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Friday, Oct. 7, 2011

PREMIER REPORT

Welbeck leads charge as England looks to punch ticket


LONDON — We smiled when, in May 2009, Sir Alex Ferguson said that Danny Welbeck was going to make it "at the highest level" and would be part of England's 2010 World Cup squad.

Christopher Davies

Instead of going to South Africa, the striker spent last year on loan to Preston and Sunderland. Ferguson was obviously just trying to boost the confidence of his young player. We should have known better and not doubted the judgment of the most successful manager in British football history.

Welbeck may have missed out on last year's World Cup but he seems certain to play alongside Wayne Rooney on Friday when England plays Montenegro in Podgorica, where a point will secure qualification for Euro 2012.

Being absent from England's dismal showing in South Africa may be a blessing in disguise for Welbeck, who is 21 next month. Coach Fabio Capello is known to have worries that some of England's senior players have been "scarred" by disappointments with the national team but Welbeck, who made his international debut as a substitute against Ghana last March, carries no such baggage.

Having scored six goals in 28 appearances for Sunderland last season, Welbeck returned to Old Trafford this summer and his early season form has seen him move to a different level. Goals against Arsenal and Spurs plus a brace against Basel have made Welbeck the favorite to partner Rooney with England, too.

The absence of nerves should not be taken as arrogance or over-confidence — no player under Ferguson would be allowed that — while he is not embarrassed to say he "hero-worships" Rooney. Welbeck even believed it was important for his career that he moved away from home "to help me grow as a man . . . cook my own food and that . . . I'll never be satisfied whatever I achieve . . . players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo break records and just want to keep breaking them . . . you can't ever be satisfied."

England should rubber-stamp qualification for Euro 2012 though Montenegro also has its fate in its own hands. If it beats England and then defeat Switzerland next Tuesday, Montenegro will top Group G though England may still qualify automatically as the runnerup with the best record.

Friday will see the first game in charge for Branko Brnovic, who was Zlatko Kranjcar's assistant until his departure after Montenegro's surprise defeat by Wales last month. "We missed a big chance against Bulgaria (1-1 at home) and then losing 2-1 in Wales, but I still believe that we can make it," said Brnovic, who welcomes back Savo Pavicevic from suspension while Marko Basa, Miodrag Dzudovic and Milan Jovanovic return from injury.

He added: "We showed that last year at Wembley, where we got a deserved point, what we can do. Miracles can happen if you believe in them."

Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland travels to Andorra and Ireland's 72-year-old manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, was delighted to learn he is a relatively young man in the country that has the longest life expectancy in the world. The average age a person should live for in Andorra is 83.5, a glowing endorsement for the benefits of not paying income tax.

* * *

COURT CASES relating to financial matters rarely interest me but the goings-on in the High Court in London this week have been fascinating and must-read news. In the Battle of the Oligarchs, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who has never done an interview since taking over the club eight years ago, is being sued for £3.2 billion by fellow Russian Boris Berezovsky over share dealings.

Any chance to discover more about the most secretive man in English football is welcomed. And when a billionaire is sued by a multimillionaire the figures are mind-blowing. It is estimated that collectively the legal fees for the first day in court alone set the pair back £1 million. Berezovsky's two barristers charge at least £1,000 per hour.

Abramovich (worth an estimated £8.6 billion) has a private army of 40 security guards. The minders of Berezovsky (worth a meagre £500,000) are ex-French Legionaires — he has a fleet of identical armor-plated cars, each day four leave his home every morning in different directions to confuse any would-be attackers.

The most telling statement so far came from Jonathan Sumption QC, in defense of Abramovich. He told a tale relating to post-Soviet Russia of threats, favors and intimidation between a number of billionaires and presidents, either dead, imprisoned, or in one case still in high office in the Kremlin and expected to return to the presidency.

"There was no rule of law," said Sumption. "Police were corrupt. The courts were unpredictable at best — at worst open to manipulation by major political or economic interest groups. Nobody could go into business without access to political power. If you didn't have political power yourself, you needed access to a godfather who did."

Maybe it's no wonder Andre Villas-Boas is Chelsea's seventh manager in eight years, six of the previous seven having been sacked by the ruthless Roman.

* * *

BLACKBURN ROVERS fans can heave a sigh of relief. Everything is going to be OK for the Premier League's basement club. Venky's, the club's Indian owners of one year, are to come up with a plan of action.

They are to have a "very big discussion" this weekend with manager Steve Kean, the target of supporters' protests at recent home games. Club director Venkateshwara Rao said: "We are working on our weak points. I believe me, my sister (chairman Anuradha Desai)and brother (Balaji) are going to have a long chat and come out with some plan of action."

So three people who run a chicken business, with no experience of owning a club until 12 months ago, are going to have a long chat and "the conclusion will be good."

I never realized football was such a simple game.

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


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