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Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007
English teams continue to excel in Champions League
LONDON — The Premier League is now the power base of European football.
England may be struggling to qualify for Euro 2008 but English clubs, boosted by a heavy influx of overseas players, go from strength to strength in the Champions League.
Arsenal and Manchester United have qualified for the knockout phase with two rounds of the group stage remaining. Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson can rest their big guns in the remaining ties and give fringe players the experience of European football at the highest level.
Chelsea should qualify from Group B, while if Liverpool, which beat Besiktas by a Champions League record 8-0 on Tuesday, wins its remaining two matches it will complete the English quartet of qualifiers.
The continuing success of English clubs in the Champions League means that Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are in UEFA's top five coefficients table. The coefficient is based on results over a five-year period and determines clubs' and countries' seedings.
Chelsea is second behind European champion AC Milan, followed by Barcelona, Arsenal and Liverpool. Manchester United is 10th.
While AC Milan leads the way for Italy, other Serie A clubs have not shown the consistency of Maldini and company.
It is a similar story in Spain, where in the past few years only Barcelona has made it to the business end of European football's premier club competition.
Germany, which once ruled European football at club and international level, is extremely unlikely to have a club in the Champions League knockout phase.
United has the experience and depth in its squad to go all the way. So do AC Milan and Barcelona.
Real Madrid's defense could be its downfall, while Inter Milan, for all its spending power, has yet to shake off its reputation as serial underachievers.
It would be unwise to rule out Chelsea which is regaining much of the solidarity that has served it well over the past three seasons.
Arsenal has the flair and the desire but does it have the experience to overcome Milan or Barcelona?
For all the national team's uncertainty these are good times for the domestic game in England. And remember this: Don't bet against a fourth successive Premier League representative in the Champions League final.
WHAT IS IT that possesses a player to think it would be a good idea to celebrate a goal by lowering his shorts?
Stephen Ireland celebrated his winning goal in last Monday's 1-0 victory over Sunderland by revealing a pair of underpants bearing the Superman logo.
This columnist wonders if it he's becoming an old fogy. In days gone by (first sign of old fogyness, I guess) players would smile, punch the air and receive the congratulations of teammates.
Now it's the quick-step by the corner flag and other choreographed acts. We have pre-rehearsed dance routines, rocking the baby motions, hand actions directed at the media or negative celebrations like putting a finger over your mouth or cupping your ear at opposing fans.
It tends not to happen in other sports. When Tiger Woods downs a 30-yard putt he might punch the air or wave to the crowd. He doesn't take his trousers off and reveal a pair of Superman underpants.
Ditto cricketers after taking an acrobatic catch or Jonny Wilkinson kicking a drop-goal for England in the Rugby World Cup final. It's difficult to imagine the winning driver in a Formula One race cupping his ear at his beaten rivals.
But on Planet Football there are personalized celebrations which the goal-scorers believe are incredibly funny and original.
Maybe we should not have been surprised at Ireland's antics. His thought process can be unpredictable.
Ireland has already been involved in controversy this season, after he admitted lying about the reason for his withdrawal from the Republic of Ireland squad to face the Czech Republic in September.
The midfielder cited the death of a grandparent when in fact his girlfriend had suffered a miscarriage. He also withdrew from the Republic squad to face Germany and Cyprus last month, saying he would not do his country or himself justice.
Lowering his shorts to display Superman underpants was, I suppose, a logical next step for Ireland, who escaped disciplinary action by the Football Association.
Yet if a player takes off his shirt to celebrate a goal it is a mandatory yellow card. Taking off your shorts is OK, though.
Funny old game.
MONEY, apparently, was no object for the Los Angeles Galaxy as the team searched for a new head coach to succeed Frank Yallop. It is difficult not to see the choice of Ruud Gullit to a three-year multimillion dollar contract as anything other than a Hollywood appointment.
The Dutchman was one of the greatest players of his generation, a true superstar for AC Milan and the Netherlands. However there is little about his coaching resume which comes anywhere near his achievements as a player.
Gullit has not been involved in management since leaving Feyenoord two years ago. He succeeded Glenn Hoddle at Chelsea as player-manager in 1996 and made a promising start as Gullit became the first overseas manager to win the F.A. Cup in his first season.
The following year he was sacked after a disagreement with the board over compensation. Gullit was appointed manager of Newcastle in 1998, but the fans turned against him after a poor run of results and a public run-in with Alan Shearer.
Gullit took a four-year break from management before returning to coaching at Feyenoord where he quit after one disappointing season.
Alexi Lalas, the Galaxy's president general manager, spoke about "sexy" football and said: "We want to bring in a coach who is going to have the same sort of impact on the sport as David Beckham."
There is no doubt Gullit is a world name but he has no experience in Major League Soccer and many will see him as a huge gamble by the Galaxy, which has gone for a name rather than someone with solid coaching experience.
Gullit and Beckham could be at loggerheads over the former England captain's international career. In August, Gullit said that he believed it was time Beckham quit international football, but the midfielder wants to continue playing for England until the 2010 World Cup finals.
Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.