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Friday, Aug. 16, 2002

PREMIER REPORT

Savage, Keane top scene as show begins


LONDON -- After almost 40 years of reporting the beautiful game nothing should come as a surprise.

Christopher Davies

I've had my wallet taken by Romanian police (who do you report that to?), at the World Youth Championship in Malaysia I was accredited as Christ Davies (no extra perks though), I was invited to dinner in New York by an Italian-American at his uncle's restaurant (his uncle turned out to be the late John Gotti -- one of the few members of the family to die of natural causes someone remarked), I've seen riots, great games -- the lot. I thought I had seen it all.

And then comes along Robbie Savage, a Welsh international who joined Birmingham from Leicester this summer. On Friday, the eve of the new Premiership season, Savage faces a Football Association disciplinary commission for surely the most unusual misconduct charge ever.

Before last April's game between Leicester and Aston Villa, Savage entered the dressing room of referee Graham Poll at about 2:10 p.m. -- no player or official may do so after 2 p.m. under F.A. rules.

Savage claimed he had an upset stomach and without waiting for an answer burst in while asking if it was OK to use the toilet.

The normal protocol under such circumstances was apparently not followed. Savage did not close the toilet door, flush the chain and wash his hands -- but when he left the room he allegedly wiped his hands down the jacket of another official.

After all the jokes about a wee problem and how spending a penny cost Savage around $80,000 (a two-week club fine) the F.A. will decide if Savage was guilty of bringing the game into disrepute.

The player claims he was on antibiotics which caused a tummy problem and the visit was urgent but there was nothing wrong with the toilets in the Leicester locker room a few yards away.

As his former club has effectively found Savage guilty -- "we conducted an investigation and fined Savage the maximum permissible two weeks' wages," a statement said at the time -- it will be interesting, to say the least, should the F.A. find the player not guilty.

Could Savage claim back the money from Leicester? Whatever the outcome, Savage misses Birmingham's Premiership debut against Arsenal on Sunday because he starts a two-game ban after collecting 15 cautions last season.

The build-up to the start of 2002-2003 has been dominated by some savage attacks by Roy Keane who seems to be on a mission to lose friends and credibility.

The Manchester United captain's autobiography has been serialized in the News of the World and the Times (for a sum believed to be in the region of $200,000). Apart from owning up to having a major drinking problem and confessing he had to be talked out of retirement after being sent-off at Newcastle last year, Keane attacked the former and current Republic of Ireland managers Jack Charlton and Mick McCarthy -- the latter sent him home from the World Cup finals for being "a disruptive influence on the squad."

The weakness in Keane's vitriol is that Charlton led Ireland to its first finals at Euro '88 where only a freak goal by Holland's Wim Keift prevented it from advancing. Charlton's team then reached the quarterfinals of Italia '90 where it lost to the host and at USA '94 made it to the second stage of the finals.

Under McCarthy, Ireland has reached three playoffs and this summer was unlucky to lose to Spain in the second round in a penalty shootout.

It takes a player a long time to build up a reputation and credibility but only a short while to lose it.

Keane suggested he deliberately set out to hurt Manchester City's Alf-Inge Haarland in April 2001 -- he was sent-off for a horror tackle on the Norwegian. The F.A. and Haarland's lawyers are investigating the matter in the wake of Keane's quotes.

Former Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough (who gave Keane his debut in English football) has blasted double winner Arsenal for its poor disciplinary record -- the Gunners were given a £50,000 suspended fine by the F.A. for having the worst red and yellow card record in the Premiership in 2001-2002.

Clough said Arsenal "often behaved like brats," they "leave a nasty taste" and manager Arsene Wenger should be fined "which would help him to get rid of the rotten apples in his barrel as he wouldn't stand for some yob costing him his wages."

So hardly the ideal run-in to the 11th Premiership season. Booze and loos have been in the news with football trailing behind.

However, come three o'clock on Saturday all this will change when referees will no doubt be the recipients of built-up anger among the fans.

Who will win the Premiership? If there is one lesson from the World Cup it is not to make predictions because just about everyone was left with so much egg on their faces that their cholesterol level was raised to the danger point.

But the usual suspects -- Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool -- will probably fill the top three places again.

Arsenal has added Brazilian World Cup winner Gilberto Silva to its squad, United splashed out £30 million on Rio Ferdinand while Liverpool has invested $23 million in Senegal's El-Hadji Diouf from Lens and French midfielder Bruno Cheyrou of Lille.

It promises to be a fascinating battle of the titans but one prize has already been won -- that of the reddest face of the season.

It belongs to Geoff Taylor, who worked with Watford manager Ray Lewington at Brentford and was asked by Lewington to "spy" on Millwall ahead of last Tuesday's game.

Taylor went to see Millwall lose 6-0 at home to Rotherham last Saturday and compiled his dossier including players' shortcomings and deficiencies.

One player was "cumbersome" while another "was reluctant to make tackles, having an 'after you Claude' attitude."

Unfortunately for Taylor he was given an incorrect fax number and his report was sent to Millwall instead of Watford.

The report was duly pinned on the Millwall locker room wall and Lewington said: "It didn't do us any favors."

In fact, there were few favors on either side as the teams fought out -- almost literally -- a 0-0 draw with eight yellow cards and one red.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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