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Friday, April 9, 2004
Chelsea's performance makes Abramovich look foolish
LONDON -- There was a wonderful cameo of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich captured on television after Wayne Bridge scored the winner at Arsenal to send the Blues into the Champions League semifinals.
The billionaire Russian looked like a guy who had just been told he must have three wisdom teeth out without anesthetic.
Abramovich had probably earned £500,000 during the 90 minutes from his oil concerns, his club had beaten Arsenal for the first time in 18 attempts and only Monaco stood between Chelsea and the Champions League final.
So why the long face?
Abramovich doesn't do interviews -- apart from possible new managers of Chelsea, that is -- but the richest man in England was experiencing emotions not associated with billionaires.
Embarrassment and humiliation for starters.
As Claudio Ranieri cried with joy at his team's success with Chelsea fans chanting his name and the media searching for different ways to praise the Italian, was Abramovich, who has been trying to replace his manager, feeling like a beaten man instead of a winner?
From Tinkerman to Thinkerman, Ranieri has won the battle with his club's owner and chief executive Peter Kenyon even more handsomely than Chelsea beat Arsenal.
Sven-Goran Eriksson had talks with Kenyon -- the Swede maintains he was only "listening" -- after the chief executive had, in a press briefing, left the media in no doubt that Ranieri would soon be history.
Eriksson sat only a few seats away from Abramovich in the Highbury directors box and as the England head coach listened -- his specialty -- to the Chelsea fans singing the praises of Ranieri.
In Abramovich's ideal world the Russian and the Swede would be together at Chelsea next season, but Eriksson decided to stick with England leaving Ranieri to carry on with his Italian job.
This column suggested that fan power could keep Ranieri at Stamford Bridge and, helped by consistently good results, this looks to be the case.
To replace the hugely popular manager would be a public relations own-goal and whatever one's opinions of Ranieri, the man deserved better than the public humiliation he received from the Chelsea power brokers.
Now it is Abramovich and Kenyon who have been publicly humiliated by their own underhanded actions, leaving them with not so much egg on their face as a very large omelet.
Ranieri has said all the right things throughout the messy episode and maybe it is the manager who should give the owner and chief executive a vote of confidence.
While Chelsea celebrates, Arsenal must regroup after going out of the F.A. Cup and Champions League in a miserable 82 hours.
The Gunners should still win the Premiership but it will be a case of "only" the league after being on course for a treble.
Arsene Wenger will need all his management skills to raise the spirits at Highbury in the wake of two setbacks.
A WEEK AGO nobody had heard of Rebecca Loos. Now, the former personal assistant to David Beckham is front page news after the News of the World published explicit text messages allegedly between the England captain and Loos. Becs loves Becks and all that.
Beckham dismissed the "exclusive" as ridiculous but there has been no actual denial. Newspapers may get stories on the back page wrong, but kiss-and-tell -- or rather, cash-and-tell -- exposes on the front are rarely off target.
The Real Madrid midfielder has the cleanest of images, even though some papers have continually published stories about his "marriage problems." Until now, there has not been a whisper of any away conquests by Beckham, who must be aware that his private life is in fact very public.
Assuming the text messages are correct, where did they come from?
We can rule out Beckham for obvious reasons. That leaves Loos and the mobile telephone companies, whose employees can access messages made on their network even if this practice is "banned" by the companies.
Loos has issued no denial about the alleged affair either. Quite the opposite, with "a close friend" of Loos confiding to various tabloids about the "mad, passionate affair . . . the main reason she is upset is David dumped her . . . "
Word is that a fee of £300,000 was paid for the text messages, an offer that someone, somewhere has found hard to refuse.
Let me explain a journalistic trick of the trade. Tabloids often carry 20 or 30 paragraphs of quotes by "a pal" of somebody talking about an affair.
More often that not this is the person concerned, the "a pal" used by the paper to protect the person at the center of the controversy.
Red tops like us to believe that "a pal" has a wonderful memory, relating almost verbatim what his/her friend said about the heartbreak with no embarrassment for telling the world the most intimate of details.
Loos lost her job with Beckham when he sacked SFX, which handled his PR.
Lucy Rusedski, wife of tennis player Greg, telephoned Victoria Beckham to "be aware" of Loos, who had enjoyed three affairs on the tennis circuit.
Pat Cash said he was "50 percent certain" he had slept with Loos. "I'm going to rack my brains to see if anything comes back to me about this girl," said Cash, leaving one to wonder what sort of impact Loos must have had on the Australian.
Mrs. Beckham told Loos that accompanying her husband to night clubs was not part of her job description, but it seems as if Mrs. Rusedski's instincts were correct.
If Beckham or any famous footballer has an affair, the risk is always there for details to be given to a usually generous newspaper by "a pal."
Perhaps it says more about the woman than the man who has succumbed to her charms when she sells details of lovemaking whether directly or via "a pal." Adultery cannot be condoned, but equally neither can rushing to a tabloid to tell all for a vast sum.
Having dismissed the text messages, Beckham repeated he has a lovely wife and two wonderful kids. Whatever the full truth, you can bet Victoria has asked her husband some forthright questions and the atmosphere between the couple would have been as chilly as the weather as the Beckhams went on a two-day skiing break.
It's not been a good week for Beckham on or off the pitch. He was suspended for Real Madrid's Champions League knockout by Monaco, for whom Fernando Morientes scored two goals.
Morientes is on a season long loan from Real to Monaco. The Spanish club still pays 60 percent of the striker's wages and forgot to include a clause in the loan agreement that Morientes could not play against them.
He did, and scored in both ties, making it an expensive oversight by the Spanish champion.
Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.