursday, 22 March 2012

At Etihad Stadium

Roberto Mancini knew exactly what time it was as Manchester City stared into the face of a four-point deficit at the top of the Premier League. He lifted from the language of Sir Alex Ferguson to admit "it was squeaky bum time".

It was also time for an old feud to be forgotten. It was time for pragmatism to overcome what many regarded as the unpalatable. It was time for Carlos Tevez.

Gary Cahill's deflected goal on the hour gave Chelsea a lead they did not deserve and brought the frustration and anxiety that had been bubbling under at the Etihad to the surface. Manchester City faced the biggest pressure point of their season so far.

Mancini turned to Tevez, back as a substitute and £9.3m lighter in his wallet since it was claimed he refused to warm up in the Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich in Germany, and waved the Argentine into action.

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Could Tevez be the catalyst for a City revival?

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Phil McNulty | 15:33 UK time, Tuesday, 20 March 2012

American rock band "The Eagles" once embarked on a "Hell Freezes Over" tour - so named after one of the members claimed they would never deal with each other again until this came to pass.

Manchester City and Carlos Tevez may just be about to embark on their own version, opening at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday and taking in crucial dates between now and mid-May.

The notion of Tevez emerging to play any part in Manchester City's pursuit of the Premier League title was one of the most far-fetched in the game after allegations he refused to come on as substitute in the Champions League game away to Bayern Munich in September.

Since that night in the Allianz Arena, Tevez and his representatives explored virtually every avenue in attempt to find a way out of Manchester, a route that took them from Corinthians in Brazil to both Milan clubs as well as Paris Saint-Germain.

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Abramovich basks in Chelsea victory

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Phil McNulty | 06:35 UK time, Thursday, 15 March 2012

At Stamford Bridge

The sight of Roman Abramovich strolling across Stamford Bridge puffing out his cheeks in relief while exchanging high fives was about as close as Chelsea's owner has ever come to a public comment on club affairs.

Abramovich habitually retreats from view unless emerging to celebrate success or - in an example from more recent history - observing the work of Andre Villas-Boas at close quarters before sacking him.

At Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, he was en route to Chelsea's dressing room to deliver his personal approval and praise to players he recently lambasted for their part in the demise of the young Portuguese who was his personal choice to succeed Carlo Ancelotti.

What a difference a sacking makes.

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'The real deal' 10 years on - David Moyes at Everton

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Phil McNulty | 14:12 UK time, Monday, 12 March 2012

David Moyes will have related to the plight of a young manager wrestling to imprint his philosophy on a dressing room populated with experienced and powerful personalities as Andre Villas-Boas was sacked by Chelsea.

Moyes faced the same dilemma when he walked into Everton's Bellefield training headquarters a decade ago - just hours after owner Bill Kenwright took him from the Championship and Preston North End to a battle for Premier League survival.

While 34-year-old Villas-Boas failed to last 10 months at Chelsea, Moyes - four years older when he arrived at Goodison Park - is celebrating 10 years in charge and his stock as a managerial commodity has rarely been higher.

There is only one chance to make a first impression and Moyes was inheriting a squad from Walter Smith that contained senior figures such as Duncan Ferguson, David Weir, Kevin Campbell, Alan Stubbs, David Unsworth, Thomas Gravesen - plus the maverick and soon-to-be-elsewhere talents of David Ginola and Paul Gascoigne.

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Chelsea fans make their voices heard

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Phil McNulty | 07:28 UK time, Wednesday, 7 March 2012

At St Andrew's

The public vote was cast within seconds and the winner - vociferously announced by 3,000 voices at one end of St Andrew's - was Jose Mourinho.

And the loser, declared equally emphatically but with a liberal sprinkling of venom from the same quarter, was Mourinho's old adversary Rafael Benitez.

Chelsea fans have not had the opportunity to deliver their verdict on the fall-out from Sunday's sacking of Andre Villas-Boas which leaves owner Roman Abramovich looking for the latest manager to fill what increasingly takes on the appearance of the impossible job.

Roberto di Matteo, sharp-suited and stylish in the dug-out at Birmingham City and watching a 2-0 win which put Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-final, was taking charge for the first time since being handed control until the end of the season - but there was another guest at his party.

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Time waits for no man at Stamford Bridge

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Phil McNulty | 06:51 UK time, Monday, 5 March 2012

Roman Abramovich gathered his trusted advisors around him at Chelsea's Cobham training complex on Sunday to put the final touches to another brief managerial reign by sacking Andre Villas-Boas.

Director Eugene Tenenbaum and chief executive Ron Gourlay were in attendance while chairman Bruce Buck will have been kept in the loop as the end came for the 34-year-old Portuguese who has only been at Chelsea for nine months.

Abramovich answers to no-one at Stamford Bridge - certainly not the growing number of managers he has hired and fired during his time as Chelsea owner. If he has been taking advice, however, the growing body of evidence suggests some of it has been bad.

And yet it might be the greatest service the secretive, silent Abramovich's inner circle could do Chelsea if they plucked up the courage to point out the mistakes the Russian has made, the list of errors that mean he is now further away from his dream of winning the Champions League than at any point in his time in the club.

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Villas-Boas fails to match high expectations

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Phil McNulty | 15:50 UK time, Sunday, 4 March 2012

Andre Villas-Boas now knows the answer to a question that was thrown into the air at Stamford Bridge as the first cracks appeared in the reputation he built so rapidly at FC Porto.

It was late November and Chelsea had lost at home to Liverpool in the Premier League.

Villas-Boas had awoken to headlines suggesting owner Roman Abramovich was having his first doubts about the young manager he appointed at great expense to replace Carlo Ancelotti.

Villas-Boas, under heavy interrogation, responded: “The owner didn’t pay 15m euros to get me out of Porto to pay another fortune to get me out of Chelsea.”

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Netherlands defeat shows FA must act quickly

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Phil McNulty | 07:08 UK time, Thursday, 1 March 2012

At Wembley

Stuart Pearce freely admits part of his role as England's caretaker manager is to buy the Football Association time to puts its plans in place for appointing Fabio Capello's successor.

Events at Wembley and beyond on Wednesday should have crystallised the FA's thoughts and conspired to convince the quartet charged with selecting England's next leader that Pearce has already bought them enough time.

As a patchwork team lost 3-2 to a vastly superior Netherlands side, France - the team England will meet in their opening Euro 2012 fixture in Donetsk's Donbass Arena on 11 June and who shared their status as the sick men of European football after the last World Cup - were beating Germany in Bremen.

The same Germany, of course, who embarrassed England in Bloemfontein in that sad summer of 2010.

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