MARTIN SAMUEL: It is not the fault of Everton fans that so much money has been wasted but the Merseyside derby scenes were unhelpful... the poisonous mood could drag skittish Toffees all the way down

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Everton's poisonous atmosphere could drag the club to the Championship Established clubs like West Ham and Newcastle have failed to stop the slide Gianluigi Donnarumma was deserving of the best goalkeeper prize this weekNewcastle will struggle to attract stars like Jesse Lingard in the January windowMan United's Ralf Rangnick farce shows they are still behind operationally 

By the end, the mood was utterly toxic. Marcel Brands, the director of football, was arguing with an abusive supporter in the stand. Bill Kenwright, the chairman, paused to speak to a well-wisher then regretted it as the locals turned on him, too, and he hurried to the exit.

The boos that Liverpool fans had joyously predicted were all too apparent, and much worse besides. One Everton fan got on the pitch and confronted Anthony Gordon, Seamus Coleman and Abdoulaye Doucoure. He did not appear to be asking for a selfie.

Only one conclusion can be drawn from this: Everton could go down. They really could.

Everton’s poisonous atmosphere could see the club dragged into the Championship 

The five-point gap to the bottom three is nothing with 24 games to go, particularly as Burnley could win a home game in hand against Tottenham and make it two. And the mood at Goodison Park would have been instantly recognisable to followers of West Ham or Newcastle. It is one that can drag a club down. Not all the way to the Championship maybe, but near enough.

It was seen at the London Stadium the year West Ham stayed up by the skin of their teeth, and Newcastle are still striving to rise above it. These days draws at home to relegation rivals are being reimagined with positivity. Yet it may already be too late. Newcastle’s players are nervous and lack confidence. The damage is already done.

Evertonians now have a path to choose. It is not their fault that so much money has been wasted. Their frustration is understood. Yet the scenes at the end of the Merseyside derby were at best unhelpful, at worst potentially ruinous. We knew Rafa Benitez would only be popular while he was winning. It is plain a succession of directors of football and advisers have bought badly.

Marcel Brands (centre) and Bill Kenwright (right) felt waves of protest after the game by fans

Marcel Brands (centre) and Bill Kenwright (right) felt waves of protest after the game by fans

It is astonishing that £500m has assembled a team this poor. But how can what unfolded on Wednesday help turn that corner? How can it fail to produce another group of players who are skittish, who make bad decisions, who hide? It is what is ongoing at Newcastle, because the stakes remain too high even though the Ashley-era gloom has lifted.

Nothing without fans. The pandemic taught us that. Yet equally not every fan interaction is advantageous. The period after Everton pulled one back was the best of it on Wednesday for them. The crowd and the team fed off each other. Then Demarai Gray played a tricky pass to Coleman, he made a mess of receiving it, and Mo Salah was away for Liverpool’s third.

It was in the poisonous aftermath that Everton looked their worst, and Liverpool achieved their biggest derby win in a league game at Goodison since 1982.

It doesn’t mean the criticism isn’t valid. No one is more entitled to their view than the match-going fans. Just the freedom to vent can have unanticipated consequences; and the Championship is full of them.

Fan criticism is valid but Evertonians' discontent could onset an irreversible slide for the club

Fan criticism is valid but Evertonians’ discontent could onset an irreversible slide for the club 

 

DONNARUMMA’S KEEPER AWARD IS IN THE RIGHT HANDS 

Lionel Messi’s seventh Ballon d’Or is controversial, but it is harder to argue with the Lev Yashin award to goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

He was acknowledged as Italy’s key player in the European Championship, winning two penalty shootouts — including one against England in a Wembley final — and did not concede more than one goal in a game. It was a magnificent achievement. 

The claim by Patrice Evra, therefore, that Edouard Mendy was denied by a racist conspiracy is simply peculiar. Mendy has been exceptional but didn’t play a full season for Chelsea and, while a Champions League winner, was not the star of that particular show, unlike Donnarumma.

It will have been a close contest but had either won, there could be no complaints. There is certainly not the argument that followed Messi to the stage.

There can be no arguing with Gianluigi Donnarumma's winning of the Lev Yashin award

There can be no arguing with Gianluigi Donnarumma’s winning of the Lev Yashin award 

 

BIELSA IS STRUGGLING TO CONJURE UP FIRST SEASON MAGIC   

Marcelo Bielsa’s reputation has taken a bit of a battering this season. There are those only too happy that a fashionable name is struggling to recreate his impressive first Premier League season with Leeds.

Yet that is what life is like outside the elite, even for a brilliant mind like Bielsa’s. It only needs a few key injuries, such as those to Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling, and the odd poor signing, such as Junior Firpo, and any of 14 clubs can end up in a relegation battle.

Leeds’ travails this season only put into sharper relief the miracle that is performed, year in year out, by Sean Dyche at Burnley.

 

LATVIA WOMEN SO MISMATCHED, EVEN SAN MARINO LOOK GOOD!  

There were 19 winners in the European qualifying matches for the 2023 edition of the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday and, between them, they scored 98 goals. That’s an average of 5.15 per game. If a 5-0 win is standard, it’s a desperate look for the sport.

Yet that’s not the half of it. In Group D, England have a goal difference of 53 in just six games and are yet to concede. Their average score is approaching 9-0. Their aggregate over Latvia across two matches is 30-0. And they are not alone. Spain are 43 goals up across five matches in Group B and are also yet to concede. That’s a shade under 9-0, too.

The disparity in quality during these Women's World Cup Qualifiers was highlighted this week

The disparity in quality during these Women’s World Cup Qualifiers was highlighted this week

Meanwhile, at the bottom, Armenia and Latvia have both conceded 46 goals — although Latvia have played a game less — the Faroe Islands 40, Cyprus 30. Undoubtedly, this disparity harms the standing and value of women’s football.

Yes, there are mismatches in the men’s game, too, and they are often the subject of debate. What is the point of San Marino, it is asked, when they have never won a competitive match?

Yet they have never lost one 20-0, which Latvia’s women did against England this week, a pitiful display the worth of which was questioned by England coach Sarina Wiegman and a parent of one of the Latvians. For all the tributes to Ellen White and her impressive scoring record — 48 goals in 101 appearances — a scoreline like that distorts the annals because it is so plainly an inferior contest.

Coming later to the concept of a European competition — the first women’s edition was in 1984, the inaugural men’s in 1960 — there was the chance to structure accordingly. Too often, though, a slavish demand for parity wins the day. So the women have the same tournament as the men, except theirs undermines the game’s reputation and advancement. What is the point of that?

 

TOON IS A TOUGH SELL TO PLAYERS LIKE LINGARD  

One imagines Jesse Lingard could get a game at quite a few clubs right now. Clubs that are in Europe, like West Ham. Or clubs that aren’t haunted by the threat of relegation.

It’s the same for Kieran Trippier. He has won the league with Atletico Madrid, who are currently second in La Liga with hopes of qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League, too. Trippier remains in the mix for England this season — starting two games, which is as many as Reece James and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Newcastle are optimistic about the January window but it will be a tough sell for their targets

Newcastle are optimistic about the January window but it will be a tough sell for their targets

When it was suggested he may return to an English club, there was an immediate link with Manchester United. As for Burnley’s James Tarkowski, he is available on a free transfer in the summer, and has suitors including West Ham and Tottenham, both offering the potential for European football.

So why would any of these highly-regarded individuals sign for Newcastle, where they are rumoured to be the January transfer targets? No club has gone this deep into a Premier League season without a win and survived. It would be a gamble and, given the alternatives, the only justification would be ludicrously inflated wages plus enough get-out clauses that the recruits would barely have skin in the game. 

From Newcastle’s perspective, if they paid high and then went down anyway, the financial fair play regulations in the Championship would be destructive and why would any player of, say, Lingard’s standing want relegation on his c.v?

Jesse Lingard is eyeing an exit from United in January
England full back Kieran Trippier has been linked with a return to the Premier League

Jesse Lingard (L) and Kieran Trippier (R) have been linked with moves to St James’ Park but the England pair will surely receive better offers from elsewhere 

He joined West Ham last season to rebuild his career, at a time when the club was pushing for Europe. What benefit is there in risking getting dragged down a tier? As for Burnley, solving Newcastle’s problem by selling them Tarkowski would be madness. They’re both scrambling for survival. It would be like declaring war, then offering to supply your opponent arms.

This is a hugely problematic January for Newcastle. Money may talk, as always, but the longer their run continues, it really is all the new owners have left.

 

TENNIS BOSS PUTS OLYMPICS LICKSPITTLE TO SHAME OVER PENG

Credit to the WTA for pulling out of China over fears for Peng Shuai. There is an enormous amount of money at stake, given that the country now hosts upwards of 12 women’s tournaments each season. 

Nevertheless, announcing the decision, chief executive Steve Simon expressed serious doubts that Peng was ‘free, safe and not subject to intimidation’.

What does this say about Simon’s take on the pathetic intervention of IOC president and totalitarian lickspittle Thomas Bach, whose organisation has now had two video calls with Peng? Sadly, everything.

The WTA's withdrawal from China demonstrated the lack of leadership from the Olympics

The WTA’s withdrawal from China demonstrated the lack of leadership from the Olympics

 

KONTA DESTINED FOR A CAREER IN THE STUDIO   

Jo Konta seemed to have a rather prickly relationship with the media during her playing career. Yet being articulate and relatively successful, she’ll almost certainly go into the studio. That’s how modern sport works.

 

SORRY JOHN, IT IS A SHAMBLES   

The moment John Spencer threatened to sue the BBC over remarks made when the Barbarians match with Samoa was cancelled 90 minutes before kick-off, there was trouble ahead. The Barbarians president said he was ‘seething’ over criticism from Dylan Hartley and Jonathan Davies, who described the Covid outbreak across six members of the team and management as ‘beyond embarrassing’ and an ‘utter shambles’. 

A similar postponement was forced last year when 13 tested positive, due to Covid breaches. Spencer refuted any suggestions the Barbarians had been unprofessional this time and said he was considering legal action.

It didn’t age well. Within 24 hours of Spencer’s outrage, images emerged of some of the squad at Winter Wonderland in London.

Lads, it’s rugby. The amateur past is never far from the surface. To lose one fixture due to a Covid outbreak is misfortune, to lose two — well that’s an embarrassing shambles.

 

VILLA PRODIGY IN THE RIGHT PLACE    

In the 67th minute against Manchester City on Wednesday, Steven Gerrard introduced Carney Chukwuemeka. He is captain of England’s Under 19 side and recently made it known he would not be signing a new contract with Aston Villa.

Chukwuemeka, 18, is a midfielder and hailed as the next Jude Bellingham. He is much admired in Germany where Bundesliga clubs have taken to claiming English talent on the cheap and then selling it back to the Premier League elite for fortunes. He is frustrated because, having started against Brentford on August 28, he has not featured in a League game since. Gerrard is looking to change that.

Meaning, if he stays, he will get increasing first-team opportunities at an ambitious club while being coached by one of the greatest midfielders this country has produced. Why would a young man of ambition walk away from that? Phil Foden did not need to go to Germany to demonstrate his worth.

Carney Chukwuemeka wants to leave Aston Villa but the youngster is better served by staying

Carney Chukwuemeka wants to leave Aston Villa but the youngster is better served by staying

 

POLITICIANS MISTAKEN OVER FOOTBALL CHIEFS   

Among the stranger aspects of Tracey Crouch’s review is the implication that those who run football are not themselves football fans. 

Spotted at Bramall Lane on Sunday, former Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore who, no longer on duty each weekend, has reverted to his past life as a home and away supporter of Bristol City. 

Consulted fans aside, how many of those behind the Government review actually go away?

 

RANGNICK FARCE SHOWS UNITED ARE STILL BEHIND THE CURVE   

That Manchester United are still waiting for Ralf Rangnick to take his place on the touchline shows that while this is a move that has been warmly received, it was still not part of any grand plan. 

If United had their sights on Rangnick, the perfect time to make a change was in the November international break, when there would have been two weeks to resolve his work permit complexities. 

The fact they let that period drift by, then lost heavily at Watford, then made a switch to a manager whose employment requires time-consuming special dispensation, shows it was just another big decision made on the hoof. They may get lucky, but it’s still no way to run a football club.         

Ralf Rangnick's visa and Covid protocol issues further highlights Man United's ineptitude

Ralf Rangnick’s visa and Covid protocol issues further highlights Man United’s ineptitude 

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