Phuket Gazette Sports: Boas bounce back; Benitez’s plea; Giggs signs – again

Spurs driven by last season’s stumble, says Villas-Boas
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: One year after his axing by Chelsea left a dent in his ego, Andre Villas-Boas finds his reputation soaring again as high-flying Tottenham Hotspur prepare to host north London rivals Arsenal in a match of huge significance.

Win it and Tottenham would move seven points clear of their arch-rivals and within two points of second-placed Manchester City with 10 games of the Premier League season left.

Defeat, however, would re-open old wounds and cast doubt on Tottenham’s ability to finally emerge from the shadow of Arsenal who they have failed to trump since the advent of the Premier League in 1992.

Portuguese Villas-Boas is well aware of the rivalry between the two sets of fans but refrained from over-hyping tomorrow’s clash at White Hart Lane – instead hinting at a steely determination among the squad born of last season’s pain.

Then, with Villas-Boas kicking his heels after his short reign at Chelsea was truncated, Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham blew a 10-point lead over the Gunners to finish fourth, a position that in normal seasons would have resulted in Champions League qualification but which was denied them by Chelsea’s extraordinary run to European glory.

Villas-Boas said a nagging sense of injustice would help Tottenham in their quest to stay above Arsenal and Chelsea.

“They suffered in the past and want to achieve Champions League qualification,” Villas-Boas, the Premier League’s February manager of the month after three consecutive wins, told reporters on Friday at the club’s impressive new training complex.

“Last season they thought they had qualified for the Champions League in fourth spot and saw it taken away from them because of the rules. It was difficult for them but everybody learns from experience.

“One thing I see in the players is the passion and desire to achieve things.”

Despite his Chelsea experience and the subsequent upheaval at Stamford Bridge, Villas-Boas steered clear of joining the debate over Rafael Benitez, although his demeanour is clearly that of man enjoying the calmer surrounds of Tottenham.

Judging by the way the players celebrated Gareth Bale’s late winner with Villas-Boas at West Ham on Monday, he clearly appears to have harnessed a togetherness he never achieved at Chelsea.

“I don’t see it like that,” the former Porto coach said when asked if finishing above Chelsea was a target. “It would be good because it would mean we would qualify (for the Champions League) achieving that means much more.”

At Chelsea there were suggestions that Villas-Boas had bitten off more than he could chew – struggling to impose his personality on the club’s senior players.

He said he has learned from that experience.

Benitez pleads for Chelsea support after outburst
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez sought to build bridges and ease tensions yesterday, two days after castigating hostile fans and aiming a swipe at club officials for his ‘interim’ job title.

The Spaniard, routinely jeered by a section of Chelsea’s support since replacing the sacked Roberto Di Matteo in November, unleashed passionate invective after Wednesday’s 2-0 FA Cup victory at Middlesbrough, saying he would leave when his short-term deal ran out at the end of the season.

At a news conference on the eve of Saturday’s home game with West Bromwich Albion, a smiling and relaxed Benitez said he was only trying to get fans to rally round the cause of helping Chelsea finish in the top four of the Premier League.

“If you analyse it carefully I was trying to explain we have 11 games to play, 33 points, if we stick together it will be easy for us to get points,” Benitez said on Friday.

“The fans are really important for the team. We need the atmosphere we had against Arsenal (in January) and Napoli.

“The message is clear – I have no problem with the board, (technical director) Michael Emenalo, (owner) Roman Abramovich, or the players. I will do the best for the club. I have 26 years as a manager of principles, respect and education to achieve what I have.”

Last season Chelsea produced a superb comeback, recovering from a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Napoli to win the return match 4-1 and reach the Champions League quarter-finals before going on to win the trophy for the first time.

Benitez repeated the phrase, “if we stick together it will be easier for us” on numerous occasions as he sought to dampen the almost inevitable hostility he is likely to face from the fans on Saturday.

In a packed room at the club’s Cobham training ground, he said he had been involved in amicable discussions with Chelsea’s powerbrokers in the wake of his midweek comments.

“The title (of interim manager) came three months ago and it was just a point that was put across. I think it is not a problem because we have a lot of games,” he said.

Age-defying Giggs signs new one-year United deal
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Manchester United’s age-defying midfielder Ryan Giggs signed another one-year contract that will mean he is playing for the Premier League leaders when he turns 40.

The Welshman, who made his United debut in March 1991, has made a club-record 931 appearances, scoring 168 goals.

With his international appearances for Wales and Britain in the Olympics added, his tally is 999 and he could reach the 1,000-game milestone in United’s Premier League game against Norwich City on Saturday.

“I am feeling good, enjoying my football more than ever and, most importantly, I feel I am making a contribution to the team,” Giggs, who scored in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers, said on the club’s website (www.manutd.com).

“This is an exciting team to be part of, with great team spirit, and we are again pushing for trophies as we head towards the business end of the season.”

The former Wales international, who will turn 40 in November, has won 12 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups and two Champions League titles.

He looks set to add to that tally this season as United are 12 points clear at the top of the Premier League, while also still in the FA Cup and Champions League.

He is the only player to score in every season since the Premier League replaced the old English first division in 1992, having also been on target in the two seasons beforehand.

“What can I say about Ryan that hasn’t already been said? He is a marvellous player and an exceptional human being,” manager Alex Ferguson said in a statement.

“Ryan is an example to us all, the way in which he has, and continues to, look after himself.”

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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