Early Doors

Michael Owen’s moustache

It has been a busy week in football, but this is the image that will live longest in Early Doors's memory.

Michael Owen, in the Sky Sports studio, attempting to have his views on the Champions League taken seriously.

In one sense, it's quite impressive - in ED's mind, Owen remains a callow youngster incapable of growing proper facial hair.

Mind you, last night's effort did look enough like stuck-on iron filings to keep the conspiracy theorists going.

Best of all, imagine how good this picture is going to look in 20 years' time when nobody can even remember what Movember was?

And if you'd like to donate money to any of the very worthy Movember charities, you can do so here.

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On to less important matters, and Manchester City's exit from the Champions League.

It was a good night to bury bad news for City - Rafa Benitez's appointment to the Chelsea job dominates the back pages - and there's more on that here.

In any case, City's European travails are a bit old hat. They were already on life support; Real Madrid just yanked the socket out of the wall.

But their abject failure in the Champions League - going out in the group stage twice in a row - remains a mystery.

Mancini said last night: "If we think we can win the Champions League after only two years we are crazy. We need to improve as a team, we did some mistakes. We are a good team. I don't have fear for this."

ED simply doesn't buy the idea that City need time to get to grips with the Champions League.

Ask fellow arrivistes Malaga and Paris Saint-Germain how they are finding this brave new world. You might like to do it at the draw for the last 16, for which both clubs have already qualified.

The only other time ED has heard the concept of learning to play Champions League football put about so consistently was nearly 20 years ago during Manchester United's early, faltering steps.

Among the lessons learned - if you put Steve Bruce up against Stoichkov and Romario, you've got problems.

At that point, it was obvious that English sides lacked a certain something against the very best - but how far behind can the Premier League champions really be when there has been at least one English team in seven of the last eight finals?

Look, ED is not saying City should be crushing everyone underfoot, and it realises that this was an absolute disaster of a draw for City. Dortmund and Real Madrid look suspiciously like two of the five best teams in Europe, while Ajax are pretty spunky also rans.

If City had been competitive, traded blows with the big teams and come up just short (like Chelsea seem destined to), you might chalk that one down to experience.

But this wasn't that. This was a succession of total meltdowns.

City have three points from five games - it's abysmal. And it actually flatters them.

Three times they trailed at home to opponents playing far, far better football. Three times they got out of jail - last night, incidentally, while still wholly inadequate, was easily their best home performance of the competition.

But for late equalisers against Ajax and Dortmund, and an iffy penalty yesterday, they could conceivably be exiting the competition with no points. None.

Instead, they could just sneak in to the Europa League as Dortmund have already won the group, so are free to field the reserves when City visit.

City have looked absolutely witless in all five of their games. Technically, tactically and mentally they have been exposed in every single match - especially against Ajax, a team with no points from any of their other games, including a pair of 4-1 home defeats.

What Early Doors is really saying is that if you could sack one Italian manager from a top English side this week, it might not be Roberto Di Matteo.

QUOTES OF THE DAY: Chelsea: "Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season. The owner and the Board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives."

Trizia Fiorellino, Chelsea Supporters Group chair, speaking to the BBC: "Benitez will just not be accepted by Chelsea supporters. I don't think Benitez is a good manager, he's been out of work for two years now - if he was any good why hasn't any other club snapped him up? Benitez has a propensity for zonal marking, which doesn't work in the Premier League. He is the wrong choice for Chelsea and the fans do not want him."

David Johnstone, spokesman for fanzine cfcuk: "Rafa Benitez is not a Chelsea manager. Some people are born to play for or manage certain clubs and for us, Benitez isn't what we want. When he was Liverpool manager and Jose Mourinho was Chelsea boss there was a bit of 'beef' between them. He was very dismissive of Chelsea, very rude towards us and my impression of him was, whenever anything went wrong, it was always somebody else's fault - not his."

Best of luck, Rafa.

For what it's worth, and that is very little, Early Doors met Benitez last year and found him to be a thoroughly decent chap - far more animated and cheerful than his dour public persona suggests. ED remembers Benitez was absolutely enthralled by the nine-year-old 'Japanese Messi' who was big on YouTube at the time. (It's true that the kid never passes, but that hasn't stopped Daniel Sturridge building a decent career.)

FOREIGN VIEW: Former England international Brian Deane has been appointed manager of recently-promoted Norwegian top-flight side Sarpsborg 08.

The 44-year-old, who scored the first goal in the Premier League for Sheffield United against Manchester United in 1992, joins the club from the University of Leeds where he had been director of football.

"Deane said he is grateful to have this opportunity in Sarpsborg 08 and is looking forward to taking on the job," the club said in a statement.

"He is very keen to preserve the values of the club."

COMING UP: Jan Molby gives his two cents on Rafa Benitez's appointment - then we've got Europa League fun, with live scoring of every game, and minute-by-minute comments on Lazio v Tottenham (18:00), Liverpool v Young Boys (20:05), Newcastle United v Maritimo (20:05).