Players

Michael Owen is a very good striker – but does his Spanish experience show that that is no longer enough? Phil Ball assesses what Newcastle have got for their £17m

The mildly interesting aspect of this summer’s Michael Owen yawn-fest has been the contrasting reactions of the English and Spanish media to the issue. In England, despite the prominence of a new hero in Andrew Flintoff, both the quality papers and the tabloids have demonstrated a touching insistence on not forgetting our Michael, stranded out there on the bench, surrounded by unappreciative foreigners. The Spanish in general, and Real Madrid in particular, have hardly raised a line about the matter – but neither would most writers if they had just witnessed the arrival of Robinho and Julio Baptista. However, the Madrileño press itself never once suggested that Owen was suddenly “fifth in the starting order” of strikers – the English phrase of the summer. They know that managers such as Vanderlei Luxemburgo do not think so simplistically. Owen could have had a future at the Bernabéu.

The marketing prospects Japanese players offer are causing people to overlook what a fine player Bolton have signed in Hidetoshi Nakata, believes Justin McCurry

There was a certain inevitability about the cynicism that greeted the arrival of Hidetoshi Nakata at the Reebok Stadium. In persuading the unsettled Japan midfielder to move to Bolton from Fiorentina, Sam Allardyce had, so the received wisdom goes, ensured the club a steady income from replica-shirt sales, television coverage in the Far East and household corporate names on pitch-side sponsorship hoardings. After all, other Japanese players to have signed for Premiership clubs – remember Akinori Nishizawa and Kazuyuki Toda? – have done little to dispel the notion that they are anything more than cash cows in football boots.

Shaun Wright-Phillips' move to Chelsea has caused surprise and anguish for Manchester City fan, among them Ian Farrell, who nonetheless hopes that the transfer won't sully the reputation as one of the Premiership's good guys

Though controversial transfers always seem to bring odd cases of the sort of stagey shirt-burning antics so beloved by the media, most football fans in this cynical age tend to be well insulated against genuine outrage. But on Monday July 18th, something did happen that was as truly shocking as hearing that the Andrex puppy had savaged a child: Shaun Wright-Phillips became the bad guy.

The game's uncertain financial climate is causing top flight players to fall further and faster than they once did, leaving Cameron Carter bewildered by the pace of the change

There’s a terrible feeling you get as you get older – the sense that your world and its familiar landscape are being discreetly removed by stage-hands while you’re not watching. John Thaw dies, child-smacking is driven underground, Club biscuits devolve to just one orange flavour; it feels, if you’re being particularly paranoid, that the way is being cleared, little by little, for your own exit. It doesn’t help that, amid the hype of big name transfers in summer, some familiar faces are slipping into retirement or semi-obscurity without so much as a goodbye.

Sympathy for Ashley Cole has been hard to find in his battle for the right to talk to Chelsea behind Arsenal's back. But, as  Neil Rose points out, the rule cole is battling costs less well paid players dear and he might yet win on principle in the courts

To most people, the Ashley Cole affair, with meetings in posh hotels and squabbles over whether an extra £5,000 a week really was promised, seem far away from everyday life. It was Shaka Hislop’s evidence to the disciplinary commission that brought it down to earth. He was called by Cole’s lawyers to show the unfairness of Premier League rule K5, which prevents a contracted player making an approach to another club without the consent of his employer and under which Cole was fined. Near the end of his career at 36, Hislop did not know at the time whether his contract, expiring on 29 June, would be renewed by Portsmouth.

Lies, death threats, mysterious disappearances and a Nigerian youngster at the centre of a transfer wrangle between two of England's biggest clubs. PJ Bakke explains

When Lyn’s Nigerian starlet John Obi Mikel signed for Manchester United a week after turning 18 in a deal worth up to £7 million, everything appeared rosy. The player posed delightedly in his new team’s shirt; Atle Brynestad, who bought the Oslo club for 10p six years ago, recouped some of the money he’s put into the club since; and United had snatched one of the world’s brightest talents from right under Chelsea’s nose. But within ten days the story moved from sport to the front pages with police chases, mysterious disappearances and accusations of death threats.

For a £30million footballer, Rio Ferdinand is going to need to start showing class off the pitch, writes Ashley Shaw, as well as on it

Any footballer who associates himself with Jody Morris is looking for trouble. The turning point in PFA player of the year John Terry’s career was probably the night he opted to stay in when Morris and his pals were urging him to join their latest bender. England centre-half Rio Ferdinand, by contrast, seems to court publicity and, following successive tabloid stings involving Peter Kenyon and a fight with a photographer on a night out with Morris, it seems he doesn’t learn. Ferdinand has the millionaire lifestyle – the car, the clothes and presumably the women – but he lacks the vital component required to take the next step to football greatness: common sense. Morris, who has a conviction for assault and was sacked by Leeds for being drunk at training, is the personification of the current football disease – so why would a player of Rio’s standing think that a night on the tiles with him in celebrity central was a great idea?

UEFA’s quotas for home-grown players could simply increase the trade in teenage players and lead to more switches in national allegiance, argues Michael Dunne

Where, ask those who condemn the record number of foreigners in British football, will the next generation of England players come from if young English talent is not given its head in the Premiership?

Whatever happens to Diego Maradona, the people of Naples will still love him and the city is the first European destination for a travelling exhibition about him, as Paul Virgo reports

Today Diego Maradona is an obese, emotionally fragile, addiction-ridden wreck. Which is very sad. But it also makes it easier for England fans to drop the 1986 World Cup grudge and allow themselves to ap­preciate his genius. Anyone wanting to completely purge their soul of rancour can pay a visit to M10, an exhibition devoted to his life, currently in Naples.

John Williams fondly recalls one of the games great characters

I last saw Emlyn Hughes in the summer of 2004. He was working for the Football Association on a fans’ roadshow in Manchester as part of the preparations for Euro 2004. Emlyn’s job was to leaven the necessary talk about train times, policing and fan embassies in Portugal with some humorous and stirring England football reminiscences. He didn’t disappoint. On wobbly legs and occasionally slowing in speech, Yosser offered both barbs and bouquets for current England players, while recalling his own past battles for Liverpool and England. He, deservedly, had the audience glazed in utter admiration. The physical and psychological signs of the illness that finally claimed him were clear then, but it was hard to know whether the old fighter was winning his battle or bravely carrying on regardless. Sadly, it proved to be the latter.

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