That was the weekend that was: Curcic curse on `baffling' Little

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As he prepared to finalise his pounds 1m move to Crystal Palace, Sasa Curcic was busy looking back in anger at the manager he is leaving behind. At pounds 4m, the Yugoslav international was a club record signing when he joined from Bolton Wanderers just over 18 months ago, but stormy times were ahead, and Curcic has said the day he moved was "the worst day of my life."

Accusing Brian Little of never playing him in his preferred free role behind the front two, he was involved in several public rows and even walked out of training, but he claims he feels no guilt.

"The way Brian Little played me was very strange," he says. "I could never understand it. He knew I was better in a free role. He should have played me like a McManaman or a Cantona. I was never given a chance to show what I could do - and that will always baffle me. I think everyone would have been happy if I had been allowed to play where I prefer best but Little made a big mistake - not me. I don't feel guilty about anything. It was so frustrating at times to be left out - but now I want to go to Palace and become the best foreign player in England."

Curcic claimed that he would have been sold before now but for the size of the fee paid by Villa. "It was not like a normal transfer and Villa wanted to recoup some money," he says.

"It is better for Villa and better for me that I go now. Palace's Mark Goldberg has been involved throughout and has been a life-saver for me. It is a gift from God. I know I am a good player and I want to stay in football. If Palace hadn't been in for me I would have gone back home to play for Partizan Belgrade."

Palace can expect a touch more loyalty than Villa were accorded, at least if the Yugoslav's word is anything to go by. "It doesn't matter if I am in Division One next season," he says. "I just want first-team football with a big club."



For many years there was little doubt who was the more successful of the footballing brothers Kiwomya. While Chris was an Ipswich regular for several seasons and then earned a big-money move to Arsenal, his elder brother Andy struggled to make an impact in the game.

Fortunes can change, however, and while Chris failed to make a single first team appearance in the Premiership for more than two years, Andy at last started to make his mark at Bradford.

In the last few months, however, their careers have changed direction again. Arsenal agreed recently to release Chris on a free transfer to Huddersfield, though the deal fell through last week.

Andy, meanwhile, has been taken on until the end of the season by Halifax Town, the GM Vauxhall Conference leaders, after unsuccessful trials with Burnley and Notts County following his release by Bradford City.

Chris, aged 28, cost Arsenal pounds 1.5m when he moved from Ipswich three years ago. His chances at Highbury have been strictly limited, however, and at one stage he went on loan to Le Havre.

Andy, a former England youth international, failed to make the grade at Barnsley and Sheffield Wednesday and went to Dundee, Rotherham, Halifax and Scunthorpe before finally settling into a good run with Bradford. However, last season brought a loan to Luton and at the start of this season he was released.

Beck worried over World Cup selection

IN all the jockeying for World Cup places going on at the moment, Mikkel Beck fears his present inactivity at Middlesbrough might cause him to miss out. In contrast, one of his team-mates, Paul Merson, is likely to see his international fortunes rejuvenated.

Despite his 14 goals, the Denmark striker has been relegated to the substitutes' bench as Middlesbrough chase promotion and prepare to take on Chelsea in the Coca-Cola Cup final.

"I won't make the World Cup finals if I do not get my first-team place back," he said. "I love the club and the fans but I need first-team football. It is my dream to play in France and it would be a huge blow if I do not make it. I will have to start thinking about my future with Middlesbrough if I am not in the team." His manager at Boro, Bryan Robson, has assured Beck he still has a future at the Riverside Stadium, but is clearly unconvinced.

When the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, names his squad today for the 25 March friendly in Switzerland, Merson can reasonably expect to find his name on the list, however. With 15 goals and a succession of impressive displays this season, Merson, who turns 30 on Friday, has forced his way back into Hoddle's reckoning, a process aided considerably by his mature attitude towards the recent B international against Chile famously snubbed by Chris Sutton, when Merson wore the captain's armband and was by far and away the best feature, in English terms, of a 2-1 defeat.

Meanwhile, a former Boro luminary who left the club for Atletico Madrid in order to raise his profile beyond the Nationwide League First Division and help ensure his presence at the World Cup, is back on the road to France after breaking his leg last month.

Juninho returned to Spain yesterday in optimistic mood. The Brazilian had screws removed from his leg in a 15-minute operation at home in Sao Paulo.

"All my disappointment has lifted and my heart is now full of joy." the diminutive playmaker said. "I am hoping to be playing before the end of the season."


Fact and ction from the Sunday papers

Will he or won't he? Speculation over whether Terry Venables will take the manager's job at Crystal Palace continues, with the Express reporting yesterday that the former England coach will say yes this week. It says that Venables will not go to Spain because there are only two clubs that interest him, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and neither has made an offer.

The Sunday Mirror, however, says that Real Madrid are interested in Venables and the former Chelsea manager, Ruud Gullit.

In his own column in the News of the World, Venables says he has still not made up his mind yet about Palace. He expects to make a decision after one more meeting with Mark Goldberg, Palace's prospective new owner, but says he "would not expect to be in place until the end of the season".

The News of the World says that Palace will make a move for Ally McCoist, but suggests that their attempt to sign his Rangers colleague, Paul Gascoigne, is doomed. The People reports that the US Soccer Federation has met Gascoigne's representatives to discuss a pounds 2m transfer across the Atlantic this summer.

The Sunday Mirror says that the departure to Rangers of the PSV Eindhoven coach, Dick Advocaat, will lead to the Dutch club offering a job to Bobby Robson.

According to the People, the PSV defender Jaap Stam will not be going to Manchester United because the deal would cost pounds 29m. PSV want pounds 16m and the player is seeking a pounds 13m contract over five years.

Argentinian players are apparently in demand. The People says Arsenal are ready to pay Racing Club of Buenos Aires pounds 7m for their striker Marcelo Delgado, while the Mirror claims that Chelsea want the Parma defender Nestor Sensini.

Newcastle could find themselves short of goalkeepers this summer. According to the Sunday Mirror, Pavel Srnicek could be on his way to Sunderland, while the People says that Shaka Hislop is refusing to sign a new contract and will move for free to West Ham at the end of the season.

The Sunday Mirror says that Blackburn have made a move for Tottenham's Chris Armstrong.

The First XI

Eleven current League players born in Devon or Cornwall

Nigel Martyn (Leeds)

Marc Edworthy (Crystal Palace)

Wayne Quinn (Sheffield Utd)

Nicky Marker (Blackburn)

Nicky Medlin (Exeter)

Lee Phillips (Plymouth)

Paul Wotton (Plymouth)

Tom Curtis (Chesterfield)

Martin Barlow (Plymouth)

Sufyan Ghazghazi (Exeter)

Scott Hiley (Manchester City)


Michele Padovano

(Crystal Palace)

While one of Crystal Palace's Italians was the centre of attention at Villa Park on Saturday, another was again conspicuous by his absence. Michele Padovano, a pounds 1.7m signing from Juventus, has not been seen in a Palace shirt since suffering a hamstring injury at home to Liverpool in December. His five cameo appearances last year included a goal at Leicester, but he has yet to play a full 90 minutes for Palace. His compatriot Attilio Lombardo's appointment as caretaker player-manager seemed to have inspired a dramatic recovery on Saturday, when his name appeared on the team sheet handed to the press at Villa Park, but it proved to be yet another of Palace's false dawns.

John O'Kane


John O'Kane waited in vain to make his mark at Manchester United, but following his pounds 400,000 move to Everton the Nottingham-born full back is making up for lost time. After joining United as a trainee he started only one first-team match and had two spells on loan to Bury. Given his chance at Everton by the departure of Andy Hinchliffe, 23-year-old O'Kane is relishing the opportunity. His cross set up Mikael Madar's winning goal against Blackburn on Saturday.

Is Manchester United's Gary Neville best deployed at full-back or in the centre of defence? Someone who can probably sympathise with having an identity crisis is Hayley, Coronation Street's transsexual.