Premier League

Mancini not giving up hope

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Sat, 09 Mar 2013 08:16:00

West Brom striker Romelu Lukaku is determined to shun the party lifestyle and be a role model to young fans.

The 19-year-old is currently enjoying a season-long loan-spell at the Hawthorns having scored 12 goals in 28 appearances, including three in his last two games.

The Belgium international has revealed he would much rather spend his time away from football at home than out in nightclubs.

"I don't want to be known as 'Romelu, the guy who leaves the nightclub and sprays Champagne over everyone'," former Anderlecht player Lukaku told the Birmingham Mail.

"Some do and that's fun for them but you have little children looking up to you and being an example to the youth and you should stick to that.

"I don't want to spend all my time focusing on going out or girls. I have a younger brother who looks up to me. I'm his prime example, then there's the rest of the family.

"I'm always at home. I wake up at 8am and the first thing I do is pray. Then I call my mum to ask if everything is okay. I ask her if she needs something and then I call my dad.

"Then I go to training, finish my training, and call my parents again. Then I go home.

"People say it's boring, yes, but I've always done it like that. You don't focus on other things because you have duties.

"Everything should give way to become successful, and to be recognised as a good soccer player but also as a good person."

Lukaku admitted he does not know where his future lies next season, although he would be open to the idea of returning to West Brom on loan.

"I just hope I end this season as well as possible," he added. "Then we'll see what happens. I also need to think about the national team and not of myself.

"So if I'm on loan for another year then, okay, good. That wouldn't be a bad thing. Playing for Chelsea is my final goal but I'm realistic, next season I'm 20 years old."

United have spent the last few days licking their wounds after the shattering disappointed of European failure.

Ferguson is still furious at the manner of his side's defeat, and the controversial decision to send Nani off, which changed the entire course of a game he felt United were comfortable in.

But he knows life goes on. And for the Red Devils that means a meeting with Chelsea, against whom they have already had two titanic contests this season.

"We have a job to do on Sunday and I think we'll do that okay," said Ferguson.

"We've gone through this procedure many times.

"When you're at a club for a long time, there are always damp moments and dark days.

"In general we recover very well and we'll do that again."

Sunday's quarter-final will be the first time United have faced Chelsea since Ferguson's old rival Rafael Benitez took charge.

The Manchester United manager's irritation with Benitez goes back to the Spaniard's days at Liverpool and that infamous 'It's a fact' rant in 2009, when he claimed Ferguson manipulated referees and received preferential treatment from the Football Association.

Ferguson has never forgotten the attack and when Benitez turned up at Chelsea following the dismissal of Roberto di Matteo earlier this season, he labelled the former Valencia boss as "very lucky" for being given the chance to take over two Champions League-winning teams, having also replaced Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan.

It has not proved so lucky for Benitez, who has failed to win over sceptical Chelsea support, seen lingering title ambitions quashed, crashed out of the Champions League and is now in a desperate scramble to secure a top four berth.

Benitez has railed against the club's hierarchy for naming him an 'interim manager' and he now accepts there is no chance of getting the job on a full-time basis.

It would normally be a situation Ferguson would approach with relish.

Instead, he is taking the softly-softly approach.

"I'm not going to kick anyone when they're lying down," said Ferguson. "It's not my style.

"My concern is Manchester United. What happens at Chelsea doesn't really affect me.

"Chelsea have a terrific record in the FA Cup, probably the best of any team in the last decade.

"It doesn't matter when you play Chelsea or who's in charge, we'll have a hard game."

The Villa manager admits his players are in "an absolute war" in the fight to avoid the drop from the top flight, with a home match against QPR next weekend following on from Saturday's clash at Reading.

It is only just over 30 years since Villa won the European Cup and they are the fifth most successful club in the Premier League in terms of points accrued since its formation.

The likes of Reading and Southampton were amongst the favourites with bookmakers last summer to make an instant return to the Championship.

But demotion for Villa would cause shock waves similar to when Newcastle went down four years ago.

When asked if there is added pressure, Lambert said: "I think there is a touch of that because of the size of the club and the history.

"But you have to embrace that and not be frightened by it. I don't think you can hide behind it. You have to ready for it.

"I think as time goes on it (the pressure) gets cranked up. But it's something you have to thrive on and not let it frighten you.

"You have to be ready for it. I don't wilt under it, I meet it head on.

"Every game is massive in this league, it's huge, and you can stretch that back to the first day of the season.

"You have to try to win more games than not. They are huge games for us (against Reading and QPR), no-one can shy from that

"But they are games we go into with confidence that we can win them.

"We probably need to win four more games but everyone else will be saying the same. There's still 30 points to play for."

Lambert admits he had to scrap and fight to make his reputation in the game before becoming a European Cup winner with Borussia Dortmund and hopes the Villa players have the same attitude,

The Scot said: "I've had major disappointments as a player. Until I went to Germany I was playing hobby football. When I went to Germany, it became a real job.

"I had to up roots, take the bull by the horns. I didn't have a contract, I didn't have anywhere to go. That's why I went to Dortmund. I had to go on trial.

"I am not just sat here having been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Everything I have always had to earn.

"I wouldn't put that pressure on them (the players). They are giving us everything they have anyway. But you don't realise what you've got until it's not there.

"That's one thing I would say. You have to earn the right in football. It doesn't get given to you - even the top players and top managers.

"You have to appreciate what you have here. It is an unbelievable place to work. A lot of them have been brought through the ranks so they don't know any differently.

"The only thing they probably know is they are in absolute war now and you have to see it through. They are going to have to fight for every point."

Lambert has spoken with acting skipper Ciaran Clark after his error gifted Manchester City the winner at Villa Park on Monday.

He said: "Ciaran is alright. I spoke to him after the game on Tuesday. I had a chat with him but he's been great for us. He'll be better for it in a stupid, roundabout way.

"It would be different if he was going around making mistake after mistake.

"He tried something because his confidence was extremely high with the way the game was going, but I'm pretty sure he won't try anything like that again."

The duo will be up against each other in Saturday's Hawthorns clash between the clubs.

Baggies head coach Clarke signed Argentina international Yacob on a free transfer from Racing Club on the evidence of DVDS presented to him by the then sporting and technical director Dan Ashworth.

His Swansea counterpart Michael Laudrup brought in Michu from Spanish side Rayo Vallecano for ?2million and he has been impressive during his first campaign at the Liberty Stadium.

Clarke said: "It's difficult to find a player now that nobody knows about and nobody has got.

"To be fair to Michael Laudrup at Swansea, he obviously has a good grasp of the Spanish market because he's worked there before.

"He would know the capabilities of a player like Michu. It has worked out for him.

"His use of the Spanish market last summer was excellent. They've brought in some really good players from Spain.

"With us, when you spend the amount of money we did on Yacob, and he turns out to be as good a player as he is for the team, that's great.

"Normally a player of the type of Claudio is a players' player, a manager's player or a coaches' player and doesn't really stand out. He just does his job for the team.

"But in doing the job for our team, he has also managed to stand out as being exceptionally good at it. I think he's been tremendous and a big, big bonus for us this season."

Clarke admitted: "I hadn't seen him but either on my first or second day here, I got given a pile of DVDs.

"I had asked for a defensive-type midfield player and Dan (Ashworth) gave me a pile of DVDs with three or four different players.

"I went through them all and thought 'I quite like that one' and we managed to get him in.

"I didn't know him. He was just a name. He didn't play for the last four months of his contract because the club knew he was running it down so it was all on DVDs."

Clarke has seen Yacob start to get to grips with the English language since arriving at the Baggies.

He said: "His English is much-improved, although I'm not sure he understands my Scottish!

"I've had one or two decent conversations with him recently and his character is good.

"He's a little bit like you see on the pitch, quiet, determined. Sometimes I get the feeling he's got more to say but he doesn't quite trust his words yet. I think he will grow into himself."

Clarke has ruled out winger Jerome Thomas moving to Blackburn on loan but is content to allow England Under-21 defender Craig Dawson to remain with Bolton for the rest of the season.

He said: "I had two players unavailable last weekend at Chelsea. One (Goran Popov) was suspended, one (Romelu Lukaku) couldn't play against his parent club. I had Chris Brunt injured and a 16-year-old (Isaiah Brown) on the bench.

"That situation in itself answers the question about Jerome going out. I can't let anyone go. I haven't got a big squad of senior players."

Richards has been sidelined since undergoing surgery on a knee injury in October.

The England international had been making only his fourth appearance of the season, after missing the start of the campaign with an ankle problem, when he tore a meniscus in a game against Swansea.

The 24-year-old was initially ruled out until the end of February but, despite returning to training, is not yet ready to play.

Mancini said: "This is strange. I don't know how it is possible, this. But we can do nothing. I think maybe in three or four weeks he will be ready.

"I don't know (the problem). His knee was not 100 per cent. He continued to work. Now it is two months that he has been working."

Mancini added that Richards has trained on the pitch but has not yet rejoined the first-team squad.

When asked if he thought Richards would be playing again by now, Mancini said: "Yes, maybe two or three weeks (ago).

"When he starts to work with the team he needs another two weeks. I hope he can start with the team next week."

It is not the first time Mancini has expressed frustration with Richards' fitness record after a number of niggling problems in the past.

After Richards suffered his latest injury, Mancini also suggested he felt the player should be fit again within a month.

Mancini was also forced to defend his tactics following the Champions League loss at Ajax last October after Richards said the players were unfamiliar with the system used.

Manager David Moyes revealed that the American sustained the injury in the fifth round replay with Oldham 11 days ago.

Slovakian international Jan Mucha, who made his Premier League debut in last weekend's 3-1 win over Reading, will face Wigan.

"Tim is out against Wigan. He has broken two bones in his back," Moyes told the club website.

"We don't think he will be out for the season. I read that (Newcastle's Fabricio) Coloccini could be out for seven weeks (with a similar injury) but we are not sure how long Tim will be out for because, obviously with a goalkeeper, he has to dive around and hit the ground.

"I have let him go away for a few days. It might be that, if everything goes well, he misses next week's game as well [against Manchester City] and then because of the international break he might be close after the rest because that would be four weeks."

Moyes revealed Howard had not suffered an injury to weight-bearing bones and also that they were not part of the player's spine.

"He has two fractures, but they are not bones that are supporting anything. It is off the spine. They are not weight-bearing.

"It just needs a bit of healing time. It is not like a pure fracture where you need to wait to look at it.

"It is a question of whether he can cope with the pain. The bones will heal themselves but it's not good."

QPR's owners have splashed the cash in a bid to stay among the elite yet have spent the majority of the club's return to the top-flight looking up from the bottom.

After only surviving on the final day last season QPR have won just three league games this time around and, with 10 games left, are four points adrift of safety in last place.

It would appear a poor return on lavish investment that was this week detailed by the release of the club's accounts for last season.

The figures showed player wages doubled to ?56million while net debt stood at ?89million - numbers that do not even reflect the influx of expensive names since the summer.

Park Ji-sung, Julio Cesar and Jose Bosingwa arrived as reinforcements but when they failed to inspire an upturn in fortunes the club twice broke their record transfer fee to sign Loic Remy and Christopher Samba in January.

Redknapp was himself brought in as a part of the continued overhaul after Mark Hughes failed to win any of the opening 13 league games.

Redknapp's presence, plus the QPR owners' heavy spending, has inevitably led to parallels being drawn to Portsmouth's decaying fortunes following their own Premier League extravagances.

Redknapp is, however, confident such a scenario will not envelop his current employers.

The 66-year-old believes QPR have acted smarter in the transfer market - bringing in players with a high re-sale value - to ensure any revenue lost from relegation could be quickly recouped.

"I only know the players I have bought since I came here and you won't have any problem (selling them)," he said.

"If the worst came to the worst you could sell Samba or Remy. They were two buys you make where there wasn't much of a downside to them.

"The club turned down more money for Samba than we paid for him from a Russian club so you'll always get your money for him and Remy is exactly the same.

"There will always be buyers for good players. Selling bad players; overpaid, bad players is the difficulty.

"That's where you can get in trouble. There is not a market for bad ones who get too much money, that is your problem."

Portsmouth were unable to sell their way out of trouble once their financial crisis hit, despite offloading almost ?100million in player sales.

Redknapp had left before Portsmouth's problems took hold and, while his tenure brought the highs of an FA Cup success, he was quick to point out any subsequent financial demise should not fall on the manager.

"I don't ask the chairman to spend his money," he said.

"If he wants to bring a player in then so be it. As a football manager I can't make someone spend money."

It is a scenario Redknapp believes holds true at QPR, where he believes the owners are accountable for their spending.

"There is not going to be meltdown because of something I've done," he said.

"If the (financial) results aren't good that was before I came to the club.

"I hope (QPR don't follow Portsmouth's fall), but I don't know the situation of the owners any more than I knew the situation of the owners at Portsmouth.

"He was a young Russian guy who was a friend of Roman Abramovich. When they buy the football club you don't know whether he is richer than Abramovich, so when they want to spend money on the team, what do you do?

"You don't say, 'I'm sorry you can't spend that money because I don't know if you've got it or not'.

"It's their decision."

When Redknapp took over the QPR hot-seat in late November they had just four points and at the time he decreed it his "toughest challenge".

Redknapp's first game in charge was at Sunderland, who visit Loftus Road on Saturday , and almost four months on he sees things no differently - adding only that saving QPR would be a greater achievement than when he helped rescue Portsmouth in 2005/06.

"For sure, from where we started here, it would be," he said.

"It's just a long way to go and we really are taking it week to week.

"Tomorrow's just another big game. If we can make it back-to-back wins, it would make such a difference.

"There would be nothing more that I would like to keep the club up because the people here are lovely.

"I would like to do it for them. They are proper nice people. I can't say it enough times. I mean it."

City's chances of retaining their crown look slim but Mancini hopes Manchester United's cup exertions can derail their season.

With a 12-point lead and just 10 games remaining, United are firm title favourites but they suffered a blow to their pride in midweek as they crashed out of the Champions League to Real Madrid.

Sir Alex Ferguson's men must pick themselves up for a testing FA Cup quarter-final against Chelsea on Sunday.

Mancini, whose side will be expected to make comfortable progress in the same competition at Championship side Barnsley's expense, said: "It's possible because when United play Chelsea it's possible that Chelsea will beat United.

"It's not impossible in football. One or two weeks can change everything.

"For this reason, we should be confident for the Premier League.

"If they are so strong that they will win all their games then okay, but if they lose one or two games or a point, then we should be ready to take this opportunity."

Although Mancini retains some optimism, the FA Cup does look like City's only realistic hope of silverware.

Some observers may view that as a failure after the dramatic success of last year but Mancini is convinced that would still be a sign of progress given the club's relatively recent lowly stature.

The Italian said: "We started this season wanting to win the Premier League again. We want to try until the last game.

"But if we take second position and win the FA Cup then I think it will be important for us because it's important to win one or two trophies every year."

Real Madrid have now eliminated City and United from the Champions League this season and Mancini feels that gives his side's laboured European campaign a greater context.

He said: "I think we had a very difficult group. Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund are better than us at the moment.

"It was difficult for us. Maybe we didn't play very well in our group, but it was a really difficult group.

"Madrid and Borussia are in the quarter-finals."

Mancini acknowledges there may be a strong desire around the country for neighbours City and United, the Premier League's top two teams for the past two seasons, to face each other in the FA Cup final at Wembley.

He said: "It's important that we go in the final and if we play against Man United, sure that will be a better game, but also (it would be a good game) against Everton, Wigan or Blackburn.

"For us it's important to go in the final."

City head into their clash against Championship strugglers Barnsley as heavy favourites. Some bookmakers have even quoted odds of 18/1 for a Tykes victory at the Etihad Stadium.

Although Mancini will not be risking key players Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero due to injury, he will not be taking the game lightly.

He said: "These games are difficult because they don't have anything to lose and everyone can think it will be easy.

"I have watched Barnsley and it is clear they are not Real Madrid, but these games are strange.

"I don't think many people thought Arsenal could go out in a game against Bradford."

Kompany's absence will take the number of games he has missed since suffering a calf injury to seven despite Mancini saying a number of times he is close to fitness.

He insists there is no major concern over the Belgium defender and it is a case of careful management.

Mancini said: "Calf injuries are a big problem. If you don't recover very well it can happen like it has with 'Vinnie'.

"Maybe he wants to play on Saturday because he always wants to play, but we can't take this risk. We want him to recover well."

Mancini hopes both Kompany and Aguero, who has a knee injury, will be fit for next week's trip to Everton.

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