Ballpark figures

John Henry insists owning Liverpool is not affecting his ownership of MLS baseball side Boston Red Sox.

But he admits there are concerns in the United States over Fenway Sports Group’s involvement at Anfield. They should hear what they’re saying on the other side of the pond about the group’s involvement with the baseball outfit.

Henry has not been in England since the FA Cup final last May, so can hardly be considered a hands-on owner, but he remains the public face of the ownership group and as such, the whipping boy when things go wrong.

“I think it’s affected perceptions,” he said. “I mean, everything affects you. But the things that have been said, repeated over and over again, are fairly ludicrous.

“The last time I was in Liverpool I think was in May of last year. I don’t know where this fraction comes from.

“You can say every major league owner is distracted if you want to try and make a case for it because they all have other businesses, other endeavours. I think they all do. The major thing is the perception.”

I think the major thing for both sporting franchises is results. Perhaps, in age of footballing philosophies, such an observation makes one a philistine.

Henry admitted that some of the Red Sox’s partners have voiced their worries with the team having underperformed of late.

“I would say some of them are not okay because they read the same stuff that you write and probably some of them think we are distracted,” he added.

“But we aren’t. Last year’s losses on the field weren’t the result of Liverpool.

“I would say all three of us are intimately involved every day with everything that goes on at Fenway Sports Group. But every day is different. You have different issues that come up just about every day.”

Due to the gratitude felt towards Fenway Sports Group’s for their part in the removal of the previous owners, Henry et al have been given a relatively easy ride from Liverpool supporters thus far. Providing Brendan Rodgers with £50 million to fritter away on unproven, lightweight midfielders may not be wise from a footballing perspective, but it demonstrates a financial commitment their predecessors lacked. However, the problem with this type of remote, hands-off ownership is that it places huge faith in a relatively untested manager.

Speaking of whom, the Huffington Post has noted the similarities between the Rodgers, and The Office’s, David Brent. See if you can tell them apart.

Losing their mind

Anzhi Makhachkala director German Tkachenko says QPR have “lost their minds” with their big-money move for Christopher Samba.

Samba signed for the Premier League bottom club side for £12.5 million, with boss Harry Redknapp claiming the 28-year-old took a significant wage cut to complete the move.

However, Tkachenko says QPR are paying Samba a similar wage to what he was receiving in Russia, and revealed he was upset when he had to leave Russia.

“At QPR he will earn almost as much as he did at Anzhi,” he told sports.ru. “In my view QPR have lost their minds.

”Everybody says that he ran away from the club, but that’s not true. He didn’t put any pressure on the club until we received an offer from QPR for £12.5m, the amount required by his contract.

“When they agreed to pay his release fee we wept. He wept.”

Whether they were tears of joy or unhappiness remain unclear.

Tkachenko says Samba’s move back to England was based solely on is desire to see more of his family, who had remained in England while he lived the Dagestan dream.

He continued: “[The move] was linked to the threat that he would lose contact with his children. That was a big blow.

“He was a guy who loved all of us. And besides, he is a very good defender. I think he is one of the top five defenders currently playing in Europe.

“If we are successful and playing in the Champions League, I dream that Samba will become an Anzhi player again.”

Given that at QPR Samba has more chance of playing in the Championship than the Champions League, that dream may soon be realised.

Pot, kettle, black

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has hit out at UEFA over what he claims are attempts to block his reform process for world football’s governing body.

Oh the irony of it all.

UEFA recently declared itself opposed to several key proposals from FIFA’s reform working party, the Independent Governance Committee (IGC), and rejected a proposal to limit FIFA’s executive committee members to two four-year mandates.

“The reform process is on the way to conclusion,” Blatter told Reuters. “Two parts have been implemented by Congress: the establishment of an independent ethic committee, and the fact Congress, and not the executive committee, will choose future World Cup hosts. Now, there are 10 or 11 other points that have to be dealt with by the next FIFA Congress. So, I’m surprised by the reaction of UEFA, because the executive committee told the confederations they should consult with their national associations about the reforms and what they think about the last part of the amendments to the statutes.”

Blatter is also unhappy that UEFA seems to be taking a stand against checks over the suitability of candidates standing for election to the FIFA executive committee.

He added: “What is important to me is that all members of FIFA shall have a scrutiny check, because everyone working somewhere has one. All the referees and linesmen on the FIFA list have to have one and sign a document, which is recognised by their national association. So if it is good enough for FIFA referees, why should it not be the same for the FIFA executive committee and all the members of FIFA? Why is UEFA now against this? I don’t understand it.”

How Blatter must have loved this moment. It is like Robert Mugabe discovering that there are worse regimes than his and it falls to him to complain about the slow pace of democratic reform in Africa.

Same old story

Inter have been fined 15,000 euros by the Lega Serie A after racist chants were directed at Milan striker Mario Balotelli during a league match against Chievo. Balotelli wasn’t playing at the time, but this being Italy, they’re not going to let that minor detail get in the way of a bit of racial abuse.

Former Inter striker Balotelli found himself the target of a section of Nerazzurri fans who sang racist chants during Sunday night’s game.

Inter president Massimo Moratti was quick to condemn the behaviour and Lega authorities duly decided to punish the San Siro outfit, with Juventus and Napoli also receiving fines for the actions of several supporters.

Moratti exppressed his hope there would not be a repeat during the Milan derby on February 24.

“I was told about it because I couldn’t make out clearly what they were saying. I’m very sorry about that,” Moratti told inter.it.

“I’m very sorry and I really hope it doesn’t happen during the derby.”

A statement published on cdn.legaseriea.it read: “A fine of 15,000 has been issued to Inter Milan for having supporters who, in the 41st minute of the first half and the 42nd minute of the second half, directed expressions of racial discrimination to the player of another club.”

The Lega also confirmed issuing a fine of 15,000 euros to league leaders Juventus, whose fans were heard singing territorial songs about the fans of fierce rivals Napoli during a 2-0 victory over Fiorentina on Saturday night.

Napoli, meanwhile, were issued with a 15,000 euro fine after their supporters were adjudged to have shone a laser pen at referee Daniele Orsato during a 1-1 draw with Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico.

It’s like a footballing renaissance in Serie A these days.

Quote of the day

“Football is in a disastrous state. … Fixing of matches for criminal gambling fraud purposes is absolutely endemic worldwide … arrogantly happening daily”

Chris Eaton, director of sport integrity at the International Centre for Sport Security, paints a gloomy picture of the current state of the game as part of Associated Press’ wide-ranging study of match-fixing.

Paying the price

The former assistant coach of South Africa’s national team has been sentenced to three years in prison for trying to fix a match.

Phil Setshedi was found guilty of trying to bribe a man he thought was a referee with $220 to influence the outcome of a league promotion playoff in 2011. The man posing as the referee was an undercover police officer.

South Africa’s National Prosecuting Agency (NPA) says Setshedi received three years in prison with another five years suspended. He was found guilty of corruption in December.

The NPA says it is South Africa’s first conviction and sentencing for match-fixing.

At least one game involving South Africa’s national team in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup is also under suspicion for match-fixing.

Word of the day

Lionel Messi has received the ultimate accolade by making it into the Spanish language. The Barcelona forward’s Messi’s name has been added to the dictionary.

The latest edition of the Santillana dictionary includes a new word ‘inmessionante’. It is an adjective which is defined as:

1.) The perfect way to play football, an unlimited ability to self-improve.

2.) Describes the best player of all time.

However, Messi is not the first player to have his name immortalised in a language. His former Barcelona teammate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, now at French PSG, was included in a Swedish dictionary last year as a new verb ‘zlatanera’ meaning ‘to dominate’.

There must be scope for many such words: to Ronaldo – pouting when things don’t go your way; to Torres – suffering a seemingly terminal drop in form; to Neymar – to flatter to deceive.

Wishful thinking

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you…you’ll be a man, my son! Or you might well be Rafa Benitez.

The interim Chelsea boss remains confident the current squad is strong enough to win trophies over the coming years – given the amount of money spent assembling it, one would certainly hope so – but more pertinently, he is convinced he is the man to guide the team to glory.

A minority of Blues supporters voiced their displeasure when he was appointed to replace Roberto Di Matteo last season, but Benitez, to his credit, has managed to unite the fans in his brief spell at the club: now they all want him to leave. Nevertheless, the mule-like Benitez, believes he is the right man for the job.

“I think this group of players has great, great potential,” he told the Daily Mirror. “That is more clear now in my head than it was when I arrived. Their possibility to grow is even bigger than I suspected. The average age of the squad is fine. The potential is there and the group of players is keen to learn. They are very good professionals and they are working hard and they are keen to learn and for me that is a big advantage.

“Some of them need more confidence and some more experience in the Premier League. They can compete now but they can be even better. The reality is that we are a team in transition. The priority is to finish in the top four or top three. After that, we have two more trophies that we can try with the FA Cup and the Europa League.

“My ambition to win trophies is stronger than ever. People may think ‘he has won a lot of trophies and maybe he is not thinking about winning any more’. But it is the opposite. Because you have won and won in three countries, you want to show that you can carry on winning trophies.”

Benitez is always at pains to point out that his short-lived reign at Inter was not a failure. Yes, there were trophies: the one-off match to win the Italian Super Cup and the tw0-matches required to win the Club World Cup may not linger long in the memory, but they did take place. Of course, he was fired shortly afterwards, when his call for the Inter president to add more players to the treble-winning squad, fell on deaf ears.

Stoking the fires

Marca has branded Wayne Rooney a “hooligan” ahead of tomorrow night’s Champions League clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid.

The front page is dedicated to the man they describe as “a freckled demon” and talks of “The Bad Boy — and his 5,000 ‘friends’”.

Inside, journalist Hugo Cerezo, or someone who has hacked into his account, continues with the rather forlorn attempt at humour.

He writes: “Wayne Rooney is a football player and hooligan all rolled into one.

“To look at him, you’d think he was one of the 4,000 British fans on the terraces… yelling and drinking beer and jumping the queue to get in through Gate D.

“But Rooney will run out on to the turf at the Bernabeu and face players who have bones to pick with him.

“Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho, Iker Casillas and Cristiano Ronaldo may well relive their encounters with the English bad boy.”

I’d like to say that most of this has been lost in translation, but sadly, this appears not to be the case.

Staying put

A-League side Sydney FC have dismissed reports that Alessandro Del Piero could move to Brazilian club Flamengo, saying talks to extend his stay in Australia are under way.

It appears Del Piero’s brother and agent, Stefano Del Piero, is in talks with Flamengo board member Zico about a two-year deal with the Brazilian team.

But Tony Pignata, the Australian club’s chief executive officer, told the Daily Telegraph: “Stefano told me yesterday he hadn’t been to Rio, and has told me Alessandro is only in talks with us.

“He said it’s pure speculation [about Flamengo], and he’s coming here within the next week, at which point I expect us to wrap everything up.

“We want him to stay, and he wants to stay. It’s only a few marketing issues we have to resolve.”

 

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