Juande Ramos vs. Avram Grant – Ramos and Tottenham take the League Cup!

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I had to lead with something a bit uplifting this Sunday in the wake of Eduardo’s career-threatening injury on Saturday. Tottenham’s 2-1 stunner over Chelsea in the final of the League Cup provided a small window to forget about not only Eduardo’s injury though…also I was able to forget that both Reading and Fulham moved closer to certain relegation with time running out, Heerenveen giving up a two goal lead after an ejection left them a man down for 70 minutes, and let’s not forget Houston’s terrible 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Bare and Gamba Osaka. Yikes.

Back to the good stuff though. Juande Ramos has really turned this Hotspur team around. The Spurs have always threatened the Big Four in terms of reputation and the ability to draw young talent, but never have they been able to match the pace and consistency of the Big Four ON the pitch. Tottenham’s 2-1 extra time win today was just what they needed to maybe push them over the threshold.

It was an up and down day for the Hotspur as the match started well, but it was Chelsea who found the net first heading into the end of the half. Didier Drogba – trying to rekindle his pre-African Nations Cup form – hit a free kick that confused the hell out of Tottenham’s Paul Robinson. The Spurs and Ramos felt a bit hard done by that as they held strong the whole half with Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate looking like a Vidic/Ferdinand pairing. The second half – both teams cooled down a bit, but Tottenham came alive late with Aaron Lennon patrolling the wings. His efforts paid off in the 70th minute when Wayne Bridge handled one of Lennon’s attempted crosses with his hands and Berbatov stepped up to coolly finish the penalty.

Regulation-time ended in a draw and changes were made, but the same suspects stood out. Woodgate quarterbacked an efficient defensive corps, while Lennon and Berbatov sparked the offense. The consistent play paid off for the Spurs when Woodgate found Jermaine Jenas’ free-kick with his head (well, it sort of found him) and beat Petr Cech in the 94th minute. They then snapped back to tactical form and denied Chelsea an equalizer for the last 26 minutes. Not even the long awaited return of John Terry and a healthier Frank Lampard could inspire the uninspired. Tottenham’s victory was their first League Cup since 1999.

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Chelsea’s Greek Deadlock Made Worse – Threats, Sanctions?

Avram Grant called Chelsea’s performance the “worst performance since he took charge”. Without Frank Lampard in the starting line-up, the midfield looked oddly quiet against Olympiakos who were content to sit back and not muster any attacks against the Blues defense. Didier Drogba looked dejected – not himself – probably due to a African Nations Cup hangover of sorts. Solomon Kalou and Frank Lampard came on with some time to go, but by then the urgency was gone. Chelsea players looked satisfied with an away draw – which against Arsenal/Real Madrid/etc. would have been sufficient. Regardless, the Blues return to Stamford Bridge next week hoping a whiff of home will wake them up. Other developments have done the ‘waking up’ however…

Apparently, Avram Grant received anti-Semitic death threats at Chelsea’s training ground yesterday in the form of a package, with a note, containing a powdered substance that was later deemed to be harmless. The note also threatened Avram’s wife, Tzofit. Grant didn’t open the package as he was in Athens…the training ground, however, was shut down for a while after a staff member opened the note and package saying, ‘You are a back-stabbing Jewish b******. When you open this letter you will die a very slow and painful death.’ Clearly, there aren’t any good words to say about this…

In lesser – but still pretty bad – news, Chelsea is also being ‘told on’ by Serie A’s Reggina. The Blues apparently approached and effectively ‘poached’ Reggina’s most coveted youth prospect, Vincenzo Camilleri – 15 years old. Camilleri was expected to sign for Reggina when he turned 16, but opted to skip a scheduled youth team match and head to London to solidify the deal with Chelsea. Reggina’s chairman Lillo Foti is mostly disturbed with the fact that Camilleri’s move not only robs them of a big talent, but also of all future benefits, etc. He then tries to deflect the economic impact by saying that it could also destroy a young kid’s career, being moved that young, put into a crop of youth prospects all of the same if not better talent levels, etc. This is something that has been going on for a long time and it seems everyone (normally the losing club’s chairman) has a bad taste for it, but yet nothing has been done. Even UEFA’s president Michael Platini denounces it, but nobody really made a fuss about Astrit Ajdarevic’s move from minnows Falkenbergs in Sweden to Liverpool (let alone the WHOLE Liverpool youth movement this past summer). Or Fluminense’s Brazilian ‘whiz-twins’ Fabio and Rafael moving to Manchester United (even though there is an agreement between Fluminense and United). How should these situations be dealt with? Higher premiums for youth players? How do the clubs get properly compensated for such an undetermined loss?

In better news, Paulo Ferreira signed a new 5-year pact with Chelsea, effectively tying the rest of the Portuguese defender’s career to Stamford Bridge.

EPL Daily 12.14: All things Capello; Derby/Coventry takeover?, etc.

Coventry and Derby are the latest English clubs to be pegged for an imminent takeover – Derby’s has an American feel however (an “American sports company”) and is still in critical stages. Whereas, Coventry has gone the Ray Ranson-led SISU Capital route (Ranson was responsible for a bid to takeover Man City early last year). With the takeover, which is now just subject to a 90% approval from all Coventry City shareholders, the Championship club saves themselves from administrative and competitive penalties. Also, West Ham is gearing up for yet another injection of capital as baldy Icelandic chairman Eggert Magnusson has relinquished his 5% stake in the Hammers to his Icelandic chum ‘BG’ – Bjorgolfur Gudmondsson – who plans to put another $60 million or so into the club (not player purchases persay).

Now – with the final verdict subject to contract negotiations (6.25 mill pounds/yr) – ALL of the controversy arises around the inevitable appointment of Italian Fabio Capello to the English manager’s position. Paul Parker at Eurosport says this confirms that England is now a ‘second-rate football nation’. Reading’s main man Steve Coppell, M’bro’s Gareth Southgate, former Arsenal defender Tony Adams don’t agree with the decision as well. Former English midfielder and MK Dons boss Paul Ince is pissed too. Got me thinking, were they this pissed when Sven Goran Eriksson took over? SoccerLens put together a list of 10 reasons why Fabio Capello IS a good choice.

If the head coach is Italian, does it balance it out if the majority of the coaching staff is British? Both Alan Shearer and current English U-21 gaffer Stuart Pearce have been tagged as potential number twos. Shearer to England seems a bit improbable as the former Newcastle striker turned down a chance to be assistant when McLaren took over.

Amidst all that, Chelsea’s new boss Avram Grant has just signed on for 4 more years. Pretty well done considering the Mourinho mess.

Nery Castillo – Mexico’s pride and joy at this past summer’s Copa America  and long-time Mexican Guiseppe Rossi – is already sick of Shakhtar (Ukraine) and is being linked to a loan deal with Sven Goran Eriksson’s Manchester City

One hell of a Sunday this weekend – Manchester United vs. Liverpool and Chelsea vs. Arsenal in the EPL. Ajax vs. PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie. Valencia vs. Barcelona in La Liga. Juventus vs. Lazio in the Serie A. Who prevails??

EPL Daily 10.5: Kroenke to start another EPL Cold War?; ten Cate to Stamford?

Henk ten Cate – Ajax boss – looks poised to join Avram Grant at Stamford Bridge in the capacity of assistant coach. Grant has already said he wants to improve the backroom staff – bringing in one big domestic target and a foreign coach who already backs the style Chelsea likes to play. ten Cate lost out on the Dutch Eredivisie Championship last year by one goal and the pinnacle of his career might have already passed as assistant coach to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona. At he seemingly doesn’t want to budge from his position at Amsterdam ArenA after giving a press conference that states just that.

The big-bad American doesn’t look so bad after all as Arsenal Peter Hill-Wood has looked to American billionaire and Colorado Rapids owner Stan Kroenke to counter the questionably-intentioned Russian Alisher Usmanov. About 45% of the Arsenal shareholders have signed a ‘lockdown’ agreement to ensure the Usmanov and Kroenke don’t launch a takeover bid, but now Kroenke’s 12% share is seen as friendly instead of hostile. Can’t wait to see how this one pans out.

An England squad that has several surprises will take on Russia and Estonia in about 2 weeks. Michael Owen was included despite injury, Dean Ashton found his way back onto the shortlist, and Joleon Lescott will get a go at his first cap. Owen Hargreaves and Michael Carrick are the biggest injury disappointments (and you can’t help but feel a tad sorry for Sir Alex Ferguson on these losses).

Full England squad: Robinson (Tottenham), James (Portsmouth), Carson (Liverpool, on loan at Aston Villa), Richards (Man City), Brown (Man Utd), Ferdinand (Man Utd), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Chelsea), P Neville (Everton), Campbell (Portsmouth), Lescott (Everton), Shorey (Reading), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), Barry (Aston Villa), J Cole (Chelsea), Downing (Middlesbrough), Lampard (Chelsea), Young (Aston Villa), Bentley (Blackburn), Owen (Newcastle), Rooney (Man Utd), Smith (Newcastle), Ashton (West Ham), Defoe (Tottenham), Johnson (Everton), Crouch (Liverpool).

Mourinho axed, hari-kari’d, whatever you want to call it…

He said his goodbyes this morning and got on out of London. His next destination – who knows?

Former Isreali coach and current Chelsea director of football Avram Grant will take over first-team duties with the help of Mourinho’s number two Steve Clarke (Ryan, at least it was a quick decision without the rumor of Juande Ramos flying around). Many thought it would be former Juventus man Didier Deschamps, but it seems that Grant’s role will be permanent. In fact, his arrival from Portsmouth in the summer certainly compounded the already iffy relationship between Roman Abrahamovich and Mourinho. The feud intensified way before that, however, in January when Mourinho was looking to solidify his squad but Abrahamovich wanted him to play with what he’s got, namely Andrei Shevchenko. Communication between the two fizzled and after three years at the helm, Mourinho left by “mutual consent” – the football-world’s version of hari-kari.

Some reading material:

Well put together time-line of Mourinho’s unravelling

The crisis meeting

Former captain Ray Wilkins had this to say,

“I’m absolutely astounded at what’s happened. Winning football matches is what the game’s about and he is a winning manager who puts a winning msentality in players’ heads and they go and win things.”

It’s one of those things you hear about but you completely expect things to work themselves out between Abrahamovich and Mourinho. But that was not the case. I mean – how much higher can Mourinho go when it comes to prestige and resources? Where does Mourinho go from here? And who exactly is Avram Grant?