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Saturday, August 23, 2008

The shortlist for this year's UEFA European Club Footballer of the Year awards is dominated by Premier League players.

Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool all reached the Champions League semi-finals last season, with United overcoming Chelsea on penalties in the Moscow-hosted final.

That is reflected in the shortlist, announced today by UEFA, with 17 players from the 25-strong shortlist currently playing in England's top flight.

Last year's Champions League top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, Liverpool's Fernando Torres and Chelsea's Frank Lampard will all be leading contenders for the award. Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Carles Puyol are also in contention.

The coaches of the 16 teams which reached the knock-out stages of last year's competition will cast their votes next Thursday, at the Champions League group stage draw in Monaco.

There are also awards for goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward of the year.

The list of nominees, from which the overall winner will be selected, is:

UEFA club goalkeeper of the year: Manuel Almunia (Arsenal), Petr Cech (Chelsea), Manuel Neuer (FC Schalke 04), Jose Reina (Liverpool), Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United).

UEFA club defender of the year: Jamie Carragher (Liverpool), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), John Terry (Chelsea), Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United).

UEFA club midfielder of the year: Michael Essien (Chelsea), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), Paul Scholes (Manchester United).

UEFA club forward of the year: Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Fernando Torres (Liverpool).

Real ready to sell £25m Robinho
Real Madrid have revealed they are finally ready to let Robinho move to Chelsea after the Brazilian expressed his wish to leave the Bernabeu.

Robinho has cut an unhappy figure in recent weeks after he was linked with a switch to Manchester United as part of a deal for Cristiano Ronaldo.

He has been targeted by Chelsea, with the Premier League club confirming they had made an offer - believed to be in excess of £24.5million - for the gifted forward.

The Spanish champions had previously resisted all offers for Robinho, saying the 24-year-old was not for sale.

However, on Friday, Robinho reiterated his desire to leave the Bernabeu in order to link up with Luiz Felipe Scolari's Chelsea.

Real have responded to Robinho's comments and admit they do not want to keep an unhappy player in Bernd Schuster's squad.

"Real Madrid have become aware of the declarations by the player and deeply regret their content," read a statement on the club's official website.

"Real Madrid would never want to retain a player against his wishes and as a result they have no alternative, but to accept his unilateral decision to rescind his contract if that is what the player wants."

It is unclear whether Real are now prepared to enter into negotiations with Chelsea to reach agreement on a fee for Robinho.

The other alternative is for Robinho to come to a deal with Real to terminate his contract, which has a buy-out clause of 150million euros (£120million).

Ince Rover the moon as Santa signs
Blackburn striker Roque Santa Cruz has ended speculation over his future by committing himself to the club and signing a new four-year deal.

The Paraguay international had been the subject of a bid from Manchester City earlier this summer as well as reported interest from several other clubs.

However, the 27-year-old has opted to pen a contract extension to tie him to Ewood Park until 2012.

After David Bentley left Rovers to join Tottenham earlier this summer Santa Cruz was also tipped to move on.

He was hugely impressive in his debut Premier League campaign after moving to Lancashire from Bayern Munich last summer with 23 goals in all competitions.

That feat led former Rovers boss Mark Hughes to attempt to take him to Manchester City recently while the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham were supposedly interested.

A statement on the club's website said: "Blackburn Rovers are delighted to announce that Roque Santa Cruz has signed a new four-year contract with the club, running through until 2012."

Rovers gambled on the skilful Paraguayan and paid Bayern less than £4million after a series of serious knee injuries wrecked his time in Bavaria.

And the move paid off as Santa Cruz - who scored in Saturday's 3-2 win at Everton - played 36 of 38 Premier League games last season.

Fergie 'losing hope' over Berba deal
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is "less optimistic" of making any signings this summer as hopes of a deal for Dimitar Berbatov fade.

Ferguson has been unusually quiet in the transfer market this year, failing to add any new faces to his double-winning squad of last season.

He has been strongly linked with a move for Tottenham's Bulgarian ace Berbatov, but appears to be making slow progress.

The Red Devils chief did admit that he continues to pursue a solitary target, without naming Berbatov as that man, but conceded that he is not confident of completing the deal before the transfer window closes on September 1.

"I am less optimistic than I was," said Ferguson, recalling that exactly a week ago he said a surprise was imminent.

"We have 11 days left before the transfer deadline and we are working at something but you never know in football.

"It may happen, it may not. If it doesn't we will carry on with what we have got."

If Ferguson fails to get the addition he is looking for, it will mean an added burden for Wayne Rooney.

The England forward has been criticised recently for spending too much time covering ground he should really leave to others.

It is an observation Fabio Capello, among others, has made. And while Ferguson is not willing to chastise the 22-year-old for what he regards as an admirable trait, he accepts it is something Rooney needs to work on.

"Wayne does too much around the pitch at the expense of what he does up front," said Ferguson.
"It is a waste of his energy to chase back to our own penalty area for instance.

"But it is not something to worry about too much. It is purely down to enthusiasm and natural energy. He just loves playing football."

In that sense, Ferguson likened Rooney to former United skipper Roy Keane.

And, like Keane, the Red Devils chief feels the Merseysider will learn with experience.

"With Keane, where the ball was, he wanted to be there," said Ferguson.

"There is nothing wrong with that enthusiasm.

"Don't forget Wayne is only 22. We hope to channel what he does.

"His natural affection for the game will help him too. He has started to identify the fact it is a weakness.

"He needs to be more involved around the edge of the box - but it is only a small correction."

Changing a mindset might be slightly harder.

For, as Rooney freely admits, standing by and watching others do the work is not in his nature.

"I am an unselfish player, I have said that many times," he said.

"I don't just judge my performance on goals, I look at assists and how I have helped the team play. That is the way my game is."

Sporting's Paim wings in for Blues
Chelsea have bolstered their attacking options by confirming the signing of Sporting Lisbon winger Fabio Paim on a season-long loan deal.

Sporting had revealed a deal was in place earlier in the week and their Premier League counterparts have now finalised the arrangement.

Paim becomes Chelsea's third signing of the summer, following fellow Portuguese duo Jose Bosingwa and Deco to Stamford Bridge.

The 20-year-old has revealed that he is determined to make the most of his opportunity with Luiz Felipe Scolari's side.

"I am very proud," Paim told A Bola.

"I worked hard and now the opportunity has arrived to go to Chelsea. I am very happy and want to achieve my aim of becoming a great footballer.

"I feel that I have the necessary qualities. I know I have to work. This is the opportunity of a lifetime."

Ronaldo closing in on return - Fergie
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed Cristiano Ronaldo is "a little bit ahead" of schedule in his recovery from ankle surgery.

The Red Devils winger underwent an operation earlier in the summer following the end of Portugal's Euro 2008 campaign.

He was initially ruled out for three months and Ferguson had been expecting Ronaldo to return to action at the start of October.

Ronaldo has been involved in light training with the champions this week amid reports he will be fit for the end of September.

And United boss Ferguson concedes the Footballer of the Year is slightly ahead of schedule in his quest for a first-team comeback.

"He's maybe a little bit ahead," said Ferguson on Sky Sports News.

"He's surprisingly good. He's been jogging all week, but it's only jogging, there's nothing serious about that."

But Ferguson remains cautious. He would prefer the 23-year-old to come back and stay back rather than return a week or two earlier and risk a further spell on the sidelines.

"If a player is out for a certain period there is no point rushing it," said the Red Devils boss.

"You may as well wait the extra week or two to make sure they don't suffer any setbacks.

"Sometimes the age of a player helps with their recovery.

"Cristiano may get back quicker. But we are not putting him under any pressure.

"We have to let the physios do their job properly."

But Ferguson is certainly delighted with the work Ronaldo has done so far.

"The plan was to give him one month of rehabilitation work, jogging and aerobic work in the gymnasium," he said.

"It is difficult to say with young players and long-term injury but Cristiano is making good progress."

McCarthy considering Rovers future
Blackburn striker Benni McCarthy has admitted he is "considering his future" as sitting on the substitutes' bench is "not an option" for him.

Roque Santa Cruz and Jason Roberts were preferred to McCarthy up front for Blackburn's 3-2 victory at Everton on the opening day of the season.

Manager Paul Ince has reiterated that none of his players are for sale, but McCarthy is considering his future.

The South African claims that Sunderland are interested in signing him and he believes it could be time to move on if he cannot break back into the Rovers side.

"They're not really happy times for me, but it's still all right," McCarthy told the Lancashire Telegraph.

"It's frustrating if you work hard, especially with all the rumours going on, and then you don't play.

"Sunderland's interest is very much for real and I'm looking to see in the next week what's going to happen because I'm 31 in November, so sitting on the bench or not playing is not an option for me.

"If I can't make the starting line-up at Blackburn, then I'm wasting time."

McCarthy understands that if he does stay he may have to wait for an opportunity after Roberts and Santa Cruz impressed against Everton.

He said: "The manager has made his intentions clear. He doesn't want me to go, he wants me to stay and from my point of view I respect the manager.

"I can't have any complaints - Jason was awesome at Everton and I can't see the reason why he should be taken out of the starting line-up and, obviously, Roque's fantastic as well, scoring goals.

Hot Ash worth £30m, claims O'Neill
Martin O'Neill says Ashley Young is worth £30million in the current transfer market and is confident he will soon sign a new Aston Villa deal.

O'Neill admitted he paid over the odds for Young during the January 2007 transfer window when he agreed a deal with Watford that eventually rose to £9.65million.

Now the Villa manager's determination to sign Young has been rewarded with a series of superb performances during the past 18 months.

And O'Neill is adamant Young is now worth three times what he splashed out for him and is optimistic he will sign a new deal in the next couple of weeks.

O'Neill said: "Ashley is now worth three times what we paid for him. I am inclined to exaggerate but he is priceless. He is absolutely outstanding.

"I've already said I was surprised he was not in the England squad for the midweek game (with the Czech Republic) but his time will come, no question of that. He is absolutely outstanding.

"Actually, I had better not shout out how much I think he is worth because we are in the throes of doing a new contract with him. I actually think he is worth £4million! His value has plummeted until we have got the contract sorted!

"In all seriousness, I would like to try and do that contract in the next week or two. Are we that close - yes?"

O'Neill conceded: "I still think at the time I would have preferred to have paid £5million rather than the initial £8.2million for Ashley. You had to take a gulp. It kept going up.

"But he has shown his worth. He relishes the free role we give him and his delivery of crosses, emphasised by the one headed home by John Carew for the first goal against Manchester City, is superb.

"He is a natural and we see him do that sort of thing on the training ground time and time again."

O'Neill knows Villa will have to be on their mettle when they visit Premier League new boys Stoke on Saturday.

He said: "It is their first home game. In normal circumstances you would not want to face a promoted side in their first home game. I saw them last week and I thought they were more than holding their own against Bolton until the first goal.

"They lost a bit of concentration at that time. They retrieved the second half and pulled themselves around again but, regardless of that result, for the first home game back in the big league after 21 years, the place will be buzzing.

"We've got to be able to cope with that but I am hoping, if the game settles down to a pattern, we can go and try and play but we need to go and earn the right to do that."

Potters fail with £2.5m Hyypia bid
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez has reportedly turned down a £2.5million offer from Premier League new boys Stoke for veteran defender Sami Hyypia.

The Potters have signed two defenders in the past seven days - Newcastle's Abdoulaye Faye and Southampton's Andrew Davies - but Tony Pulis is still seemingly keen to shore up a backline that conceded three at Bolton last weekend.

And the man top of his list appears to be Hyypia, with the Liverpool Echo claiming he has tested Liverpool's resolve with a bid for the 34-year-old. Benitez still regards him as an important member of the squad, though, and having only recently handing the Finnish star a new deal, he has rejected City's offer.

Hyypia has Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel as competition for a centre-half spot at Anfield but it remains to be seen whether even an improved bid from the Potters would tempt Benitez to let the veteran leave.

Maloney's shock Villa confession

Shaun Maloney has confessed that Aston Villa were never the right club for him after sealing his return to Celtic.

The Scotland international failed to settle in the Midlands and spoke honestly about his time in England when being unveiled by The Bhoys on Friday, declaring that he did not want to play for Martin O'Neill's side.

"I think, at the time, I probably knew in my heart of hearts it probably wasn't the right move," he stressed.

"I don't want to disrespect the club I've just left too much but they knew in the first few months I really struggled with it.

"They were great with me, the staff in the background were great but I think, in my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn't the club I wanted to play for and now, obviously, this move has come back and I'm really happy."

O'Neill was rather more diplomatic in wishing Maloney well in The SPL.

"I'm disappointed Shaun has gone really," he stated. "I'd rather be adding to the squad than subtracting as it were.

"Shaun, I think came down and, first of all, he's been away from Glasgow for about 18 months. There was definitely a bit of homesickness early on but I think he got over that.

"Celtic came calling again and the call was too strong. I decided it was in the best interests of everyone for him to come back again."

TeamTalk, ESPN

UEFA European Club Footballer of the Year 17 out of 20 players are from Premier League and expect C.Ronaldo to win it.Next season UEFA European Club Footballer of the Year will have more mixture of players from other leagues I predict with only around 7 players from Premier League next season.

Man City and Man U can compete for the signing of Benni McCarthy he is a good quality striker or else Man U will be left only Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez in the striking department.Quite Surprise that no 1 really want to join Man U after their double last season.

Ashley Young is really a very good winger ! very fast, tricks up his sleeve, accurate crossing, able to use both foot ! Surprise to see him included in the England Squad. He is even a better player than David Bentley I would reckon.

Ng Ghim Pheng True Blue Chelsea Fan