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Saturday, May 19, 2012

PREMIER REPORT

Mata has chance at historic treble


LONDON — Juan Mata hopes to take the first step towards a unique hat trick when Chelsea plays Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on Saturday.

Christopher Davies

No player has ever won the European Cup/Champions League, the European Championship and Olympic gold. Unless Stuart Pearce selects some of Chelsea's English contingent for Team GB which is extremely unlikely, Spain midfielder Mata is the only player in 2012 with chance of going into the history books by being the first player to complete an unprecedented treble.

"I want to win as much as I can," said Mata. "The F.A. Cup, Champions League, Euro 2012 and the Olympics. I have to speak to Chelsea about playing at the Olympics, but I think there is enough time for me to rest and recover."

Both teams have key players suspended. Chelsea is without John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Raul Meireles and Ramires, Bayern is missing Luiz Gustavo, Holger Badstuber and David Alaba.

It is more than 50 years since the opportunity first presented itself in 1960. Since then, 13 opportunities have come and gone and football's most elusive clean sweep remains up for grabs. Apart from Spain and Team GB, the other two European representatives at the London Olympics are Belarus and Switzerland, which did not qualify for Euro 2012.

A measure of how elusive this treble is can be seen by the fact only 11 players have won two of the three honors. In 1984, goalkeeper Albert Rust was part of the France squad that won the European championship and he then helped his country to Olympic gold in Los Angeles. However, Rust played for FC Sochaux and in 1984 Liverpool won the European Cup.

Four years later, Hans van Breukelen, Ronald Koeman, Berry van Aerle, Gerald Vanenburg and Wim Kieft did the double by winning the European Cup with PSV and the European championship with Holland but the Soviet Union won the Olympic gold.

In 1992, Albert Ferrer and Pep Guardiola won the European Cup with Barcelona and an Olympic gold medal with Spain, but Denmark famously came off the beach to become European champion.

Realistically, only Mata has a chance of becoming the first player to achieve the treble this year. Had Real Madrid or Barcelona advanced to the Champions League final as most expected, there would have been three or four more candidates but the success of Bayern and Chelsea ended other Spanish hopes.

Mata is in line to play for Chelsea against Bayern in the Champions League final and then be part of the Spain squads at Euro 2012 and the Olympics.

If he fails, football must wait another four years for the super treble to be achieved.

* * *

THE FENWAY SPORTS GROUP, which owns Liverpool, this week sacked a manager it did not want to appoint in the first place. The failure to secure a Champions League place and a lack of public relations skills cost Kenny Dalglish, famous for never using a polite answer to the media when a barbed reply came to mind, dearly.

Sky Sports reporters were probably popping champagne corks at the news, delighted that no longer would a reasonable question to the Scot draw a reply dripping with sarcasm. What Dalglish believed was humor came across as contempt for the interviewer, yet the same man handled disasters like Heysel and Hillsborough with such sensitivity.

Dalglish, whom many Liverpool supporters rate as the greatest figure in the club's history, was appointed on a tidal wave of emotion after Roy Hodgson's short shift in the wake of Rafa Benitez's departure. Liverpool's American owners had little option than to offer Dalglish a second chance to lead Liverpool and backed him to the tune of £110 million last year, too much spent on overpriced average players. Underachievers such as Jordan Henderson, who cost £20 million from Sunderland, helped to cost director of football Damien Comolli his job.

Dalglish's departure probably became inevitable after the ham-fisted way he handled the Luis Suarez racism charge after the Uruguayan was found guilty of using racist words to Patrice Evra of Manchester United.

It is one thing to stand by your player, but Dalglish was in denial about Suarez to the extent The New York Times printed a column on the subject. Henry is not used to seeing one of his organizations criticized for racism in such a respected newspaper, though there was an alarming lack of leadership from the top with the shameful affair.

In American sport, PR is regarded almost on a par with coaching skills and Dalglish failed miserably in Suarezgate. Maybe Dalglish did not realize how football had moved on in the 20 years he had been away from Anfield, but he could hardly have handled a 21st century race row worse.

Steve Clarke, Dalglish's assistant, Peter Brukner, head of sports science and director of communications Ian Cotton have also been axed. The Fenway group is effectively building its own Liverpool from across the Atlantic, though it remains to be seen whether the men who made the Red Sox one of the most successful teams in Major League Baseball over the last 10 years can find a successful formula in the Premier League.

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


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