Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Corruption probe sees 5 arrests, lands big fish

5 arrests have taken place today in connection with a police probe into bung payments within the Premiership. Portsouth manager Harry Redknapp is the biggest fish caught in the probe, bu but Leicester City chairman Milan Mandaric, Rangers midfielder Amdy Faye (on loan from Charlton), and prominent agent Willie McKay all also brought in by police.

Portsmouth have confirmed the Redknapp news and he was held at Chichester police station on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and false accounting.

Mandaric, as well as the others brought in were all arrested in pre-dawn raids after 60 police officers searched eight addresses.

It appears the transfer of Faye from Auxerre to Portsmouth in 2005 is the source of the problem. Mandaric was the chairman at the time, while McKay acted as agent.

Tottenham defender Pascal Chimbonda (a player McKay also represents) was arrested on suspicion of fraud back in September, and is currently out on bail.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Could Liverpool be angling for Mourinho?

I've been very suprised at the recent strife at Liverpool between the clubs owners and manager Rafael Benitez. Could this be deja vu because it sounds all too similar to what happened at Chelsea with Jose Mourinho.

The way this is playing out in public is a very worrying sign of things to come at Anfield. I was very sceptical of the notion that Mourinho would be pushed out of Chelsea but I was dead wrong, and that has made me speculate that Liverpool have their sights set on a return to England for the special one with a switch of color from blue to red.

Could Jose Mourinho be the next Liverpool manager in waiting? Have there been secret approaches in Setubal to line him up for next season and could this be an explanation as to why Liverpool are hedging on transferring any new faces (not to mention handing the transfer reigns over to Rick Parry) to the club and saving the funds for a Mourinho entry? It's a very interesting idea.

My feeling is the owners have lost confidence that Benitez is the kind of manager to bring Liverpool to the next level. Insiders have speculated that the club has not improved much since the big spending summer and the player rotation policy has annoyed players and fans alike.

How can a manager who has brought a European crown, a final and is in the position to make a strong run at the Premiership (not to mention the total dismantling of Newcastle at the weekend) this season be under pressure? Simple. Liverpool have their eye on Mourinho and are looking to next season already.



On the Hunt

Reading midfielder Stephen Hunt is a bit of a dirty player. The foul over the weekend on Gelson Fernandes of Manchester City seals it.
The new tendency for referees to keep the red in the pocket this season is going to cost someone a career. 11 v 11 for 90 minutes, but the shocker that earned him a yellow card deserved a red and a host of games suspended. Hunt went in with studs at the knee and was nowhere near the ball. Fernandes was very lucky. It was a career ending tackle.

Hunt, you may recall was the player that dropped a knee and made the collision with Petr Cech forcing him out for many months and causing him to now wear a protective helmet. Opinion was divided at the time, but not for me. Hunt lowered his knee and should have pulled out. He's reckless and plays football with no consideration for anyone's safety.
Too often these types of reckless players are given excuses that they play with tons of effort and desire, but I don't see it that way. Its more a matter of doing anything, hurting anyone to get ahead.
A couple of years back Arsene Wenger was chided for suggesting Ruud van Nistelrooy was 'a bit of a dirty player' but he was right. I saw it too. He was smart about his behavior but the pattern was there. Hunt has the same tendency.

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Youth comes at a price in Premiership

Football stars are getting younger and younger, but the race to youth is costing clubs dearly. Over the weekend we saw Tottenham gift West Ham, Manchester United hand Bolton a winner, and Sunderland open the flood gates against Everton. Kids were all at fault.

I have complained about this before, younger players may be exciting and athletic, but they are not skilled like you see here. Clubs are obsessed with giving younger and younger players a go, but all I see happening is more mistakes and a replacement of ability with the power footballer, where brawn makes up for missing years of refinement.

Will this trend stop? No, of course not. Especially considering the price of a seasoned professional. Should it? It's debatable. Just look at 1995 and the great Ajax team that won Europe and the 'you can't win anything with kids' of Manchester United that won the double. On the other hand, look at these clangers from the weekend:

Sloppy defending saw Tottenham's Younes Kaboul, 21, clear into Luis Boa Morte which ended up gifting Carlton Cole an open goal. Kaboul was substituted shortly after the half. Snicker if you want, but I doubt Ricardo Rocha would have done that. Look how many goals Tottenham have conceded.

Manchester United's Gerard Pique, 19, has tons of talent, but a rush of self assurance saw him leave his marking duties in the box and miss a clearance to gift Anelka a Bolton winner.

And Sunderland defender Paul McShane, 21, was under no pressure but completely missed a clearance to gift Everton the opener. His performance went downhill from there as three times Sunderland conceded from long, long, long balls and were a shocking mess at the back the entire game to the tune of a 7-1 scoreline that could easily have been 12-1.

Let's not even discuss Newcastle. If you thought Titus Bramble was the problem, well...

Of course a young player needs a chance to prove himself and you improve most thru match play. Understood, but too often a player at age 26 is considered too old.

And that leads me to my last point. England are going to miss Euro 2008. My number one reason for this failure is a tie between McClaren's inept tactics and England players obsession with money, but a second is harder to discern and has to do with all this young international potential entering the Premiership from abroad stifling the development of English kids who end up aged 26 in the Championship and considered past their chance.

There needs to be a balance between youth and experience, and this mania towards youth has gone too far.

It's a shame, especially considering the stayed excuse is to say English players are too expensive. I disagree: the obsession with youth drives price speculation. The mantra "give young players a chance" should be replaced with "have a second look at someone that is not 18, might not become World Player of the Year, but might also not gift points".

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Where will this end for Owen?

It seems like Newcastle striker Michael Owen has an injury magnet attached to his boots because he can't stay on the pitch. Is his body breaking down or just unlucky?

Either way, something has to give. Owen has contributed almost nothing since joining Newcastle and risks becoming the Jonathan Woodgate of strikers.

This time Owen injured a thigh during a friendly with Austria. He's in Germany now for treatment. After paying 16m pounds in a move from Real Madrid, Newcastle have seen very little return on their money. Before this, Owen had a stomach injury, before that it was (I don't remember), and before than a knee injury that saw him miss almost an entire year. Where will this end?


My thoughts on who the next England manager should be

While there will be speculation of former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill taking over the England job, the only person I would consider is former AC Milan and Real Madrid manager Fabio Capello.

Time to be realistic. In a perfect world, I would hand the job to Mourinho but he doesn't want it regardless of how much speculation and what betting odds are. O'Neill could be tempted but I don't know how well he will fare.

The problem, as I see it, is that the England players need a swift kick in the ass and Capello is the man to do it. He ruffled feathers at Madrid but tell me if he wasn't Spanish champion at the end of it? The England side need some feathers ruffled and maybe some egos brought back to Earth. Like how about starting with breaking up the Gerrard-Lampard midfield that has never and likely will never work? Capello has what it takes to make such a change and he'd do it for a result.

Oh, and you know, Capello said he would be interested in the England job. That counts for something. So does the fact that he has been champion with every side he has ever managed.

For my golden parachute its Capello. Get that man in there and get an 11 on the pitch that will contend for the next World Cup.


Grab your coat, there is the door, McClaren fired

After only 18 matches in charge, former Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren era is over following England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008. Assistant coach Terry Venables has also been shown the door after an unanimous decision by the Football Association board during an emergency meeting.

McClaren's position had become untenable after the 3-2 defeat to Croatia at Wembley on Wednesday.

This makes the hapless McClaren's reign the shortest time in charge of any England manager.

Oh, and McClaren will cash in more than 2m pounds in the footballing worlds version of a golden parachute. To be compensated for such an awesome failure is more untenable than McClaren's job. The 'Umbrella Man' can now go wipe his nose with all that cash.

He was the wrong man for the job to begin with, so in many ways the failure to qualify lands at the feet of the FA. Next time, don't settle for a coach.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oh... Croatia got a third, England out

Everyone had already written Peter Crouch into their headlines as the hero for England but it was not to be. A manager clueless of international tactics and players looking more interested in salaries than the Euro 2008 Finals lose in the final qualifier and are thus dropped from the finals.

After one of the worst first halves I have ever seen, England managed to regroup from a 2 goal deficit after Frank 'dissapearance' Lampard slotted in a penalty and Peter Crouch lashed in the equalizer. At 2-2, England were thru. Scenes of jubiliation, the day was saved.

Or was it. Substitute Mladen Petric blasted a monster 25 yard drive across England goalkeeper Scott Carson and into the bottom corner. Ah, and then the silence.

England had 15 minutes to recover from the hammer blow but it was not to be. Croatia held their nerve and Steve McClaren was left holding his umbrella. Hold your member, buddy, because its all you have left. Oh, and quit, quit right after the game.


Liverpool: we wuz robbed

Dirk Kuyt can add himself to a list of Liverpool footballes who have been robbed in the last year and a half, this player being robbed while he was away on international duty with Holland.

Jerzy Dudek, Daniel Agger, Peter Crouch and Pepe Reina have all had their homes broken into since last year. The theives are mainly targeting the players while playing for Liverpool or on international duty.

Dudek was on holiday in Poland when thieves took a Porsche, jewellery and his 2005 European Cup medal. Crouch and Agger were robbed back in September 2006 while away on international duty. Reina was hit while away during last year's Champions League semi-final.


Baptista back to England?

Former Arsenal player Julio Baptista left England in a huff complaining that the pace of play was too fast and no time for creativity was possible. So why would there be rumors of leaving Real Madrid and of a return to the Premiership? It starts and ends with Juande Ramos, new Tottenham manager.

Reports say that Baptista, a Brazilian international, is set to sign for Tottenham as the fee with Madrid is negotiated but everyone around the deal is claiming ignorance.

Baptista was a former Sevilla player alothough he and Ramos crossed paths as he left and Ramos came, but nevertheless, Ramos is an admirier and Madrid manager Bernd Schuster is clearly not.

Real Madrid failed to sell Baptista in the summer as no taker would meet the asking price. But Real are likely to drop the asking price and less than 10m pounds could do it.

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For United, transfer rumors point to Portugal again

Manchester United is starting to make a habit out of looking to Portgal for new recruits and the latest comes in the form of Sporting Lisbon's start midfielder Miguel Veloso.

Veloso is a holding midfielder, a position in which United hardly needs to add players. But the reviews of the players performances have been so strong that it seems like Manchester can hardly resist.

But United are not the only potential suitors for Veloso. Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Arsenal and Tottenham have all expressed interest in signing the player. United's ace in the hole is that they have a first refusal agreement with Sporting and can take the player to Old Trafford should they be willing to match the highest bid.

Sporting claim they don't want to sell their best players, but that is a farce. Its almost an unwritten law at the club that whenever you value reaches a certain level, you are sold. Veloso's manager has already been told that they will allow a move for the right price. Now its a matter of time.

Next week could be the make or break moment for Veloso as Sporting travel to Old Trafford where he will be watched very closely. Veloso won his third international cap over the weekend when Portugal won against Armenia and had a solid display in an otherwise ordinary match. A deal sending him to Manchester would almost certainly mean someone would become surplus to requirements.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Lehmann caught

Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has compounded his recent bad press with a middle finger gesture aimed at German fans while chanting for him to be replaced in the weekend’s international against Cypres.

Lehmann denied the obscene gesture and claims he was scratching his head (with his middle finger) as the crowd chanted for Robert Enke to go on. I think the picture makes it very clear that he was letting the fans know what he thought. Think about it, how often do you use your middle finger to scratch anything?

Lehmann’s recent behavior has descended from foolish to all out comedy. He recently claimed he was humiliated at his place on the bench. It’s all falling apart, isn’t it? It’s why he needs to go.


Barcelona swap rumor is rubbish

I’ve published rumors over the years generally because there is some modicum of logic to it, but the ridiculous rumor that Manchester United are negotiating a swap deal with Barcelona for Samuel Eto’o for… wait… Louis Saha is total rubbish. If only Arsenal knew they could have had Eto’o for such a song.

Apparently there is a 5m pound payment along with Saha in the offer. Somehow, Louis Saha has increased his value 10 fold while constantly injured. Alex Ferguson is increasingly sick of Saha's constant injuries so would Barca want him then??

How rumors like this get going is beyond me.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

George Best's stunning goal

George Best had a stellar career, the former Manchester United great scored his greatest goal not in Manchester but in the United States where he played for the former NASL's San Jose Earthquakes.

This 1981 supergoal saw Best saw the commentator say "that's the greatest soccer goal I have ever seen". Best passed off to the right wing and received a back pass about 15 yards outside the box. From there, he went on a winding run through the spine of the defense beating three defenders three times each. His ability to use the defenders momentum against them was unparalleled.

Here it is:


Arsenal to take depressed Brazillian on loan?

The saga of 25-year-old Brazilian international Adriano has been a nightmare of his own making for the past 2 years and Arsenal could be set to offer him a reprieve from Italy's Inter Milan and take him on loan to the Emirates.

Adriano, who was once touted as a 50m pound striker has seen his stock plummet to unheard of levels and has made just four league appearances for Inter this season.

Adriano claims to suffer from depression and is currently in Brazil for treatment. He's not going to be back until January and the rumor has it Inter will invite loan offers to offload the troubled striker.

While some players invite some sympathy, Adriano does not from me. Always there for the party, he has put his focus on football aside and let girlfriends, drink and friends steer him away from what could cure his depression: some goals.

Adriano would be eligible for the Champions League if Arsenal were to make a deal, rumor has it that midfielder Gilberto Silva may be off to Inter.

Careful Arsene. Don't disrupt the flow. Buy Agbonlahor instead.

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Arsenal after top England prospect

Arsenal are flush with cash after a record profit report. Top of that list is Aston Villa star and England under-21 international Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Agbonlahor started playing regularly as of last season and has done nothing but impress for Villa with crucial goals and exceptional displays of attacking prowess. Something Arsenal have lacked is that deadly accurate striker and Agbonlahor paired up with Robin van Persie would be a potentially brilliant combination. Also considering van Persie always seems to be injured, the youngster would slot in and provide goals when their main striker is out.

While Nicklas Bendtner has played well it doesn't look like he'll ever become an Arsenal regular and could be moving on.

The rumors I have heard quote 15m pounds for Agbonlhor, which I think would be a great price considering how much Spurs paid for unproductive Darren Bent.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

See what I mean about Anderson?

Against Blackburn Rovers, new Manchester United midfielder Anderson showed again why I don't think he is as good as people claim.

There were lots of comments in my last entry on the subject, most disagreed. The most common argument was regarding how talented he is but nobody could point to much game changing impact. Talent, that may be true, he has lots and is tenacious, but he’s nowhere close to a finished product. What I do admire about him is how quick and willing he is to go after the ball. All the comparisons to Edgar Davids are justified; they are very, very alike. Now, that aside.

Anderson’s passing was very weak against Blackburn. I paid special attention to it as I watched the match. Many claimed that I hadn’t seen him play, well I have about 4 or 5 times now and what I saw this time was the same as the last: aimless passing and regularly out of position. I counted nine bad balls, I might have missed a few and about 3 good passes, one great pass and the rest of his touches had no impact. I also saw him contort the United shape as he wandered out of position. It’s a testament to how good Owen Hargreaves is that he covered for Anderson and kept the back line protected. I think many watchers confuse talent with impact. Anderson has talent, but it’s Hargreaves that makes the real impact.

Maybe one point we can all agree on is that the hair just isn't working for him.

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Barton back at it

Joey Barton, the name that is quickly becoming synonymous with troublemaker was back at it again over the weekend when his new club Newcastle drew against Sunderland.

Barton apologized for a dangerous tackle on Sunderland's Dickson Etuhu during the derby match. Dangerous tackle? You mean an attempt at a knockout punch. The wet noodle Football Association has declined to take any action against Barton. The event was not seen by referee Martin Atkinson. If he had it was a certain red card.

Etuhu knew exactly what Barton had done to him and the pair faced off after the incident as the half time whistle blew. Barton not only went in with studs high but with fists.

Barton claims he was simply rusty. Good excuse. Were you rusty when you beat Dabo?

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Friday, November 09, 2007

He tried to break his leg

Benfica midfielder Augistin Binya deserves an 8 match ban for his horrific tackle on Celtic midfielder Scott Brown that could have ended his career.

I am amazed Brown got up from the challenge. When I saw it, I thought, whoa, that is a broken leg. I can't understand what Binya was thinking. He had a decent game, although Benfica were tiring quickly as the game wore on but that challenge, that was strait out of the book of horrors.

Judge for yourself, it was 110% intentional for my money:

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Anderson over Carrick? You must be joking

Anderson over Carrick? Is there a joke I haven't been let in on? Is Alex Ferguson getting senile? Manchester United are starting to favor him and I can't see why.

Owen Hargreaves is finally fit and all summer I'd expected a pairing with Michael Carrick in midfield as Paul Scholes started to fade with age. It hasn't happened yet and the underwhelming Anderson has been getting the starts and Carrick has been sitting on the bench.

What gives here? Especially after a few chosen words about how the young Brazilian had not been developing? I don't understand it. A couple of weeks ago I watched Anderson closely in one of his first Premiership starts, I counted about 8 aimless and badly reasoned passes out of about 10 and thought: hmmm, its to the reserves for this one. Actually the opposite has happened and I don't get it. Especially since I saw Carrick's performances labeled sloppy.

While Carrick and Hargreaves are both more defensive midfielders, I actually thought it was a good idea to play them together, especially since you have a pair of wingers in the team (Nani and Ronaldo) who aren't noted for their defensive attributes (actually, Nani is a better defender than I give him credit for). My logic was that a pair of sturdy central midfielders that pass the ball well would serve the side better than a traditional playmaker, especially since Ronaldo and Nani wander centrally and Tevez drops back a lot (too much actually).

While you can't argue with goals, and United has scored a lot of them recently, you can argue that Anderson didn't know much about them save for a couple of decent setups. For my money, I would continue to give Carrick the chance to play slightly more upfield and see how it goes for a while.


Allardyce: big job means more press

Newspaper reports suggesting that Newcastle owner Mike Ashley are contemplating replacing Sam Allardyce with Blackburn Rovers' manager, Mark Hughes are rubbish and should be ignored. Why Big Sam can't hack the press is another story.

While it has not been the dream start he wanted, after a famous first game win at Bolton, Allardyce has earned the chance to turn the side around and will get it. Why he is going nuts at the press is more a reflection of his own temperament and frustrations than the press itself. He should know by now the press will always stir the pot.

Allardyce should put down the newspaper and accept his higher profile. This is Newcastle's best start to a season for 10 years. I don't imagine that most Newcastle fans or the board expected much better of a start to a season than this. As you might recall, the club had lots of problems to sort out.

Hey, it could be worse. We could all be laughing at his finely groomed moustache.


Piqued interest from Spain for United starlet

There were recent rumors that Manchester United defensive prodigy Gerard Pique was slated to leave United after it appeared that Athletico Madrid were ready to buy him and give him a starting place.

The 20-year-old Pique spent last season on loan at Real Zaragoza and was impressive. This week the central defender scored his first goal for United in Wednesday's Champions League matchup against Dynamo Kiev.

While Alex Ferguson has insisted the player has a future at United, he said the same thing before shipping Guiseppe Rossi out to Spain. But Pique is a different player, in a different position and, if he stays at United, will certainly have an eventual spot in the side. But how many years away is that with Vidic and Ferdinand in their primes? Will the captain of Spain’s under-21 side be satisfied to plug holes when injuries appear ala Wes Brown? He wont, and shouldn't, he's too talented.

Real Zaragoza made a big offer at the end of last season which was rejected. They still appear interested. Pique was at the Barcelona academy before joining United where he was a teammate of Cesc Fabregas. While Fabregas has cemented himself into the Arsenal side, Pique has not. While its understandable to a degree because of the physical attributes required for the different positions, it appears to be a fading argument. Big clubs are waiting to offer him a starting place.

For United, its time to play him or get out of his way. I can't see him getting the role he can command at a smaller club so I wouldn't be surprised if a move were forced.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bolton climb mountain

Bolton had a very tough task on hand tonight in the UEFA Cup: away against Bayern Munich and did very well to earn a hard fought draw. Relegation zone, one win in the league, struggling, but with a new manager in Gary Megson and a recent creep in their form, there was a chance which they took.

Kevin Davies' scored a late goal in the 82nd minute as he slipped the ball under keeper Oliver Kahn, the funniest keeper in Europe to score against. Bolton actually took the lead when Ricardo Gardner had a shot deflected after only eight minutes. But on the half hour, a low driven strike from Lukas Podolski put the game on terms but he claimed a second goal just after the half to see the German Bundesliga leaders (with an amazing +23 goal difference so early on) ahead.

It was Gary Megson's first time at the helm in a European competition and judging by the result there might be more in Bolton's tank that we've seen so far this year.

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Tottehnam with UEFA win

It was bottom against second from bottom in Group G with Tottenham having lost their last match 2-1 to Getafe in Martin Jol’s last game in charge. Israeli side Hapoel Tel-Aviv proved little competition for Spurs as they lost 2-0 allowing Tottenham into second place and Tel-Aviv bottom.

Tottenham's new manager Juande Ramos steered Sevilla to victory in the last two UEFA Cups saw victory with goals from Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov. Ramos was impressed with the improved display from his players:

"I was impressed with the performance, although we did not play at our best, and I was also thinking about the Wigan match. I saw the team grow in confidence and I am confident about Sunday's match.”

Hapoel were reduced to 10 men when Gal Shish was booked for a second time and provided little resistance from there.

In truth, Tottenham should have scored more goals but the result was satisfactory all things considered. Ramos has been doing a reasonable job thus far and has started to stabilize the team. Tactically they are starting to play better, and goals are starting to emerge. Now if only Berbatov’s moodiness can be solved, we have a winning side here.

Honestly though, Berbatov is probably going to leave after this season. He’s a self centered player, a great player, but not too interested in Spurs. It’s a shame on many levels, but he’ll force a move in the summer, mark my words. Otherwise, Tottenham still have a host of quality players and plenty of potential. Now they have a manager with something to prove.

Hapoel lie bottom of their domestic league and you could see why, they gave the ball away as often as they completed a pass. Eventually their carelessness did them in, Robbie Keane was fed by Malbranque down the left side and scored from 12 yards. Malbranque was again at the center of the action as he skinned the defender, crossed for Berbatov for the easiest of finishes.

The only negative point is that Spurs should have gone for the bigger result. They were so superior and a big result would have done a lot for the sides confidence.

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What a result

What a result for Liverpool. A record-breaking 8-0 win against Besiktas at Anfield finally resembled the 6-0 thrashing of Derby earlier this season.

Now let’s just hope that the rotation policy won’t disrupt the form and flow of the side that played against Besiktas. You can bet a result like this will silently challenge Rafa Benitez to leave things be.

The play was brilliant, as good as Arsenal was a few weeks ago against Slavia Prague in which they demolished them 7-0. Benitez called it “almost perfect”, almost because the other team had one chance.

But this result will be meaningless unless Liverpool beat FC Porto and Marseille next month. Liverpool have scored only one point in its first three group games and sit third in Group A with 4 points. Marseille sit on seven and Porto, eight.

It was Liverpool’s biggest win in the European Cup in 27 years and could be the spark the team needs to get their challenge in the Premiership back on track.

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Liverpool win approval

Liverpool have been given the go-ahead to re-design their stadium to the tune of 400m pounds in Stanley Park. The city council's planning committee gave permission to move just yards from their current Anfield ground to a 76,000 capacity stadium, the same as Manchester United has at Old Trafford.

The new stadium will initially hold 60,000 but will allow for extensions. Interestingly, the turf will be sunk 26 feet into the ground to allow more room for tribunes. Anfield holds 45,000.
Liverpool had already planned a new ground but new owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett ordered a return to the drawing board. Ground may be broken right away and is planned for completion in 2010.

Government funding will be used to redevelop the old Anfield ground and will include a new park, sports centre and hotel.