BBC BLOGS - Phil McNulty

Archives for May 2012

Lampard blow deepens Hodgson's midfield concerns

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Phil McNulty | 19:23 UK time, Thursday, 31 May 2012

Frank Lampard experienced his highest high when he finally lifted the Champions League trophy as Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena on 19 May - now he faces the grim reality that his England career at the highest level is over.

Lampard, who will be 34 in June, will know the thigh injury that rules him out of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukrakine effectively means his days of representing England at major tournaments are over.

Chelsea's midfielder spoke with brutal honesty about what Euro 2012 meant to him when he faced the media at England's Hertfordshire headquarters this week, admitting: "It possibly is my last chance with England.

"I don't see myself retiring or taking myself out of it in the near future. But I'm no fool and I know that age is a factor and, at international level, you don't go on forever."

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Hodgson plays the numbers game

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Phil McNulty | 17:33 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Roy Hodgson has released the numbers behind England's Euro 2012 plans - and now has one more game to negotiate before slotting the final pieces into place.

Liverpool striker Andy Carroll may take some encouragement from his sudden increasing importance to the England manager's strategy for Poland and Ukraine by being handed the number nine shirt when the Football Association handed in its final squad on Tuesday.

In Wayne Rooney's absence through suspension, Carroll looks certain to start alongside Manchester United's Ashley Young in attack when England open their campaign against France in Donetsk on 11 June after their promising link-up in Saturday's 1-0 win in Norway.

Hodgson's defence is also taking shape with the Chelsea-centric back four of Ashley Cole, John Terry and Gary Cahill augmented by Liverpool's Glen Johnson if he is fit.

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Solid but unspectacular start for Hodgson's England

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Phil McNulty | 07:17 UK time, Sunday, 27 May 2012

In Oslo

Roy Hodgson's new England fitted perfectly into his "work in progress" framework after a start that was solid, unspectacular but with elements of genuine satisfaction.

Hodgson was at pains to paint the friendly in Norway as merely a preparation game for the forthcoming main event of Euro 2012 - but results on the board count and a 1-0 victory provided plenty of shields for Fabio Capello's successor.

He was able to take his flight back to London free from fears of hearing echoes of Bjorge Lillelien's famous - or infamous depending on your viewpoint and nationality - "your boys took a hell of a beating" commentary after Norway's win against England in September 1981.

And while readiness may have taken a higher priority than the result, Hodgson did not need to start his time in charge by becoming the first England manager to lose his opening game since Sir Alf Ramsey against France in 1963.

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Carroll can be Roy's Andy man

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Phil McNulty | 13:51 UK time, Thursday, 24 May 2012

One of Kenny Dalglish's final acts as Liverpool manager was to deliver the reference that pushed Andy Carroll in England's Euro 2012 squad.

New England manager Roy Hodgson, wrestling with the inherited problem of Wayne Rooney's two-game suspension for his red card in Montenegro, was pondering with his attacking options.

Carroll had long been considered one half of the biggest pair of transfer busts in British football history when Liverpool spent £35m of the £50m they received from Chelsea for Fernando Torres on the raw Newcastle United striker as the window closed in January 2011.

Signs of late-season rejuvenation, plus a shortage of strikers exacerbated by Darren Bent's ankle injury, persuaded Hodgson to contact his successor at Liverpool for a form guide and character reference.

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What now for Chelsea heroes?

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Phil McNulty | 23:00 UK time, Sunday, 20 May 2012

As the bells and sore heads rang out across Munich on Sunday morning and Chelsea prepared to make a triumphant return home, owner Roman Abramovich was keeping his thoughts to himself.

Even the capture of the Champions League, the prize Abramovich has cherished most since he made the journey from the Russian territory of Chukotka to buy Chelsea in July 2003, could not prompt him to break his silence.

Abramovich was able to touch that precious piece of silverware he has pursued with such zeal and even allowed himself to be caught on camera tapping a foot, clapping and singing along with the Chelsea anthems that echoed around the Allianz Arena after their victory on penalties against Bayern Munich.

Apart from congratulating his players and hoping for further successes, Abramovich gave little of his emotions away and the greatest interim manager of all time, Roberto Di Matteo, flatly declined to discuss what message the man he calls "The Boss" had given him after the game.

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Chelsea end Champions League agony in Munich

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Phil McNulty | 23:53 UK time, Saturday, 19 May 2012

As Chelsea walked out into the Allianz Arena a giant red mosaic was revealed at one end that covered the entire expanse of the massed ranks of Bayern Munich's support.

The message - with a Champions League trophy as its centrepiece - read: "Unser Stadt. Unser Stadion. Unser Pokal." Our City. Our Stadium. Our Cup.

Hours later, at a cost of around one billion pounds, Munich was Chelsea and owner Roman Abramovich's city. The Allianz Arena was their stadium and - most significantly of all - the Champions League was their cup at long last.

And for the thousands of Chelsea fans who lived the dream and saw redemption for the misery of Moscow and defeat by Manchester United on penalties in 2008, who despaired of winning the trophy that seemed out of reach of even Abramovich's chequebook, there were emotions and memories money simply cannot buy.

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Hodgson unveils solid if unspectacular England vision

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Phil McNulty | 10:16 UK time, Thursday, 17 May 2012

Roy Hodgson's only complaint about the next phase of his new life as England manager was being asked about Rio Ferdinand "until the cows come home" - the rest was happily filed under football reasons.

Indeed, Hodgson used the phrase "footballing reasons" so often that he received that ultimate seal of approval, or disapproval depending on your viewpoint, and started a Twitter trend.

If Hodgson was playing it by the Football Association's book when he made his introductions following his appointment earlier this month, here he was in relaxed form as he revealed his Euro 2012 squad.

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American revolution dethrones King Kenny

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Phil McNulty | 18:57 UK time, Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Liverpool owner John W Henry's parting words to the manager he sacked could have been plucked straight from the mouths of the supporters who still refer to Kenny Dalglish as "The King".

The American, who completed the formalities of Dalglish's removal after the Scot returned from a meeting in Boston with an ominous lack of assurances about his future, said in his farewell message: "He is, in many ways, the heart and soul of the club. He personifies everything good about Liverpool Football Club."

It was a statement that reflects the reverence in which Dalglish is, and should be, held when Liverpool's history is examined. His place in it is secure, but his dismissal brings a brutal conclusion to an association with Anfield stretching back to his arrival from Celtic in 1977.

If Henry and his Fenway Sports Group truly regarded the 61-year-old icon as Liverpool's heart and soul, then it has been ruthlessly removed after one full season in permanent charge after his return to replace sacked Roy Hodgson in January 2011.

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United must strengthen to keep pace with City

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Phil McNulty | 14:24 UK time, Monday, 14 May 2012

Manchester United stood 100 seconds from a 20th title when Sergio Aguero ripped the Premier League prize from their grasp and transported it to Manchester City.

And when the dust settles on a finale to the season that was pure sporting theatre, Sir Alex Ferguson will move to ensure time does not stand still for United in the face of City's new domestic supremacy.

For all the scenes of bedlam at the Etihad and talk of a shift in the balance of power, assessment of United's season and the road ahead should first be placed in context.

They were less than two minutes from prevailing and retaining their crown over a Manchester City squad assembled at such vast expense by their Abu Dhabi-based owners.

And with a tally of 89 points, they achieved the highest total recorded by the runners-up in the Premier League's two decades.

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Tears of triumph for Manchester City

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Phil McNulty | 22:30 UK time, Sunday, 13 May 2012

At Etihad Stadium

The group of Manchester City fans standing on Joe Mercer Way were smiling but silent. It was as if they could not find the words to articulate what they had just witnessed.

They were not alone.

Manchester City's history suggested they might put their supporters through late dramas before ending a 44-year wait to be crowned champions.

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Who'd be in your all-time UK XI?

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Phil McNulty | 15:19 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2012

Stuart Pearce will soon be revealing his Team GB squad for this summer's Olympics - but who would make the cut were every post-war player from the UK eligible to play?

BBC Radio 5 live Sport will tackle this debate in a special programme, "The Great British XI", hosted by Ian Payne on Tuesday, 15 May. It's guaranteed to be full of wide-ranging discussion and disagreement.

The choices might be framed in the context of partisanship to a particular team or personal favourites but will undoubtedly read like a "Who's Who" of the legendary figures that have graced the beautiful game in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

England's 1966 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks would get plenty of support in that position but a list of his rivals demonstrates what competition he would face.

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From signing Beckham to chasing chickens

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Phil McNulty | 14:43 UK time, Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The sight of Yakubu chasing a chicken draped in a Blackburn Rovers flag around Wigan Athletic's penalty area almost symbolised the farce that has unfolded at Ewood Park under owners Venky's.

It was an incident that offered plenty of material for jokes at the expense of Blackburn and the Indian poultry group that has presided over relegation from the Premier League, confirmed by Monday's 1-0 defeat at Ewood Park.

And yet this is no laughing matter for Blackburn. There is sadness that one of the grand old institutions of English football is accompanied into the Championship by scenes of acrimony and protest that have marked the decline since Venky's completed a £43m takeover from the Jack Walker Trust in November 2010.

From being in trusted hands associated with the great local businessman and benefactor whose finances helped Blackburn win the Premier League in 1995, relegation comes under the stewardship of absentee owners with both a geographical and philosophical disconnection from supporters.

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Man City deservedly on brink of title glory

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Phil McNulty | 17:00 UK time, Sunday, 6 May 2012

Manchester City must win at home against QPR - fighting for their Premier League lives near the bottom of the table - and avoid a mathematical meltdown of goal difference next Sunday to win their first title for 44 years.

It all comes down to that.

It is worth stating that simple fact to underscore the message to fiercely loyal supporters whose natural default position is to believe it is in their club's DNA to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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Di Matteo and Drogba audition for 'The Boss'

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Phil McNulty | 08:19 UK time, Sunday, 6 May 2012

Roberto di Matteo let Chelsea do his talking for him - literally. The FA Cup final win over Liverpool added another impressive line in his application for the post of permanent manager.

Chelsea's players formed an orderly queue to praise the Italian who has emerged from Andre Villas-Boas's failed managerial team to oversee a truly remarkable renaissance.

John Terry, an FA Cup-winning captain for the fourth time, reflected the support for Di Matteo within the dressing room as he said: "We've done Robbie the world of good with this win. It can do him no harm."

Another man waiting on his future also did himself no harm. Didier Drogba once again gave a Chelsea hierarchy so far unwilling to give him the two-year contract he craves a hefty nudge with the decisive goal in this 2-1 victory, scoring in the FA Cup final for a record fourth time.

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FA Cup provides saving grace for Dalglish

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Phil McNulty | 07:30 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2012

Liverpool fans of a certain vintage will remember only too clearly footage of legendary former manager Bill Shankly jabbing a finger at the old League Championship trophy with the words: "This is our bread and butter. This is the one we want."

And in a phrase that could have been carved into the Anfield boardroom walls, the Scot also insisted the only purpose of the club's existence was to win trophies.

So Liverpool season's balances precariously between those two Shankly statements as they prepare to face Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday.

The Carling Cup has been won, the FA Cup is there to be won - but the "bread and butter" of the title is as far away from Liverpool's table as ever.

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Pardew's shrewdness key to Newcastle's success

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Phil McNulty | 10:48 UK time, Thursday, 3 May 2012

Alan Pardew's face was a mask of delight and disbelief. Newcastle United's manager shook his head in the direction of Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and mouthed the words: "Unbelievable. Unbelievable."

Pardew could have been talking about Newcastle's entire campaign - instead he was reacting to the most memorable moment of this remarkable season for the Premier League's surprise side.

Newcastle have offered up times to treasure throughout their consistent defiance of the odds in pursuit of a place in next season's Champions League, but surely nothing can top the genius of Papiss Cisse deep into 10 minutes of stoppage time at Stamford Bridge.

The Senegal striker had already demonstrated his class with a searing left-foot volley from his own tee-up after 19 minutes. This was merely the warm-up act for his second that once again illustrated the renaissance Pardew has overseen on Tyneside.

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Hodgson enters as England begin new era

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Phil McNulty | 22:29 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Football Association's case for Roy Hodgson's defence was well-prepared as chairman David Bernstein stood by the only man seriously considered to be the new England manager.

Bernstein backed the process which, to widespread surprise, ignored Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp and led to the FA's four-man selection panel appointing West Bromwich Albion head coach Hodgson on a four-year contract.

Hodgson himself accepted his arrival at Wembley had not been a cause for widespread rejoicing across the land - but if he was knocked out of his stride by the mixture of apathy and antipathy that has greeted him in some quarters he disguised it in a sure-footed first performance.

And if there was any danger of Redknapp being the spectre at Hodgson's Wembley feast, the emphatic support of Bernstein and the FA's director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking went a long way towards banishing it.

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Noisy neighbours tear down the walls

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Phil McNulty | 07:17 UK time, Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Roberto Mancini confronted Sir Alex Ferguson while he was standing up, then Liam Gallagher kicked him when he was down. A night in the company of the noisy neighbours was a lonely place for Manchester United's manager.

And how noisy those neighbours were at 9.56pm when referee Andre Marriner's final whistle was drowned out by the deafening delight of Manchester City supporters celebrating victory in the biggest game in 20 years of the Premier League.

It was the sound of Ferguson's worst nightmare moving closer to reality - namely United being denied a 20th title by the rivals he has kept down at heel for pretty much all of his 25 years-plus at Old Trafford.

Vincent Kompany's goal settled a game that, almost inevitably, failed to live up to its pre-match billing as it was beamed around the world.

Now it has all come down to this. Two games left, City on top with a superior goal difference. The sense around an ecstatic Etihad was that they could almost reach out and touch the title and yet it could still stay tantalisingly out of reach.

This was, however, a victory for positive intent and the team that wanted to win. So often this team has been Manchester United - not on Monday as a desperately poor and passive United went quietly to defeat.

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