EPL Daily 3.19: Figo says no to QPR, surprise?, Blues are raided

FIGO: Reports in England and Figo himself quashed the rumor of 35-year old Figo to Matt Pickens’ Queens Park Rangers. Yep, QPR. Either way, Figo has decided one thing for sure – that he’s definitely leaving.  

NOT LORD STEVENS: Another club – this time Birmingham City – has been raided by police. Same tune, different measure – the police are searching for signs of corruption, transfer policy violations, Martin Taylor perhaps? All of this is supposedly NOT a part of the Lord Stevens inquiry which landed Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp a while back in connection with illegal payments to to agents. Instead, the force conducting the raid has said it’s a completely separate matter. Is that a good thing?

THE RETURN: In other Birmingham news, defender Martin Taylor and Eduardo’s least favorite person returned to action in a reserve match after serving a 3-match ban for breaking the Arsenal striker’s leg.

SHAY GIVEN: If there is one guy who has been through thick and thin with the frustration that is Newcastle United, it is goalkeeper Shay Given. Starting keeper for the Magpies since he was 20, Given has amassed over 330 caps Tyneside. But in a sure sign of how Newcastle’s season is going, Given has been sidelined for 6 weeks now after finding out he needs surgery to repair a nagging groin injury. Steve Harper has done well as back-up, but the Magpies still find themselves in the thick of the relegation battle. Looking back at the 1997 season when he won over the starting position, it was a former-MLS guy he beat – Shaka Hislop. Still only 31, Given is 5 years removed from having become Newcastle’s most-capped player – so you can imagine the lead he holds on the second-most capped Magpie. It’s a shame loyalty doesn’t buy victories.

EPL Daily 12.20: 5th Richest Man picks a team; Bangura stays for now; Cup semis set!

Alhassan “Al” Bangura – the Watford midfielder and Sierra Leone native – was granted the opportunity to qualify for a work permit, which effectively has kept him from being sent back to Sierra Leone for the time being. If it was a ‘regular’ work permit hearing, Bangura would still be packing his bags, but apparently the 19-year old has been granted a special hearing by an independent panel consisting of Home Office members and football-related officers. We should know more in a couple of weeks, but as of right now the prospects look pretty good.

TAKEOVERS: Birmingham City has terminated any takeover talks with Carson Yeung’s company Grandtop International Holdings. On the other hand, Queens Park Rangers has an extremely promising moneybags suitor on their hands. Pegged as the 5th richest man in the world, Lakshmi Mittal (an Indian steel magnate worth over $100 billion) has reportedly bought a 20% share into QPR, a club in crisis for some time now. This is even AFTER some Formula One businessman (Flavio Briatore, Renault team boss, and Bernie Ecclestone – Formula 1 chief) took over the club in November. If Mittal decides to dip into his war chest then QPR, who sits at the bottom of the Championship right now, could rival EPL clubs in the transfer market. Just like Roy Keane at Sunderland, though, the trick will be luring them to Loftus Road in London. Key word: London. Shouldn’t be too hard.

CARLING CUP: Frank Lampard and GASP! Andrei Shevchenko sandwiched a Peter Crouch ejection with goals booking Chelsea a place in Carling Cup semifinals, along with Arsenal (3-2 win over Blackburn with a ‘watered down’ squad), Everton (2-1 victors over WHU), and Tottenham (2-0 winners over Man City). At least if Pepe Reina goes down with injury, all Merseysiders now know they have Charles Itandje to back him up. That guy was superb.

Semi-final pairings set!

CHELSEA vs. EVERTON and TOTTENHAM vs. ARSENAL
1st Leg will be week of January 7th, Return Leg will be week of January 21st

DIMITAR BERBATOV: Reports are coming out that that Bulgarian striker could be headed to Manchester United in return for cash and a couple players. New Hotspur coach Juande Ramos says otherwise though. In short, Berbatov ain’t goin’ anywhere.

MLS ALL-STAR GAME: According to the Toronto Star, the MLS has contacted Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Real Madrid to be 2008’s All-Star Game opponent. And of course, due to the American investor connection of Gillet and Hicks, Liverpool is the front-runner. Liverpool might also be slated for a friendly in Montreal around the same time as it has already been confirmed that they will be touring USA and Canada this coming summer.

A GRINCH AT READING?: Steve Coppell is having all Reading players report to training on Christmas day. This policy has been labeled, “Forget Christmas” as the Royals have upcoming matches over the Holiday break against West Ham and Tottenham. Sitting in 13th means a couple of wins could catapult them into European competition contention. Apparently, their Christmas will be winning those games…