“Downing won’t leave:” Middlesbrough boss Southgate

Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate told press on Tuesday that winger Stewart Downing will be staying at the club despite recent transfer rumours.

Tottenham Hotspur reportedly showed interest in the 24-year-old, but Southgate is very clear about the possibility of the playing making a move to London.

“He’s not a player we’re looking to leave and we’re not looking to lose our better players, that’s key for us.

“We’re not in a position where we want to sell our players, especially to teams that are close to us,” he added.

If Middlesbrough receive a bid from a bigger team, the club might want to take it into consideration: “We’ll worry about that scenario as and when it happens.”

Tue 30 December, 2008
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Stoke chairman backs Fuller to stay

Stoke City want to keep controversial striker Ricardo Fuller despite the Jamaica international getting sent-off for slapping club captain Andy Griffin.

Fuller was red-carded during Sunday's 2-1 loss at home to West Ham – a result that left Stoke in the Premier League's relegation zone.

And with the January transfer window imminent, some fans have said City should sell Fuller.

But Stoke chairman Peter Coates told the club's official website on Tuesday: “It hasn't entered our heads to sell him. We're absolutely sure we want to keep him. Ric's a good player and you don't sell your good players.

“He's a big player and an important player, he helped to get us here (the Premier League), and he'll stay at the club.”

Coates saved his harshest criticism for referee Michael Jones, who he said had been wrong to dismiss Fuller at the Britannia Stadium.

“I'm not condoning it but can't referees use discretion? “I thought the referee could have handled it better. You see things far worse on the pitch all the time go unpunished.”

He added: “Let's not get it out of proportion – it was hardly a punch like Muhammad Ali.

“Little incidents and spats happen all the time, on the pitch and on the training ground, we mustn't forget that.”

However Coates, due to meet manager Tony Pulis on Wednesday when Fuller and Griffin return to training with the rest of the squad, made clear that the forward's conduct had been unacceptable.

“I'm very disappointed in Ricardo indeed,” he said. “The incident shouldn't have happened, it was unprofessional.

“He's an emotional guy but needs to control himself. But in the heat of the moment, these things can happen.

“We all do things that we regret and I'm sure he is regretting it now. We are going to deal with this within the club as that's the way it should be dealt with. Tony Pulis will come in tomorrow to do whatever is necessary.

“I'm sure they can play together again, the guys get on well with each other as I understand it.

“We have a good team spirit and I'm sure that'll continue.”

Coates accused referees of favouring big clubs, citing the way in which Stoke's Andy Wilkinson – nicknamed 'Rash' – was sent-off against champions Manchester United on Boxing Day as an example.

The Potters' chairman said United winger Cristiano Ronaldo should have gone into referee Chris Foy's book for flicking a boot at Wilkinson.

And he was equally critical of Foy's failure to punish United striker for throwing an elbow at Abdoulaye Faye.

Tue 30 December, 2008
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Dikgacoi set to join Fulham

South Afrian midfielder Kagiso Dikgacoi is set to complete his move to Fulham, according to the Sun.

The 24-year-old failed in his attempt to join the Premier League side in the summer, due to work permit problems.

“Fulham are in the process of applying for a work permit for me and I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Dikgacoi is quoted as saying.

“It has always been a dream of mine to ply my trade in Europe and I hope I get my chance in the Premier League.

“There’s been interest in me from other teams in Europe but I’d prefer to join Fulham, who know me and what I’m capable of.

“The club trying to get me a work permit is proof that they are really interested in my services.”

[Source: The Sun]

Tue 30 December, 2008
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Portsmouth sign Belhadj on permanent deal

Nadir Belhadj has joined Portsmouth on a four-and-a-half-year contract from French side Lens for 4.5 million euros (4.4 million pounds), the Premier League club announced Tuesday.

The 26-year-old Algeria left-back, born in France, has impressed during a loan spell at Fratton Park, scoring two goals in 23 appearances, and will officially become a Pompey player when the transfer window opens on January 1.

“I'm delighted to have secured Nadir as a permanent signing,” Portsmouth manager Tony Adams told the club's official website.

Former Arsenal captain Adams saw Pompey lose to his old club 1-0 on Sunday but said Gunners boss Arsene Wenger had been impressed by Belhadj.

“Even Arsene Wenger commented on his ability to spring from defence to attack so quickly,” Adams, who played under the Frenchman at Arsenal, added.

“He has great pace and energy and is a terrific crosser of the ball, too.”

Portsmouth chief executive Peter Storrie said: “There was a lot of interest in him from a number of clubs across Europe, but he is enjoying his football on the south coast and was very keen to sign a long-term contract with us.”

Pompey are currently 12th in the table. But they are just three points above the Premier League relegation zone after losing their last four league matches.

Tue 30 December, 2008
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Threat of axe affecting Man City underachievers: Robinho

Manchester City's Brazilian star Robinho says the threat of being dropped is a factor behind the club's patchy English Premiership form.

With the Dubai-based consortium behind the blue half of Manchester set to give coach Mark Hughes big money to spend when the transfer window opens on Thursday, Robinho says several players are beginning to wonder if their days are numbered.

Robinho, signed from Real Madrid under the noses of Chelsea last summer, for 32.5 million pounds (35 million euros), says those concerns have dragged down the performance of the team.

“It is incredible that with this squad we have appeared to be fighting relegation,” Robinho said in Tuesday's Daily Mail.

“I must admit I don't really understand it and it has been the one question talked about more than any other in our dressing room.

“One theory I have is that the constant rumours about possible reinforcements in January have damaged us in some way

“Some of my team-mates do perhaps fear for their future and that is not positive, I guess. But there is nothing we can do about that apart from try not to let it affect us.”

Robinho's last-gasp goal secured a draw with Blackburn on Sunday to keep City just out of the relegation zone.

But he insisted that “if we show the pride that we did in the last game then we will be okay.”

His 12 goals this season have at least ensured he personally has no reason to fear the chop – though he says he also must improve.

“I have to say that still I am not really happy with my performances. People have not seen the big Robinho yet. They have not seen the real Robinho.”

Tue 30 December, 2008
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Qatar considering the hosting of the World Cup in either 2018 or 2022

BANGKOK, Dec 30 (Reuters) – The Gulf state of Qatar is considering an ambitious bid to become the first Arab country to host the World Cup finals, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Saud al Mohannadi, secretary-general of the Qatar Football Association, said the oil and gas rich state had “the means and the ability” to host the finals, either in 2018 or 2022 and would make a decision early next year.

“We are interested and we believe we can successfully host such a prestigious event as the World Cup finals,” Al Mohannadi told Reuters by telephone.

“We have the stadiums and we have experience hosting top sports events. We don’t want to rush into anything, we need to find out what the full requirements are, but we are interested.”

FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently said the host cities for the 2018 and 2022 finals would be announced at the same time, with the bidding process for both to be launched in January and decided by December 2010.

The reason, Blatter said, was made to allow countries more time to secure funds and sponsors and complete infrastructure work at a time of global economic recession.

Qatar will host the 2011 Asian Cup soccer finals and has successfully organised events on the global tennis, golf and MotoGP circuits, as well as the 2006 Asian Games, widely considered the most successful edition to date.

Earlier this year, with financial backing from the country’s ruling family, it launched a bid to stage the 2016 Olympic Games in its capital Doha but failed to get on the shortlist of host cities.

Qatar is likely to face stiff opposition from England, Netherlands and Australia, as well as Spain and Portugal, who last week said they would bid to jointly host the finals.

China, Mexico, Belgium and Russia have also reportedly shown interest.

Tue 30 December, 2008
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Premier League – Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

With the Christmas fixtures almost completed it is time to look at who has shined and who has let themselves down.

  • Hot Team
  • In all truth, I’m not a great fan of the red half of Merseyside, but you cannot fail to respect and admire what is going on at Anfield this season.

    Liverpool have made it very clear that they are genuine challengers to Chelsea and Manchester United this season. A simple 3-0 win over Bolton and a 5-1 annihilation of Newcastle at St James’ Park have moved them clear at the top.

    At times they play scintillating football and with Steve Gerrard playing in a basically free role, they look every inch potential champions.

  • Not Hot team
  • With a defeat at Wigan and a humbling at home to Liverpool, Newcastle staked a strong claim for this award, but I am going to look elsewhere.

    What has happened to Tottenham? After their great start under Harry Redknapp things have turned a little sour. A 2-0 defeat at West Brom following on from a goalless draw at home to Fulham made it no win in four and a pretty miserable Christmas at White Hart Lane.

    I think a fair amount of money may need to be spent in the transfer window if Tottenham aren’t going to slide back into trouble.

  • Hot keeper
  • It is rare for a keeper on the wrong end of a 5-1 defeat to be awarded the man of the match award and it is even rarer for me to select a keeper who has conceded five goals as the week’s ‘Hot keeper’.

    On this occasion though I have no hesitation in giving the award to Newcastle’s Shay Given. He was outstanding in his side’s humiliation by Liverpool and in the first twenty-five minutes made five world class saves. He went on to make another handful of decent stops and is a worthy winner of the award.

  • Not Hot keeper
  • I am a huge fan of David James who has without doubt been England’s best keeper for a number of years. He has always had a major clanger in his locker but, on the whole, he has been an exceptional number one.

    This season he has looked particularly shaky and has interspersed some great saves with many mistakes. He made a few at The Emirates the other day and one of them cost his side the goal that lost them the match.

    I hope it is only a temporary loss of form but at the age of thirty-eight it could be a whole lot more than that.

  • Hot defender
  • There has been much written about the temperament of Arsenal’s William Gallas. He has been decried as a man without the stomach for a fight.

    After everything that has happened to him one could have expected him to fade away. On Sunday he came up with the winning goal for his team after helping them defend a clean sheet. I think that shows character that many observers seem to feel is absent.

  • Not Hot defender
  • Stoke’s Andy Wilkinson is not the first and won’t be the last defender to be wound up by Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Having said that, when your side is on the verge of an excellent 0-0 draw with the Champions and you have already been booked, you need to show a strong character to see the game through to the end.

    When Wilkinson flew into a spiteful tackle from behind on the Portuguese winger and received his deserved and inevitable red card he showed nothing of the sort.

    Who knows whether United would have got their late winner if Stoke had kept eleven men on the pitch?

  • Hot midfielder
  • It’s a toss up this week between the two England stars who can apparently not play together in the same team.

    Steve Gerrard was exceptional for Liverpool and on any other week he would have taken this award. However, Chelsea’s Frank Lampard scored three goals in their two games and took his tally for the season once again into double figures.

    Lampard’s scoring record from midfield is remarkable and shows no sign of slowing up. Despite what his detractors continue to say, Frank Lampard is still a world class player.

  • Not Hot midfielder
  • I always thought that Bolton captain Kevin Nolan was a bit of a hero with the Bolton faithful. It is only reading through some of the club message boards that I found that might not be the case.

    He was particularly poor in their defeat against Wigan and one back pass in particular nearly cost his side dear.

    Nolan has never quite lived up to the promise he showed a few seasons ago when he was being suggested as a challenger to the established England midfield. He looks a long way away from that now.

  • Hot striker
  • There was so much fuss over the signing of Robinho by Manchester City that miracles were expected from him. Of course, at thirty-two million pounds, the fans had a right to expect quite a lot from him.

    The mercurial Brazilian hasn’t always produced the goods for his struggling side since his arrival although there have been flashes of his undoubted brilliance at times.

    It is a remarkable fact that City have won only six of their twenty games but have won each of those six by three goals or more. In other words, when they are good, they are very, very, good. When they are very, very good, Robinho is usually at the heart of it.

    Three goals in two games helped City to four points and a step closer to safety.

  • Not Hot striker
  • I have rarely seen anyone act as stupidly on a football pitch as Stoke’s Ricardo Fuller did at West Ham. In slapping his own captain Andy Griffen after Griffen had been partially at fault for West Ham’s equaliser, he showed an astonishing lack of brains!

    He was rightly sent off and may have cost his side the game as they went on to lose 2-1. I hope he feels ashamed of himself.

    Tue 30 December, 2008
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    Willem van Hanegem fired as coach of FC Utrecht

    FC Utrecht fired coach Willem van Hanegem on Tuesday, one day after he criticized the team’s management and said he planned to resign at the end of the season.

    “There is no basis for a continuation of our cooperation,” Utrecht chairman Jan Willem van Dop said in a statement.

    The 64-year-old Van Hanegem wrote in his column Monday in the Algemeen Dagblad that he intended to resign at the end of the season because Utrecht officials had let him take the criticism for their decision to fire four of his assistants in October.

    “I was used as a shield, more of a scapegoat, actually,” wrote Van Hanegem, who supported the firing of the assistants but denied it was his idea. “They let me be besmirched while they knew how it all happened.”

    Assistant coach Ton du Chatinier will take temporary charge of Utrecht, which is in ninth place in the Dutch league.

    Van Hanegem was a star defender for the Netherlands at the 1974 World Cup, when the team lost to Germany in the final.

    Tue 30 December, 2008
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    Sir Alex Ferguson praises Jonny Evans

    Jonathan Grant (Jonny) Evans, the Northern Ireland central defender, has come in for the highest praise from his boss, Sir Alex Ferguson.

    Not quite twenty-one years old, Evans has already had a lengthy career.

    He began his career at Greenisland FC where he was spotted by United scouts from where he joined the Manchester United Academy.

    To gain further experience, Ferguson sent him in loan to Royal Antwerp and Sunderland.

    He returned from loan for the 2007/8 season and played for United in the League Cup and UEFA Champions League.

    However, in January of this year, he was sent back to Sunderland on loan until the end of the season to gain further experience.

    At the end of last night’s fixture against Middlesbrough where the Red Devils won 1-0, Sir Alex Ferguson was full of praise for his twenty-year old defender.

    Evans has come in for the injured Rio Ferdinand and has shown maturity beyond his years, said Sir Alex.

    Jonny Evans turns twenty-one on Friday 2 January.

    Tue 30 December, 2008
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    The worst week of my life, Berbatov

    In an interview after last night’s Premier League encounter against Middlesbrough, Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov outlined how this week has been the worst week of his life.

    The Bulgarian striker explained how he was forced to miss his club’s success in the FIFA Club World Cup success after a virus had struck him down.

    However, as he stated, everything appears to be coming back together with his winning goal against Middlesbrough in their 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.

    Berbatov also said that the title chase for United lay exclusively in their own hands and if they can gain maximum six points with their two games in hand, they should be right there in May.

    Tue 30 December, 2008
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