Manchester's Saudi trip - a border fracas in waiting

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The Independent Online

The mercurial talents of Wayne Rooney and the potboiling politics of the Middle East aren't usually mentioned in the same breath, but the two are about to cause a thumping headache for the bean counters at Manchester United.

The Premiership club have agreed to play a match in January in Riyadh, as part of a testimonial game for the Saudi Arabian footballing star, Sami Al-Jaber.

The match, for which United will apparently pocket £1m, has been interpreted as yet another chance to expand the fanbase and flog thousands of replica shirts of their biggest stars, Rooney in particular.

But that might be easier said than done. Rooney and several teammates, including Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick, travelled to Tel Aviv in March for England's goalless international match against Israel. Ferdinand has also visited Israel in the past, as he is represented by the controversial "super agent" Pini Zahavi. And as any Middle Eastern hack will tell you, getting a Saudi visa approved is nigh on impossible with an Israeli stamp in your passport.

"If they have obtained a new passport since March, they'll be all right, but if not it could be pretty tricky," says an expert in such matters. "There may be special allowances for famous footballers, but somehow I doubt it."

Seeing as the game would come right in the middle of United's season, their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, is thought to be opposed to the trip. This could be just the excuse to wriggle out of it he was looking for.

Westwood demands more than tuppence

Roberto Cavalli became the latest designer to sell his wares for tuppence last week, by launching an affordable range of togs for high street giants H&M. But don't expect the grand dame of British fashion, Vivienne Westwood to be joining the party.

"We have had lots of offers to do these sorts of things in the past, but we've not done them," she told me at the recent relaunch of the London Transport Museum. "I'm not sure of the reasons we decided not to, but we haven't. I've not seen Cavalli's range so I can't say what I think of it."

While her comments might sting Cavalli, I doubt they will take too much of the shine off the Italian's distinctive perma-tan. After Cavalli's latest success, he is set to turn over £490m this year alone.

Amos eyes Mandy's turf

When Gordon Brown finally entered No 10, one of his first acts was to shuffle Baroness Amos, then Leader of the House of Lords, by nominating her to be the EU's special commissioner to the African Union. But five months down the line, and despite being thought a shoo-in for the post, Amos's nomination has yet to be approved.

Rumour around Brussels has it her nomination may have been blocked. Some mischievous coves have pointed fingers at the door of EU commissioner Peter Mandelson, who might be wary of having a former Cabinet minister on his turf while he's in the middle of crunch trade talks with Africa.

"May be that we were a bit quick off the mark announcing her nomination," says a Foreign Office spokesman. "We're expecting an announcement any moment though, but the appointment is up to the EU."

Cluck, cluck

While playing host to such guests as Holocaust denier David Irving and BNP leader Nick Griffin, the Oxford Union has seen some of the shoutiest rows of modern times.

Sadly, students were denied a humdinger of a barney last week between the firebrand Republican Tom DeLay and the former Democratic presidential hopeful, Baptist preacher and black rights activist Al Sharpton.

The pair were due to debate the motion "This House looks forward to seeing a Democrat in the White House", only for Sharpton to cancel at the last minute citing a change of travel plans.

DeLay, a former house majority leader, was said to be incandescent. Sharpton, he growled at his entourage, was "a damn chicken".

'Bob' reveals Peaches' secrets

I fear there may be further thinning in store for Sir Bob Geldof's once plentiful head of hair over the actions of his delightfully outspoken daughter, Peaches.

The precocious teenager hit the London party circuit last week sporting a dramatic new bleached "bob" hairdo, reminiscent of her late mother, Paula Yates. Pandora also spotted what appeared to be three new tattoos adorning the back of her neck. The first was a star, the second was the letter "P" and the third was a pair of David Beckham-style angel wings.

"No, they're not new," she insisted. "It's just that you couldn't see them before I had my hair cut."

I trust they weren't new to her old man.

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