Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Revolting Buccaneers threaten to sink Brazilian boss Leal

Super sub: Julio Leal with Benni McCarthy

South Africa’s all-conquering Orlando Pirates face a dressing room revolt over their Brazilian boss Julio Leal BEFORE they travel to Angola this weekend for the second leg of their African Champions League clash with Recreativo Desportivo do Libolo.
While their Bafana Bafana colleagues prepare to take on Senegal in Durban tomorrow night, the Buccaneers – excused international call-up for the friendly as they prepare to overcome a 3-1 first leg deficit against the Angolans on Saturday – are reported to be in a “players-only” meeting where problems with their coach will be thrashed out.
Rumours that Leal had “lost the dressing room” emerged a fortnight ago, belying the club’s current status as the holders of all the domestic trophies on offer in South Africa. Under Leal, the reigning League champions have already won the Telkom Knock-out and MTN Super Eight titles this season.
Yesterday, the popular Soccer Laduma site reported the players don’t want Leal to accompany them on the tough trip to Angola, where they require a 3-0 win to overcome the away goal. They quote an anonymous player as saying: “Most of us have lost faith in the guy and even feel he shouldn’t be taking us to Angola if we are to have any chance of turning the tie around.”
Goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs is alleged to have voiced the squad’s complaints to the club’s powerful chairman Irvin Khosa, the “Iron Duke” who has immense influence in South African football.
A second Buccaneer is quoted saying: “Don’t be fooled by the recent good results, it doesn’t mean everything is okay with the team. With the quality squad we have, we should be doing better.”
Pirates won the treble in South Africa last season and are currently third in the South African Premier League, level on points with Soweto neighbours Kaizer Chiefs and just three points adrift of big-spending leaders Mamelodi Sundowns.
But their League position belies a series of problems in the Pirates camp, which came to a head on Sunday when Leal, surprisingly brought in to replace the highly successful Dutchman Ruud Krol at the start of the season, admitted the fans had persuaded him to bring on match-winner Benni McCarthy.
With his side held goalless for 70 minutes by lowly Martizburg United, Leal had already made two impactless substitutions when he brought on former West Ham United striker McCarthy. Three minutes later Bafana Bafana’s record goal-scorer, now 34 and fined for being too fat at Upton Park, produced an acrobatic overhead kick to win the game.
Haunted by the Ghost – the name given to skull-and-crossbone clad Bucaneer faithful - Leal confessed: "I know very well the Orlando Pirates supporters. They were in a hurry. They asked for Benni by chanting his name. They were right and I was right to make the change."
Amid suggestions that the Ghost had frightened the Brazilian into a response, Leal said: "I respect that, but this is not mathematics or science. This is an art and it comes with emotions.”
Leal’s season has not been easy despite his trophy-winning exploits. Stepping in to Krol’s shoes after wins in three competitions – league, cup and top eight - was never going to be comfortable. Matters were complicated when his popular assistant coach Joao da Silva returned to Latin America, apparently annoyed over Leal’s methods.
Leal, whose younger brother Jairo is Pitso Mosimane’s backroom assistant with the international squad, struggles to speak fluent English in post-match interviews and looked embarrassed after the dreadful 3-1 defeat to Recreativo in Port Elizabeth. Analysts suggest little homework had been done to find out exactly who the Angolan dangermen were.
After seeing his side move back in to title contention with two squeaky League wins since the eight-week Christmas break, Leal confesses: “Pressure? Well, I hear people talk. They say a lot of things that I’m under pressure, that I’m taking a lot of stress.”
And he says of the trip to Angola: “We scored four against Platinum Stars two weeks ago. We can do it again.”
But he made no mention of the three goals conceded at the Bafokeng Sports Palace – or the last-gasp Josephs save needed to secure the win.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Platinum starring role looms for Pirates treble-winning coach Ruud Krol

Ruud awakening: Krol is on his way to Platinum Stars
RUUD KROL, the coach so rudely dumped by Orlando Pirates after winning the fabled treble last season, will be back in top flight South African management with Platinum Stars before the end of the week.
The Dutchman, linked to a number of roles since Irvin Khosa's bizarre decision to part company with his manager after the Buccaneers most successful season on record, will replace ailing Stars boss Owen Da Gama after last night's dramatic 4-3 defeat against Krol's former club.
In perhaps the best game of the South African season so far, Benni McCarthy made a late third goal for Tokela Rantie before scoring himself with a powerful header to make it 402.
But in injury time, the Stars pulled on back and only an injury-time save from Man of the Match Monieb Josephs denied the Phokeng side a share of the points.
While we recovered breathless from those scenes, word emerged that
Rudolf Josef Krol, now 62, played 83 games for Holland and was part of the Rinus Michels revolution which produced "total football" in the 1970s.
The Dikwena are not a side without backing. King Lerui is ready to put substantial Platinum profits in to the side since moving them to the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace three seasons ago - and managing director Floyd Mbele is under pressure to find a boss who can justify that investment, having parted company with the impressive Steve Komphela, now doing well at Free States Stars, two years ago.
The Stars haven't won a game since October 15, when they downed struggling Capetonians Santos 4-1. And that's why Krol was in the stands at the Palace last night frantically scribbling notes as he prepares to guide the club out of trouble.
South African football fans woke up this morning to find their celebrations over last night's epic win ruined by the death of former Bafana Bafana star Thabang Lebese at Helen Joseph hospital. He was admitted in a "serious state" last week and the former Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs star died this morning from an undisclosed illness.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Darren Scott is back. And this time he's got Ballz.

Breaking his silence: Darren and I at Centurion golf club
Five months after "the lowest point of my life" Darren Scott is back. And this time, he's got Ballz.
That's not bad spelling, it's the typically Darrenesque name given to Scott's new venture, a "visual radio" platform featuring four hours of sport and entertainment every day on your computer - and while you're on the move, for those lucky enough to have a smart mobile device.
When Scott and his new crew - drawn largely from Jacaranda's Just Plain Breakfast team - launched their Facebook page last week, they picked up over 5,000 followers in less than a week. Darren, who "nearly lost everything" after issuing a single racial insult five months ago, is battling back.
But it hasn't been easy. Scott, 48, went "pretty close to the edge" after using the K-word in an argument with a colleague at a drink-fuelled team-building session in Mabula on September 6 last year.
Scott and his Jacaranda colleague Africa Tshaoedi got together after the incident and made their peace. Africa had owed Darren money and had approached him several times at the bar before Scott lost his temper and let slip the worst word in the South African lexicon.
But the media wouldn't let him off the hook. His own employers, Jacaranda, appeared keen to make a monster out of the story.
Scott recalls: "The great disappointment to me was that we'd moved on. I'd already met with Africa and spoken to him. We'd shaken hands two days before the story was published. I apologised.
"When the story broke, I came clean, I admitted to my mistake. I went on John Robbie's 702 show and told the truth. I was destroyed by what I'd said. I even spoke to Prof Jonathan Jansen about my rehabilitation.
"Prof Jansen (famed as a conciliator after an infamous racist incident involving workers and students at the University of the Orange Free State) suggested a meeting with Africa. To put this behind us once and for all.
"I called Africa regarding this recently and the vibe between us is really cool. In fact I've spoken to Africa more since my departure than I have some of my former so-called "colleagues" (JustPlainBreakfast Team apart of course - they are great mates and we stay in contact regularly). Let's just say a high profile meeting with someone (unnamed but well known) and the two of us has been put forward and will happen soon.
But some critics will never be satisfied. Jacaranda issued a statement saying Scott had left his hugely popular breakfast show because of the incident; the face of rugby was forced to leave SuperSport a couple of days later, barely a week before the Rugby World Cup kicked off in New Zealand.
Darren admits: "The Supersport thing was the biggest, it affected me when they actually called. Jacaranda said I left because of the incident, but I was already sick and tired of working for unremarkable management, that's the bottom line, a plethora of things had happened.
"The departure of the respectful and talented Alan Khan to KZN left a massive void and the writing was on the wall even then, if not before that. I can't go in to all the issues with Jacaranda. I resigned, I wasn't pushed. Let's leave it at that.
"With Supersport it was a very professional, and very well handled process by comparison, handled by competent management. Although I am a radio man first and foremost, for the first time in my life I think I have missed the TV thing more than the radio, probably because I respect, and have the respect of, the management there.
"And most of my former studio and production colleagues have stayed in touch regularly and been a great source of support. Would I look forward to another return to Supersport if the opportunity arose; of course I would!"
So the flame is still there, fuelling the famous Scott creativity. But elsewhere the fire has eased. Darren no longer smokes and he has given up drinking too.
Looking a lot fitter than he did before Christmas, Scott says: "I haven't had a drink for eight days, I stopped Jack Daniels and all that stuff a long time ago. I did have a couple of glasses of wine sometimes with dinner, but that's stopped.
"And I've quit smoking! I thought it would be a battle since I quit on December 20th, but it's been easy - apart from the odd time when a glass of wine or two was being consumed. I must admit I did have the odd one on a special occasion, but now: no booze, no smokes! And I'm back in training!
"Funny, when I heard about Whitney Houston's death on Sunday, I realised I'm the same age as Whitney. It was the first thing that struck me, her first record came out when my career started at Capital Radio in 1984."
The new Ballz concept has created a storm on Facebook, and he's also just returned to Twitter. Scott explains: "I stopped doing Twitter the week of the "storm" because certain elements were using me as their poster boy.
"That's what's been hard about this whole thing ... because that's not me, not who I really am. It's been amazing how a few months of introspection, and the objective views of people who know me have put things into perspective for me over the last 6 months.
"The South African people are truly a very understanding and forgiving people - it's why we have managed to evolve from where we were to the vibrant democracy that we are today.
"Obviously you will still get those people that will never let you - or never want you - to ever forget or be forgiven.
"There's a guy in Cape Town, a bloke from a PR agency who contacted one of the Ballz shareholders recently, very concerned. He said "all the racists are now following Darren on Facebook". This was some bloke with an Afrikaans surname, like du Toit, I think it was.
"I asked how do they know these people are racists? Because there's quite a few Afrikaans names following Ballz now on Facebook? And not one comment or posting has had to be deleted, or fan banned for any racist comment or posting, so it baffled me that someone I had never met before was profiling people like this - simply because there were people with Afrikaans names on our Facebook page, they were automatically racist? I thereby assumed that he was profiling himself as a racist as well, because of his surname? Amusing, if it wasn't so sad."
So how low did Scott get when the story broke? "It was f***ing bad, hey. Very low. I had already been "diagnosed" with chronic depression before all of this - because of my workload and time spent with radio, TV and business, I had left little recovery time which left me in a state of depression which I didn't even realise.
"Only looking back, I can see it now, with the strain it was putting on my own emotions and demeanour, as well as my business colleagues and, most importantly, my wife and child. So this was something that could really have tilted me over the edge. I sank into a state of complete despair at one point.
"It was supposed to be the biggest four months month of my life, the World Cup was about to kick-off, I wasSuperSport's main anchor plus I had numerous other projects and bookings lined up - and, as it turns out, I earned not a cent. It put a huge strain on everything, very suddenly.
"I thought about emigrating. Getting out. I lost my businesses. Neal, I didn't earn a cent for six months. I had plans to launch a wellness clinic with a gym and a healthy food brand, all that went.
"I'd invested so much money in to those things, into infrastructure for the business. Suddenly, I wasn't earning a cent. I lost all that money, I never got anything back.
"My dad Harry came over from the States after 28 years and walked straight in to all this. I never got to the stage where I wanted to do something stupid like commit suicide but I got pretty low. I just got to the stage, after 27 years of effort, when I wondered what it was all about.
"The main thing was just that now here was this thing I was going to be seen as - and it wasn't me. I was powerless.
"But it's not right. I'd constantly sit there and think how this could have gone wrong - while I was a pariah in the eyes of so many, I was still helping people out that I had been helping for years in many cases. And they certainly didn't look at me any differently, despite the fact that they knew what had happened. It was that helplessness, I didn't know if I wanted to get back and do anything ever again."
When the storm hit, Darren's wife Sarah Kate and his son Mark, were in Durban. Things had not been great between them for while, as a result of Darren's downward spiral into a drink and lifestyle induced depression. Darren, by his own admission "fell apart" and went to stay in a nearby golf estate. He couldn't face his family and was worried he would lose their beautiful home near Hartebeespoort.
But, amongst the many people and friends "who knew me and gave unbelievable support and strength", it was former Springbok rugby player Ashwin Willemse who put Scott back on track. Darren recalls: "I was really bad. Drinking a lot. Didn't know what to do. I had moved out of my home - away from my wife and kid.
"Then out of the blue, Ashwin, a guy I had really just worked with and never really socialised with or had much more to do with other than that, called and came to see me where I was staying.
"After a good three-hour chat, he said 'Get your arse out of here and make things right with your wife and kid first and then accept what has happened, and get your life back on track. You have too much to offer to just sit around, drinking coffee, drinking wine, and feeling sorry for yourself'.
"I did! It was still tough, and still is at times now, and probably will be for a while, but it was the catalyst to turn my life around.
"It's weird, you ask when that was but I had no concept of time during that period. I realised it was November and I thought: where have the last three months gone? It's bizarre, it was all just a blur."
But then came the return home, and some normality began to kick in. Darren says: "Sarah Kate was fantastic. The one good thing about all this is what has happened for me on the family front. We had gone through a low patch, I pushed her away, the family and everything."
And though young Mark may not know it yet, he played a huge part in his father's recovery. Darren, a doting dad if ever there was one, said: "Mark has been the whole levelling factor. Somebody you can always default to in the bad times. He's just that person. When I'm with Mark, everything else fades away.
"I named him after my late brother Mark. He was five years older than me and died in a car crash in 1989. Mark was always my "go to guy".
"Like young Mark, my brother was somebody I could always turn to. When I ditched medicine for radio, my brother Mark was the guy who said: "I'll back you with the folks (when they go tilt!), just do it."
Darren and young Mark are something to behold. The bond is as strong as any this writer has witnessed. Scott gets that faraway look in the eye and says: "My brother and my son. The one person who looks at you the same before and after. That's what my brother was like. That's what my son is like. That's something the people who won't forgive or let go and the Jacarandas of this world can never take away, no matter how much they try and keep me quiet.
"Despite the fact that many think I owned shows like Boots and All (which I don't) and that the hosting of the rugby slot on SuperSport was my possession, I never felt I owned anything on television, so not doing the Rugby World Cup in the end was a blow, but I didn't feel I had been cheated in any way. Radio was my first thing.
"SuperSport affected me more than Jacaranda. I was really, really enjoying my time there, they handled the situation well. They didn't want me to go. They were furious this had all come out a week before the World Cup started, but in a nice way.
"They spoke to me like mates, with respect. I said I understood their situation, they were very understanding.
"My last tweet before packing it in back then was actually to say how chuffed I was that Neil Andrews was taking my spot in the anchor's seat during RWC! Then I packed in tweeting because of reasons already mentioned. Funnily enough, then my profile had just under 7,000 followers. When I got back on the "Tweet Train" I had over 14 000! Go figure! (@justPlainTwit)"
And the public have generally backed Scott too. He said: "You've got to say South Africa's black population are very forgiving. I've had a lot of judgemental white okes who have had plenty to say. But your general, ordinary people from all walks of life? Forgiving, understanding.
"People like Tich Smith (the former Natal wicketkeeper who now runs LIV village where they take orphans for adoption and fostering), took it upon himself to deal with my "situation" as a personal "crusade", he believed in me so much which has been so humbling. He himself was down and out at one time, in a very bad way once. He understood. He introduced me to Prof Jansen, who had been following the whole story from the start, and who really wanted to get involved and help. An inspiring man to say the least!
"It got to the point where I would have lost everything. House and home. To be honest it's still touch and go. I'm thankful that some people have been supportive. If I wasn't that lucky I would have lost everything.
"Then I was approached about this sports radio idea. But more than just radio .. we wanted listeners to be able to see what is going on in the studio, and out!
"The idea first came up a few years ago but it never got the support from the previous regime we had worked for. It's getting big in the US and Europe. We had this idea, kind of started thinking about it and I mailed a business plan to what turned out to be one of our now seven investors.
"We'd use the strength of what we used to do on Just Plain Breakfast, like the rugby panel, and our comedy skits, our pioneering syndicated sports content, our award winning team of the past four years, and our profile in sport broadcasting and our access to sports contacts.
"We've combined it all, they liked it so much, they decided to explore it. We never asked one investor to join - they asked to be investors when they heard the plan! And they're investing their personal cash.
"It's online radio, it's new territory. The whole digital world is growing. Content on demand. People no longer want to be told, or force-fed by broadcasting megalomaniacs on what they should be listening to or consuming, you have to give them options that they can choose themselves.
"All you do is go to the website, you listen live, and if you can't, you can access content any time of the day, we'll send it to you, it'll be an app on your phone, wherever you can access it, it'll be there for you to decide, and consume, in your own time.
"It's not just for South Africans, it's for anybody around the world. And it's not just sports results and interviews, it's debates, it's the rugby panel, comedy stuff, fun stuff. The kind of thing that got us 117,000 Facebook followers as Just Plain Breakfast and four years of successful syndicated sports content.
"How we're going to launch it, is by saying "YOU, the listener, turn us on!" we won't be launching, as in going on air, until we've got 10,000 Ballz followers on Facebook. Our 10,000th follower will switch us on.
"In a week, we went past 5,000. So if we hit 10,000 this week, we'll have to be ready, even if it's with a microphone plugged in to a lap top! NO, seriously, we'll be using teasers and promos of what people can expect to start with until our broadcasts (2-6pm, Monday to Friday) begin. Our website will be up and running this week. We plan to be fully operational by the end of the month and we have some damn exciting initiatives planned.
"It's not going to be the normal radio with the normal interviews and programming - it's going to be different and fun!
"Our aim is to produce four hours of sports, and lifestyle, and music entertainment. It's stuff we were given awards for on Jacaranda. 75 percent of it was linked to sport, but not all of it.
"You want songs? We've got Tanya, the Pink clone. Great singing voice. And Darius. We found them in a competition we did. As we did some of our now well-known voices and parody artists on things like Rugby Panel.
"Then we've got Simon Hill who does most of the voices for the rugby panel, and is a script-writing genius!
"We've already had 20 applications for various forms work in the new project, but for now it's just the six of us: me, Simon, my old comrade John Walland, ex-Miss SA and the sportiest one yet, Nicole Flint, and two of the most talented behind-the-scenes people media could ever want - SA's best radio producer two years in a row, William Scott, and the social media guru who got down to the final 50 in the worldwide search for Charlie Sheen's social media manager, Mazz!"
And the Facebook site is buzzing. The Scott magic appears to have stayed strong. The Ballz following passed Jacaranda's new breakfast show for Facebook followers on day one (2 000).
"We will also sell Ballz content to other radio stations, like we always have."
But Ballz. why? "I'll tell you why we called it Ballz. At Capital radio, when they did a revamp, they called one of their sports bulletins Ballz. It was just appropriate, a no-holds-barred programme that has "balls". It's not wallpaper - it's what we are! And you can say, we DO have Ballz!
"For those who thought I would never be back, I need a lot of balls to stick my head up again after what happened. And my supporters had balls too."
DARREN SCOTT will be writing a weekly column for Scoop! from next week. His Facebook page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/BallzVisualRadio.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

President Kennedy will be back in action on Saturday - if he isn't whisked off to Europe

FIRST the bad news. Kennedy Mweene, the goalkeeping hero of Zambia’s African Cup of Nations triumph over the Ivory Coast in Libreville last Sunday will NOT be playing for South Africa’s Free State Stars against SuperSport United on Wednesday night.
The Lucas “Masterpieces” Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville will be a sadder place for it. While the Ivorian brothers Yaya and Kolo Toure had a private jet waiting to zoom them back to Manchester City after the final, Mweene relies on scheduled flights and community cabs to get him back to Bethlehem, the remote Free State town 350km from Johannesburg which is home to the Free State Stars.
Mweene, picked as the goalkeeper of the tournament, admits: “I don’t think I will make it back on Wednesday. There is still a lot to be done after our win, the country is celebrating. However, I will be available on Saturday against Amazulu.”
Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I did predict modest Mweena would emerge as President Kennedy after his clash with Didier Drogba ­ http://scoopnews.co.za/didier-or-die-for-zambia/.
Now the good news. He’s ready to return to the South African Premier League and strut his stuff despite his new-found fame after denying Drogba and Co in an 8-7 penalty shoot-out win for the Chipolopolo (Copper Bullets). Mweene says: “I will really have to work hard now. After Sunday, everyone in South Africa will want to score against the champion! It won’t be easy for me anymore!”
Not that it has ever been easy for the 27-year-old stopper, who played all six games in Zambia’s emotional success in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon before, vitally, saving Kolo Toure’s kick in the final shoot-out. With a string of psychological antics and plenty of chat, he also encouraged Chelsea’s fearsome Didier Drogba to put one penalty over the bar in the 70th minute of the goalless final and saw Arsenal’s Gervinho put the final spot kick wide.
And all that after a superb save during the perfect first ten penalties – and then being flagged for being marginally off his line.
The man who also saved Asamoah Gyan’s spot-kick in the semi-final against highly-fancied Ghana says: Our coach Herve Renard (who once coached England’s Cambridge United in the Football League’s lowest level) helped us to keep cool, whether it’s a big or small game. He’s done a lot with us mentally. That’s why I wasn’t shaking about Drogba. There was no panic.”
Voted goal.com’s 143rd world player of the week for his performance during the final, Mweene is now a wanted man. And Free State Stars say they won’t stand in his way if a European club makes an offer for a man who has scored three goals – as many as Orlando Pirates former West Ham striker – in the Premier League this season.
Mweene, who scored during the penalty shoot-out on Sunday, has already attracted attention from local rivals Mamelodi Sundowns but Stars manager Rantsi Mokoena told kickoff.com this week: “We signed Kennedy as an unknown 21-year-old and he is very loyal to Free State Stars.
 “In the last three seasons he has been receiving offers, but he has turned all of them down in order to remain with us. So far we haven’t received any offers, but if he gets offers to go overseas then I’m sure we won’t stand in his way.”
Born in the Zambian capital Lusaka, Mweene was voted the South African Premier League’s top keeper in 2009/10 but his contract expires on June 30, 2014.  His business manager Ryan Hartslief of Bigtime Sports will no doubt be interested to hear Mokoena’s comments.
Mweene started his career with Lusaka Dynamos, playing 27 games for them in 2004 as a teenager, before moving to Kitwe United in 2005 and played 30 games for them before Free State Stars swooped. Mweena is currently listed as having played 14 times for the Bethlehem side known by their Basotho motto “Ea Lla Kotto” or ”fight to the end”. He made his Zambia debut in the same year, and has been Chipolopolo’s first choice ever since, playing 67 times for his country so far.
Unlike most football writers, I’d actually earmarked President Kennedy as a star before this tournament. Have a squint at http://neal-collins.blogspot.com/2011/12/o-little-town-of-bethlehem-all-you-ever.html
And keep a very close eye on President Kennedy. He may just be on his way to stardom beyond the Free State Stars.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Why Liverpool finally apologised over Suarez and the non-handshake

SO exactly why did Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and his boss Kenny Dalglish apologise a day after the Uruguayan had appeared unrepentant over the storm of outrage they sparked across the football-speaking world?
Why, after an eight-match, unappealed ban for racist abuse, did Suarez suddenly appear contrite after refusing to shake hands with the wronged Patrick Evra during Manchester United's 2-1 win on Saturday?
While United boss Sir Alex Ferguson raged "Suarez could have caused a riot" and insisted "he should never play for Liverpool again”, Dalglish told us on Saturday: “I think you are bang out of order to blame Luis Suárez for whatever happened today.”
But by Sunday, Suarez and Dalglish were grovelling on the official Liverpool FC website. Dalglish, who has just one black face in his current first team squad, even went as far as saying: “I did not conduct myself in a way befitting of a Liverpool manager during that interview and I'd like to apologise for that.”
According to the Daily Telegraph it was a scathing article from English football writer Rob Hughes for  the New York Times which provoked an immediate reaction from Liverpool's owners, the Fenway Sports Group, to act before their club's reputation was seriously damaged by the actions of one ignorant Uruguayan and an old-fashioned Scottish manager.
The NY Times and Fenway have major financial links, the company was formed when they teamed up with Liverpool owner John W Henry to buy the Boston Red Sox in the US. Once they became involved, both Suarez and Dalglish were left with no alternative but to apologise.
Remember, Henry and Fenway chairman Tom Werner had already flown over to Liverpool when the Suarez storm first broke. They held a series of meetings at Anfield and met with Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore in an attempt to ease the tensions caused by Suarez, Dalglish and his unrepentant team who wore t-shirts supporting the Uruguayan despite his conviction by the FA.
The three-pronged apology on the official Liverpool website went way beyond the usual level on these issues. There was nothing half-hearted about it.
As the BBC’s ex-Liverpool talkshow host Stan Collymore, himself the subject of huge abuse over the Suarez saga on twitter, tweeted: “Liverpool Football Club have now pulled the rug from under any idiot who looked for Suarez excuse on the handshake. Well done LFC.”
Both Collymore and the Telegraph claim it was after reading the story below that John W Henry made the call that defused the whole situation, prompting Suarez to say: “I have spoken with the Manager since the game at Old Trafford and I realise I got things wrong. I've not only let him down, but also the Club and what it stands for and I'm sorry. I made a mistake and I regret what happened.
"I should have shaken Patrice Evra's hand before the game and I want to apologise for my actions. I would like to put this whole issue behind me and concentrate on playing football."
The suddenly-contrite Dalglish added: "It is right that Luis Suarez has now apologised for what happened at Old Trafford. To be honest, I was shocked to hear that the player had not shaken hands having been told earlier in the week that he would do.
"All of us have a responsibility to represent this club in a fit and proper manner and that applies equally to me as Liverpool manager.
"When I went on TV after yesterday's game I hadn't seen what had happened, but I did not conduct myself in a way befitting of a Liverpool manager during that interview and I'd like to apologise for that."
And Liverpool’s managing director Ian Ayres said: “We are extremely disappointed Luis Suarez did not shake hands with Patrice Evra before yesterday's game. The player had told us beforehand that he would, but then chose not to do so.
"He was wrong to mislead us and wrong not to offer his hand to Patrice Evra. He has not only let himself down, but also Kenny Dalglish, his team-mates and the Club. It has been made absolutely clear to Luis Suarez that his behaviour was not acceptable.
"Luis Suarez has now apologised for his actions which was the right thing to do. However, all of us have a duty to behave in a responsible manner and we hope that he now understands what is expected of anyone representing Liverpool Football Club."
Here’s what Hughes reported: If the Fenway Sports Group is to be the responsible team owner in soccer that it has proved to be in baseball, it needs to get hold of Liverpool, its club in England’s Premier League, and repair its global image fast.
On Saturday, Liverpool lost at Manchester United, 2-1, allowing United to temporarily move into first place in the Premier League. There is no disgrace in such a loss; United, the defending English champion, is vying to keep that title this season, and it very rarely loses at home.
Another ugly incident mars Liverpool's good name, New York Times
But there was disgrace, witnessed by television viewers around the world, in the refusal of Liverpool’s Luis Suárez to shake the hand of United’s Patrice Evra before kickoff.
The hand might not always be offered with sincerity. It might often be less than the noble sign of pregame respect between opponents that Fifa would like to have us believe it is. But in this case it was important to show a global audience that Suárez and Evra were man enough to touch palms and bury the enmity between them.
This was the first time that Suárez had started a game since he was barred for eight matches for repeatedly calling Evra racist names when they competed against each other last October. Suárez claimed that the words he uttered, as used in his Uruguayan hometown, were not racist but could be affectionate. Evra, who is black and French, but understands Spanish well, said he was deeply offended.
Both players are feisty, provocative, volatile characters, as their records for their clubs, and their national teams, have long shown. Evra led the French team that mutinied against its coach and refused to train during the 2010 World Cup. Suárez was the player who made no apology for deliberately handling the ball that led to Ghana’s elimination from that tournament, and he was purchased by Liverpool after he was suspended in the Dutch league for biting an opponent.
It would seem that each of them would wish to show that, for the sake of their team if not their own reputation, they could abide by the rules and rituals of the game that makes their fortune.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson began the week by publicly asking his players to rise above any bitter feelings they had and display sportsmanship on the field. He said he spoke with Evra on Saturday morning.
“Patrice and I had a chat,” Ferguson said, “and he said: ‘I’m going to shake his hand. I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. I want to keep my dignity.’ ” When the moment arrived, it was beyond Evra’s grasp.
Suárez shook hands with the referee, and then with the child who was United’s mascot for the day. He then stared at the ground, ignoring the hand extended by Evra and walking toward the next man in line, goalkeeper David de Gea.
Evra grabbed the arm of Suárez, who shrugged him off. De Gea seemed to try to ask Suárez to shake Evra’s hand, and he again refused. The next United player in line, Rio Ferdinand, then withdrew his hand as Suárez passed.
“After seeing what happened, I decided not to shake his hand,” Ferdinand said after the game. “I lost all respect for the guy.”
Ugly repercussions followed. The United crowd booed Suárez, as the Liverpool crowd had booed Evra in its stadium when the teams met in the FA Cup two weeks ago.
In the tunnel as the teams headed to halftime Saturday, the teams scuffled after Evra attempted to say something to Suárez. The police and stewards intervened to separate the players.
The Suárez-Evra feud overshadowed the top-class soccer these teams are capable of. United quickly took a 2-0 lead on two goals by the Liverpool-born Wayne Rooney.
The first was from a corner by Ryan Giggs, when Rooney’s sharp anticipation and reflexes led to a short-range volley in a poorly defended penalty area. The second started when Antonio Valencia preyed on an error from Jay Spearing and with split-second vision teed up Rooney, who put a shot between the legs of goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
A late consolation goal by Liverpool, with Suárez reacting like lightning to Ferdinand’s failure to control a deflection, highlighted Suárez’s immense talent. It is that talent that everyone should be talking about, and not racism, especially in a game in which 11 nationalities were represented.
Long after the lights were switched off at Old Trafford, Suárez wrote on Twitter that he was “sad” because of the loss and “disappointed because everything is not that it seems.”
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish claimed he did not see Suárez refuse the handshake, or the shoving in the tunnel at halftime. He had said earlier in the week that Suárez should not have been barred for what he said about Evra, but that he had spoken to Suárez and he knew that Suárez would shake the hand of Evra.
When he was asked on Sky TV after the game why Suárez had not, Dalglish avoided directly answering the question.
“I think you are bang out of order to blame Luis Suárez for whatever happened today,” Dalglish said.
Shortly before that, Evra was whooping to all corners of the stadium. The referee, Phil Dowd, who had managed the game commendably, at that point physically restrained Evra and asked him not to further inflame the players or the supporters.
Ferguson was less charitable. “He is a disgrace to Liverpool Football Club,” he said of Suárez. “That certain player should not be allowed to play for Liverpool again.”
It is time for John Henry and Tom Werner, leaders of the Fenway Group that controls Liverpool, to state clearly the direction the team will take on this issue."

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

New Zealand on Friday: What AB sees ahead for South Africa's Proteas

AVERAGING A TON: Protea's ODI captain AB de Villiers
AB de Villiers admits to making a few interesting discoveries as South Africa’s new limited overs captain heads to New Zealand on Friday for his second series in charge.
The man known as “Abbas” in the dressing room generally impressed as a rookie skipper during a 3-2 win over Sri Lanka on home soil last month.
And the 27-year-old Titans star flies out for his first away series in charge of the Proteas insisting: “Our dream is to be ranked the best side in the world. To win a World Cup.”
AB was Man of the Series against Sri Lanka, scoring 329 runs in five knocks at an average of 109.66. Clearly captaincy agrees with him. With Australian legend Steve Waugh recommending current South African Test captain Graeme Smith should stand down - like Ricky Ponting, six years his senior - to work on his batting, AB could be in for major upheavals in future months.
As he packed his bags for the long flight to the Land of the Long White Cloud, he said: “Captaincy is hard work but I’m enjoying it and it’s great that I’m leading by example at the moment.
“I know I will get my tough patches in the future and I’ll have to work through that, but I’m playing well at the moment and using that to my advantage.
“I’m still following the same game plans but ­timing it a bit sweeter than normal.”
De Villiers has come to one major realisation:
“I discovered that the guys feed off my energy and it’s very important for me to be calm and in control the whole ­time.
“Leading from the front, not only with bat in hand, and with catch­ing and so on, but the way I present myself out there, has a big influence.
10/02: Depart
15/02: WU Canterbury
17/02: T20 Wellington
19/02: T20 Hamilton
22/02: T20 Auckland
25/02: ODI Wellington
29/02: ODI Napier
03/03: ODI Auckland
07/03: Test Dunedin
15/03: Test Hamilton
23/03: Test Wellington
“It was really tough at times but I think it’s one of the most important things that I learned.”
And as for tactics: “There is no set plan, we will play it by ear on the day.
“Coach Gary Kirsten and I decide which individual is best suited to the situation and he will go out and bat.
“We’ll just mix it up as right- and lefthand combinations are also important when a spinner is bowling well, and it makes it a bit tougher for the spinner to settle.”
Pretoria-born Abraham Benjamin de Villiers is aware that some of the players still call Graeme Smith skipper on the field, but AB recognises that as habit rather than harking  back to the past.
His penchant for fooling the Sri Lankans with the use of Afrikaans (he issues a constant stream of information in the near-Dutch language of his schooldays) may fail against the Kiwis, who have two South Africans in their squad, long-term emigrant BJ Watling and Kruger van Wyk, a former Seuns Hoer wicketkeeper who has spent the last four years in New Zealand.
AB admits: “New Zealand is a new challenge and our next goal.
“Obviously our long term goals are being No 1 in the world and winning a world cup.
“That’s a huge dream for all of us and hopefully we’ll get there, but for now, we’ll just focus on getting ready for the New Zealand tour and performing well there.
“Our goal against Sri Lanka was to win both the tests and the ODIs and we did that.”
But it's the Test matches which will grab the cricket-speaking world's attention. With England crushed 3-0 by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates - perhaps the most inept performance by a side ranked No1 ever recorded - South African need a whitewash in New Zealand to go top of the rankings.
And that would set up a winter tour to England between the world's top two. And conceivably, AB could be in charge of all three formats by then.

1 England 118
2 South Africa 117
3. India 111
4 Australia 111
5 Pakistan 108
6 Sri Lanka 98
7 West Indies 88
8 New Zealand 83
9 Bangladesh 8
A SHORTER version of this story appeared in Scoop! South Africa's new tabloid Sunday newspaper last weekend. Available at all good street corners and supermarkets etc in Gauteng and KZN every Sunday until Wednesday. You might still get one. It's only R6.95. See www.scoopnews.co.za or follow us on twitter at www.twitter.com/scoopza.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Webb of intrigue: Why whistler Howard should decline future Manchester United games. And why he won't.

Depending on your allegiances, Howard Webb is either England’s pre-eminent World Cup final referee or Manchester United’s greatest signing. Those are just two of the printable labels used to describe the 40-year-old former policeman from Rotherham.
On Sunday at Stamford Bridge, those (and there are many of us) who believe he is Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest ally came loudly to the fore as United, 3-0 down against Chelsea, were given two questionable penalties – both stuck away by Wayne Rooney in the space of 10 minutes – before a Javier Hernandez equaliser forced a dramatic share of the spoils.
But even that wasn’t good enough for Sir Alex. After the match, he claimed: “We could have had four penalties. How they didn’t give one in the first half I don’t know. That linesman (the previously anonymous Darren Cann)... I don’t know where they get them from.
“They should've had a man sent off in the first half. Danny's clear through and he was brought down. Nothing, no decision.
"That linesman gave a penalty kick against us from 40 yards away last year against Liverpool, this year against Arsenal - and he can't see that?
"I don't blame Howard Webb - he needed help in that situation and he didn't get it.”
And in a couple of phrases that would land most other Premier League managers in hot water, he added for good measure: "That assistant referee, who's all too happy to flag at Old Trafford for penalty kicks, didn't give them."
And that, in a nutshell, is Mr Webb’s problem. It’s not that anybody is suggesting he gets paid by United to give penalties – they’ve had eight this season so far – it’s just that he appears to be the referee most susceptible to Fergie’s particular Strathclyde dockworker style of persuasion.
At 70, Ferguson has been putting pressure on referees since he gave up his role as an “effective striker with a lot of elbows” to coach St Mirren in 1974. When he went to Aberdeen in 1978 and trophies began to come his way, I remember Gordon Strachan telling us how the young coach used to tell his players to surround referees if they’d made a clearly difficult decision against his side.
There was one particular scene, involving Roy Keane and David Beckham, with referee Andy D’Urso in 2000 I will never forget. The poor ref looked like he was going to have a heart attack. A vein in Keane’s temple was throbbing. D’Urso had nowhere to go. And all because he’d awarded a penalty against United at Old Trafford. He didn’t get many United games after that.
And those intimidatory tactics have worked wonders ever since. That’s nearly 40 years of bullying. Players, referees, journalists, even the FA and the Glazer family who now squeeze the cash out of United. They all get it. In spades.
On Sunday, when Gary Cahill escaped punishment for that sliding challenge on Danny Welbeck a yard outside the box in the first half, the expression on Ferguson’s florid face wasn’t so much anger as bewilderment. His striker had been sent tumbling and NOTHING HAD BEEN GIVEN. He could barely believe it.
It is my firm belief that Sir Alex, now beyond the realms of usual managerial behaviour in the Premier League after 25 years in charge at Old Trafford, made his feelings evident to Webb and his fellow officials at half-time. He’s bigger than the game now. He does what he wants.
And when we came out for the second half, the ever-willing Mr Webb was eager to make amends. To fall out with Sir Alex is not good for a referee. Sir Alex, more than any other top coach, gets to tell the FA who he wants in charge of his matches. If you fall out with United, your stock as a public figures soon declines. Blowing the whistle at West Brom v Wigan on a wet Wednesday night simply doesn’t cut it.
So what happens? Chelsea go 3-0 up five minutes after the break. A miracle given they are without the three musketeers of Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole. Stunning. All footballing logic turned on its head. Chelsea are cruising, United are well beaten.
It takes Mr Webb just eight minutes to restore normality. First, in the 58th minute, marauding French fullback Patrice Evra goes flying in to the box. Unlikely to get his cross in, he steps across Daniel Sturridge’s tackle just as the striker goes in. Watch the video. Ignore the pundits like Alan Curbishley who suggest it was “clear contact, a definite penalty”. If Evra hadn’t moved across the challenge, Sturridge would have made a faultless tackle.
But Webb was ready, just waiting for the tumble. PENALTY! Chelsea’s defenders barely complained. They were three goals up. Rooney stuck it away. But still 3-1.
But ten minutes later, it got worse. A lot worse. Just like Adam Johnson for Manchester City the day before, Welbeck did the “dangly leg” thing, the latest fashion for Premier League cheats. On the edge of the box, Branislav Ivanovic stuck out a despairing foot to make a challenge. With Welbeck no threat from that position, Ivanovic quickly pulled back the offending limb. But not quick enough to avoid Welbeck – he actually moved his leg away from the path of the ball to ensure Ivanovic made contact, and tumbled theatrically to the floor. PENALTY!
From then on, with Chelsea heads down, it was just a matter of time before, in the 84th minute, the little Mexican pea Hernandez produced his equaliser. The only surprise was that United didn’t go on to win it. Chelsea were gone. Andre Villas Boas had learned another valuable English lesson.
I guess you can say one thing for Webb in this instance. At least he made a game of it. No, I’m not saying he intentionally cheated. Just that he was eager to keep the old tyrant happy on the side as he waved his hands around and informed Webb just how much injury time to allow.
Graham Poll, the thing from Tring who fulfilled the high-profile refereeing role before Webb, was another who recognised the need to keep Fergie happy. He now writes a column for the Daily Mail and is a well-rewarded after-dinner speaker, neatly forgetting the time he handed three yellow cards to a Croatian at the 2006 World Cup.
Webb is rapidly falling in to the same traps Poll did. He revels in being the centre of attention, he loves the banter with the players, being a name. But is it any wonder?
As an 18-year-old he started refereeing in the North East Counties League on the advice of his father. As far as I can tell he never played any serious football, few of the modern whistlers do. Long gone are the days when ex-players used to take up officiating. Most start in their teens now as the FIFA retirement age is a ridiculously young 45.
At 38 Webb hit the peak of his art, refereeing Spain’s World Cup final win over Holland at Soccer City in 2010 where he handed out a record 14 yellow cards (one of them became a red for Johnny Heitinga, the previous highest for a final was six) and failed to send off Nigel De Jong for a perfectly placed kung-fu kick on the chest of Xavi Alonso. For once both sides were furious after the game. But Webb survived the furore and has another six years of whistling while he works ahead of him.
Now Webb finds himself being dragged further in to, well, a web of intrigue if you like. Long before any United match has kicked off with him in charge, Webb is widely tweeted as being United’s 12th man, their best signing, the one with most assists for the champions. It puts him under huge pressure.
For as long as Sir Alex Ferguson is in charge at United – and it looks like being at least another two years – Webb will be under the spotlight when he handles a United game.
There is one easy way out. He could decline to referee United’s crucial games. Do the honourable thing and admit it’s all become a bit complicated. But he won’t. That would be too great a sacrifice for a man who relishes the limelight.
So for now, we must accept that Webb will be in charge next time United face a serious challenge. And my advice to defenders? Don’t go near Welbeck’s dangling leg in the box. Or Rooney’s new hair. Or Ryan Giggs’ veteran ankles. Webb will be waiting.

Abuse below is due to this post being linked to Chelsea website. Chelsea fans claim it isn't them, but nearly half of the hits come from their "The Shed" chat forum. I have tracked down IP addresses of the major culprits... just two. One masquerading as somebody else on Twitter in South Africa, a journalist with a grudge. The other unknown in Britain pretending to be a gang from the north. Sorry. Have cut the worst of it out, but leaving the rest. Police are aware of IP addresses and promise action.
Read also: http://neal-collins.blogspot.com/2011/01/picture-that-proves-ryan-babel-is-twit.html

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The curious tale of Steven Pienaar's year at Spurs: why Moore isn't always merrier

THE Steven Pienaar story is a curious one, and close to my heart. When confirmation dropped that South Africa’s only current world-class player had gone on loan back to his old stomping ground at Goodison Park, I leapt in the air.
The deal to move “Schilla” from Spurs to Everton for the rest of the season was officially confirmed at 11.47pm South African time, nearly 10pm at the FA’s headquarters in London.
His excited twittering since backs up all that we felt about the lad from Westbury’s troubled time in North London, where he found himself in a Spurs squad with his path to glory blocked by a certain Gareth Bale.
And there he was, as the transfer window slowly shut, watching that Welsh wizard Bale thump home two more goals in a record-breaking season against Wigan. Where was South Africa’s international captain? Where he’s been all season – on the bench.
Apparently before kick-off, boss Harry Redknapp had insisted Pienaar had to be part of the squad, despite frantic negotiations with Everton chairman Bill Kenwright. He said he needed the 29-year-old in case of injury.
But what few people knew when the match kicked off was that Harry wanted Everton’s former Manchester United striker Louis Saha at White Hart Lane. And as a consequence, Kenwright had a little leverage in his bid to get Pienaar back to the club where he was the supporters’ player of the year in 2009.
When QPR’s new boss Mark Hughes made an approach a fortnight ago, Redknapp assured us: “I have no intention of selling Pienaar. Why should I? I wouldn't want to let him go. He is a good player. I don't need to weaken the squad. He could play a part in the run-in."
After a day in court defending himself over tax evasion charges and a welcome 3-0 triumph over Wigan, ‘Arry proved to be less determined as the midnight deadline loomed.
Thank God. A major mistake may just have been rectified. Expect a permanent deal at the end of the season - with little mention of the cut-price R30m Spurs paid for their man.
A year ago, when it became clear Pienaar was being set up for that cut-price move – he refused to sign a new contract despite repeated urging from David Moyes – I said on SuperSport that his agent David Moore was stupid to move him from Goodison, where he had made a name for himself.
I said it was like Paul Stretford demanding a move from Manchester United for Wayne Rooney, which he had done, but had rapidly rethought his strategy.
As an automatic pick at Everton, what was the point of going to Spurs, where Bale had just begun to emerge with that now-legendary Champions League hat-trick at the San Siro? Moore called me on the mobile from Barcelona, screaming at me, telling me I knew nothing.
He said he had nothing to do with Pienaar’s move, that Schilla himself was eager to go, because he wanted Champions League football and a club with more ambition.
When I quoted him, Moore insisted I send an apology to Kenwright. I did. I still have the email.
But ultimately, with Pienaar back at Everton after a late-night exchange between Redknapp and Kenwright on Wednesday night, I guess we all know now that Pienaar’s move to Spurs was all wrong.
I’ll say now what I said a year ago: sometimes a player just belongs. He doesn’t need to move in his late 20s. Moore can deny it all he want, but anyone who’s been in football long enough knows the agents are the ones behind the risky, big-money moves late in a career.
Without a move, where does the last big pay-day come from if, like Moore, your players are declining with the speed of Benni McCarthy, who was at West Ham at the time?
It looked okay at first. Pienaar cracked the starting line-up. But after a run of games, injury struck. The close season saw both Pienaar and compatriot Bongani Khumalo come over for the Vodacom Challenge with Spurs. But that was as good as it got. And if you examine www.twitter.com/therealstevenpi you’ll find Pienaar's been “sick” and “in bed” three times since Christmas this year. He blames flu and tonsilitis as the stress of being unable to break in to Tottenham’s high-flying starting eleven began to tell.
A few brief cameos – including 10 minutes against Everton - are all he’s managed in the Premier League. And a couple of starts in Tottenham’s disastrous Europa League journey.
But the minute confirmation of his return to Everton emerged, his old pal Phil Neville was telling the BBC: “There’s nobody else I’d rather we signed.”
On the Everton FC facebook page, a simple message atop hundreds of happy messagers: "Welcome home Steven Pienaar."
These are Stevie’s tweets since: “Soon up the road to Liverpool. Familiar journey! Looking forward.
“And looking forward to running rings around @fizzer19 (Neville) in training again. “Very thankful that Spurs management allowed me to go on loan and I’m very happy it could be to Everton, a club close to my heart.
“Manager needs to make choices, I understand. But I love playing and just can’t sit so much on the bench. It was killing my spirit.
“Mixed emotions to leave Spurs. Disappointed I couldn’t get in a playing groove on a regular basis and show the fans the real me.
“Happy days. We just beat the clock on Transfer Deadline Day. Holding thumbs.”
Aren’t we all Stevie? South Africa needs you playing again. And the same could be said for compatriot Bongani Khumalo, back at Spurs after his disastrous loan spell at Championship club Reading.
Sometimes agents don’t know best.
Now what happened to QPR wanting Katlego “Killer” Mphela?

See also: http://www.neal-collins.blogspot.com/2011/11/when-moore-is-less-re-appointed-bafana.html