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Football: Henry is incredible enough to put smile back on the face of football.

Byline: Andy TOWNSEND

IN MANY ways, football has never been in a worse state than it is at the end of 2003.

I don't believe the image of professional players has ever take such a battering as it has this year.

Allegations of players being involved in gang rape and drug-taking, plus Rio Ferdinand's no-show at a drugs test - whatever the reason - have done untold damage to the game's reputation.

The consequences of all these incidents will surely be felt next year. I can't help feeling the spotlight will move even closer on players' off-field activities in the next 12 months.

But it hasn't all been doom and gloom. For all the begrudgers, I still believe the Premiership is the best league in the world.

And the arrival of Roman Abramovich on the scene at Chelsea has been tremendously exciting - no matter what team you support. At long last, the Premiership is no longer a two-horse race.

The emergence of Chelsea is certainly one of the most important things to happen in football this year. Below, I've listed other high and low points of the footballing year in 2003.

THIERRY HENRY

DEFINITELY a big plus this year and simply the best player in the Premiership - and perhaps the world at this point.

Why he didn't win the World Player of the Year last week, I'll never know. This man is one of the most incredible players I've ever clapped eyes on.

Not even Ruud van Nistelrooy can compete in terms of being the ultimate striker.

Sure, the Dutchman can score goals to beat the band. But his French rival is a far more rounded player who, when he turns it on, can almost take your breath away.

I've been lucky enough to see him play in the flesh many times this year. The English league is very lucky to have an athlete of this class on display every week.

DRUG SCANDALS

IT SEEMS that you couldn't pick up a paper this year where there wasn't some scandal about players taking drugs. It's something I've never really come across in football and it really sickens me.

It used to be that a good time for footballers meant girls and booze - now it seems it's something entirely different.

But just as some managers like Alex Ferguson and Ron Atkinson clamped down in the past on drinking and partying, gaffers also need to move with the times and declare drugs a no-go area.

Believe me, if we had one or two players banned for life, I believe we'd soon see a stop to this type of nonsense.

LIAM MILLER

A FANTASTIC find for Ireland in 2003. Mark my words, this boy is a real talent and should be around for a long time to come.

I'm not one of those who thinks that every young player should be given a chance to prove themselves at international level. Some lads just aren't up to it and I don't believe in trying them out just for the sake of it.

But Miller is different. He's cool under pressure, inventive when it counts and his left-footed skills will give us a ton of extra options.

No disrespect but Mark Kinsella, Mattie Holland and even Colin Healy are all very similar players. They're grafters who get up and down the pitch, looking to win every ball and giving it everything they've got.

That's great, but I reckon this Miller lad will provide us with an extra bit of flair which we're really lacking at the moment.

I think when he links up with Duffer and Robbie Keane, it's going to be exciting stuff.

IRELAND'S EXIT FROM EURO 2004

A DEFINITE low point. In the end we went out with a whimper, not a bang, and couldn't even make the play-off stages.

The honeymoon period is definitely over for Brian Kerr. He needs to start proving himself now - and fast.

If I could give him any advice it would be to get ruthless. There's dead wood in the current squad which needs to be cut adrift.

He needs to sit down with a few players and say, 'Thanks very much but you're surplus to requirements now'.

It sounds brutal but if he's to cut it at this level, he had better start flexing some muscle.

Loyalty is an admirable quality but sometimes it has no place in football.

THE BATTLE OF OLD TRAFFORD

ARSENAL'S visit to Manchester United was the clash of the season so far. I'm a fan of many sports, but nothing in the world beats the Premiership when you've got two teams like this giving their all.

Unfortunately it will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, given the Arsenal lads' disciplinary blow-out towards the end.

But before that nonsense spoiled the game it was a sublime feast of fast-flowing, exciting football. I can't get enough of games like this.

LIVERPOOL'S DECLINE.

A LOW point. These days the Reds seem content to chase a Champions League slot or a League Cup success. The idea of actually competing for the Championship seems to have gone out the window.

If that's how they measure success now, they no longer resemble the team I used to drool over when I was a boy and a player.

Liverpool need some new ideas badly. If Gerard Houllier can't find them, it may be time to move on.

CAPTION(S):

BREATHTAKING: Thierry Henry; RED ALERT: It's all gone wrong for Gerard Houllier; RISING STAR: Liam Miller is a fantastic find
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Dec 28, 2003
Words:919
Previous Article:Football: BAKKE TO THE FUTURE.
Next Article:Football: ROBBIE IS FINDING IT DUFF.


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