By Joe Behan
There are all kinds of things going on in the English Premier League these days in a season full of upsets. Things are heating up and managers are beginning to play head games.
Leeds’ David O’Leary, for example, is explaining to the press that he still respects Sir Alex Ferguson. But David has slung his first rock at the mighty Old Trafford giant by going top of the league. Apparently all is fair in word wars and football.
Glen Hoddle warned O’Leary that Elland Road high rollers would want to see some silverware in the cabinet. Hoddle claimed O’Leary was given a lot of dough to buy the players he wanted. The Great Glen then proceeded to announce that he didn’t get nearly as much as O’Leary.
Hoddle, while he has a lot of respect for what O’Leary has done at Leeds, is back to his old cocky self even though Leeds beat Spurs 2-1.
On a club note, Newcastle United is making an early run for the surprise package of the season. They knocked on the door last year, so they may have the necessary staying power. Arsenal slipped up big time against Charlton, going down 4-2.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Liverpool, meantime, won the battle of the Reds, beating Manchester United 3-1, while Gerrard Houllier watched the games on TV as he recovered from heart surgery. Thompson has placed Houllier on the same par as Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. Manchester United is falling apart and must buy defenders and a backup goalkeeper.
For Liverpool, Michael Owen was at it again, scoring two goals against Manchester United. Caretaker manager Phil Thompson said, “All the team was asked to do was work harder than them.”
Liverpool won, but it is Owen’s sensational comeback that is now the talk of Liverpool fans and football.
Owen set the tone when he bent the ball around and past Fabien Barthez into the top corner. The goal had winner written all over it. It certainly looked like it was near over when John Arne Riise hit a stunner from 30 yards, bringing Liverpool in 2-nil at the half.
David Beckham put United back in the game on the 50th minute and the crowd anticipated a ding-dong of a finale to the top fixture of the day. But Owen, the main man in the EPL, had other ideas and they were that of a killer instinct. Owen was not about to let Spice Boy ruin his day and he nodded home one minute later.
Owen scores great goals and, even better, it’s “when” he scores them that’s so impressive. His timing and knack for the big game winners is looking more and more world class as he matures. There was belief that the wonder boy might be a flash in the pan, that the flashy and speedy striker would burn out. Then all the signs occurred when he became injury prone. This year, however, though he has been through some devastating relapses, he is back and back fast.
Owen’s brilliance isn’t just his ability to score goals, it’s his amazing attitude toward discipline that enables him to succeed. Many a long ball was thrown at him and Heskey, as it caused trouble for Wes Brown and Mik’l Silvestre. Indeed, the old school method of getting the ball up the field won the game at the end of the day. The Liverpool defense remained tight to bring the victory home, but it was Michael Owen who stole the spotlight. The wonder boy is becoming one of the world’s best strikers. As long as he stays injury free, football fans are in for some Owen treats at the Japan-Korea World Cup.
Newcomers Blackburn Rovers, Fulham and Bolton are holding their own, Derby is not. Celtic are still European contenders after beating Juve 4-3. The Bhoys meet Valencia in the UEFA Cup and Martin O’Neill will look for a similar start in the UEFA to that of the Champions League in Holland.
Big scorers this week were Robbie Keane and Ian Harte for Leeds United. That’s good news for Mick McCarthy and Ireland just before they play Iran in their World Cup playoff this Saturday. Roy Keane, however, is more likely on the mind of the Irish football nation. The question is, will Keane recover from injury?
Shearer not finished
Owen is not the only one doing the comeback thing. A player who has been there and done that is Alan Shearer. The 31-year-old Toon vet hit a volley and a half giving Peter Schmeichel no chance to save Aston Villa from a 3-nil thumping. The major knee surgery earlier this year couldn’t stop Shearer from reaching an incredible 400 league games.
That volley he scored was his 207th goal and he is by no means finished. His retirement from the international scene may well pay dividends, as his Newcastle manager believes Shearer is good to go for another three seasons.
Newcastle is coming up with a striker who will not be forgotten about.
“It’s been a long road back,” Shearer said. “Craig Bellamy and I are working extremely well together. We are scoring and creating goals. His lightning speed is a great asset. . . . We can hit over the top knowing not many defenders will stay with Craig.”
Bobby Robson has done a great job at Newcastle, but he will not be satisfied until he reaches European competition, which is the honor Shearer and Newcastle are fighting for.
Pay the Bhoys
Even though the brilliant Henrik Larsson scored in the 90th minute to give Celtic a precious win over St. Johnstone, and even though Celtic beat Juventus 4-3 in the Champions League, taking the Bhoys into UEFA against Valencia, the players are not happy. They want money, that’s what they want, and O’Neill is backing his Bhoys.
Because the players have taken Celtic to Champions League material, they are now taking the stance that they deserve more money. Comparisons are being made to the Rangers figure of _50,000.
Glasgow Celtic has made millions from their outstanding efforts in the Champions League. Supposedly the high rollers at Parkhead offered 25 big ones to the lads and they were not impressed. And so, with all the joy we gain from managers, clubs, and strikers, this is what it comes down to. Money rules the roost.
It’s all about the dollar and that’s not just based on the Bhoys. It so happens that they want what they feel they deserve. With all due respect, the Bhoys will want to get the dollar sign out of their heads before Valencia, big time.