Football: The Sweeper

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Down the aisle is Wenger's style

NOW WE know why Arsenal are so successful - Arsene Wenger is a true back-to-basics manager, and not just where tactics are concerned.

"I am always happy when my players are married," he said this week, reflecting that "having a family helped Ray Parlour."

The Frenchman, aware that his own situation is somewhat unconventional - he has a partner and child living in France - added: "I am in a bad position to say that because I am not married, but I am always happy when my players are married. It gives them a natural discipline, they have to go home. You have got be much stronger mentally if you are not married. I believe it makes them better mentally, better emotional stability - unless they are married to a nightmare."

Perhaps Wenger made his comments as the opening salvo in the mind games war with Alex Ferguson ahead of tomorrow's FA Cup semi-final. After all, it was revealed in the Sunday papers last weekend that United's Dwight Yorke has been doing some scoring off the pitch recently. But then again Yorke was allegedly aided and abetted in those activities by his (attached) striking partner Any Cole, so perhaps it wasn't Wenger on a wind-up exercise, merely Wenger making a deeper, more meaningful point about the sanctity of solid relationships.

"If you have to go out every night to find a girl when you are 21, 22, it is not the best way to prepare for a football game," Wenger added, but he did not elaborate on which of his young players might have been doing just that. The Sweeper wonders what Wenger will do next in his quest for romantic harmony amongst his men. After all, there's a church next door to Villa Park (the venue tomorrow) and there are more than a couple of young batchelors (Nicolas Anelka and Marc Overmars chief among them) in the Gunners side. Anyone for a mass wedding?

MICHAEL OWEN has let it be known that Glenn Hoddle is the best manager he's ever played under. Well, sort of. At Thursday's launch of the new England kit at the "Match of The Day Live" show at the NEC in Birmingham, Owen was asked which England manager was the best he'd ever played under. Looking more than a little relieved that the answer could be so easy, he said: "I've only played under one, Glenn Hoddle," and added in a whisper something to the effect of: "Phew, glad I got out of that one."

OWEN WAS not the only man to be put in embarrasing circumstances at the NEC. Richard Keys, the charming and likeable Sky presenter, was called upon by Umbro to introduce England's new kit and co-ordinate a display of spectator placards that, if all the children in the audience got it right, should have displayed "the world's biggest-ever Umbro logo." The Sweeper wonders what Keys was paid to plug the new kit, but feels sure it must have been rather a lot, given that he had to spout sentence after sentence in praise of the manufacturer's shirts, balls and even shin pads. The only thing about the proceedings less convincing than Keys' words was the giant logo itself which resembled not so much an Umbro sign, but rather a Damien Hirst abstract.

LAST SATURDAY'S 115th Varsity football match at Craven Cottage did not register a single line in most newspapers (for our readers' information, Oxford won 1-0). Yet there was a time when the universities of Oxford and Cambridge nurtured not only the premier intellects of the age but also the most prodigious footballing talents.

Between 1872 and 1911, 87 full England caps and 58 England Amateur caps, in addition to 19 full Wales caps and four Irish caps, were awarded to Oxford players alone. For 35 years, between 1952 and 1987, the annual challenge match was played at Wembley when crowds of 10,000 were not uncommon and the game was comprehensively reported by the broadsheets.

While the academic fame of the two universities remains unchallenged, their footballing reputation has since declined. Professional clubs look to Centres of Excellence and Academies for their young talent, but this year the perception that footballers are not academics is under attack. Oxford included two players in their side last week who are attracting the interest of League clubs.

The Welsh midfielder Steve Rishworth has foregone a professional at Wrexham in order to study engineering at Balliol College. He played for Wrexham first team shortly before he went to Oxford and still trains with them during his holidays. He hopes to be offered a contract when his studies end in two years' time. The Northumbrian defender Aidan O'Brien, who is reading politics, philosophy and economics at Greyfriars College, also hopes to turn professional when his studies end in June. A product of St Cuthbert's School in Newcastle, "the football school" as it is known, O'Brien has been training two mornings a week with Oxford United and has also attracted the attention of Barnet and Hartlepool.

In the North Lancashire League, there's a referee who never hangs around long enough to hear the players' customary grumble. The referee in question is, in fact, a bogus one who turns up at games, collects his pounds 12 match fee and then vanishes before kick-off. But not always. In a recent cup game, where the designated official failed to turn up, he presented himself as the said official at half-time, apologised for his lateness, took control of the game, collected his match fee and then disappeared. A League spokesman said the con man was terrible at the job and probably very hard up. Not referee material, then.

As you were

ALAN SUNDERLAND scored the winner for Arsenal against Manchester United in the nail-biting 1979 FA Cup final to make the score 3-2. As the sides prepare to square up in tomorrow's semi-final at Villa Park, it cannot be confirmed that Sunderland left the Gunners to start a Jackson 5 tribute band, and that, after this season, Arsene Wenger will leave to start a John Denver-a-like service.

The price is right

NOEL WHELAN cost The Price Is Right four trebles with his winner at The Owls last Saturday. And, on the Euro ante-post front, while Parma must be in the Uefa Cup final already after winning at Atletico Madrid in the first leg, Marseilles are on the ropes against Bologna after their goalless home draw and, in the European Cup, Manchester United and Dynamo Kiev are in trouble. At least Cup-Winners' Cup bankers Lazio drew at Lokomtiv Moscow. It looks like draw central this weekend with both FA Cup semi- finals sure to be tight and Leicester v West Ham, Everton v Coventry and Wimbledon v Chelsea all tie material too. Parma can hold hosts Milan to a draw on Channel 4 tomorrow, but Leeds should beat Liverpool on Murdochvision on Monday.

n LIBERO WAGER

(Ten pounds 2 trebles with Stanley): Leicester to draw with West Ham (12-5); Everton to draw with Coventry (12-5); Wimbledon to draw with Chelsea (12- 5); Manchester United to draw with Arsenal (2-1); Newcastle to draw with Tottenham (2-1).

n CHANNEL 4 ITALIAN JOB

Milan v Parma

Draw (pounds 2, 11-5, Ladbrokes).

n MONDAY SKY MATCH

Leeds v Liverpool

Leeds (pounds 2, 8-11, Coral, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Stanley & Tote).

ORIGINAL BANK: pounds 100.

CURRENT KITTY: pounds 136.83!

TODAY'S BETS: pounds 26.16 (including pounds 2.16 tax paid on).

THE SWEEPER'S COUNTER-ATTACK

Mascot on the mat

Name: Terry the Terror.

Club: Dundee United.

Appearance: A fearsome feline, this giant lion dresses to impress in the rather chic tangerine and black club strip.

Crime sheet: Terry relishes his status as king of the jungle, and set about proving it when he appeared on the It's a Knockout football mascot special. In his determination to score in a penalty shootout, Terry missed the ball but succeeded in booting the television presenter, Trick Young, into the net instead. The combative cat guards his den fiercely, and has, in the past, made visits by the Old Firm sides to Tannadice Park a scary prospect. He famously attacked both Paul Gascoigne (when at Rangers) and Pierre van Hooijdonk (when at Celtic), although Gordon Durie got one back for Gazza by breaking Terry's nose with a left hook. Terry has also been repeatedly warned for mooning at the away fans, by the chairman of the club no less.

In mitigation, your Honour: Terry only attacks when threatened, which is more than can be said for his team, who haven't shown much bite in front of goal. As for Terry's mooning exploits, some cynics might say that the fans are used to a load of old arse anyway, so what's the difference?

My Team

Mark Russell

Arsenal

Radio 3 "Mixing It" DJ and composer

"I watched Arsenal win the Double as a boy in 1971 and later moved away from London. When I could afford to come back I bought a flat in Highbury and the estate agent said: `It's a good area, but you'll have to contend with all the football fans.' At that time, 1990, you could still turn up and get tickets for any game, but even when I couldn't, like for European games, I could open my window and still get the atmosphere. My wife's a Geordie and we had to re-arrange our wedding because Arsenal were playing Newcastle. My wife said if Arsenal had won that game, the wedding would've been off. Newcastle won 1-0. The Double is on for us this season, and I think we'll win 2-1 tomorrow against Man Utd."

In t'net

Found on the Web: Euro 2000 tickets

NOW THAT Wor Kev is the England coach, qualification for Euro 2000 is a mere formality and there can be no better time for English fans (and those Scots, Welsh and Irish of optimistic dispositions) to stake a claim for tickets to next year's finals in Belgium and The Netherlands. This Uefa-driven site allows you the chance to book seats (you declare an interest now and are informed of your success or otherwise later this year) for every match and gives information about the eight venues (Amsterdam, Arnhem, Bruges, Brussels, Charleroi, Eindhoven, Liege and Rotterdam), including seating plans and prices at each stadium. You can choose from three categories of seating in each stadium, book up to two tickets for every game, and even get to pay in Euros (1.49 to the pound).

http://www.tickets.euro2000.org/

Seen but not bought

FOR THOSE Arsenal fans who are worried that their team might not repeat the Double this season, why not invest in memories of last year with a Double Winners duvet or beach towel (both now at half price for some reason) or, better still, a Limited Edition Double Winners Beau Bear figurine, a bargain at pounds 22.50?

They're not all Dennis Bergkamp

Unsung foreign

legionnaires No 34

MARIANS PAHARS: The 22-year-old Latvian striker finally signed for Southampton from Skonto Riga on transfer deadline day after the club had made a series of appeals to the Department of Employment for a work permit. Known is his native country as `The Latvian Michael Owen', the young maestro has already made nearly 40 appearances for his country and has scored a number of crucial goals, including the opener when Latvia shocked Norway in Osla by winning 3-1 last Autumn in a Euro 2000 qualifier. Marians scored a hat-trick for the Saints reserves during his trial period (and had a fourth goal disallowed in the same game), but has only had a few minutes of first- team action so far, coming on as a sub against Coventry last Monday. He might not be Dennis Bergkamp yet, but the faithful at The Dell are hoping it's not long before Pahars starts flying.

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