United director hits back at fans’ criticism of Glazers

United’s worst Premier League finish in 2013-14 meant they were absent from Europe’s blue-riband club competition this year, giving further ammunition to critics of the Glazer family who bought the club 10 years ago.

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Marking the anniversary of the Glazers’ takeover of England’s biggest club, the Independent Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) this week issued a statement accusing the Americans of “ownership crime” saying they had saddled the club with debt.

However, Arnold said the owners’ “long-term vision” meant the three-times European champions remained strong, on and off the pitch, and were still competing for the world’s top players.

“Yesterday was the 10-year anniversary of the our current owners and that long-term approach they’ve taken, the vision they’ve shown and the decisions they’ve made have borne out on and off the pitch and they’ve been strong,” Arnold said at the Daily Telegraph Business of Sport forum in London.

“(MUST) would have their view. I wouldn’t agree with it.

“It’s a unique position to be in, the way that fans feel about a club and that is at the heart of everything we do.

You can’t take that for granted.”

United are virtually assured a top-four finish in the Premier League, after slipping to seventh last season, meaning a return to the Champions League, albeit probably via a playoff.

Arnold said the real pain of not rubbing shoulders with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich was felt by the players and fans rather than the club’s bean counters.

“Whatever you call the competition, not being at the top table that you can be in is a matter of pride, it’s where the players want to play, it’s what the fans want to see, not being there hurts, it’s a key achievement milestone for us.

“In taking the long-term vision, structuring the business to be profitable and having a diversified income stream, it’s a much smaller number than people expect in how it’s affected our profitability and our ability to compete economically for the best players.

“But the fact we manage our finances to make sure that in the long term we are sustainable and solid doesn’t take away from the fact that not being in it was really painful.

“We have only had a one-year experiment and it’s not our plan to make it a longer one so dear God let’s not try that experiment again!”

United will announce their third quarter earnings on Thursday.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Toby Davis)

Contador takes Giro lead as Porte rises

Race favourite Alberto Contador has taken the Giro d’Italia’s overall leader’s pink jersey from Australian Simon Clarke after a fifth stage win by Slovenian Jan Polanc, while Richie Porte climbed to third overall.

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The race favourites leapt into action on the tour’s first mountain stage, with Slovenian Jan Polanc winning the stage after an engaging concluding climb to Abetone on Wednesday.

Polanc got in an early breakaway and attacked on the final climb – 17 kilometres at an average gradient of 5.4 per cent.

He clocked little more than four hours over the 152-kilometre stage across central Italy, which started in La Spezia.

French veteran Sylvain Chavanel, another breakaway member, finished second, 1min31sec behind, and Italian title hopeful Fabio Aru crossed third with the same time, with Contador and Porte right behind.

In the overall standings, Contador is two seconds ahead of Aru, with Porte 20 seconds behind in third.

Previous leader Clarke dropped far behind to be 18th overall and 2min21sec back.

A two-time Tour de France champion, Contador won the Giro in 2008 and was also triumphant in 2011 but was stripped of that title for testing positive in the 2010 Tour.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Contador said.

“This was just an aperitivo.

“My attack wasn’t planned. I felt good, looked around, and went.

“I’m happy with the situation after five days. I didn’t expect the pink jersey, but to have it is always fantastic. … Although the one that counts is the pink jersey in Milan, so if someone else takes it tomorrow, it won’t be a problem.”

Contador was the first of the overall contenders to attack on the climb and Aru and Porte quickly followed.

Aru won a sprint for third, which carried a four-second bonus.

“I’m happy to be in this battle,” Aru said.

“They’re great champions and being among them is unbelievable.”

Stage six on Thursday is a 183-kilometre leg from Montecatini Terme to Castiglione Della Pescaia featuring flat sections at the start and finish and hills in between.

The 98th Giro ends May 31 in Milan.

Defence best form of attack for Sevilla at Fiorentina

Sevilla thumped the Italian side at the Sanchez Pizjuan last week and are on the brink of a second consecutive appearance in the final of Europe’s second-tier club competition and within touching distance of a record fourth triumph.

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“The attitude will be the same as you have seen throughout the season,” Andujar, who is known as ‘Coke’, told a news conference previewing the clash at the Stadio Comunale Artemio Franchi in the Tuscan capital Florence.

“We know we face a very tough match despite our goal advantage and the best way to protect it is to go for victory and do things the way we know,” he added.

“We know that Fiorentina are a great club, with a lot of people behind them and a great history.

“Considering who they are it’s normal that they believe in a comeback but that’s why we are here.

“We have to work to try to win because we don’t know how to play any other way.”

Fiorentina must pull off a feat that has only been achieved once before if they are to make the showpiece in the Polish capital Warsaw on May 27.

Sevilla’s La Liga rivals Valencia hammered FC Basel 5-0 after extra time in the second leg of their quarter-final last season to become the only team to overturn a 3-0 first-leg deficit in a UEFA Cup/Europa League knockout tie.

If Sevilla clinch the trophy, they would win a record fourth title, eclipsing Inter Milan, Juventus and Liverpool, who all have three.

They won back-to-back UEFA Cups in 2006 and 2007 and beat Benfica on penalties in Turin to secure the renamed trophy last term.

Another triumph would secure them a lucrative berth in the group stage of next season’s Champions League.

Fiorentina’s Serie A rivals Napoli play at Ukrainian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in Thursday’s other semi-final, second leg after last week’s clash in Naples ended 1-1.

(Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Toby Davis)

Storm prepared for Origin departures

State of Origin will start soon, bringing with it only bad news for NRL club Melbourne.

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The Storm’s three most influential players Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk will link up with Queensland next week.

Will Chambers is also expected to represent the Maroons in all three games of the mid-week series, further hurting the Storm’s chances of staying near the top of the ladder.

Origin has coincided with plenty of mid-season Storm slumps in recent years.

Veteran Ryan Hinchcliffe hopes 2015 will be different, pointing to the off-season arrival of Wigan five-eighth Blake Green and Canterbury lock Dale Finucane plus the improvement of many inexperienced teammates.

“Origin doesn’t just take out our senior players, it takes away our key playmakers,” Hinchcliffe told AAP.

“Do that to any side and it’s obviously going to have a huge effect, but you just deal with it.

“With the new players we’ve got this year, hopefully we’re in a bit better position to handle it compared to previous years.

“Our squad is a fair bit stronger now compared to last year … we’ll have a bit more experience in the side.”

Hinchcliffe and Finucane both represented Country in the recent representative match in Wagga Wagga.

Injury or suspension could pave the way for either forward to make their Origin debuts this year.

“I loved playing for Country and I’d absolutely love to play for NSW, but it’s not something I spend much time thinking about,” said Hinchcliffe, who has been consistent performer for the Storm since 2009.

Finucane, who is 23 and enjoying a breakthrough season under the tutelage of Craig Bellamy, felt he had a “lot more development to do” before contemplating an Origin call-up.

Saturday’s clash with South Sydney at AAMI Park is Melbourne’s last chance to post a win before the `Big Three’ of Smith, Slater and Cronk head north for Origin.

Hinchcliffe noted his team weren’t looking any further ahead than the Rabbitohs, but noted “early wins are important for every club”.

“It’s really important for our club, because of the load that comes with Origin,” he said.

“South Sydney have got class right across the paddock and it’ll be a great chance to test ourselves against one of the best sides in the competition.”

Warriors work on Hurrell’s running style

Blockbusting Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell will be working on changing an ingrained habit as he serves a three-match NRL ban.

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His suspension for dangerous contact follows an incident in the Warriors’ 20-16 win over Cronulla in Sydney last Saturday which shattered opposition backrower Anthony Tupou’s jaw, an injury which is expected to sideline him for 10 weeks.

Tupou suffered the injury while trying to make a side-on tackle on a charging Hurrell, who had raised his left knee.

Coach Andrew McFadden says Hurrell’s running style is something the club have been working on.

“It’s a difficult one,” he said.

“Konrad has been running like that for a long time.

“From time to time he does lift his knee – he’s a driving player – so it’s something we’re going to have to work on, and we have been working on.”

However, McFadden felt that the Tupou incident was an accident and said there was no intent to cause injury.

He said the Warriors thought long and hard about contesting the charge, which was rated grade three on the NRL’s five-step system, but concluded that it would be difficult to get it reduced given the focus on blows to the head.

With the club having a bye next week, Hurrell is effectively out for a month.

The 23-year-old Tongan international won’t be available again until the Sydney Roosters visit Mt Smart Stadium on June 13.

McFadden said Hurrell was disappointed but philosophical over his ban.

“He started to play some really good football on the weekend,” McFadden said.

“He wants to be there every week but he realises that this is the nature of the game at the moment. There’s a lot of scrutiny over head injuries.”