Players

Wayne Rooney releases his first autobiography but as Taylor Parkes reports it's little more than a book aimed at children

Monday morning, primary school. It’s time to write up what you did over the weekend. Everyone remembers the drill: “I went to the pub with my mum and dad. I had a coke and some crisps. It was good.”    

Ashley Shaw visits the theatre to watch I, Keano

In I, Keano, an at times hilarious play about the Ireland legend’s bust-up with national coach Mick McCarthy in the lead up to the 2002 World Cup, the former Manchester United captain has inspired the ultimate musical tribute to a career that has been frequently heroic and psychotic in equal measure. Of course, the play is not specifically about the 2002 World Cup at all.

Russian influence on football is not just about buying clubs, as Garry O’Connor’s move to Moscow proves. He will be the first of many from these shores, predicts Dan Brennan

The transfer of Hibernian striker Garry O’Connor to Lokomotiv Moscow has caused quite a stir. In signing a five-year deal that will make him a multimillionaire, the Scottish international has become the first Briton to play in Russia’s Premier League. Now, instead of meandering off for a midweek trip to Motherwell, he finds himself negotiating tricky away fixtures 8,000 miles down the road in Vladivostok.

In a global game, it shouldn’t be a surprise that clubs such as Arsenal have so many foreign youngsters. But, wonders Barney Ronay, where are the youthful English expat stars?

Alan Pardew’s complaint was that not one of the Arsenal side that eliminated Real Madrid from the Champions League was born in this country. Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the PFA, was similarly exercised: “It’s not an English success. It’s tinged with disappointment. It would be more enjoyable if we saw Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell as part of it.”Alan Pardew’s complaint was that not one of the Arsenal side that eliminated Real Madrid from the Champions League was born in this country. Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the PFA, was similarly exercised: “It’s not an English success. It’s tinged with disappointment. It would be more enjoyable if we saw Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell as part of it.”

The death of Jimmy Johnstone has provoked the usual reminiscences about an outstanding individual but also a wider debate, as Dianne Millen explains

Celtic and Scotland legend Jimmy Johnstone, who scored more than a hundred goals for the Hoops and was capped 23 times, passed away on Monday March 13 aged 61. He had suffered from motor neurone disease for almost five years. Nicknamed “Jinky” by Celtic fans in recognition of his mercurial wing play, he was best known as a member of the “Lisbon Lions” team, the first British side to win the European Cup, and was also part of the side that captured nine consecutive Scottish League titles.

Romário may be greying but he’ll still score you plenty of goals – provided you don’t ask him to travel or do too much of that training nonsense, explains Robert Shaw

Romário da Souza Faria celebrates his 40th birthday on January 29 still mad about goals. His critics might add that he is equally passionate about bars, nightclubs, the beach, bad-mouthing fellow strikers and developing minor knocks on the eve of away trips. But when he claimed his award as the Brazilian national championship’s top scorer in December 2005, Baixinho (Shorty) was speechless. Or rather he told the presenters of the ceremony in Rio’s João Caetano theatre that he did not really need to add any words to back up his impressive goal tally.

Eyal Berkovic’s return to Israeli football has not gone well, despite the considerable size of his ego, as Shaul Adar reports 

After playing for five English clubs and Celtic, Eyal Berkovic moved back to Israel this summer with Maccabi Tel Aviv. His season’s statistics make sad reading – nine starts, subbed seven times, coming on as a sub twice, no assists and only one goal. His team scored more goals without him on the field. His only contribution seems to be in coining a new Hebrew idiom: “I went to consult with the crocodiles.”

Out of Division One at 27, dead at 59: Joyce Woolridge considers the gifts and faults of a man who crammed so much into a career and a life that both ended too soon

British football first discovered sex in September 1963, when a shy young Irishman made his debut for the most glamorous team in England. Before long the chant of “Georgie, Georgie” deafened visitors to Old Trafford, from male and female fans drawn by the brilliant impudence of his play and darkly handsome Celtic allure.

When George Best first began to dazzle on Manchester United’s left wing, contemporaries cast around for the former player he most resembled, and dubbed him the “new Stanley Matthews”. But the comparison was soon discarded as it became clear that the young Irishman was not only a skilful and lithe wizard of the dribble, but also, unlike the eccentric Potteries puritan, a prolific marksman with a physical vibrancy and style of his own. Best in his turn has become the standard against which today’s potential superstars are measured. Arguably the greatest British player ever; no one has yet come close to matching his many gifts.

Best’s mentor, Matt Busby, considered him blessed with more individual ability than any player he had ever seen. Strong and courageous, despite his slight build, controlling the ball effortlessly with both feet, he left defenders floundering in his wake all over the world. An accomplished header of the ball with a powerful shot, he scored his goals from all areas of the pitch, often with a touch of impertinence, which his supreme confidence in his own powers gave him. A favourite trick was to play the ball against the legs of opponents to take the rebound like a one-two pass.

Many reckon his greatest game to be United’s European Cup quarter-final of March 1966 against a Benfica team of 11 internationals. George famously apologised to his manager at half-time, after scoring two scintillating goals, one with a spring-heeled header after only six minutes, the other from a long solo run, running round three defenders to slide the ball into the corner of the net (a third was controversially disallowed for offside). United had been instructed by Busby to “keep it tight for 20 minutes”.

Rarely injured, despite the best efforts of cloggers under instructions to put him out of the game, he was one of the mainstays of the United team that won the First Division in 1965 and 1967 and the European Cup in 1968, the year in which Best was voted European Footballer of the Year.

Best was to meet his toughest challenges off the pitch. He made no secret of his enjoyment of Manchester’s burgeoning club scene and the charms of the legions of women who pursued him relentlessly. He opened his own boutiques, modelled for catalogues and endorsed an array of products from sausages and eggs to aftershave. Though only a moderate drinker at first, he became addicted as United’s fortunes dipped under Busby’s successors and the media and public attention grew ever more oppressive. United desperately needed a fit Best (he continued to be the club’s top scorer), but his indiscipline and frequent disappearances led to his first “retirement” in 1972. After a brief return under Tommy Docherty, coaxed back by Sir Matt, Best’s first-class football career was finished by the age of 27, though he turned out for clubs from Dunstable Town to Cork Celtic and played for several seasons in the United States until 1981, where he married and his son Calum was born.

The 1980s was Best’s “lost weekend” of a decade. He even spent Christmas Day 1984 in jail for drunken driving and Kevin Keegan was voted the better footballer by a television panel. He began the Nineties with a cringingly embarrassing but mercifully brief inebriated appearance on the Wogan show, but he was already re-emerging into public favour as an intelligent and witty after-dinner speaker and television pundit. Best always had something of the phoenix about him: grizzled and bloated one moment, he would reappear slim and handsome again as he temporarily seemed to have conquered his demon. But the liver transplant that offered hope of a new start sadly also gave him the opportunity to resume drinking.

Much energy has been expended in trying to compare Best with modern players, for the benefit of those too young to have actually seen him play. The suggestions have all been wide of the mark. Best was not athletic like Thierry Henry; he ran with a “dribblers’ shuffle” that has disappeared from football. Neither was he a powerhouse like Wayne Rooney. I remember Best seeming to float across the churned-up cowfields that served as pitches in the 1960s; Geoffrey Green’s description of Best as a “dark ghost” drifting along the wing has never been bettered. A famous clip shows him playing without his boot, which had been torn off by a sliding tackle. He did this on more than one occasion. If memory serves he once beat a man and took a shot at goal with a stockinged foot.

He was utterly determined not to be kicked out of a game. In a match against Huddersfield Trevor Cherry followed him around, bringing him down at very opportunity, but Best just picked himself up and went back for more again and again. If the “hard man” was of a sufficiently high status (Cherry didn’t count), then George would (in the absence of any protection from the referee) deign to make a fool of him by standing over the ball, beckoning him into making a crude lunge so he ended up on his backside as Best dropped his shoulder and went on his way. He did this several times to Arsenal’s Peter Storey in the course of one game when lesser men would have desisted out of concern for their personal safety and future careers.

When Bob Bishop telegrammed United to recommend the five-foot, eight stone, 15-year-old Best, he claimed: “I think I have found a genius.” Very few would disagree that, with Best’s death, football has lost one.

From WSC 227 January 2006. What was happening this month

Jon Spurling wonders whether applause is an appropriate replacement for the minutes silence.

Just as views on the responsibility for George Best’s early death are polarised, the same is true of attitudes towards the minute’s applause that was seen at Portsmouth and West Ham to mark his passing. There is a weighty body of evidence that suggests that Best would have approved of such a gesture. On Parkinson last year, he confessed: “I hope I’m remembered for the football and the cheers I brought to grounds, rather than all the front-page nonsense.” A lesser known fact is that he preferred the B-side of Don Fardon’s Belfast Boy – Echoes Of The Cheers – to the song that reached number 32 in the charts and which due to its ubiquitousness over the Old Trafford PA system was an early-Seventies version of Simply The Best.

Simon Tyers tells the story of one of this summer's more unique characters

Next June Australia will, more than likely, be officially anointed as 2006’s equivalent of the 1998 Jamaica side, the qualifiers full of unlikely UK-based players that will do in the Republic of Ireland’s absence. All five penalty takers against Uruguay have played in England, as has (and does) keeper Mark Schwarzer. The Boro man’s understudy, Zeljko Kalac, has played here, too, but is a rather more unlikely World Cup player, from the point of view of many in Leicester.

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