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Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Davies would make England history with debut


LONDON — England plays Montenegro in a Euro 2012 qualifier on Tuesday, when Bolton's Kevin Davies, at 33, could become his country's oldest debutant in modern times.

Christopher Davies

Davies has been an effective journeyman with middle class Premier League clubs, a striker whose courage and unselfishness could never be doubted.

In his 617 career games, Davies has scored 123 goals but has been cautioned 112 times, so he is as likely to be shown a yellow card as to find the back of the net.

Because of his size (the diplomatic way of saying because of the way he plays) Davies is constantly penalized by referees — a Premier League-high 28 times this season.

International referees will not tolerate his physical style, which at Bolton has become the focal point for what is perceived as route one football.

While Jermain Defoe and Bobby Zamora are injured, the inclusion of a veteran like Davies underlines just how empty England's strikers cupboard is.

As both nations seek to continue their 100 percent start to the qualifying campaign, Fabio Capello faces two major decisions and rest assured the Italian will leave the announcements until the last moment.

Who will captain England and who will play in the center of defense?

Rio Ferdinand is officially England's captain but injuries have restricted him to six of the last 22 internationals.

Steven Gerrard, captain in his absence, should be given the job (which Capello rates as little more than calling heads or tails for the tossup) full-time because he rarely misses a match.

Everton defender Phil Jagielka has been outstanding against Hungary, Bulgaria and Switzerland this season and his form does not warrant being dropped for the visit of Montenegro.

If he plays, then either Ferdinand or John Terry would miss out, with the Chelsea man most at risk.

His off-field antics saw Capello strip him of the captaincy, which clearly still bugs Terry, who has caused Capello more problems than any other England player, so leaving him out will not cause the manager too many sleepless nights.

* * * * *

THE GOOD news is that Liverpool is on the verge of saying goodbye to its American joint owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who are as popular with supporters as a toothache.

The news that just one American, John W. Henry, head of New England Sports Ventures, who owns the Boston Red Sox, will effectively be the new owner, has been greeted with guarded optimism.

Liverpool fans are wary of American owners after the way Hicks and Gillett have overseen the worst period in the club's history that most supporters can remember.

Under Hicks and Gillett, Liverpool has become more of a soap opera than a football club, with all the internal politics, intrigue, nights of the long knives, and scandal that made Dallas famous.

There will be more to come because Hicks and Gillett will not be forced into a sale, which they think severely undervalues the club, without a fight.

They are probably right about Liverpool's valuation, but this is a great club which is going through a bad time, so like a struggling company with potential this is reflected in the price.

It represents very good business for NESV, which is why it is interested.

The current joint owners paid £174.1 million to buy the club three years ago, while also agreeing to take on the club's debt of £44.8 million.

NESV is thought to be offering about £300 million for the club, half the sum Hicks and Gillett want, but enough to pay back the £240 million of loans and £40 million of fees owed to Royal Bank of Scotland, which must be settled by Oct. 15 or else a penalty fee of £60 million will be due.

Celebrations should be put on hold because the legal eagles are set to become involved.

Can a club be sold when the two shareholders and owners are vehemently opposed to any deal?

Hicks and Gillett will let a court decide and that will be a whole new ballgame for the troubled club.

* * * * *

IF SOMEONE elbowed another person in the face during a pub or street brawl, the chances are he would be charged with assault or actual bodily harm.

So why should footballers be allowed to elbow opponents and get away with it?

Not all do, of course. The field of play is not sacrosanct.

In 1994 Duncan Ferguson, then of Rangers, head-butted John McStay of Raith Rovers, the incident unseen by referee Kenny Clark and his linesmen. Ferguson avoided a sending-off but was subsequently charged with assault and, as it was his fourth such conviction, he served a three-month sentence.

However, the campaign against such violent conduct appears to be a waste of time as UEFA, the guardians of European football, believe planting an elbow in an opponent's face is OK.

In last week's Champions League game between Spurs and FC Twente, Tom Huddlestone challenged Marc Janko. The Twente player probably pulled Huddlestone's jersey, but this hardly justified the England midfielder's elbow smashing in Janko's face.

Just about every media pundit assumed UEFA would charge Huddlestone with violent conduct, but no, after reviewing the incident it said there was no case to argue.

Even O.J. Simpson's Dream Team would have feared the worst in defending Huddlestone.

No explanation was given by UEFA's decision, which defies logic. Intent does not matter, it is whether a player endangered the safety of an opponent, used excessive force or was guilty of violent conduct.

Huddlestone apparently wasn't.

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp said, with a straight face: "It looked like he caught him with an elbow. Whether he meant to do it, I'm not so sure."

It will be interesting if, when any player is charged in the future, he uses the Huddlestone incident in his defense and asks: "How was what I did any different to this?"

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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