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                           | pdf edition | Tuesday May 8 2012                                                      Sport
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Steve Kean vows to stay on as Blackburn
manager despite relegation
Wigan safe after 1-0 victory at Ewood Park • ‘I’m a big believer in
my own ability,’ says Blackburn manager Page 2



Joleon Lescott: If City can close the title
out it would be unreal
‘We’ve been nervous at times but we deserve to be there’ • ‘I came
to this club to make history,’ says Yaya Touré Page 2



Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish falls heavily
on Giro d’Italia stage three
World champion calls for Roberto Ferrari’s ejection from race •
Race leader Taylor Phinney also hurt in sprint-finish mêlée Page 3




Ronnie O’Sullivan                           Dwain Chambers: I                            Rangers’ prospects of     James Willstrop:
defeats Ali Carter in                       don’t expect an easy                        staying in the Premier   London 2012 would
world championship                          ride at the Olympics                        League look brighter      have been perfect
final Page 4                                Page 5                                       Page 6                    stage for squash Page 8

Yorkshire seamer                            Wigan’s late winner                          QPR’s Mark Hughes         Bolton Wanderers’
Ajmal Shahzad makes                         confirms Blackburn’s                         heads back to             David Wheater out
Roses switch to                             fall through the                             Manchester City with     for nine months with
Lancashire Page 4                           trapdoor Page 5                              double agenda Page 6      knee injury Page 9




guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                            guardian.co.uk
Registered in England and Wales. No. 908396. Registered office: Number 1 Scott Place, Manchester M3 3GG
Page  G24 Sport                                                                        Tuesday May 8 2012              01:03 GMT

                                                                     to push us in the right direction and motivate us. The tactics,
                                                                     training, everything – one man who can look in the mirror and
Steve Kean vows to stay on as Blackburn                              say he’s given everything is the manager.
manager despite relegation                                               “I’ll speak for the dressing room and thank him for what
                                                                     he’s done, he’s taken things on the chin that he shouldn’t have
• Wigan safe after 1-0 victory at Ewood Park                         had to. The supporters voice their opinions in whatever way
• ‘I’m a big believer in my own ability,’ says                       they want towards the owners, the players and the manager.
                                                                     Sometimes a line can be crossed and the way the gaffer’s
Blackburn manager
                                                                     handled things is exemplary. He’s certainly the best I’ve worked
Andy Hunter at Ewood Park                                           with as far as managers go.”
                                                                         For the Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan, who spent over
Steve Kean [], Blackburn’s besieged manager, insisted he
                                                                     10 years as a player at Blackburn, the relegation of his former
would not resign his post at Ewood Park despite Rovers’ first
                                                                     club on a night of joy for Martínez and his players produced
relegation for 11 years prompting a torrent of abuse from
                                                                     torn emotions. “I’m really sorry we put Rovers down,” he said.
supporters towards the Scot and the club’s owners, Venky’s.
                                                                     “I had 11 fantastic years here. Of course, I’m Wigan Athletic
    Blackburn were consigned to the Championship last night
                                                                     through and through but I’m sorry Rovers have gone down.”
after Antolín Alcaraz’s 87th-minute winner for Wigan Athletic
                                                                         As for Martínez’s assured leadership under pressure, with
[http://tinyurl.com/6ku5ss] completed the visitors’ impressive
                                                                     Wigan in the bottom three for the majority of the campaign, the
escape from relegation danger under Roberto Martínez [http://
                                                                     chairman said: “He [Martínez] has had faith from day one and
tinyurl.com/3698gla]. Wigan have won six of their last eight
                                                                     we had a really tough start to the season but he always believed
matches to preserve their top-flight status for an eighth year.
                                                                     and had faith in his players. As the season has gone along we’ve
Rovers exited the Premier League [http://tinyurl.com/6yneax]
                                                                     played better and better and I think Roberto has proved once
after a sequence of seven defeats in eight games.
                                                                     and for all that he is a quality manager. I believe Roberto will
    Rovers supporters turned against their manager over a year
                                                                     go to one of the top European clubs when the time is right but
ago; in their eyes he is a puppet of an error-strewn Venky’s
                                                                     hopefully we can hold on to him for one or more years. We can’t
regime and Kean’s personal bodyguard had to appeal to the
                                                                     do things like Man City and Man Utd and the big clubs but if
Glaswegian to go down the tunnel for his own safety when the
                                                                     we can be in the top half of the Premier League it would be a
final whistle prompted a mini-pitch invasion. Kean declined the
                                                                     wonderful achievement.”
request and later claimed he still had the backing of the club’s
Indian-based owners, confidence in his own ability and faith in      Match report, page 45
his players’ ability to return to the Premier League next season.
    “It is difficult to put into words what the atmosphere is like
in the dressing room,” the Blackburn manager said. “A few            Joleon Lescott: If City can close the title
things were thrown our way in the media last week, questioning       out it would be unreal
our attitude, but I felt tonight we gave it a real good go. The
disappointing thing is we couldn’t take it to the last game.
                                                                     • ‘We’ve been nervous at times but we
    “I will sit down with the owners and discuss a plan on how to
assemble a squad to help us bounce back up straight away. We
                                                                     deserve to be there’ • ‘I came to this club to
need to try to keep the majority of the squad together and add       make history,’ says Yaya Touré
one or two experienced players that can help us, so from the         Louise Taylor
first game of the season we are ready to bounce back and make
sure we are in the division we should be in. I have spoken with      Manchester City [http://tinyurl.com/4jsgmx] may be only
the owners, like I do every day. We haven’t mentioned what has       90 minutes from wrapping up the Premier League [http://
happened tonight but I am confident we will have a sit-down          tinyurl.com/6yneax] but Joleon Lescott has urged the club’s
and have a plan in place as quickly as possible. I do believe I’ll   fans to “not get carried away” in the run-up to the title decider
be here next season.”                                                this weekend.
    Kean declined an invitation to apportion blame for                   City face a Queens Park Rangers side led by their former
Blackburn’s demise on Venky’s. “As a group we have to build a        manager Mark Hughes on Sunday. Their superior goal
squad as quickly as possible and keep the backbone of the team       difference dictates that, whatever Manchester United [http://
together,” he said. “The division below is a very tough one to       tinyurl.com/bjgxtp] do at Sunderland, a win will make Robert
get out of.”                                                         Mancini’s team champions.
    Asked why he wanted to remain in a job amid such hostility,          “I’d say to our fans, keep a lid on it this week and let’s not
Kean said: “Because I am a big believer in my own ability and        get carried away. If it happens on Sunday, they can celebrate
the guys in the dressing room. They are all devastated but I         then,” said the City centre-half. “It’s in our hands but there’s
cannot fault their commitment. If we can keep them together          another vital game to go.” Lescott knows that a stumble would
and add a few more of quality, I am convinced we can bounce          render City’s hard-fought win at Newcastle United last Sunday
back.”                                                               irrelevant.
    The Blackburn defender Bradley Orr claimed Kean retained             “It’s a massive game at the weekend. It’s not all over yet but,
the full support of the dressing room despite the team’s meek        if we could close the title out, it would be unreal. You dream of
exit from the Premier League. Orr said: “The gaffer stood            these things. I never once thought: ‘Yeah, I’m bound to win the
out there tonight and took a lot of stick, I’ve got nothing but      Premier League.’ But it was always in my mind. It will be crazy
admiration and respect for him. He’s done everything he could        days if we win it. We’ve been nervous at times this season but

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                        guardian.co.uk
Page 3 G24 Sport                                                                        Tuesday May 8 2012             01:03 GMT

we deserve to be up there.                                               A series of riders fell as they swerved to miss the prone
    “When I first arrived here [from Everton in 2009] it was more    Manxman, including the race leader, Taylor Phinney.
hope that we could win the league rather than real belief. But           After carrying his bike across the finish line, Cavendish
we’ve developed and got more players and are all starting to         tweeted: “Ouch! Crashing at 75kph isn’t nice! Nor is seeing
really believe. It’s developed over a period of time. It’s been a    Roberto Ferrari’s manoeuvre. [He] should be ashamed to take
growing feeling.”                                                    out Pink, Red & World Champ jerseys.” He added: “Is the team
    Now Hughes, the man who signed Lescott for City, and a           of Roberto Ferrari or the UCI going to do the right thing? Other
QPR [http://tinyurl.com/4zkwvw] team battling relegation,            riders, including myself, have been sent home for much less.”
stand in the way of Mancini’s ambitions. “There’s a bit of irony         Cavendish’s team-mate Geraint Thomas, currently second
in that it’s him we’re up against,” said Lescott. “Mark Hughes       on general classification, echoed the sentiment, tweeting: “You
was a great boss and he was very good to me.”                        can get suspended in football for a 2 footed challenge, or a spear
    When City lost 1-0 at Arsenal in early April the title looked    tackle in rugby. Kick Ferrari out Giro for crashing 10guys at
Old Trafford bound but five successive victories, including a        60kph!!!”
home win against Manchester United, have altered the Premier             Team Sky [http://tinyurl.com/yk5fwrz]’s doctor Richard
League landscape.                                                    Freeman said that Cavendish was “very uncomfortable” after
    “It would have been crazy to have given it up after Arsenal,”    the fall and the British team’s directeur sportif, Steven de
said Lescott. “That would have been silly. There was no chance       Jongh, voiced his frustration after watching his riders once
of that happening. It would have been criminal. I don’t think        again control the peloton but this time to no avail.
there was any way that could happen here because of the                  “The team did another good job today,” he said. “Juan
attitudes of the players. At this level of our careers we are not    Antonio Flecha was really strong and helped control the
going to just give up when we get close to something like this.      breakaway. In the final the guys got separated a little bit but
The lads I play with have a never-say-die attitude.”                 Cav was still well positioned to contest the sprint until Roberto
    Yaya Touré, who scored the decisive goals at Newcastle to        Ferrari took away his front wheel. He lost a lot of skin but was
put the title within City’s reach, said: “Always I have said this    able to pick himself up and complete the stage.”
club can go far, this club can win something. Last year we won           Australia’s Matt Goss, riding for Orica-Greenedge, rode on
the FA Cup and we have to continue like that and next week try       while chaos spread behind him to win the third stage, sprinting
to win the game against QPR.                                         clear of Juan José Haedo (Saxo Bank) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-
    “We know it’s going to be tough but I believe in this team, I    Barracuda) to take over the sprinter’s maglia rosso from
believe in the players we have. We have some fantastic players.      Cavendish. Ferrari raced on to finish ninth, comfortably the
I have always said I came to this club to make history even if       best result of his professional career.
some people said I came for different things. I am going to keep         Phinney fell the hardest and was driven across the line in an
telling them I came to this club to make history and that is my      ambulance but recovered to attend the post-race presentation
first objective, to help make the club into a successful football    and remains optimistic of defending the maglia rosa when the
club.” Jonas Gutierrez, Newcastle’s Argentinian winger, spoke        race resumes on Wednesday for the team time trial and the first
to his compatriots Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Pablo             Italian stage of the year, in Verona.
Zabaleta after City’s triumph on Tyneside. “It’s still going to be       “Nothing appears to be broken. I’m better now,” said the
hard for them because QPR will make it hard,” said Gutierrez.        American. “When I was on the ground I was a bit confused and
“It just depends on Manchester City now. They know what              in a state of shock but I started to feel better when I was in the
might happen if they don’t win, so I think they are going to be      ambulance. I must have hit something when I fell. It’s a pity
really focused.”                                                     that it happened and hopefully it’s nothing. It’s lucky tomorrow
                                                                     is a rest day.”
                                                                         The 190km stage, which started and finished in Horsens,
Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish falls                                      was dedicated to the memory of Wouter Weylandt, who died
heavily on Giro d’Italia stage three                                 on stage three of the the 2011 Giro d’Italia [http://tinyurl.
                                                                     com/6yze793], and the mayor of Horsens Jan Trojborg who
                                                                     died on Sunday. Before the start riders from Weylandt’s
• World champion calls for Roberto Ferrari’s                         Radioshack Nissan Trek team lined up at the front of the
ejection from race • Race leader Taylor                              peloton, along with his close friend Farrar. The race’s general
Phinney also hurt in sprint-finish mêlée                             director, Michele Acquarone, read a message of condolence in
                                                                     the presence of Weylandt’s family and the assistant mayor of
James Callow
                                                                     Horsens remembered Trojborg. The ceremony concluded with
Mark Cavendish [http://tinyurl.com/9wlxq8] has called on             a minute’s silence.
the Italian Roberto Ferrari to be ejected from the Giro d’Italia         Cavendish tweeted before the stage: “Remembering Wouter
[http://tinyurl.com/64hkjqu] after the Androni Giacattoli-           Weylandt, who sadly left us a year ago today.”
Venezuela rider caused him to crash heavily in the final 100
metres on Monday’s stage.
    The world champion, who a day earlier had criticised what
he perceives as erratic and dangerous riding from a portion of
the peloton on Italy’s grand tour [http://tinyurl.com/c5b8klp],
was nearing full speed and in contention for a second stage win
in succession when Ferrari veered dramatically across his path
and clipped Cavendish’s front wheel.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                       guardian.co.uk
Page  G24 Sport                                                                             Tuesday May 8 2012             01:03 GMT

                                                                              Carter, though, is blessed with the quiet tenacity of an
                                                                          invasive oriental knotweed and he duly crept back into the
Ronnie O’Sullivan defeats Ali Carter in                                   match, ensuring the final would go into an evening session by
world championship final                                                  taking the fifth frame. Carter’s first century of the match made
                                                                          it 14-9 and for a while his passive aggression seemed to upset
• O’Sullivan takes final 18-11 to claim fourth                            O’Sullivan, who flailed wildly at a long red in the next frame and
world title • Englishman adds to Crucible                                 could be seen muttering to himself unhappily in his chair as he
                                                                          lost that, too.
wins in 2001, ‘04 and ‘08
                                                                              Carter had been desperate to slow the match down, playing
Barney Ronay at The Crucible                                            a kind of anti-snooker to O’Sullivan’s purring rhythms, and it
                                                                          worked for a while as he hoovered up three frames in a row
In the end it was an early-evening procession for Ronnie
                                                                          ensuring, no doubt much to Hearn’s relief, that this final would
O’Sullivan [http://tinyurl.com/58vzh8], whose progress
                                                                          stretch to its peak-time Monday night TV audience. But a 64
towards a fourth world championship title was welcomed by
                                                                          clearance from O’Sullivan re-established his five-frame lead
the increasingly rowdy full-house Crucible crowd. Leading
                                                                          at 15-10 and at the interval victory already looked like the
Ali Carter by five frames going into the final session, snooker
                                                                          formality it would shortly become.
[http://tinyurl.com/6pwg7p]’s most compelling talent eased
                                                                              With O’Sullivan – who first threatened to retire aged 18
his way to an 18-11 defeat of the barnacle-like outsider in a final
                                                                          – talk of the future is never far away. His reluctance in victory
that simmered and sputtered without ever boiling over into the
                                                                          to rule out retirement owes much to the fast-paced demands
compelling clash of styles some had foreseen.
                                                                          of Hearn’s new world order, which has already begun the
    O’Sullivan was simply too good, albeit this was a triumph
                                                                          process of flushing this grand old drawing-room game out of its
leavened with familiar notes of departure as afterwards
                                                                          shuttered strongholds and into the monied new markets of the
O’Sullivan refused to rule out the possibility of retirement from
                                                                          Far East.
the game.
                                                                              The low-key pageantry of The Crucible has long been an
    At the end of a final frame sealed with almost breathtaking
                                                                          early-summer staple, but even snooker’s presence in Sheffield is
nonchalance, O’Sullivan broke into a chest-beating salute
                                                                          far from guaranteed. “One day this tournament will be in China
before picking his young son Ronnie out of the crowd and
                                                                          without a doubt,” O’Sullivan told one Chinese journalist after
carrying him around the table, Alex Higgins-style. “I was
                                                                          a victory that saw this steeply banked green baize cathedral
basically trying to keep my emotions in tow, trying not to be too
                                                                          packed to the gods, and which was greeted with a buzz of
critical of myself, to just do my best,” he said of a championship
                                                                          genuine parochial affection.
victory borne out of sustained competitive excellence. “It’s
                                                                              Snooker’s new era promises much. With any luck the new
hard to do it for 17 days – at my age, too. It’s a fantastic feeling. I
                                                                          world champion will be there to see it in.
think I’ve played some very good snooker in all my matches.”
    Asked if he would rule out retiring, O’Sullivan was equivocal:
“No. I’m not saying I have retired. I’m saying my family have
become the most important thing. It’s up to the governing body
                                                                          Yorkshire seamer Ajmal Shahzad makes
to treat the players right. They can’t expect players to travel           Roses switch to Lancashire
everywhere to play these minor events. I just don’t like feeling
– is blackmailed the right word? I’m not going to hang around             • First player to move between rival
for two years waiting for things to be fair. I’m quite happy to
                                                                          counties since 2002 • Luke Wright may
move on if I have to and enter another world.”
    It is a typically O’Sullivan-ish paradox that the new
                                                                          have contracted dengue fever in India
world champion should be talking of retreat moments after                 Andy Wilson
establishing himself as the king of snooker’s new frontier.
                                                                          Lancashire [http://tinyurl.com/698uqx] have won the battle
    There is no more fitting champion in the first season of Barry
                                                                          to sign Ajmal Shahzad from Yorkshire [http://tinyurl.com/
Hearn’s bold new commercial world: the sport’s most spunkily
                                                                          4zjnmv], giving the England seamer the perfect stage on which
compelling character and a player whose high tempo at the
                                                                          to prove a point to his former county. Shahzad becomes the first
table was simply too much for Carter.
                                                                          player to move between the Roses rivals since David Byas, who
    Youthfully svelte and possessed of a talent that is still
                                                                          made an even more shocking defection in 2002 immediately
vibrantly expressive, O’Sullivan is nonetheless a surprisingly
                                                                          after leading Yorkshire to their first County Championship title
mature leader of the new wave. At 36 he is older than Dennis
                                                                          for 33 years.
Taylor was when he won in 1985, and the oldest world
                                                                             Yorkshire had made Shahzad, who made a dozen
champion since the 45-year-old Ray Reardon in 1978.
                                                                          appearances for England including a single Test, available to
    Leading by 10-7 overnight, O’Sullivan began at a gallop in
                                                                          other counties last week, with their chairman, Colin Graves,
the first session. The opening frame was gobbled up without
                                                                          later claiming he was not a team player. Several leading Division
ceremony as O’Sullivan dawdled off a sinuously fluid 101, his
                                                                          One counties declared their interest, including Somerset and
12th ton of the championship. In the second frame O’Sullivan
                                                                          Surrey. But the 26-year-old’s initial availability on a loan deal
pounced on a missed red by Carter to ease into a five-frame
                                                                          has allowed Lancashire to agree terms despite the financial
lead in front of an appreciative Bank Holiday-best crowd. A
                                                                          issues surrounding the redevelopment of Old Trafford.
four-frame whitewash of the opening mini-session was duly
                                                                             The county champions are desperate for a boost, having lost
completed and O’Sullivan strode from the arena with a hip-
                                                                          three of the first four games of their title defence, and Shahzad
swivelling momentum.
                                                                          could go straight into the reckoning for their game against
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                           guardian.co.uk
Page  G24 Sport                                                                         Tuesday May 8 2012              01:03 GMT

Sussex at Hove this week. For those in Yorkshire who were               Chambers, who joined Bolt’s training camp in Jamaica in
uneasy about losing a player of undeniable talent, the news that     2006, is currently back in Kingston training with the former
he is to join their fiercest rivals will make his departure even     world record-holder Asafa Powell under his coach Stephen
harder to stomach.                                                   Francis at the Maximising Velocity and Power (MVP) club.
    With Lancashire and Yorkshire in different divisions in the
Championship this season following Yorkshire’s relegation,
they are due to play each other only in the Friends Life t20, with   Wigan’s late winner confirms
a first meeting at Headingley on 29 June.                            Blackburn’s fall through the trapdoor
    Another England all-rounder of the recent past, Luke Wright
of Sussex, has delayed his return to the Indian Premier League
                                                                     Andy Hunter at Ewood Park
because of an illness which he fears may be dengue fever.
Wright was released by Pune Warriors to come home for his            They arrived with visions of Ronaldinho and David Beckham,
uncle’s funeral last week                                            sacked Sam Allardyce on the grounds he was not the man to
    Holland and Scotland claimed notable wins in the                 deliver Champions League football and asked a coach with no
Clydesdale Bank 40-over competition on Monday. Holland beat          managerial experience to advance on a reduced budget. It may
Worcestershire by nine wickets in Kidderminster under the            be glib to say the chickens have come home to roost for Venky’s,
Duckworth-Lewis method putting them on top of their group            the Indian poultry company who completed a £44m takeover
after a victory over Gloucestershire in Bristol on Sunday, and       of Blackburn Rovers [http://tinyurl.com/5yxbog] in November
Scotland beat Nottinghamshire by 10 wickets in another rain-         2010, but its calamitous reign has yielded the result the
affected match in Edinburgh.                                         suffering supporters have long protested was inevitable under
                                                                     Steve Kean. The Championship awaits them.
                                                                        A late defeat by Wigan Athletic [http://tinyurl.com/6ku5ss],
Dwain Chambers: I don’t expect an easy                               who secured their Premier League [http://tinyurl.com/6yneax]
ride at the Olympics                                                 status with a style, belief and sense of purpose that shames
                                                                     Blackburn, relegated Rovers from the top flight for the first time
                                                                     since 2001. The end encapsulated the torment that had gone
• Sprinter aims to ‘repay trust’ after drug                          before. Ewood Park erupted in calls for Venky’s to go and for
ban overturned • Chambers fastest British                            Kean to follow suit, as it had been doing all night and for most
100m runner but yet to qualify                                       of a sorry season. The Rovers manager ignored pleas from his
                                                                     personal bodyguard to disappear down the tunnel as roughly
Dwain Chambers [http://tinyurl.com/dct6uo] admits he is
                                                                     two dozen angry supporters invaded the pitch and tennis balls
braced for a backlash from the British public if he takes part at
                                                                     bearing the message “Kean Out” rained down from the skies.
this summer’s Olympics and has issued a plea for forgiveness
                                                                        Early in the game play had been interrupted by the
before his controversial return.
                                                                     appearance on the pitch of a chicken draped in Blackburn
    The sprinter will be allowed to compete at the Games as
                                                                     colours. It was caught by the formidable bulk of Yakubu
long as he meets the qualification standard after the court
                                                                     Ayegbeni – never to be seen again. When Blackburn will be seen
of arbitration for sport overturned the British Olympic
                                                                     back in the Premier League is also open to question given the
Association’s lifetime ban for drugs cheats.
                                                                     club’s trajectory under Venky’s.
    It means Chambers, who tested positive for
                                                                        For a club fighting to preserve their Premier League
tetrahydrogestrinone in 2003 and served a two-year ban, is
                                                                     status and supposedly stung by criticism that the team had
likely to make Team GB because he is the country’s fastest
                                                                     surrendered in defeat at Spurs, Blackburn’s exit was feeble in
100m runner at present, although he knows his appearance will
                                                                     the extreme. They sank as Kean had risen as manager; without
not go down well with many people.
                                                                     trace. Rovers were 13th when Allardyce was dismissed midway
    “I have made a mistake, a massive mistake, and all I want
                                                                     through last season, officially for his style of football and ability
is another chance to do the best for my country,” he told the
                                                                     to propel the club into the elite, allegedly for his refusal to have
Telegraph. “To run in my home Olympics? I would say it was
                                                                     signings imposed on him.
a dream come true but it’s not. Because I didn’t even bother
                                                                        Whatever the truth, the club were far from the imbalanced
dreaming. I thought I would be sitting at home watching.
                                                                     and inexperienced unit that have lost seven in eight league
    “Now the reality is if I qualify I will be there. That is
                                                                     matches and whose relegation was confirmed when Antolín
something I will cherish, it would be an honour and I want to
                                                                     Alcaraz headed home Jean Beausejour’s corner with three
make sure I do it with pride and enjoy it. But I know it won’t
                                                                     minutes remaining.
please everybody.
                                                                        Blackburn had a legitimate penalty appeal denied in the
    “There will be a lot of things said and a lot of comments. I
                                                                     second half, when Emmerson Boyce clipped Junior Hoilett’s
don’t expect an easy ride. People feel very strongly that, if you
                                                                     heel, and at least troubled Ali Al-Habsi in the Wigan goal after
are selected for your country, you should never jeopardise that.
                                                                     a moribund first-half display in which the visitors should have
And I did. I realise that and the only way I can repay their trust
                                                                     established a comfortable lead. Yet this was no hard-luck story.
now is by going out there and running to the best of my ability.”
                                                                        Kean has worked within tight financial restraints throughout
    Chambers will line up against Usain Bolt at his first high-
                                                                     his 18 months in charge, as Venky’s has reduced the wage bill
profile grand prix fixture in almost a decade later this month.
                                                                     and average age of the squad, while coming under pressure
He will be competing in a world-class field of sub-10second
                                                                     itself from the club’s bankers to reduce the overdraft. Key
sprinters on 25 May at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting in the
                                                                     players have been sold for hefty fees, notably Phil Jones and
Czech Republic.
                                                                     Chris Samba, experienced assets such as Ryan Nelsen and Brett
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                         guardian.co.uk
Page  G24 Sport                                                                         Tuesday May 8 2012             01:03 GMT

Emerton have been allowed to walk away, the New Zealand               board will consider it but only after a meeting, and presumably
defender and former club captain with no logical explanation,         vote, of clubs.Neil Doncaster, the SPL’s chief executive,
while Michel Salgado has not appeared this year to spare Rovers       confirmed an 8-4 is all that would be required to allow a newco
a 12-month extension to his contract. Yet it would be remiss          entry.
to absolve the manager of blame for the state of theBlackburn             Doncaster also refused to deny reports the SPL has been
squad.                                                                given legal advice which says no points penalties could be
    Eight players have arrived during Kean’s reign for a cost         imposed on a team re-entering the league in such a form. “It
of over £20m but only two – Yakubu and Scott Dann – started           is a very emotive issue and I have spoken to a lot of people
against Wigan. Bradley Orr and Anthony Modeste, a January             including lots of supporters about the situation,” Doncaster
free and loan signing respectively, completed the number of           said.
Kean recruits to a side handed the responsibility of preserving           “The perception is that there is a massive distinction
Blackburn’s Premier League status. But it was Wigan, and a            between a newco and a company voluntary arrangement and
Rovers support in open revolt, who made the most convincing           that a newco is somehow worse for creditors. That may not be
statement on a rain-sodden night.                                     the case. Clubs have been able to write off debts over the history
    Kean took the bold decision to counter the wing-back system       of football. It has gone on for many years and many, many,
that has propelled Wigan towards safety with a three-man              many clubs have written off an awful lot of debt.
attack of Yakubu, Hoilett and Modeste, making only his third              “That includes a number of clubs within Scottish football.
start for the club since arriving from Bordeaux. That gave Victor     They have written off debt and re-emerged within the league
Moses and Shaun Maloney freedom on both flanks to maintain            structure. It has certainly been the case south of the border,
their hugely impressive form and Wigan controlled the first           even involving newcos. We should not be assuming that this is
half, Franco Di Santo twice going close and Paul Robinson             somehow unique.
saving well from Moses before he squandered a gift of a back-             “It has aspects that are unique, but, fundamentally, clubs
post header from Di Santo’sdeep ball.                                 going into administration and writing off debt has happened on
    David Dunn was raucously cheered for one committed                many occasions over many years.”
tackle, so too the Blackburn youngsters who have reached the              Doncaster dismissed the suggestion that clubs are guilty
FA Youth Cup final against Chelsea and offer some distant hope        of looking to safeguard guaranteed cash rather than paying
for the future when they appeared on the pitch at half-time.          attention to matters of sporting integrity. “I think that is
But the game was played against a backdrop of incessant “Kean         entirely unfair on the owners who are concerned with the
Out” chants, demands for Venky’s to sell up and laments for the       survival of their clubs,” the chief executive insisted.
late Jack Walker. One protestor ran on to the pitch at the start of       Rangers’ administrators did not attend the SPL’s latest
the second half and threw his season ticket away in disgust. But      meeting at Hampden Park, instead submitting a written request
at Martínez, the Wigan manager. Kean’s personal bodyguard ran         for an adjournment. “The administrators gave the reason that
to the manager’s side in complete bewilderment.                       they felt it was appropriate for any new owner of Rangers to
    Yakubu and Modeste both went close before the referee             be involved in a decision in those sorts of area,” Doncaster
Mark Clattenburg dismissed the penalty calls. Wigan always            explained.
looked the more composed and cohesive side, however, and                  Doncaster refused to even hint at when the crucial
with three minutes to play Alcaraz’s header flew beyond               investigation into allegations that Rangers’ players historically
Robinson’s despairing grasp and Blackburn were down. Not one          held double contracts will be concluded.
Rovers supporter was surprised.                                           “I’m not going to make a prediction,” the chief executive
                                                                      said. “It is a complex investigation and it will be completed
                                                                      when it is completed. It is being carried out by the league’s
Rangers’ prospects of staying in the                                  solicitors and it is a hefty piece of work.
Premier League look brighter
                                                                      QPR’s Mark Hughes heads back to
• Clubs to vote on club staying in SPL • Bill
Miller wants to establish ‘newco’
                                                                      Manchester City with double agenda
Ewan Murray
                                                                      Manager has been aware of the ‘ominous’
The prospect of Rangers [http://tinyurl.com/3qtr4x] playing           fixture since he got to Loftus Road in
in the Scottish Premier League [http://tinyurl.com/6nes77]            January and is ready to settle a score
next season has increased with confirmation that five member
                                                                      Louise Taylor
clubs would need to object for such a move to be blocked. At
a meeting on Monday SPL clubs adjourned talks on financial            It is the morning of 19 December 2009. When Mark Hughes
fair play proposals until 30 May. These matters have direct           [http://tinyurl.com/mf64ek] switches his phone on he fields a
relevance to Rangers, for whom the American businessman               series of calls from friends and reporters telling him he is about
Bill Miller is the preferred bidder to take the club out of           to be sacked by Manchester City [http://tinyurl.com/4jsgmx].
administration. Miller wants to establish Rangers as a so-                At his local newsagents this prediction is already
called ‘newco’ to play in the SPL, a matter which has prompted        emblazoned in headline form across the backpage of a tabloid
outrage among opposition fans. SPL clubs have asked to take           but, when Hughes seeks clarification from City, none seems
such a decision between them, rather than leaving it to the           forthcoming. Ominously the previously supportive press officer
league board. If Miller’s application arrives before 30 May, the      is said to be “away on a trip” and, by now, the radio airwaves are
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                        guardian.co.uk
Page  G24 Sport                                                                          Tuesday May 8 2012             01:03 GMT

crackling with speculation that Roberto Mancini [http://tinyurl.        technical flaws, tactical weaknesses, preferred tricks and on-
com/ygc2p7j] is the club’s new manager in waiting.                      pitch foibles. He is also conscious that his Welsh counterpart
    It is a Saturday and in a matter of hours City are kicking off      continues to feel deeply wronged by his dismissal after only
at home against Sunderland. Hughes and his staff debate what            18 months in charge and at a time when City were sixth in the
to do. With the silence from the boardroom still deafening they         Premier League [http://tinyurl.com/6yneax] and had lost only
prepare the players as normal, take their seats in the dugout and       twice since the start of the 2009-10 season.
oversee a 4-3 win over Steve Bruce’s side. Within minutes of                “I had all the pain and now other people are getting the
the final whistle Hughes is told to clear his desk while Mancini        gain,” Hughes has complained repeatedly. The 48-year-old’s
prepares to be publicly anointed as his successor.                      mood is hardly enhanced by his managerial career, which had
    During the past few years City have done a lot of things            begun promisingly with Wales and then Blackburn Rovers,
extremely well, notably some life-changing charity work                 suddenly striking a few walls. There was a decent season at
locally and worldwide, but they handled Hughes’s departure              Fulham followed by a resignation designed to “further my
appallingly.                                                            ambitions” but which instead merely saw him ignored by Aston
    The fear now at the Etihad Stadium is that this crass               Villa and lose out to Martin O’Neill for the Sunderland job.
behaviour could come back and bite them. On Sunday Mancini’s                Eventually he accepted QPR’s offer but the feeling persists,
team need to beat Hughes’s Queens Park Rangers at Eastlands             at least for anyone who monitored the laudable transformation
to be sure of winning the title. Should City stumble, the notion        he implemented at Blackburn, that Hughes belongs at a bigger
that it might be karma in action will prove impossible to resist.       club.
    “There’s a big irony in that it’s him we’re up against,” says           The worry is that a man who commands immense affection
Joleon Lescott, one of several City first-teamers who were              from not only former players – Craig Bellamy, Shay Given, Tevez
either signed by the legendary Manchester United striker or             and Robbie Savage are just a few of those who will not hear
worked under him. “Mark Hughes was a great boss and he was              a word said against him – but, equally significantly, a cross-
very good to me.”                                                       section of junior employees at his former clubs was spoilt by the
    If the knowledge that Hughes inspired extraordinary loyalty         six-star luxury he swiftly grew accustomed to with City. Reports
from many City players, Carlos Tevez foremost among them,               of Hughes’s demands for bigger and better desks, chairs and
will be irrelevant on Sunday, the reality that QPR [http://             computers in an ultimately expanded office at Fulham certainly
tinyurl.com/4zkwvw] require a point to be certain of avoiding           did not reflect well on a man who did himself few favours with
relegation is making everyone at the Etihad distinctly queasy.          that “autocrat” jibe about Mancini.
    By way of added spice not only does Hughes’s backroom                   At least Sir Alex Ferguson probably enjoyed it. There
team contain former City employees including Mark Bowen,                were a few years when Hughes and his old United manager
Eddie Niedzwiecki and Kevin Hitchcock but the team                      experienced frosty relations but since the latter’s City exit the
features three Eastlands old boys, Nedum Onuoha, Shaun                  ice has broken, with Ferguson remembering precisely why
Wright-Phillips and Joey Barton.                                        he once described the younger, then surprisingly shy, young
    It has not been forgotten that the former City chief executive      Welshman as a “warrior you’d trust with your life”.
Garry Cook resigned in the wake of claims that he had emailed               Now he has no option but to pin his title hopes on one of Old
Onuoha’s cancer-suffering mother, mocking her illness. Or that          Trafford’s great centre-forwards and to pray that QPR’s players
an investigation by City pronounced there was “foundation” to           can somehow replicate their manager’s old brand of brilliance
the accusations.                                                        and brutality. “I just wish Sparky was still playing,” says
    While Onuoha left for QPR in January Barton departed in             Ferguson. “But Mark was sacked in a very unethical way and
the summer of 2007 – a year before Hughes succeeded Sven-               he’ll remember that.”
Goran Eriksson – in the wake of a training-ground assault on a              Joelon Lescott Became one of the world’s most expensive
team-mate, Ousmane Dabo, to which he later pleaded guilty               defenders when Mark Hughes’ City paid Everton £22m in
in court, thereby incurring a suspended prison sentence plus            August 2009
community service.                                                          Carlos Tevez Joined City in July 2009. Got on well with
    Potential sub-plots abound but the principal human-interest         Hughes, who defended him when he fell out with Roberto
storyline promises to be in and around the adjacent technical           Mancini in September
areas.                                                                      Gareth Barry Another who arrived in the summer of 2009
    Understandably Mancini took a dim view of ill-judged – if           after Hughes fought off Liverpool’s approach for the England
not entirely inaccurate – comments from Hughes last autumn in           midfielder
which he described the Italian as “autocratic” and blamed him               Nigel de Jong City paid Hamburg £18m for the combative
for Tevez’s three-month disappearance to Argentina.                     Holland midfielder and he quickly became a regular starter in
    “Maybe it’s a little bit fated that I’m going back to City on the   Hughes’ team
final day,” says Hughes. “If we were to get something, it would             Pablo Zabaleta One of Hughes’ first signings, unheralded at
be a fantastic story. They’re going for the title, we’re trying         £6.45m from Espanyol. Has become a key squad member
to stay in the league. That fixture loomed quite ominously in               Vincent Kompany Had a slow start to his City career after
the distant future when I first took over here [in January]. But        Hughes signed him in August 2008 but has since become the
maybe now the stars have aligned and things have fallen on our          hugely influential captain
side of the line.”
    Mancini, whose side have not lost at home all season, will
be mindful that Hughes and his staff possess rare, possibly
invaluable, knowledge of various City players’ little-known

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                         guardian.co.uk
Page  G24 Sport                                                                          Tuesday May 8 2012             01:03 GMT

                                                                           “Writing it has made me a better player,” he says. “It’s
                                                                       helped me put down some painful thoughts and, as I was
James Willstrop: London 2012 would                                     reaching the culmination, I began winning one big event after
have been perfect stage for squash                                     another. The first tournament was in Hong Kong when I was in
                                                                       the final stages of writing and redrafting. I remember winning
James Willstrop, the erudite but almost                                matches and, straightaway, heading off to a cafe to write.”
unknown squash world No1, said the IOC                                     Willstrop concentrates hard as he tries to voice the emotions
                                                                       that took hold of him, last December, when he became world
was wrong not to include his sport for the
                                                                       No1. “It was in Delhi and the actual night was magical,” he
Olympic Games                                                          murmurs. “You sit there and wonder why it feels so good.
Donald McRae                                                           All you can say is ‘unbelievable …’ It came at the end of a
                                                                       particularly brutal match against Grégory Gaultier.
James Willstrop, the world’s best squash [http://tinyurl.com/
                                                                           “The first game lasted 57 minutes – and I lost it. But I felt
mroncn] player, is rarely noticed away from the glass courts
                                                                       strong. The second game was also tight but I edged it. I ran away
of his brutal trade. He might be one of the most intriguing and
                                                                       from him in the third and in the fourth he retired with severe
driven competitors in British sport but the diffident disciple of
                                                                       cramp when I was 4-1 up. It was a tremendous mental effort.
Oscar Wilde mocks his enduring anonymity with a wry story.
                                                                           “I went to the floor. Remember how Mo Farah went down on
    “I enjoy being alone,” Willstrop says quietly as he begins
                                                                       the track after he won? I was like that. The achievement in itself
an anecdote which bears the deft touch of the writer he has
                                                                       is monumental – to be the best in the world. But I was more
become while rising to his current position as the world No1.
                                                                       overwhelmed by the time we had invested over so many years.
“So it was amusing when I got a taste of fame. I went to see One
                                                                       It took so long to reach that point, from so many people who
Man & Two Guvnors at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and ended
                                                                       made it happen.”
up imagining myself as Andy Murray.”
                                                                           The man who had done most to drive Willstrop was also in
    Willstrop laughs on a beautiful afternoon in Nuremberg,
                                                                       Delhi. Malcolm Willstrop, James’s father and maverick coach,
where he is in the midst of leading England to their annual title
                                                                       has been intimately involved in this slow rise from the courts of
as European champions alongside Nick Matthew, the world
                                                                       Pontefract to the pinnacle of squash. “Dad’s the Brian Clough
No2 and his contrasting nemesis and fellow Yorkshireman. The
                                                                       of squash,” Willstrop shrugs. “He’s brilliant but an extremely
gripping struggle between Willstrop and Matthew should be
                                                                       different character. That eccentricity makes him special.”
one of the stories of the Olympic Games this summer – except
                                                                           It also makes him difficult and, after their emotional night
for the fact that their sport continues to be ignored by the IOC.
                                                                       in Delhi with Vanessa and James’s half-brother, David, a coach
    Squash is played in 150 countries around the world and it
                                                                       on the British team, Malcolm Willstrop has withdrawn from
conveys the accessibility and purity of sport in graphic terms.
                                                                       his son. “It’s not been easy,” Willstrop says. “India knocked
Yet the IOC has either blocked the claims of squash or insisted
                                                                       the hell out of him. He had visa troubles and as soon as we got
golf and rugby sevens are more attuned to its Olympic ideals.
                                                                       back he fell ill with an infection. It was such a big achievement
It’s little wonder that Willstrop is happier talking about his most
                                                                       it’s almost been too much for him to absorb. He’s needed some
recent visit to the theatre.
                                                                       time alone because it’s been heavy. The intensity took so much
    “I was on my own in London as Vanessa [Atkinson, the
                                                                       out of him – because you work your whole life towards this goal
former world No1 squash player who is his girlfriend] was
                                                                       and, when it happens, you have to realign yourself.
away. As there was no reason to rush home to Leeds, I went
                                                                           “We had a couple of issues after I became world No1 when he
to the theatre. I made the mistake of buying a front-row seat
                                                                       went into his shell. It was his way of saying, ‘I need to get over
and got picked out for some audience participation – my worst
                                                                       this …’ All through January we didn’t say much to each other. I
nightmare. But, even though I’m shy, I’m a bit of a showman
                                                                       felt it was best to leave him to deal with whatever he’s dealing
deep inside. So up I went on stage, as one of Britain’s few world
                                                                       with. It’s resolved itself but he’s so different we’ll always have
No1s, and no one had a clue.
                                                                       these issues. I’m not the easiest person in the world either. He
    “If they’d asked me what I did I might’ve lied. I think it
                                                                       has to deal with my doubts and intensities. I just hope we see
would have spun them out if I said I played squash for a living
                                                                       him at the British Open.”
and, actually, I’m ranked one in the world. I preferred the fact
                                                                           Next Monday, at London’s O2, on the edge of the Olympic
that I was treading the boards where Wilde’s first comedy [A
                                                                       heartland, the British Open will showcase the absorbing rivalry
Woman Of No Importance] was staged.
                                                                       between Willstrop and Matthew – as well as Ramy Ashour,
    “I got through 10 minutes of mickey-taking with Owain
                                                                       Egypt’s feted young magician of the court. It will also ask the
Arthur – who was brilliant in the lead role – and at the interval I
                                                                       perplexing question as to why the IOC shuns squash – especially
needed a drink. Suddenly, people were staring and pointing at
                                                                       in this London Olympic year when Britain supplies the world’s
me. Andy Murray must feel like that whenever he goes out. Life
                                                                       two best players. “Our worst disappointment came in 2005,”
would be much more difficult if I had to deal with that constant
                                                                       Willstrop says, “when we came so close to being included in
scrutiny.”
                                                                       London 2012. They had removed two sports but chose not to
    Willstrop, who offers engaging company, can be solitary and
                                                                       vote in any replacements. So I wasn’t surprised when, voting
contradictory. But he brings a fierce insight and literary edge to
                                                                       for 2016, they went for golf and rugby sevens. Golfers have huge
his draining world. His first book, Shot And A Ghost, is one of
                                                                       fame and wealth and that drew the IOC – which also decided
the sporting reads of the year, a deeply personal and poignant
                                                                       rugby sevens would fill some arenas.”
account of life on tour and the grief he still feels after the death
                                                                           As the sport strives to be included in 2020, Willstrop extols
of his mother when he was 16. The book’s publication has
                                                                       the virtues of squash. “It’s tailor-made for the Olympics. Squash
coincided with his surge to world No1.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                        guardian.co.uk
Page  G24 Sport                                                                           Tuesday May 8 2012             01:03 GMT

has so many dimensions – speed, endurance, flexibility, agility,       our match affected them. I appreciate art; and sport, like in
skill and psychology. It’s accessible and inclusive. I wish they’d     that match, is a form of art. That artistry inspires and involves
see us in a stark setting like this, in Nuremberg, where small         people. It would have made a perfect fit for the Olympics this
countries get a chance. I’m not really a team-man but I love this      year.”
competition because some years we’ve had amateurs from the                A Shot and a Ghost: A year in the brutal world of professional
Isle of Man or Estonia next to the world No1.                          squash is available from www.willstrop.co.uk, £9.99
    “Squash is played all over the world and yet 90 men sit in
a hall and vote us out. I don’t know what more the IOC wants
from us because we’ve got as many Olympic attributes as any            Bolton Wanderers’ David Wheater out
other sport. I don’t think the world’s top golfers will care about     for nine months with knee injury
the Olympics and, let’s face it, there’s an inaccessibility about
golf. They didn’t let women on to some courses until recently.”
    Willstrop smiles thinly, but his incomprehension and hurt
                                                                       • Central defender ruptures anterior
is plain. “It would’ve been incredible to be part of London            cruciate ligament • Injury sustained in 2-2
2012. You’re seeing all the publicity Olympic sportsmen and            draw with West Bromwich Albion
women are getting and it reminds you how close we came.
                                                                       Press Association
It would be wonderful to bask in that recognition. But we’ll
just be watching TV at home this summer. I love the fact that          The Bolton Wanderers [http://tinyurl.com/4yhy8q] defender
low-profile but incredible people, like Sarah Stevenson in             David Wheater has been ruled out for nine months with a
taekwondo, are on this great stage. I just wish we could also be       ruptured cruciate ligament.The 25-year-old suffered the injury
there.”                                                                to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the 2-2 draw
    Later, at lunch, we are joined by his friend, Jenny Duncalf.       at home to West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on
After five minutes of amiable chit-chat I ask her what she is          Sunday.
doing in Nuremberg. Willstrop laughs gently. “Jenny’s No2 in               A club statement on Monday read: “Scans have revealed that
the world,” he explains. My embarrassed apologies are handled          David Wheater has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in
graciously by Duncalf. “I don’t expect you to know me,” she            his right knee.
smiles.                                                                    “The defender picked up the injury when he landed
    Yet she and her contemporaries in world squash should not          awkwardly during yesterday’s home game against West
be so cruelly anonymous. An Olympic final between Willstrop            Bromwich Albion. He is expected to be out of action for up to
and Matthew, after all, would provide sporting drama at its            nine months.”
most compelling. “It would have been incredible,” Willstrop
sighs. “People love animosity and there’ve been difficulties
between me and Nick. Things have been said and we’re very              Yaya Touré exposes growing gap
different. We don’t have much to do with each other outside            between Manchester City and United
squash and people are captivated. But he’s a great player and
our rivalry is really interesting.
    “Nick was No1 for a long time and then, in January, I took
                                                                       Watching the City midfielder at the
over. He beat me in February and got it back and then, in              weekend would have triggered a mixture of
March, I was determined at this big tournament in Richmond             envy and frustration in Sir Alex Ferguson
[Virginia]. I had a blinder and beat Ramy 3-0 in the final. It was
                                                                       Sachin Nakrani
one of my most accomplished performances and all the sweeter
because I’m No1 again.”                                                Reduced to hoping Manchester City [http://tinyurl.com/
    Does Matthew himself believe Willstrop is the world’s best         4jsgmx] suffer a Devon Loch-like collapse in their pursuit of
player? “Probably not. At 31, he’s at his peak. I’m 28 and getting     the title, it cannot have escaped Sir Alex Ferguson’s attentions
better all the time but his game has stifled me at times. Nick         that the man who has edged them to glory has the gallop of a
has had it over me quite substantially. He’s won our last 16 or 17     thoroughbred. Yaya Touré was at his rampaging best against
matches. That’s a lot and he’s 30-odd to 15 ahead. He’s been on        Newcastle United on Sunday and Ferguson would have been
this run against me because, for two years, he was the best in         forgiven for harbouring a mixture of envy and frustration.
the world. But I’m now No1.”                                               No single player can be deemed to have been the difference
    Does his losing-streak carry some psychological baggage? “I        in this gripping championship battle but Touré perhaps best
really don’t think so,” Willstrop says. “None of them have been        epitomises why a power shift across Manchester appears not
devastating losses and he was beating everyone else as well.           only imminent but also long-lasting. He is a £24m midfielder
I look at my defeats sensibly and realise I’ve played very well        who earns £250,000 a week and, as he showed at St James’s
against Nick. I’m ready to beat him again.”                            Park, can all but decide big games. Old Trafford has no one who
    Willstrop leans forward and, speaking in a way that would          comes close in comparison.
not be matched by an Olympic golfer or rugby sevens player,                Indeed it is telling that having stepped out of retirement in
reflects on the bruising artistry of his sport. “I like to win but I   January, Paul Scholes is likely to finish the season not only as
remember a heavy two-hour match Nick and I played at Canary            United’s highest-scoring central midfielder – he has four goals in
Wharf in 2010. It was amazing squash and I was more proud              20 appearances – but also their most impressive. Some feat for
than disappointed. Nick and I shared something that is still           a player who made his United debut before many of his team-
talked about today. I love it when people come up and say how          mates had left primary school.
                                                                           Any analysis of United’s comparative lack of class in central
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                         guardian.co.uk
Page 10 G24 Sport                                                                      Tuesday May 8 2012               01:03 GMT

midfield must take into account the mitigating circumstances,
most notably Darren Fletcher’s absence since December with
ulcerative colitis, and the foot injury that interrupted Tom
                                                                   Blackburn Rovers v Wigan – as it
Cleverley’s impressive progress four matches into the new          happened
campaign; but they tell only a small part of a wider story.
Because while City have spent £80m on central midfielders          Blackburn are relegated, Wigan are safe,
since January 2009, bringing in Touré, Nigel de Jong, Gareth       and a chicken runs on the pitch – all on one
Barry and James Milner, their more illustrious neighbours have
                                                                   amazing night!
not parted with a single penny for an equivalent player.
    Welcome, the cynics would say, to the effects of               Simon Burnton
“Glazernomics”, the top-down rerouting of United’s enormous
                                                                   Pre-match ramble: Wigan are bang in form, having won five of
wealth that has meant the club made a smaller net spend over
                                                                   their last seven games to drag themselves from the very cusp of
the past five years than Sunderland, Stoke City and Aston Villa.
                                                                   disaster to the very brink of security. Blackburn are bang out of
Ferguson has not once criticised the club’s American owners
                                                                   form, having lost six of their last seven games to slip from the
since their takeover seven years ago but privately the Scot must
                                                                   very brink of security to the very cusp of disaster.
be cursing a regime which ultimately required him to ask a
                                                                       So these are the facts: If Wigan win, their Premier League
37-year-old to come out of retirement in order to improve a key
                                                                   [http://tinyurl.com/6yneax] status is secure for another season.
area of his squad. Put simply, Scholes returned because Wesley
                                                                   If they draw, only a last-day goal-difference turnaround of quite
Sneijder and Luka Modric proved out of reach.
                                                                   ludicrous proportions will relegate them. If they lose it’ll go to
    Ferguson has, of course, spent big since the Glazers came
                                                                   the final day, when they’ve got the most winnable fixture of any
in, with the team that started against Swansea City on Sunday
                                                                   relegation-threatened side. They aren’t yet safe, but they’re not
costing only £1m less to put together than that sent out by
                                                                   far off.
Roberto Mancini against Newcastle United earlier in the
                                                                       If Blackburn win, and then win again at Chelsea on Sunday,
day (£165.1m compared to £166.1m). But it has been evident
                                                                   they might just avoid relegation. If they drop any points at all in
for some time that the centre of United’s team has needed
                                                                   either game, they are doomed.
bolstering and having spent big on three players in that area
                                                                       The final-day relegation-region fixtures, for your
– Michael Carrick (£18.6m), Owen Hargreaves (£17m) and
                                                                   information, look something like this:
Anderson (£27m) – within a 12-month period up to July 2007,
                                                                       Chelsea v Blackburn Manchester City v QPR Stoke v Bolton
Ferguson would clearly have addressed the situation if it had
                                                                   Wigan v Wolves
been within his powers to do so.
                                                                       Tonight’s teams are in! And they look something like this.
    The 70-year-old may well reflect on that with some angst
                                                                   Quite a lot like this actually. Exactly like this, in fact. Blackburn:
should City go on to clinch their first championship since 1968.
                                                                   Robinson, Orr, Dann, Givet, Martin Olsson, Hoilett, Dunn,
United may end up losing out on goal difference alone having,
                                                                   Lowe, Pedersen, Modeste, Yakubu. Subs: Kean, Formica,
as things stand, conceded just six more goals than their “noisy
                                                                   Petrovic, Nzonzi, Rochina, Marcus Olsson, Goodwillie. Wigan:
neighbours” and, in Wayne Rooney, having a player who
                                                                   Al Habsi, Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa, Boyce, McArthur,
has scored more goals in the Premier League [http://tinyurl.
                                                                   McCarthy, Beausejour, Moses, Di Santo, Maloney. Subs: Pollitt,
com/6yneax] this season than anyone else bar Robin van Persie.
                                                                   Crusat, Ben Watson, Gomez, Sammon, Rodallega, Diame.
In other words, the margin between success and failure will
                                                                   Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
be small, one that could have been bridged had Ferguson been
                                                                       “I’m so excited for the Blackburn v Wigan MBM,” writes
able to sign Sneijder, Modric or another high-end midfielder
                                                                   Marc Howlett. Why thank you, Marc. “Really! I was vacationing
last summer. Even someone who could have provided cover
                                                                   in London seven years ago when Wigan got promoted. One of
for Fletcher, Cleverley and, when he was injured, Carrick could
                                                                   my favorite holiday activities reading newspapers. I enjoyed all
have made the difference given, for example, that four of the
                                                                   of the ‘Who are Wigan?’ stories so much that I became an avid
five defeats United suffered in all competitions at Old Trafford
                                                                   supporter. Seven years later, we’re still in the Premier League.
this season came when Carrick was absent from the team.
                                                                   A win today will ensure our survival for another year. It’s truly
    Across town, City can revel in the midfielders they have
                                                                   an astonishing feat for such a small club.” I think most neutrals
splashed out on in recent seasons and Touré in particular
                                                                   are hoping that Wigan stay up at the moment – they’re run over
given his devastating displays this season. Nine goals in 41
                                                                   the last month or so has been astonishing, and would have been
appearances only begin to tell the story of how the 28-year-old
                                                                   even more so but for the poor performance of a linesman at
force of nature has contributed to the club’s rise. “Nothing he
                                                                   Chelsea. Also Roberto Martinez deserves credit for not leaving
does surprises me because big players do important things at
                                                                   for Aston Villa last summer, and the club for not sacking him
vital times,” said Joleon Lescott. “When you get players like
                                                                   last winter.
that you also believe in yourself.”
                                                                       According to @06jsamsla on Twitter, Burnley fans have
    80m Pounds spent by Manchester City on central midfielders
                                                                   organised a plane with the banner ‘Agent Kean: Mission
since 2008
                                                                   Accomplished’ to fly over Ewood tonight. That’ll stoke things
    0 Pounds spent by Manchester United on central midfielders
                                                                   up nicely for next season’s derby.
since 2008
                                                                       “Win or lose, stay up or go down, surely Steve Kean will
    89 Points held by United if they win at Sunderland. No team
                                                                   not be in charge at Ewood Park next season,” observes John
has taken so many yet finished second
                                                                   Ainsworth. “The big question is which of the top clubs will be
    7 Years since United last completed a season without
                                                                   competing for his signature? Sir Alex can’t go on for ever (and
winning a trophy
                                                                   he has been gushing in his praise for Kean), Di Matteo is only
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                        guardian.co.uk
Page 11 G24 Sport                                                                         Tuesday May 8 2012              01:03 GMT

a caretaker and if Mancini doesn’t win the title will there be a       wing, but his cross is right at Robinson. “Hopefully the chicken
vacancy at City?” Interesting, John. I would have thought that         incident will lead to similarly symbolic protests at other clubs,
Roman Abramovich would pay millions to make sure he gets               based their owners’ backgrounds,” writes James Murton.
the job at Old Trafford – the kind of fundraising scheme that the      “Ideally at Gold and Sullivan’s West Ham.”
Glazers would surely be very keen on.                                      24 mins: Moses somehow keeps the ball in on the left corner,
     The players are out. Kick-off comin’ atcha!                       somehow takes it past Scott Dann, and then shoots from an
     1 min: Peeeeeeeeep! Wigan kick off, and immediately give          acute angle straight at Robinson. The ball’s cleared for a corner.
the ball away.                                                         Here’s video evidence of the Ewood chicken [http://tinyurl.
     3 mins: A high-tempo, highly scrappy opening. The plane           com/dyugkuo].
carrying a message from Burnley fans has already passed                    27 mins: Blackburn have a free-kick, fairly central, at least 35
Ewood Park – pictorial evidence attached.                              yards out. It looks like Pedersen’s going to shoot...
     4 mins: Dunn totally takes out Maloney. The ball breaks to            28 mins: Weeeeeeeeeeeeee! A rubbish shot flies miles over
Victor Moses, the referee waves play on and the shot flies over        the bar.
the bar. Dunn is lucky not to get booked for that.                         30 mins: A third of the match gone, and the best that can
     6 mins: There’s a chicken on the pitch! And it’s wearing a        be said of Blackburn is that they’re not yet losing. Wigan have
Blackburn top!                                                         had the two best chances, and they were the best by a very long
     7 mins: Wigan have started very well, repeatedly pushing          way. “Can’t myself think of any chickens in football history,
down the left-hand side. The chicken has stopped play.                 but you might want to get in touch with Robbie Fowler. He
     8 mins: Al Habsi has caught the chicken.                          could probably point you in the right direction,” offers Richard
     9 mins: CHANCE! Di Santo runs past two tackles and space          Hooker.
opens up for him. He runs into the penalty area, but shoots,               31 mins: Wigan send a right-wing free kick zooming to the
unchallenged, too close to Robinson. Should have done better           back stick, where Di Santo heads it back across goal. The ball
there. “For the life of me I don’t know why I have got out of          is heading straight into the path of Moses, eight yards out and
bed at 4:45 on a cold morning to watch two teams I don’t care          readying for a tap-in, when Gary Caldwell gets a vital touch to
about,” complains Marty. “However, it occurred to me that if           divert it to safety. Yes, Wigan’s Gary Caldwell. “Notable football
QPR stay up at the expense of Bolton, this will be the first time      chickens – does Glenn Cockerill count?” asks Mark Judd. Yes
since 2002 that all three promoted teams avoided relegation.           Mark, yes he does.
The three teams then were Bolton, Blackburn and Fulham.                    36 mins: Di Santo’s delicious cross from the right finds Victor
If Fulham were in place of Wolves, the symmetry would be               Moses, level with the back post. Though he may have been
complete!” Excellent stat action, Marty.                               distracted by the onrushing Paul Robinson, he still looks a bit
     11 mins: “Kean out!” shout the Blackburn fans. And then           silly as he heads the ball actually away from goal. “Regarding
“Oooooooh!”, after Yakubu lays the ball off to Modeste, who            animal protests, let us hope for the sake of the chickens that
attempts a Cissé-wondergoal-against-Chelsea-style effort with          Leicester and Blackburn fans don’t get the same idea during one
the outside of his right boot, but from the right flank. It’s not on   of their games next season,” writes Mark Elliott. “Perhaps the
target.                                                                RSPCA should be on standby.”
     12 mins: “Surely that was a fowl in the penalty area?”                39 mins: I can’t find any trace of a Blackburnchicken or
observes Jim Denvir, of the chicken.                                   Ewoodchicken account on Twitter yet, so it’s lagging a long way
     15 mins: Wigan continue to threaten, though not by going          behind the Anfieldcat of a few months back.
so far as to have a genuinely dangerous shot. “As a resident               40 mins: Blackburn have a genuinely dangerous free kick
of sunny Oman, I’d like to point out that since Wigan popped           now, just outside the penalty area on the right, a couple of yards
out to Al Habsi’s homeland for a holiday in mid-Feb, they’ve           from the byline. Pedersen, well, I’m sure it was a shot, that
picked up 18 points in 11 games at 1.63/game,” writes Tony             curled at high speed across goal and out again on the other side.
O’Connor. “Therefore, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that        A ludicrous, infuriating but not entirely unexpected decision. If
if they’d come pre-season, they’d have 58 points and be sitting        I were his team-mate I’d spit in his tea.
just below Chelsea. Martinez is a great manager, but leaving               43 mins: Another Moses header dribbles off target, though
the squad’s Omani vacation so late in the season was a massive         this was from relatively long range. “The Chicken is the
tactical blunder.”                                                     colloquial name for a 1946college football game between the
     16 mins: Notable chickens in football history No2: The 1986       South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers,” writes
Cup Winners’ Cup final [http://tinyurl.com/czx5pxa]. Any               Arthur Fooks. “The game is one of the most significant in the
more?                                                                  history of the Carolina-Clemson Rivalry, and its name is a
     19 mins: Blackburn win a corner. Wigan are looking the            reference to a halftime incident where a Clemson fan ran on the
better team here, but the home side aren’t repeating their             field and strangled a live chicken. A South Carolina cheerleader
disastrous tactical howler from the Spurs game (namely, not            tried to rescue the chicken, but failed.”
ever trying to attack).                                                    44 mins: David Dunn comes off with yet another injury, and
     20 mins: Talking of which, a shot! Dunn’s the man with            Marcus Olsson replaces him.
it, though it’s from a long way out and goes a long way over.              45 mins: We’ll have two minutes of stoppage time here. “I
Meanwhile, some more birds-in-football video action – duck             would say that making jokes about Robbie Fowler’s surname (30
[http://tinyurl.com/cayw9zk]!                                          mins) puts Richard Hooker on very thin ice,” writes Matt Dony.
     21 mins: Dann fouls Moses just outside Blackburn’s penalty            45+2 mins: McArthur finds Maloney on the left of the penalty
area. The referee unaccountably waves play on.                         area, but his low cross is cleared. Marc Howlett points out
     22 mins: Wigan find Boyce in acres of space on the right          the Twitter accounts @blackburnrooste (49 followers) and @

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                          guardian.co.uk
Page 1 G24 Sport                                                                         Tuesday May 8 2012               01:03 GMT

EwoodParkChick4 (one follower).                                       looks set to scoot through on goal. But then Alcaraz saves the
    45+3 mins: Peeeeeeeeeeep! It’s half time, and Blackburn are       day with an excellent intervention. Blackburn are coming into
lucky to reach this point without conceding. Can they man up          this, you know.
and grab this game by the throat in the second period?                    65 mins: Di Santo has the ball, central, 40 yards from goal.
    The players are back in the tunnel. No they’re not – they’re      McCarthy is running into oceans of space to his right. He tries a
being taken back into their changing rooms! What’s going on?          ludicrously optimistic shot.
Everyone looking confused. “I hope there’s not something                  67 mins: Maloney is running towards the penalty area and
happening,” says Gary Neville. Well yes. Or that something is         thinking about shooting, when Pedersen takes him out and
happening, but it’s a good thing.                                     earns a yellow card. “Am in a pub called The Bridge in Burnley
    Sky are reporting that there is “a situation with Gael Givet”     and we all think Kean should be given a chance next season,”
and that paramedics have been called.                                 writes Martin Austin. “In fact there about 25 blokes singing
    Now the players are out. So presumably nothing serious has        ‘Stevie Kean, we want you to stay!’”
happened. More news as I get it.                                          69 mins: It’s always been raining, but it looks like it’s
    46 mins: Peeeeeeeeeeeep! They’re off! Again! Radosav              progressed from a bit of drizzle to genuinely chucking down.
Petrovic has replaced Givet, who we’re told is OK.                    @EwoodChick seems to be winning the Twitter chicken wars,
    46 mins: There’s a human on the pitch! Another human, I           with 191 followers.
mean, in addition to the 23 who are supposed to be there. And             71 mins: OK, 20 minutes left to play, Wigan doing most of the
now he’s been taken away. Perhaps he was looking for a lost           attacking. This is do or die time for Blackburn, surely?
chicken.                                                                  71 mins: Moses bursts into the penalty area, goes down over
    47 mins: Pedersen’s ludicrously optimistic shot clips             Pedersen’s leg and is booked for diving, quite rightly I think.
McCarthy and goes for a corner. “The last time Blackburn got              72 mins: Wigan continue to find lots of space on the wings,
relegated (in 1999) was on a miserable weekday evening kick-          particularly when switching the ball quickly from one side to
off, drawing 0-0 at home to a team from the Northwest (okay,          the other, but their crossing hasn’t been up to much, as a rule.
it was United and not Wigan),” writes Ryan Sharpe. “The same              75 mins: Looks like the reason why the referee didn’t give
year witnessed a Champions League final between Bayern                Blackburn a penalty in the 60th minute was that Marcus Olsson
Munich and an English team that had been pronounced dead              was standing right in front of him and he couldn’t see a thing.
and buried in the semis. God has a wicked sense of humour.”               77 mins: Wigan continue to shoot optimistically whenever
    50 mins: Al Habsi does very well to claim Pedersen’s long         they’re within 25 yards of goal – Di Santo with the latest rubbish
free-kick before (I think) Dann got there first.                      effort – while Blackburn continue to not do very much, and
    53 mins: McArthur turns cleverly and lays the ball off to         most of what they do do they don’t do very well. The clock is
Modeste, whose shot is deflected high. Wigan continue to              ticking.
press. “Wigan’s recent success has been built on a sort of 3 5            78 mins: Hoilett’s shot is going wide, and Al Habsi should
2 formation with wingbacks (for want of a better description)         have either left it or caught it. But he lets it slip out of his grasp
pushing on forward and yet it appears that Steve Kean, in             and wide for a corner.
his mercurial wisdom, has decided to play a narrow midfield               80 mins: The conditions are making life very difficult for the
three,” writes Christopher Lee from Ewood Park. “Is that as daft      goalkeepers. Martin Olsson gets to the byline on the left wing
as I think it is?” Yes, unless Blackburn win.                         and sends in a low cross which Al Habsi grabs at the second
    54 mins: CHANCE FOR BLACKBURN! The home side                      attempt. Blackburn immediately bring Goodwillie, a striker, on
counter, and win a corner which is lifted high beyond the back        for Orr, a defender.
post. Dann heads the ball back across, and Yakubu turns it                81 mins: Penalty area ping pong! McCarthy finds Moses, who
towards goal from five yards but hits Beausejour. There’s hope        turns and shoots. Robinson can’t hold it, McCarthy is first to the
for them yet!                                                         loose ball, and he shoots. Robinson still can’t hold it, Moses is
    55 mins: Unbelievably rubbish long-range shot of the day          first to the loose ball, but Robinson eventually smothers.
award goes to Victor Moses, whose effort is sent so wide that             83 mins: CHANCE FOR WIGAN! Boyce crosses from the right
Blackburn win a throw in 15 yards from their goal line.               wing, Maloney rises all alone but the ball loops off his head and
    57 mins: Beausejour crosses from the left, Di Santo nods the      over the bar. That was a very, very good chance.
ball down, and Moses volleys high and wide. A decent chance,              85 mins: Substitution: Wigan replace Franco Di Santo with
that.                                                                 Conor Sammon. Five minutes to go, Blackburn. Whatcha gonna
    59 mins: Merry news: not only is Gael Givet not in mortal         do about it?
danger, he’s sitting on the Blackburn bench looking happy as a            86 mins: Moses pings the ball across the box and it’s only just
lamb in spring.                                                       too far ahead of Sammon. Four minutes to go.
    60 mins: Penalty area pinball madness! Blackburn have the             GOAL! BLACKBURN 0 WIGAN 1 (Alcaraz, 87 mins) Bye bye
ball in Sigan’s penalty area. McCarthy misses his kick, and just      Blackburn! Wigan win a corner, and no one tracks Alcaraz’s two-
as Hoilett ran on to the loose ball, Boyce kicked him in the back     yard movement. Robinson gets a hand to the header, but can’t
of the shin. I’m sure he meant to kick the ball, but he didn’t, and   keep it out.
that was surely a penalty.                                                88 mins: Modeste, who has been pretty much invisible all
    61 mins: Givet suffered nothing more than a hamstring             night, skies a shot from 20 yards.
strain.                                                                   89 mins: Moses, who has worked like a trojan and run like
    62 mins: An enormous chorus of “We want Venky’s out”              a whippet, is brought down. Blackburn are ending this season
echoes around the stadium as Wigan prepare to take a throw-in.        with a whimper.
    64 mins: Caldwell misses the ball, and for a moment Yakubu            90+1 mins: We’re into the first of three minutes of stoppage

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                                                           guardian.co.uk
Page 13 G24 Sport                                                     Tuesday May 8 2012   01:03 GMT

time. Marcus Olsson celebrates by looping a cross straight out
of play.
   90+3 mins: They may be terrible owners, but Venky’s have
got the Blackburn crowd singing. I’ve not heard atmosphere like
this at Ewood for years. Another chorus of “We want Venky’s
out!” rings around the ground.
   90+4 mins: Peeeeeeeep! It’s all over! Wigan are safe, and
Blackburn have gone!
   There’s a minor pitch invasion in progress. Sky are talking
about how unpleasant it is, and to be fair they are actually there,
but I can’t see anyone doing anything particularly untoward.
“As an Arsenal fan I can’t help but feel pleased for the 200 or so
Wigan fans who came to watch them spank us a month ago,”
writes Tom Atkins. “After making that journey on a Monday
night for what at that stage looked like a lost cause they deserve
this, and more next season.”
   “There was a couple of them throwing things towards the
dug-out and towards the players,” reports Gary Neville of the
pitch invaders. This isn’t good, obviously, but Paul Robinson
spent quite some time out there, with a camera following his
every move, and was the victim of nothing more than a hearty
pat on the back.
   So the relegation scrap comes down to this: can Bolton beat
Stoke on Sunday? If they do, then they have a very good chance
of overtaking QPR, who are at Manchester City. If they don’t,
they’re doomed.
   So Blackburn flunked this fight, but it looks like there will
be bigger battles to come at Ewood Park. They might not have a
great team right now, but they’re a proper club. I wish them the
future they deserve.
   As for Wigan, they’ve got nothing to worry about, not
for another year at least. “It’s a great feeling,” says Roberto
Martínez. “You could feel the tension. It was a cagey affair, but
to have that determination, to keep a clean sheet away from
home, and then the end of it, it was incredible. These players
deserve so much credit. What we had to do in the last 13 games
was a tough, tough job, believe me.” I believe you, Bobby.




guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007                                        guardian.co.uk

				
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