Better late than never

FIFA is looking to approve tougher sanctions for racist abuse at its forthcoming annual congress.

FIFA says President Sepp Blatter convened a meeting of its Strategic Committee, which included UEFA President Michel Platini, and discussed measures to combat racism and match-fixing.

Blatter has previously said point deductions and relegation punishments could help curb discrimination at matches.

Blatter says he’s ”very pleased with the ideas that have evolved” and will present them at a March 20-21 meeting of his executive committee. The FIFA Congress will meet May 31.

Blatter says ”the aim is to present to the FIFA Congress in Mauritius concrete actions, as well as strong sanctions, which will really have an impact.”

UEFA’s appeals panel is considering tougher punishments for Serbia and England after their under-21 match.

FIFA reiterated that its position was clearly described in article 3 of the FIFA Statutes: “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”

It was just over a year that Blatter made one of his best-known gaffes when he suggested that racism on the pitch should be settled by a handshake. From that low point, it is encouraging to see how quickly official attitudes have changed. Perhaps there is hope after all.

Second opinion

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has revealed that the club intend to seek “clarification” from UEFA about the refereeing during Tuesday’s Champions League defeat to Juventus.

“We will compile a DVD, send it to UEFA and see what kind of answers we get,” he told reporters.

It’s unclear what kind of answers Lennon would like from UEFA. The match referee, Alberto Undiano Mallenco, hardly covered himself in glory on the night, but to perpetuate this sense of grievance just smacks of sour grapes.

“You don’t see our players doing that,” continued Lennon. “There were pictures of the shirt coming off Gary Hooper’s back; credit to him for keeping his cool.

“It’s a myth that Juventus ‘did their homework’. That’s rubbish. Juventus defend like that week-in, week-out in Serie A. If anything, we had done our homework and we made sure the referee was aware of it and he was looking at it time and again and Juventus went unpunished.”

Celtic have rightly taken the plaudits on their European adventures this season, but it’s amazing how quickly such good work can be undone. As the saying goes, it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.

Goal of the day

Some incredible goals in last night’s Europa League ties, none more so than at White Hart Lane, where Samuel Umtiti produced a stunning half volley in Lyon’s 2-1 defeat to Tottenham.

Quote of the day

“We’re very disappointed to have lost the game. After that opening spell, when they had too much space, I thought it was a near-on perfect away performance.” 

Leaving aside the fact that his side didn’t score and conceded two goals, Liverpool’s 2-0 defeat  Zenit St Petersburg was, according to their manager Brendan Rodgers, almost a perfect performance. We look forward to Liverpool’s 1-0 annihilation of Swansea on Sunday with relish.

Blood money

FIFA will introduce biological profiling and blood tests at both the 2014 World Cup and this year’s Confederations Cup as part of a renewed effort to combat doping in the sport.

President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), John Fahey, claimed earlier this week that the game was not doing enough to test for the blood-boosting agent EPO, a commonly-used doping agent in sport.

After meeting with FIFA president Sepp Blatter earlier this week to discuss the problem, Fahey revealed the commitment made by the sport’s governing body, and praised its willingness to take action against the problem.

“We are very interested in continuing the work on biological profiles,” Fahey told reporters. “WADA is very satisfied with the commitment of FIFA on the biological profiles, which will be run not only at the World Cup in 2014 but already at the Confederations Cup in June this year.

“There is always more which can be done in the fight against doping, but we know FIFA has always been serious in this domain. We think the leagues can complement what FIFA is already doing, but we came here to thank FIFA for its collaboration.”

FIFA medical committee chairman Michael D’Hooge confirmed the level of testing that will take place, stating: “In 2014, the year of the FIFA World Cup, we will be spending $2.5 million in the fight against doping. FIFA was the first international organization for team sport to start with longitudinal profiles.

The announcement comes a week after Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger called for football to introduce blood testing to ensure thorough scrutiny of players.

“We have been testing this at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2011 and 2012, we will continue at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 with blood testing unannounced at training camps and games.”

“It is very difficult for me to believe that you have 740 players in the World Cup and you come out with zero problems,” he said. “We could go much deeper into control and we have to try to find out and see how deep we can go into control.

“When you have a doping control at UEFA, they do not take blood, they take only urine. I have asked many times for this to be looked at. Sometimes you have to wait for two hours after the game, so blood could be a lot quicker.

“I would support it (blood testing). UEFA is ready to do it, but it poses some ethical problems because everyone has to accept that they will check the blood and not everybody is ready to do that.”

Sack race

Roberto Mancini has laughed off suggestions that defeat by Leeds United in the FA Cup could cost him his job, saying 20 other Premier League managers would also have to go if Manchester City’s owners fired him.

A 3-1 defeat at lowly Southampton last weekend left champions City 12 points behind Manchester United and the FA Cup is now the only trophy they can realistically still win.

“All the people who talk about this don’t understand football,” Mancini.

“If Manchester City should sack me, the other 20 teams in the Premier League should be without a manager.”

Mancini led City to their first English title since 1968 last season, and Mancini even suggested that defending their Premier League title was not beyond them.

“We started our project three years ago,” he said.

“In three years we are always on the top – we fight for the title, we have won three trophies, we have the chance to win more this year.

“I always think we can do everything. We have 12 games, we need to do our best and not look at the table.”

Something their supporters have been doing for months.

Wishful thinking

Igli Tare, sporting director for Lazio, has spoken of his belief that Serie A as the best league in Europe.

The 39-year-old former Albanian striker believes his Rome side is a force to be reckoned with in Italy. Lazio sit third in the Serie A table, eleven points behind league leaders Juventus and six points behind Napoli.

“We have been getting some success in recent seasons,” he told Kicker. “In the League we have been improving year-on-year.

“I can only see Lazio getting better from here. I can also assure you that watching matches from all over Europe, the Italian championship is still the best.”

There’s precious little evidence to support this assertion, but for the general health of European football, it would be nice if it were true.

Worst ever!

Serbian striker Nikola Zigic has been left out of Birmingham City’s matchday squad for Saturday’s Championship clash at home to Watford after his manager, Lee Clark, accused him of turning in “the worst training session … I have ever come across”.

Zigic, who is reported to earn £50,000 a week, despite the club’s relegation from the Premier League in 2011, was the subject of a withering critique.

Clark said: “I witnessed possibly the worst training session in terms of a professional footballer I have ever come across on Thursday. We did our preparation work for Watford and he [Zigic] was in the team. And I was disgusted when I walked off.

“I need to tell the fans before the game because obviously the social media network will go into overload because of this. I know he’s quite popular. But ultimately he’s a very well-paid guy and you’ve got to earn that. And what he dished up yesterday was, since I’ve left school at 16 and been a professional footballer – not technically or tactically – the worst I have ever seen.

“And this is not the first time. This has been coming. Now, whether he has been angry he hasn’t been starting enough games over the previous weeks, that could be a point, it could be valid. But does that mean you just basically down tools, don’t try?

“I think the fans deserve more than that, the football club deserves more than that. I am an honest man and I need to be honest with everyone. And there will be people who disagree and say this is a crazy thing. But what am I meant to do? Am I meant to accept that, just let people do that? All the other players see that. Or am I within my rights as a manager?

“Whatever happens tomorrow, I can sleep soundly in my bed because I know I have made the right decision, in how Lee Clark goes about the football work and his business.”

He was going so well until he slipped into ileism.

Tough act to follow

Former Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has warned Pep Guardiola that the expectations placed upon him will be huge when he takes charge at the Allianz Arena.

But with Heynckes performing admirably – Bayern Munich are 15 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga and through to the Champions League Round of 16 – just winning will not be enough for Guardiola, Hitzfeld feels.

“There is a lot of hype from appointing Guardiola”, Hitzfeld told Bild.

 “The fans don’t just expect trophies from him, but also dream football.

“When Jupp Heynckes wins the Treble with Bayern, it will become difficult for Guardiola, since the expectations will become even higher.”

Talk about the expectations placed upon Guardiola, what about those placed on Heynckes.

Men behaving badly

The Strongest and Arsenal de Sarandi were determined to live up to stereotypes about hot-headed latin types when they met in the Libertadores Cup on Thursday.

Seven minutes after coming on as a substitute it was all a bit too much for Emilio Zelaya.

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