Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay has reiterated the club’s focus remains on securing Champions League football next term before a permanent managerial appointment is made. Rafael Benitez, whose side take on Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League on Thursday night, was appointed interim boss after the Blues became the first Champions League holders to exit the competition at the group stage earlier this season. Gourlay, who was speaking in Kuala Lumpur while promoting the forthcoming tour, said the status quo remains for now, with Benitez on course to fulfil his brief. “Achieving one of the Champions League qualification slots is very important to this football club,” Gourlay said on chelseafc.com. He added: “Our whole philosophy is based on success on the football field and we have been doing everything in our power to ensure one of these slots. We want to be pitting ourselves against the top clubs in Europe next season.” Former Liverpool manager Benitez was never a popular appointment at Stamford Bridge and confirmed last week he would be leaving at the end of the campaign, in order to encourage supporters to back the team, rather than barrack him. That rant, coupled with his criticism of the ‘interim manager’ title, led to suggestions the Spaniard could depart prior to the end of the season, while speculation of a permanent replacement for Roberto Di Matteo has been incessant. Gourlay said: “We said from day one that Rafa was coming in as interim manager to the end of the season. “It is important that we remain focused on the job in hand which is qualifying for the Champions League and then at the end of the season we will sit down, have a look at the situation and we will determine how we go forward.” Press Association
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has responded to intense speculation over Rooney’s future by insisting the England striker will still be at Old Trafford next season. But Mancini was still asked whether he might be tempted to test United’s resolve over the 27-year-old, and he replied: “I think that Rooney is one of the best strikers in Europe but I think it is difficult he can leave Man United – I don’t think (so).” Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini does not think he would have a realistic chance of signing Wayne Rooney from rivals Manchester United. Suggestions Rooney could leave United have gathered pace since he was omitted from United’s starting line-up for their Champions League loss to Real Madrid on Tuesday. Mancini says he would be surprised if something such as that led to his departure. The Italian said: “I don’t know. I don’t know this situation. I can understand maybe Rooney would be upset if he didn’t play but these are things that can happen in every team. After one week it is finished.” There has been a report suggesting City striker Edin Dzeko could hold the key to Rooney’s future at United. Dzeko has been linked with a return to German football with Borussia Dortmund, whose star striker Robert Lewandowski is reportedly coveted by United. Were Dzeko, signed from Wolfsburg for £27million two years ago to move on, that could tempt Dortmund to cash in on Lewandowski 12 months before his contract expires. But Dzeko, City’s top scorer in the Premier League this season with 12 goals, has often stated his desire to remain at the Etihad Stadium and Mancini claims not to be aware of any interest. He said: “At the moment, there is nothing. In the end, maybe, I don’t know. In the summer, it could be possible. Dzeko player is an important player for us. We want that he stays here.” Press Association
Sunderland winger Adam Johnson has backed January signing Danny Graham to come good in the club’s hour of need. The 27-year-old frontman – a £5million transfer window acquisition from Swansea – will carry the burden of firing the Black Cats to Barclays Premier League safety after it was revealed that leading scorer Steven Fletcher will miss the final eight games of the campaign with ankle ligament damage. Graham is yet to add to the seven goals this term with which he arrived. But Johnson is convinced he is ready to make his mark, and he told Sky Sports News: “It’s important someone gets the goals with Fletch missing because we haven’t scored that many or created many chances. When we get them, it’s important to put them away. I think Danny is a couple of games away from getting a good run.” He added: “Fletch has proved himself this season. Without his goals, we would be in a lot worse position. He’s going to be a big miss for us. “I think it’s important for the whole team to step up now and put the performances in we know we are capable of.” Misfortune struck for Fletcher on international duty when he was carried off the field on a stretcher just minutes into Scotland’s 2-1 World Cup qualifier defeat by Wales on Friday. But if his premature departure was a blow to international boss Gordon Strachan, it was a bigger setback for club counterpart Martin O’Neill, with his side battling to avoid being dragged into the fight for Premier League survival. Fletcher’s 11 goals for the club he joined for £12million from Wolves during the summer have proved invaluable, and his absence robs O’Neill of his most potent weapon just when he needs him most, with leaders Manchester United due on Wearside on Saturday and clashes with Chelsea and Everton to come either side of a derby trip to Newcastle. Johnson said: “It’s been so frustrating because we have got some really good players. We haven’t had the results and have struggled massively at times. “All the lads are really frustrated, but we have got to keep working hard and hopefully it will come.” Press Association
Press Association Van Persie’ has been hugely impressive in his first season at Old Trafford, while Carrick receives his first nomination at the age of 31 after playing a key role in United’s quest for their 20th league title. The biggest surprise is the absence of Swansea forward Michu, who many believe to be the signing of the season. Like Bale, Hazard has also been listed for the Young Player prize, where he faces competition from Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere. Welbeck, Wilshere and Carrick are the only English players out of the 12 men nominated. For the first time, there will be a Women’s Player of the Year prize too, with Scotland’s Kim Little amongst those nominated in addition to 20-year-old Arsenal team-mate Jordan Nobbs, who scored a stunning debut goal against Italy in England’s triumphant Cyprus Cup campaign in March. United duo Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick are in contention for the award, while Chelsea’s Juan Mata and Eden Hazard have also been nominated. Liverpool striker Luis Suarez is not surprisingly on the list after his outstanding season, while Gareth Bale has been nominated for both the Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year award. Manchester United and Chelsea both have two players on the shortlist for the 2012-13 Professional Footballers’ Association’s prestigious Player of the Year award.
The son of New Approach did not make his racecourse debut until striking at Pontefract in early April, but has come a long way in a short space of time. After a fair run at Sandown, the three-year-old ran out a shock winner of the Dante Stakes at York, but proved that to be no fluke when beating all bar Ruler Of The World in the Investec Derby. Karl Burke, assistant to his trainer-wife Elaine, is keen on another crack at the winner in Ireland on June 29. He said: “I’m absolutely delighted with how he has come out of the race. He’s eaten up and trotted out this morning. He’s in better shape than I could have ever hoped. He lost 11 kilos, which is to be expected after the journey and everything. “When you finish as fast as he did, immediately after the race you think you’ve been unlucky, but we went back and watched the replay and the winner has quickened up really smartly three furlongs out and we weren’t able to. “Our horse took the track as well as we could have expected. He got a bit unbalanced round Tattenham Corner and it maybe cost him a length. You can blame the track and whatever else, but on the day we were beaten fair and square. “That’s not to say on another day things could be different and we certainly wouldn’t be scared to take him on again. I haven’t had a serious chat with the owner yet, but I would say there is a strong possibility he’ll be supplemented for the Irish Derby, if all is well between now and then. “Our horse only turned three on May 13 and there is every chance he could be an even better horse in a month’s time, so we’ll probably head to Ireland for the rematch.” Looking further ahead, Burke admits the Ladbrokes St Leger at Doncaster in September will be considered. “He’ll definitely get an entry in the Leger, but we’ll just take it race by race. All options are open,” he said. Supplementing Libertarian for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh is a “strong possibility” according to connections following his superb run in defeat at Epsom on Saturday. Press Association
Press Association Football Supporters Federation (FSF) chief executive Kevin Miles attended the meeting with Scudamore along with representatives of fans’ groups from Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal. Miles said: “I’d like to say we’ve won an immediate reduction in all Premier League ticket prices – that’s not the case but we have been able to express, in the meeting and in terms of the numbers outside, the strength of feeling on the issue of ticket prices. “We got a response that was ‘willing to listen’. They shared some of our concerns and agreed to ongoing dialogue to try to come up with some solutions. We regard this as the start of a process rather than the end.” The Premier League continues to grow in wealth with a new three-year £5.5billion global television rights deal coming into effect from the start of the 2013-14 season. Calculations revealed by the FSF show that the increased revenue would be enough to cut the price of every ticket at every game by £51.30. The Premier League has previously said it encourages “stretch pricing”, where a range of prices are offered to ensure those with lower budgets are catered for. A statement read: “The Premier League today met with a group of supporters who took part in the demonstration outside our offices. It was a positive meeting in which we listened to the group and answered their questions. “In the meeting we explained that keeping attendances high is our top priority and that encouraging the attendance of locally-based supporters and incentivising away attendance are key parts of that. “While it is for individual clubs to set their ticket prices, we agreed with the group that we would further encourage stretch pricing at our clubs in order to make Premier League football available to a wide range of supporters. We recognise the commitment of attending fans and look forward to further discussing the matters raised with the Football Supporters’ Federation.” A group of fans believe they have made positive progress in their campaign for lower Premier League ticket prices following a protest in London. Supporters from across the country gathered to demonstrate outside Premier League headquarters on Wednesday afternoon while a delegation met with the competition’s chief executive Richard Scudamore inside. Disgruntlement over the rising cost of attending matches, particularly away matches, has grown in recent years and notably commanded attention after Manchester City’s visit to Arsenal in January. City returned around one third of the 3,000 tickets they were allocated for the game after fans baulked at the £62 price.
The 25-year-old, who can also operate on the left side of midfield, will move to Carrow Road on a four-year deal from the Championship club for an undisclosed fee once all of the relevant paperwork has been completed. Olsson has been a long-term target of Canaries manager Chris Hughton, who has been on a summer spending spree following the club’s record £8.5million capture of Holland international Ricky van Wolfswinkel, while England Under-21 winger Nathan Redmond was last week purchased from Birmingham, and defender Javier Garrido has signed permanently after a loan from Lazio. Norwich have confirmed the signing of Sweden international defender Martin Olsson from Blackburn Rovers. Press Association “We are delighted with the addition of Martin. He’s been playing in England for seven years and is well acclimatised to the Premier League,” said Hughton on the club’s official website, www.canaries.co.uk. “He can also play anywhere on the left hand side so he brings us good flexibility in that sense, plus at 25 he’s at an age where he has some experience and also some time to improve. “At this time it is about improving the squad that we have and Martin certainly does that.” Hughton is expected to show no let-up in his summer recruitment drive, with Scotland defender Russell Martin yesterday signing on for another three years with a contract extension. Norwich are understood to be tracking PSV Eindhoven’s Sweden international Ola Toivonen, Lokomotiv Moscow’s £6million-rated Senegal striker Dame N’Doye. Feyenoord midfielder Leroy Fer and Ajax defender Toby Alderweireld, meanwhile, are also reported targets for the Canaries, with suggestions the duo have already travelled to East Anglia to take in the club’s facilities ahead of undergoing medicals. Norwich later confirmed goalkeeper Carlo Nash had completed a free-transfer move after being released by Stoke. The 39-year-old will provide cover to England international John Ruddy, who had been a target for Chelsea, and Mark Bunn.
Press Association Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers claims there is a new camaraderie and togetherness in his squad. The ex-Swansea boss told the Reds’ website: “I remember last year and people saying to me ‘should we be losing 3-0 to West Brom?’ They were absolutely right. “But we’ve got better and better as we’ve gone on. It’s a big job here. But I just got the feeling in the dressing room beforehand, when the players were getting together, some of our staff were saying that it just feels different this year. “There’s a camaraderie and a togetherness there. Long may it continue. “We haven’t won the World Cup, it’s a game of football. But the lads are happy, they’ve done their job. They knew this was a big three points.” Rodgers also paid tribute to striker Daniel Sturridge, who scored the only goal of the game, after his three-month battle with an ankle problem. The Liverpool boss believes Sturridge could be one of the top scorers in the Premier League this season if he can maintain his fitness. He said: “I think the biggest credit you can give him is that in all the time he was off, he never put on any weight whatsoever. “His body fat remained the same as when he was playing, which shows you how hard he was working. “And I have to give credit to the medical team, because they’ve got to make sacrifices as well. Daniel was keen to get himself right, so he was ready to fire at the beginning of the season. “For a bit of time it was touch and go, but once we saw his progress and how he was working, he was back probably three weeks earlier than what we anticipated, purely because of his attitude. “I always believe he’s got a goal in him. That’s why we took him here. As long as he’s on the field, he can end up being one of the top goalscorers in this league.” The Reds started this campaign with a 1-0 win over Stoke – a stark contrast to last season’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of West Brom. The pre-season has also been dominated by uncertainty over Luis Suarez’s future with the striker saying he wanted a move, but that situation appears to have resolved itself and Rodgers believes there is a positive new feeling in the club.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce accepts England forward Andy Carroll faces a big mental challenge to recover from his latest injury setback – which is normally suffered by “ballerinas and basketball players”. Press Association Sport understands Carroll has travelled to Europe – boarding a plane for Belgium on Friday morning – to begin a rehabilitation programme which the club hopes will not require an operation, but equally no time frame has been set for a possible return to full match fitness. While Allardyce is confident the 6ft 3ins former Newcastle frontman will recover from the setback, the Irons boss understands there are personal battles for him to overcome ahead of a season which, if all goes well, could end with playing for England at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. “It is a big challenge for Andy because he has got to be mentally really tough now,” said Allardyce. “He has to be really, really focused and we have got to make sure we keep his spirits up whenever we get the chance because it is a lonely place to be when you are injured, and certainly for the length of time he has been injured. “This will make him feel pretty low for a while, but he has to battle through that and we will look after the psychological side as well as the physical side. At the end of the day it is just about getting him fit as quick as we possibly can.” Allardyce revealed the nature of Carroll’s latest fitness problem was linked to the centre-forward’s style of play. “What you find on my research is that this is an unusual injury for footballers. It probably more revolves around people like ballerinas and basketball players because of the bounding side of it,” the West Ham manager said. “What caused Andy’s injury in the first place is his leap – he leapt up high for a ball against Reading on the last day of the season and landed (awkwardly on his foot). That is what happens with basketball players because they are 22 stone and 6ft 7ins, it more occurs in those sports. The 24-year-old – signed on a permanent £15million deal from Liverpool after a loan spell last season – had looked to be on his way back to full fitness following an Achilles problem. However, he then broke down during a training session earlier this week with a foot injury when he aggravated the plantar fascia tissue which supports the arch, and is so now set for another extended spell on the sidelines. “Once it has healed, it is about managing it then. Eventually it will be gone, but there is still a period of time after the injury has healed where he will get some discomfort through the foot. We will do all we can to eliminate that as quickly as possible.” Carroll had been selected by England manager Roy Hodgson for the friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and Brazil at the end of last season, only to be forced out by another untimely injury. While the latest setback is not expected to hamper his international chances over the longer-term, Allardyce maintains the focus must first be on getting the forward fighting fit for club duties. “I wouldn’t even speculate on that (Carroll’s place in the England side) because the important thing for me is to get Andy Carroll fit and playing for West Ham United,” Allardyce continued. “He had forged his way back into Roy’s plans at the end of last season, but then unfortunately had to report that he had picked up the (Achilles) injury, otherwise he would have travelled with England. “It is a big year for Andy to be at West Ham scoring goals and also trying to get himself into the World Cup squad, if we (England) qualify.” Press Association
Paulinho netted his first Premier League goal in stoppage time to give Tottenham a 1-0 victory and finally end the resistance of Cardiff keeper David Marshall. Cardiff created few clear chances but felt they had twice come out on the wrong end of decisions by the officials. The first came when Hugo Lloris appeared to handle outside his area as Fraizer Campbell attempted to round him, although replays suggested it was a very tight call. The second saw Ben Turner’s header from a corner chalked off after Aron Gunnarsson was adjudged to have impeded Lloris. Although Spurs would take a stranglehold on proceedings, Cardiff made a purposeful opening, with Kevin Theophile-Catherine heavily involved on his home debut. The Bluebirds should have led in the seventh minute. Kyle Naughton’s misdirected pass was left by Michael Dawson, but lacked the weight to get back to Lloris. Campbell pounced but he was robbed of the ball as he attempted to round Lloris on the edge of the box, with replays suggesting the Frenchman had handled outside his area. Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas had bemoaned his side’s run of three games in six days earlier this week, but he need not have worried about their ability to perform, as they settled down and assumed control. They crafted a fine chance for Soldado, after a thrilling burst from Andros Townsend, but Marshall was able to turn the Spaniard’s shot round the post. Kyle Walker followed the winger’s lead as he took off from inside his own half on a run that put him into the Cardiff box, where Ben Turner made a crucial tackle. Marshall soon found himself severely overworked saving twice from Eriksen, the second coming after Turner had recovered from being horribly exposed by Soldado to get a block in. Sigurdsson also stung the Scotland keeper’s palms, but Cardiff then enjoyed a better spell up to half-time, and they were aggrieved not to be leading at the break. Lloris’ poor control of a back pass gifted Cardiff a corner, which Turner headed in at the far post, but referee Mark Clattenburg ruled the keeper had been impeded by Gunnarsson. It appeared a soft decision. Cardiff’s gradual improvement continued at the start of the second half, with Craig Bellamy racing clear only for Lloris to cut out his pull-back for Peter Whittingham. But the hosts were again indebted to Marshall moments later. Sigurdsson’s shot from the edge of the box came back off the crossbar to fall to Soldado in acres of space, but he was again denied by the keeper’s legs. Sigurdsson was involved once more when he scampered round Theophile-Catherine to tee up Paulinho, but again Marshall was up to the task. Cardiff boss Malky Mackay threw on Peter Odemwingie in place of Campbell for his debut, and the Nigerian almost enjoyed a dream start as he curled wide of the left-hand upright. It proved a brief respite as Spurs continued to pile on the pressure, but Cardiff held firm as the game entered the final 15 minutes. The hosts spurned a great chance to win it as Odemwingie evaded Jan Vertonghen and pulled back for Gunnarsson, who fired high over the bar. Marshall saved from Paulinho at the other end, but could do nothing to keep out the Brazilian’s final effort from inside the six-yard box. Spurs dominated large sections of the game at Cardiff City Stadium but were denied on countless occasions as the Scot made crucial saves from Roberto Soldado, Christian Eriksen, Paulinho and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Even when former Swansea man Sigurdsson did beat Marshall, his effort struck the crossbar, but Paulinho finally made their dominance tell as he tapped in Erik Lamela’s pass from close range to seal the win. Press Association