Thursday 19 February ~
Tonight's UEFA Cup games provide some respite from the Premier League for two of this seasons most headline-friendly clubs. Both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur continue to struggle domestically but this is a competition they could hope to progress in – even if they won't be expected to get past the likes of Milan and Werder Bremen. But both managers seem to be too stressed to welcome the distraction of a trip to Europe – Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp revealed their frayed nerves in this morning's press.
Stole Solbakken, the manager of Man City's opponents FC Copenhagen, has spoken out about City and their new-found wealth. The former Wimbledon player (he played six games in 1997 before being banned from training by Joe Kinnear) stated: "The amounts of money that have been mentioned are incredible. I think that such incredible sums will take part in destroying football. They are creating too big a mental distance between what we call reality and then Manchester City."
This is a reasonable criticism though Hughes seems to have taken it to heart, claiming that people have gone “overboard” and that: "We've had the benefit of the money for five or six months and we haven't destroyed football yet so I don't think that's going to happen." This raises the question of quite how Hughes envisions the destruction of football – perhaps via asteroid, tidal wave or Godzilla-style stomping. Also on Hughes's mind will be the widely reported poor form and attitude problems being displayed by City's talented Brazilians, especially in away matches. Oddly, many of the papers chose to illustrate this with pictures and sartorial commentary on the Man City players in the airport en route to Denmark.
Prior to Spurs' game against Shaktar Donetsk Harry Redknapp was letting everyone know about his various grievances. In an extended moan his complaints included the “crazy juggling act” caused by fixture congestion (admittedly a fair complaint given Spurs' six matches in 17 days) and the “worse than non-league” pitch in Ukraine. Redknapp has left 11 first team players at home in preparation for the run-in but the only people who can get Spurs more than two points off the bottom three come the end of May are these players and Redknapp himself. One thing that Redknapp didn't mention was the likelihood of him facing further questioning as part of Operation Apprentice – the long-running investigation into transfer dealings. The Times reported that “the focus of the inquiry has shifted from allegations of fraud and money laundering to 'possible tax-related offences'” and quoted a source as saying: “The serious criminal investigation has run into the sand, it’s now going down the Al Capone route.” This story seems set drag on for some time, before in all likelihood reaching an ambiguous conclusion.