James Lawton: Platini attack gains fresh force as Shankly's legacy goes on sale again

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The Independent Online

There are, we are told, compelling reasons why La Liga and Serie A remain free from the colonisation that has left the Premier League with only marginally more autonomy than the Isle of Dogs. None of the explanations are likely, though, to appease the more traditional Liverpool supporter this morning.

It is not so hard to imagine how this inheritor of the gift of Bill Shankly must feel. His history, even while his team challenge for one of those league titles he used to greet not so much as a glory but a right, is being hawked again.

How, you have to wonder, does he contain his anger when he considers how it is that so many of Liverpool's European rivals retain some sense of their own destiny, however perilous, while he waits and speculates on the consequences of the latest sound of the auctioneer's hammer.

Or, put another way, wonders why it is Barça, Real Madrid, Milan, Internazionale and Juventus are not, like Liverpool, on the verge of rubbing shoulders with such prestigious corporations as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Wimpy in the investment portfolio of the latest Middle Eastern magnate invited to see the glint of gold on the green fields of English football.

Any low echelon soldier in the money-grubbing army of former sports shirt salesmen and image rights whizzkids will explain why this is so until your eyes glaze over and you lose quite a bit of your will to live.

In Italy one reason is quite basic. Even powerhouses like Milan, Internazionale and Juventus operate in community-owned stadiums, which immediately cuts off a large slice of what even the most financially innocent of English fans have come to know as "revenue stream". Commercially speaking, the Italians are still back in the stone age, something in a way rather touchingly underlined by the fact that the Sensi family, who continue to own Roma after seeing, for Italy, a near unique £400m offer from the financier George Soros collapse, have recently been forced to sell off chunks of their eroding business empire to keep the club going.

In Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona have their vast publics – and selling markets – but they have also become rather more than football clubs and business behemoths. They represent fiercely the heart of two utterly polarised, and emotionally committed, regions.

When you also remember that the great clubs of Italy have been the cornerstones of civic pride and the badges of industrial success – the Fiat-owning Agnelli family in Turin with Juventus, prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi with Milan and the fiercely devoted Massimo Moratti at Inter – you see the depth of the chasm that exists between the football of Italy and Spain and that of England.

You see in Italy and Spain football clubs, who for all their imperfections, indeed in Italy their corruptions, are bedded in the soil and the blood of their cities.

But what do we see in England and particularly this weekend in Liverpool, which for so long represented the perfect union of a winning team and a passionate following? We see financially embattled American owners – who not so long ago negotiated for the possible services of Jürgen Klinsmann behind the back of their European Cup-winning manager, Rafa Benitez, and were so proud of the work they trumpeted it on the internet – drumming up interest in Kuwait, saying, in effect, "Buddy, can you spare a dime?"

If Liverpool should win the title you could make a case for it being the most amazing feat in the history of English club football. It will be the supreme triumph over functioning disarray. This is, after all, a club whose manager is at war with the chief executive and one of two owners, men whose lack of mutual warmth might bring a extra chill to the Bootle waterfront.

But then if the Liverpool situation is an improbable mockery of sound practice as they go in against their relatively impoverished but notably unified opponents Everton in the Cup, it can't be all that much fun on the terraces of Chelsea and Manchester City.

Chelsea fans saw Roman Abramovich as their saviour and fellow enthusiast. Now, apparently devastated by Champions League final defeat in Moscow, when he bothers to attend matches he displays something that seems to represent unshakeable gloom. City supporters, their pulses quickened by the fantasy that Kaka was on his way, must wonder how well the enthusiasm of their patron, Sheikh Al Mansour, will survive any more fiascos like the one that unfolded in Milan earlier this week. Downcast by Kaka's non-appearance, and the random departure of his compatriot Robinho, the more reflective of City fans, especially those who remember how a brilliant team was once built, piece by piece, at Maine Road, can hardly have been uplifted by reports that Didier Drogba was about to be offered roughly twice his current wages to come to a city where he did not exactly distinguish himself on his last appearance against United.

Meanwhile, other foreign-owned clubs like Manchester United and Aston Villa progress under the shadow of global recession. But then, along with concerns about the debt-laden approach of United's owners, there has to be a worry about the depth of long-term commitment.

When the Uefa president, Michael Platini, expressed his worries about the extent of foreign control of English football he was given a brisk lesson on the realities of the game, its market forces, even its purpose. He was told to smarten up on the ways of the modern world – and measure the growing strength and appeal of English football against that of its principal rivals. His riposte, based on his days as a Juventus hero, was that if Italian football had just emerged from a terrible crisis, there was no danger of losing its identity. Italian fans would always know who to praise and who to blame – Agnelli, Berlusconi and Moratti were guarding something more vital than a profit margin. Their greatest investment, Platini said, would always be their own pride.

It was an argument shrugged away easily enough in the counting house of the Premier League. Still, maybe it might run with a little more strength on Merseyside now that a great football club is yet again up for the highest bid.

Cynics are rewarded thanks to England's IPL deal

Those charged with supreme cynicism when they speculated that England's return to India to play two Test matches might not be totally unrelated to the financial allure of the Twenty20 league might have been wise to keep their own counsel.

However, it is easier said than done, especially when listening to Paul Collingwood's enthusiastic account of the value to English cricket in the decision to allow certain leading players to sandwich action in the India Premier League's pyjama game between the Test matches in the West Indies and England.

Wonderful experience for the lads in this new and vital branch of the game, said Collingwood. Not bad wages, either, particularly for former captain Kevin Pietersen, who could pocket upwards of £500,000 a few months after his heart-rending account of how his team-mates were using up so many mobile phone batteries while calling home from the terrorist-plagued land.

Cynicism can be a terrible curse. Still, when contemplating the current affairs of English cricket – the IPL lottery winners will have five days to prepare for the resumption of Test action against the Windies – a little bit of it goes a long way.

Mourinho: moans and myths

In the last days of his Chelsea regime, Jose Mourinho threw down his notes in disgust when the right result was not obtained at, of all places, Fulham.

According to a reporter of La Repubblica, he was in similar form at Bergamo last weekend after his Internazionale side's 3-1 nosedive against Atalanta. Allegedly, he threw Internazionale's hat-trick of titles out of the window, the first because it had been awarded in court, the second because there was no serious opposition in the wake of the bribery scandal, and the third because it had been left to the last minute. If true, it is surely the most extraordinary attack on reigning champions by their own manager since Brian Clough told Leeds United that they should throw all their medals in the bin because they were cheats.

Clough lasted 44 days. Mourinho, according to La Repubblica, merely used a lavatorial term to describe his team. That should probably give him a month or two more to re-establish the myth that he never criticises his own players, except, that is, for the most caustic implication. However, his English fans might want to freshen up their welcome home signs.

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