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Football: Bad losers see the red mist; TALKIN'football.

Byline: ROB OWEN

FOR my money, Manchester United have thoroughly merited a reputation for winning ungraciously over recent seasons. How often have the more freespirited among us had to contend with the insufferable arrogance of the red herd?

So it came as no surprise that during the process of surrendering their crown last week, Man Ure revealed themselves to be thoroughly undignified losers, as well.

Having been left drained by an ultimately disappointing Champions League season (my sides are splitting), an anaemic United took out their frustrations, as Arsenal took their title, by inflicting a series of bitter, twisted fouls on their visitors: Phil Neville on Sylvain Wiltord, Roy Keane on Patrick Viera; in fact too many to list here.

United, great and omnipotent as they are, should have risen above the kicking of others, even if the others were Arsenal, a team that personally speaking, I have barely a nanosecond more time for.

But when it mattered, United were reduced to the anger and frustration of also-rans, and behaved appallingly.

Perhaps it was hardly surprising that they'd seek to lash out at others after their precious manager and psychopathic captain had lost their rags during the build-up to the game.

Fergie went into a muchpublicised melt-down after reporters dared to question his tactical acumen in having spent much of the season tinkering with Veron's role, while Keane simply had a go at the majority of his team-mates for not running themselves into the ground.

Okay, Mould Trafford is hardly the Bounty, not yet anyway. But Ferguson needs to keep a lid on the in-fighting, and play a mean game of catch-up this summer.

But should Arsene Wenger find a striker to take the weight from Thierry Henry's shoulders, and coax one last hurrah from Tony Adams and Martin Keown, it's odds on the grapes will remain unpalatably sour in Manchester.

While United have been left without a pot to do the proverbial in this season, the team that performed the unthinkable by dumping them out of the Champions League take on Europe's grandest club, Real Madrid, in the Glasgow final tonight.

I for one will be rooting for Bayer Leverkusen. Supporting the Germans, is, I appreciate, anathema, but I have my reasons. Namely, a growing admiration for their manager, Klaus Toppmoller. For me, Toppmoller's a top bloke. He clearly couldn't give a fig that we've all been chuckling at his David Hasselhoff perm over recent months, Herr Toppmoller knows what really, truly matters in life aside from football and girls - beer and fags. You can't help but admire a guy who on clinching promotion for his former club, Bochum, got himself so bladdered that binmen had to scoop his unconscious bulk from the pavement outside the club's main stand the following morning.

Stories of his benders are legend.

But that doesn't mean to say Leverkusen's supremo isn't capable of sober thought. During periods of sobriety, Toppmoller has earned himself a reputation as one of European football's most astute tactical thinkers. He's also got the best out of Michael Ballack, a prodigiously talented play-maker with an ego the size of Greenland.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 15, 2002
Words:521
Previous Article:Football: Wales so close.
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