By Dermot Clarke
And the teams for today’s game are: Home — Westerveld, Heggem, Hyppia, Henchoz, Bjornebye, Berger, Smicer, Song, Ferri, Camara, Meijer. Away — De Goey, Petrescu, Desailly, Lebouef, Lambourde, Di Matteo, Poyet, Goldb’k, Zola, Flo, Vialli.
So what’s the game? Is it Steau Bucharest vs. Brondby, or perhaps Bodo Glimt against IFK Gothenburg, or maybe Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint Germain? No, it is, or could be. Liverpool vs. Chelsea in the English premiership next season?
Gerard Houllier has joined the League of Nations. The purchase of Frode Kippe means that there are, at press time, five Norwegians alone on the Anfield books. Circa 1990 one of the favorite trivia questions was, "Who was the only English-born player on the Liverpool Cup winning team of ’86?" The answer was Republic of Ireland international Mark Lawrenson. The rest of the team was made up in the main of Scots, Welsh and Irish. Now even the most articulate Kopite would find it difficult to get his tongue around some of the names on the Cosmopolitan panel. Song and Ferri shouldn’t cause too much trouble, though, especially on Merseyside.
So we’re about to find out the truth about the much-hyped Houllier. Will he be a Shankly or a Souness, a Paisley or an Evans? Well, David James is gone and that’s positive.
A sincere debt of gratitude is owed to Aston Villa by Liverpool. Villa Park is fast becoming football’s Betty Ford Center. Paul McGrath, Stan Collymore, Paul Merson and now David James are problems all. McGrath, as we all know, was a quality player; he had the best time of his career at Villa. Merson is also a class act. Collymore might yet prove something should he get over the stress of being paid £20,000 a week for warming a bench. But if John Gregory can turn around the career of David James, I will cross the street here on Fifth Avenue and buy a really expensive hat in the Stetson store. I’ll then put it on, just to take it off to him, then I’ll probably have it gift wrapped and sent to him, all in recognition of his genius.
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Back to Liverpool. Robbie Fowler is staying, another plus, and the Italians have been warned off Michael Owen. So you never know "The Pool" could be back up among the big boys very soon.
It looks like Sunderland could have even more ‘rial power next season. They already have big Niall Quinn and Peter Reid has been making inquiries about Argentine star Ariel Ortega. Ortega is expected to be wanting a move from the relegated Sampdoria. He was one of the stars of the last World Cup until he was sent off against Holland.
Peter Schmeichel has signed for Sporting Lisbon. The former Manchester United keeper inked a two-year contract with the Portuguese side last Sunday. Hristo Stoichkov may be going to Watford. Graham Taylor is believed to have been making inquiries about the Bulgarian M’stro. No doubt Elton John will be singing Taylor’s praises should the deal come through.
We have the mouth-watering prospect of seeing Steve McManaman in the Champions League next year. His side, Real Madrid, squeezed into second spot in the Spanish League. They needed to beat Deportivo and then hope that Valencia could do them a favor against Mallorca. Madrid won 3-0 and Valencia did likewise, so Macca’s back in Europe.
Shelbourne missed many chances to take a victory to Switzerland in the Inter Toto Cup. Neuchatel Xamax held the Dublin side to a 0-0 draw and must now be favorites to advance. The Swiss played a containing game, happy to soak up the pressure and gain a draw and despite the best efforts of Richie Baker and new signing John Powell, Xamax achieved their goal. You’ll probably recall that Don Givens spent the twilight of his career with Neuchatel. It was here that Don reverted to a sweeper role, having become the Republic of Ireland’s top scorer, a title he later relinquished to Frank Stapleton.
FAI wrist slap
The FAI got away with a mere slap on the wrist for the cancellation of the Yugoslavian tie. A fine of about £25,000 and whatever compensation the Yugoslavs are owed was the penalty handed out. Eviction would have cost the FAI an estimated 31 million. The game is to be played in Dublin, probably on the first of September.
Roy Keane should be fit and ready by then and in those first eight days of the ninth month Ireland’s fate in Euro 2000 could be determined. Bertie Ahern probably dreamed of playing for Ireland as a kid. My brother-in-law tells me that Bertie wasn’t too clever on the pitch. However, if we qualify, Bertie will be entitled to tell his grandchildren that he helped Ireland qualify for Euro 2000.