City slickers

Barcelona are in London town for tonight’s Champions League semi-final against Chelsea and urbane coach, Pep Guardiola, impressed all and sundry by conducting his pre-match press conference in three different languages. Chelsea pulled out all the stops for their illustrious guests by holding the conference in the Ron Harris suite. And there are some people who say that this is a club with no history.

Speaking of history, the two clubs have plenty to fall back on having met ten times in the past 12 years. Most of the games have been memorable, not always for the right reasons, so there’s an air of expectancy ahead of the Stamford Bridge reunion.

Judging by the previous encounters, there are a number of things we can predict with a degree of certitude: Barcelona will probably win, Chelsea will feel hard done by and hint at a conspiracy against them, Didier Drogba will lose the plot and pick up a lengthy ban, the referee will receive death threats and Chelsea will once again embark upon the search for a new manager to exorcise the ghost of Jose Mourinho.

Conspiracy, what conspiracy?

Speaking of whom and indeed on the subject of conspiracies involving Barcelona, the ‘Special One’ has alluded to the favourable treatment he is convinced the Catalan outfit enjoy.

“[Pep] Guardiola is an intelligent kid and he knows how he has won so many matches in the various championships. He knows exactly how he has done it,” Mourinho was quoted as saying by Sky Italia.

It’s not the first time the Real Madrid coach has hinted at dark forces at work, but it is the first time he’s mentioned it when being quizzed about a different game altogether – in this case, Tuesday’s Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich.

Obsessed? What do you think?

Have boots, will travel

Madrid’s cause against Bayern was not helped by the theft beforehand of several sets of boots from their dressing room.

“The stealing of Cristiano [Ronaldo]‘s shoes is a shame, it’s impossible something like that could happen at the Bernabeu,” Mourinho added.

Three pairs of boots belonging to Ronaldo were stolen, along with footwear belonging to fellow key players, Karim Benzema and Mesut Ozil. The boots of Fabio Coentrao and Sergio Ramos and were left untouched.

Unsurprisingly, Real have complained to UEFA about the incident; surprisingly, Mourinho hasn’t attributed the theft to a pro-Barcelona conspiracy. Not yet anyway.

Rangers saviour?

The Scotsman has run a glowing profile on Bill Ng, the Singaporean businessman seeking to buy Rangers.They did something similar when Craig Whyte was poised to take over the Glasgow club last year, so one has to assume that such hagiography is the best way of ensuring complete access to the Ibrox corridors of power.

Under the headline: ‘Rangers fans can have faith in Bill Ng’ and where have Rangers supporters heard that before? The newspaper, explains why Ng, is the Messiah – unlike Whyte who was the Messiah, until it became apparent that he was actually just a very naughty boy.

Moreover, Ng claims to be a genuine Rangers fan, having begun supporting the club after their 1972 European Cup Winners Cup win over Dynamo Moscow – allegedly the first match Ng watched. Take that little nugget with as much salt as you can swallow.

So, he’s phenomenally wealthy, a lifelong fan, and is committed to reviving the club’s fortunes. What could possibly go wrong?

Hanging up his boots

Alessandro del Piero has admitted he is at a a loss as to what to do with himself when he leaves Juventus this summer after spending 20 years at the club.

Del Piero is expected to play his last game for Juve in a friendly match in Sydney on 27 May.

“From June 30, I am without a contract,” Del Piero said in an interview with Vanity Fair Italian edition. “I don’t know how to imagine my future, it’s going to be a big change and it scares me a little bit.

“It’s like leaving home for a second time.

“It has been the most difficult campaign of my life. I have been hit with a reality that I had never experienced before, that of not playing or playing very little.”

Del Piero holds the all-time goalscoring record at Juventus and he has also made more appearance for the Turin club than any other player. Perhaps most impressively, from a fan’s perspective, he stayed loyal to the club when they were demoted as a result of their involvement in the calciopoli scandal in 2006. There may have been better players to have worn the famous black and white strip, but there will be few who engender such as respect and affection as Del Piero.

Goal of the day

Championship outfit Cardiff City continued their push for a play-off place with a 2-0 win over Derby County. Their second goal was an outrageous effort from within his own half by Mark Hudson.

Keeping it in the family

Roberto de Assis, the brother of Brazil legend Ronaldinho, has been found guilty of money laundering and sentenced to five years and five months in jail.

He was found guilty of withholding information from the Brazilian Central Bank in relation to financial transfers from overseas to bank accounts between 2003 and 2004.

De Assis, who operates as Ronaldinho’s manager, agent and adviser, will serve his time in a semi-open security facility but retains the right of appeal.

As well as working for his brother, de Assis has a partnership with Milan intended to help the club scout for Brazilian players.

Hard to imagine that a club owned by Silvio Berlusconi would have any dealings with a dubious individual of questionable morality, especially one involved in money laundering. You live and learn.

Big day for Bin Hammam

It’s D-Day for Mohamed Bin Hammam as he begins his final bid to overturn his lifetime FIFA ban for bribery at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne.

Bin Hammam was banned for life by FIFA’s ethics committee in July after being found guilty of paying cash gifts totalling close to $1m to football officials from Caribbean countries during his FIFA presidential campaign last May. After the allegations were made, Bin Hammam pulled out of presidential contest and Sepp Blatter was re-elected unopposed.

The CAS hearing is expected to last for two days with the decision being announced within the next month.

Bin Hammam has already appealed against his ban to FIFA, but that was rejected by the Appeal Committee. Indeed, with CAS having a recent record of upholding FIFA’s verdicts, the portents do not look good at all for the Qatari.

Too big for his boots

Never a shrinking violet in his playing career, and rarely less than forthright since he became a congressman, Brazilian legend, Romario, has declared that not only was he one of the three best footballers to have played the game, but that if the World Cup were held today, Brazil would not make it out of the group stages.

“Messi is a good player, but I’m in the top three: It’s me, Pele and Maradona. I would include (Zinedine) Zidane in that list, too,” said the ever-modest Romario.

As for the national team, Romario claimed that coach Mano Menezes needed more time to create a squad.

“If the World Cup was today, we would be eliminated in the first stage,” he told O Dia. “I would pick the same players as Mano, but it’s not working. One of the motives is lack of time. To prepare a national team you need time to practice.”

Romario, who in his day job as a politician has been an outspoken critic of Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup, said delays in improving the country’s infrastructure is the biggest concern.

“The rich fan who will come to the World Cup will be fine. He will arrive on a private jet, use private cars and will stay at the best hotels,” Romario said. “But the poorer football fans will be left out.”

Twas ever thus.

Finally…

Indonesia coach Aji Santoso has been banned for four games and fined by FIFA for accusing match officials of taking bribes during a 10-0 loss to Bahrain in World Cup qualifying.

The Indonesian Football Association said it accepted the punishments from FIFA but didn’t rule out an appeal.

Santoso was sent to the stands by Lebanese referee Andre Al Haddad in the 75th minute of February’s match after suggesting Al Haddad had been bribed.

Along with the ban, Santoso was fined $6,530.

“I accept the punishment and I regret my behaviour,” Santoso told the Jakarta Globe. “I was just saying to the fourth official ‘Is there money involved in this match?’”

Indonesia had their goalkeeper sent off after two minutes while Bahrain were awarded four penalty kicks in a match which prompted FIFA to launch an investigation.

In that context, you can understand why Santoso had his concerns about the integrity of the match.