Ferguson and Wenger to end bickering

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL: Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger have traded insults since the Gunners' 49-game league unbeaten streak was ended by the Red Devils in October


Sun, Jan 23, 2005 - Page 22

Feud, what feud?

A day after being ordered to end his public squabbling with Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, Arsenal's Arsene Wenger said Friday he wasn't to blame.

The two have traded insults in the media since Manchester United beat Arsenal 2-0 at Old Trafford in October to snap the Gunners' 49-game league unbeaten streak.

Wenger accused Reds striker Ruud van Nistelrooy of being a "cheat" and Ferguson reportedly was pelted with pizza and soup during a fracas in the stadium tunnel.

Since then, Ferguson and Wenger have continued to snipe at each other, raising concerns there could be more trouble on an off the field when the team meets at Highbury on Feb. 1.

At a news conference ahead of Sunday's game against Newcastle, Wenger said he had done nothing to further antagonize Ferguson.

"Since then, for me, nothing happened. What did I say since then?" he told reporters at Arsenal's training ground.

But Wenger sidestepped questions about whether he would shake Ferguson's hand at the upcoming game. He pointed out the two had met at a League Cup quarterfinal game at Old Trafford Dec. 1 when the Reds again won to knock the Gunners out of the competition.

"I did shake his hand that night," Wenger said. "I don't make any comment on that story so why should I talk about things that are artificial."

The Arsenal manager said he preferred to talk about trying to catch Chelsea in the Premier League. The Gunners are 10 points behind the Blues, but Wenger said he had not given up hope of retaining the title.

``I am not at that point,'' he said. "I can understand the thinking from outside but football doesn't work like that. I just feel we have to take the Chelsea situation as a challenge.

"OK, they are playing well, they are winning games. Let's make it as tough as we can for them and get the best out of us. Let's go as close as we can and, you never know."

While Arsenal went through last season's 38-game campaign without a loss, Chelsea has been beaten just once in 23 games this term and still has both Arsenal and third-place Manchester United to play. Now Wenger hopes that Jose Mourinho's Blues will slip up.

"Football is so surprising. Sometimes what looks like a non-vulnerable machine becomes quickly vulnerable in one week," he said. "I remember last year when we lost to Chelsea in the Champions League and against Manchester United in the FA Cup and were losing to Liverpool in the first half. It looked like we couldn't play football."

Arsenal still went on to win the league by 11 points.

"It is possible [to catch Chelsea], but they are in a tranquil position and so everybody would now bet on them," Wenger said. "Our job is to make it as difficult as possible for them."

Bayern Munich kicked off the second half of the Bundesliga season by rolling past Hamburger SV 3-0 on Friday to open a three-point lead over Schalke.

Claudio Pizarro scored in the first half, and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Roy Makaay added goals after the break to seal Bayern's win.

Schalke could catch up on points if it beats defending champion Werder Bremen on Saturday. Bayern has 37 points and a better goal difference.

In snowy conditions, Hamburg remained winless in Munich since 1982, when Felix Magath, now Bayern's coach, was Hamburg's big star.

Already without suspended Michael Ballack, Bayern lost Bixente Lizarazu less than 10 minutes into the game to a pulled hamstring. Lizarazu returned to Bayern this winter after spending half a season in Marseille but will now be out for two weeks.

Shortly afterward, Hamburger lost midfielder Piotr Trochowski, who was making his debut after arriving from Bayern during the winter break. Trochowski injured an ankle.

After an even first half, Bayern dominated after the interval.

"I am quite happy with our performance, especially in the second half," Magath said.

Bayern captain Oliver Kahn made a good one-handed save to block Sergej Barbarez's header after 19 minutes.

In the 22nd, Hamburg goalkeeper Martin Pieckenhagen mistimed his exit and Pizarro rose at the far post to head Bayern into the lead from the home team's only real chance in the first half.

Just before halftime, Kahn made another good save, this time stopping a close-range shot from Naohiro Takahara.

Seconds into the second half, Bayern hit the post, Pizarro shot back into the goal but Daniel van Buyten cleared on the line.

The pressure paid off in the 47th, when Schweinsteiger beat Christian Reinhardt to the ball and slipped it under Pieckenhagen. Schweinsteiger had come in for Lizarazu.

In the 55th, Bayern went up 3-0 when Torsten Frings sent a long pass to Makaay. The Dutch striker lifted the ball over Pieckenhagen, who had come off his line. The ball struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced in.

Former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates completed a ?10 million (US$18.7 million) takeover of Leeds United on Friday, lifting the threat of the debt-ridden club going into financial administration.

Bates, 73, bought a 50 percent stake in the former Premier League side and will succeed Gerald Krasner as chairman.

The takeover by Bates' Geneva-based consortium was finalized during the early morning hours.

"This deal ensures the medium to long-term survival of the club and I believe Mr. Bates' proposals are totally for the benefit of the club," Krasner said on the Leeds Web site. "We are content that under Mr. Bates, Leeds United will continue to consolidate and move forward."

Bates left Chelsea 10 months ago after the London club was bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Bates recently made an unsuccessful bid to buy Sheffield Wednesday.

Leeds was relegated from the Premier League last season and sold off all of its top players. The club is currently 14th out of 24 clubs in the Football League Championship, or former division one.

"I am delighted to be stepping up to the mantel at such a fantastic club," Bates said. "I recognize Leeds United is a great club that has fallen on hard times.

"We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to get the club back to where it belongs in the Premiership and with the help of the fans, who have stuck by the club through thick and thin, we are going to do everything in our power to ensure that happens."

Bates said he would retain Kevin Blackwell as manager.

Beckham and England

Sven-Goran Eriksson left no doubt Friday about picking David Beckham on his team as England attempts to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

The Real Madrid midfielder has been in a slump at the Spanish club, and some have suggested his place on the right side of the England midfield should be taken by Man City's Shaun Wright-Phillips.

"Of course David is part of my plans," Eriksson said. "He's captain, he's playing regularly for Real Madrid and that's not bad.

"He's criticized when he's not the best man on the pitch, but he is our captain and he will be picked for sure."

England next faces the Netherlands in a friendly on Feb. 9.

Eriksson said he was counting on Beckham's experience. Beckham turns 30 in May.

"You need those players. They have been there before and it's very important," Eriksson said.