Saturday, January 12, 2008


Courtesy of SUN STAR DAILY Newspaper (
January 12, 2008 Saturday issue
By Noel Villaflor, Columnist - Footnote
Mike Limpag, Sports Editor

What in the world was Tom Hanks doing in the sports segment of a cable news channel?

A scarf Hanks was wearing around his neck had caught the eye of a reporter, who promptly asked the actor what’s with the rug. (For a moment there, I thought Hanks was going to hang himself for making that forgettable religious conspiracy movie.)

It turned out the American actor is a big fan of an English football team.

Emblazoned on the scarf were the huge letters “Aston Villa Football Club” and its logo. What better place to wear the scarf than in London at the premier of his new movie Charlie Wilson’s War two nights ago.

Asked why he was rooting for the club, Hanks gurgled: “Well I know a good football match when I see one. Years ago I was watching on TV a pretty good game with Aston Villa and I thought ‘I like that name and those colors.’ Anybody can root for Chelsea for gods’ sake!”

Likeable colors. Well said, Forest.

Sadly for Hanks though, Villa isn’t doing much good football these days, with many of its key players suffering from technical skill problems especially during big matches.

The club, seventh in the English Premier League, could find itself hovering in the middle of the table later in the season. A bad prospect for Villa fans, but at least they have the American actor’s support.

Good thing that Hanks mentioned Chelsea because the club from London - some 160 kilometers from Villa’s Birmingham — aren’t playing scintillating football either. The former champions are languishing at third place in the domestic league, six points behind leaders Arsenal.

To make matters worse, the London club is facing some serious problems with manpower. Apart from a host of injuries to its key players, Chelsea are set to lose Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Mikel Jon Obi and Michael Essien to the African Cup of Nations from Jan. 20 to Feb. 10.

The club is so desperate it rushed to sign Nikolas Anelka for 15 million pounds from Bolton Wanderers in a deal both parties confirmed yesterday.

The Blues seem to be a weakening force. And with the swashbuckling Jose Mourinho out of the picture, the team has generated less interest over the past few months. Avram Grant, you see, isn’t much of a charismatic character.

But Chelsea’s owner Roman Abra-hmovic doesn’t mind if his new club manager looks like Uncle Fester of the Adam’s Family, so long as he snags the prize the Russian billionaire craves the most: the UEFA Champions League title.

It’s no secret that Mourinho’s failure to win the title was a big factor in the falling out between the Portuguese manager and his Russian boss. Sure, “The Special One” won for the club back-to-back domestic titles, but European glory lies elsewhere. Only by wining the Champions League can Chelsea validate its claim as one of the world’s truly big clubs.

And then there’s the big bucks. What businessman would not want to get his hands on some 100 million euros in prize money, gate receipts, sponsorships and TV earnings for the winner of the Champions League? Roman knows what he wants. This time Grant can get it for him, perhaps. But how?

Back in England, the Israeli manager can opt to end the domestic season in the top four, enough to qualify for the next Champion’s League season, so as not to strain his team as it regroups, and focus his resources in getting to the finals in Russia. Liverpool is fairly good at this strategy. It wouldn’t hurt Chelsea to follow the same path.

Imagine the Champion’s League finals: a sea of blue in Abrahmovich’s Moscow. And all of England united, just this once, for the otherwise much reviled Blues. Grant can go for glory. Hanks can keep his maroon scarf.

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