History makers

AEK Athens are set to be relegated from the Greek top flight for the first time in their 89-year history after a points deduction issued for crowd violence left them stranded in the drop zone with one match remaining.

The Super League’s disciplinary committee handed out the punishment on Friday after AEK’s match against fellow strugglers Panthrakikos at the Olympic Stadium last weekend was abandoned due to a pitch invasion by home fans.

The league said the match would be recorded as a 3-0 deducted for AEK, deducted three points from this season’s tally and two from the next campaign, and hit the club with fines totalling €4,000. A genuine triple whammy.

The points loss leaves AEK five points from safety ahead of their final match against Atromitos on Sunday and assuming their appeal against the deduction fails, one of Greece’s big three will drop out of the top flight for the first time in their history.

In a statement published on the league’s official website, the disciplinary committee said it accepted referee Stavros Tritsonis’ match report which stated the match was abandoned due to the “unusually catastrophic state of the pitch and surrounding area”.

The league added that it found the club responsible because AEK had “failed to take appropriate measures for the safe conduct of the match and for the overall maintenance of order”.

AEK called the decision a “pre-meditated crime by a corrupt system” and confirmed they would appeal.

“Today the disciplinary body of the Super League has decided to deprive us on paper of the right to fight for our salvation,” AEK said.

“The corrupt system has found AEK guilty… This represents a pre-meditated crime with the perpetrators in principle Tritsonis and the disciplinary committee… and other instigators of a septic system.”

The statement concluded: “AEK never gives up, however, because we have learned to play through on the pitch until the end. Starting on Sunday in Peristeri (against Atromitos) and then next week at the Court of Appeal where we believe we will be finally vindicated.”

Unfortunately for AEK, a precedent was set last year when their Athenian rivals, Panathinaikos, received a similar points deduction punishment after a derby match against Olympiakos was abandoned following a pitch invasion.

Eye of the Huracan

Huracan fans, some brandishing weapons, broke into the dressing rooms of the Argentine second division club and stole players’ money and clothes on Thursday.

The incident occurred a day after the team were knocked out of the Copa Argentina by first division side Godoy Cruz.

“After (Thursday’s) practice, when we were in the dressing rooms having showers, the barras bravas (hooligans) came into the club with their faces covered and sticks and intimidated us all,” coach Jose Maria Llop said.

“They hit some of the lads,” he told reporters.

“When we left, the physical trainer’s car and some others had been scratched and the tyres burst. There were eight other cars in that state. They also took money from players,” he said.

“There were 150 barras who came into the stadium, broke cars and threatened players,” club president Alejandro Nadur said.

Setting an example?

A brawl caused by Gremio coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo apparently mocking his Chilean opponents, Huachipato, marred the final round of group matches in the Libertadores Cup.

Gremio drew 1-1 away to the Chilean champions to progress from Group Eight with fellow Brazilian side Fluminense, 1-0 winners at home to Caracas FC.

Brazilian champions Flu finished top of the group with 11 points, three more than Gremio and Huachipato, who were eliminated by virtue of an inferior goal difference.

TV replays showed former Real Madrid and Brazil coach Luxemburgo laughing at Huachipato coach, Jorge Pellicier, who appears incensed and pursues his opposite number towards the tunnel. As Luxemburgo falls over he is attacked by Huachipato players.

This was followed by chaos on the edge of the pitch and at the entrance to the tunnel as players, coaching staff and encroaching Huachipato fans became embroiled in a brawl.

“I didn’t say anything or provoke (anyone). I saw they were looking to fight so I ran off,” Luxemburgo told reporters afterwards.

Pellicier, however, disagreed, claiming that Luxemburgo had made fun of the Chilean side’s exit from the competition.

“He tried to make fun of us… That’s unsporting conduct,” he said. “He said we should go on holiday, making a gesture with his hand.”

Managing by committee

A camel is a horse designed by committee, goes the maxim. It highlights the compromises and possible flaws which may occur when all competing voice insist on being heard.

Oddly, it appears to have been the method alighted upon by Liverpool as a means of avoiding the expensive transfer pitfalls of recent years. Liverpool’s managing director, Ian Ayre, has confirmed that all the club’s future transfers will be decided by committee rather than manager Brendan Rodgers being allowed full control.

Since Rodgers joined the club, Dave Fallows has joined as head of recruitment and Barry Hunter as chief scout from Manchester City, while head of analysis Michael Edwards has become a key figure in assessing potential transfer targets.

Ayre said he, Rodgers, Edwards and Fallows effectively created the director of football model between them.

“We have a head of analysis, a head of recruitment, a first-team manager, myself,” Ayre said. “All of those people are all inputting into a process that delivers what a director of football would deliver.

“What we believe, and we continue to follow, is you need many people involved in the process. That doesn’t mean somebody else is picking the team for Brendan but Brendan needs to set out with his team of people which positions we want to fill and what the key targets would be for that.

“He has a team of people that go out and do an inordinate amount of analysis work to establish who are the best players in that position.

“Despite what people think and read, it’s not a whole bunch of guys sitting behind a computer working out who we should buy. It’s a combination of old-school scouting and watching players – and that’s Brendan, his assistants, our scouts – with statistical analysis of players across Europe and the rest of the world.

“By bringing those two processes together you get a much more educated view of who you should and shouldn’t be buying and, perhaps as fundamentally, how much you should be paying and the structure to those contracts.”

Suffice to say, the days of Liverpool spending £35 million on a relatively untested player like Andy Carroll, are long gone. Instead, all that statistical analysis, collaborative input, old and new school scouting, will be focused on unearthing more bargains like the £10.5million Fabio Borini.

Goal of the day

Known as the Greek Messi, Olympiakos’ Giannis Fetfatzidis conjured up a goal the world’s best player would be proud of when he dribbled past 6 Panthrakikos players (a couple of them twice) before slotting home.

Quote of the day

“I never took Manchester United seriously and never understood a word about what Alex Ferguson was saying. Ferguson asked me to cut my hair. I did it, but in the next day I’ve passed around him many times and he didn’t recognize me.”

Bebe (remember him?) lifts the lid on his relationship with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Cartoon figure

Brazil striker Neymar has been turned into a comic book character in Brazil, joining other iconic names who have become a reading option to children across the country.

Cynics might argue that the much-hyped 21-year-old already was one.

The Santos forward announced the ”Neymar Jr.” comic book in a partnership with Brazilian cartoonist Mauricio de Sousa.

Neymar will be portrayed as a child with his own football-playing friends and his well-known Mohawk hair style. The first issue is called ”A boy with talent.”

Other Brazilian players who have become children’s comic book characters include Pele, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo.

Neymar described what an honour it was to be immortalised by the cartoons of Sousa, who’s iconic “Monica’s Gang” just celebrated its fiftieth year.

“Everybody knows about the importance of stories in (Mauricio de Sousa’s) comics since Cebolinha, Monica, and other characters,” he said. “I am getting to be a part of the group of soccer stars, together with Ronaldinho and Pelé. I really want to give thanks to Mauricio for helping me to realize one more dream.”

Forgotten man

With speculation about Neymar’s future rife amid reports that he has agreed to join Barcelona, along comes a timely reminder that the smooth transition from local legend to global superstar is not always guaranteed.

Brazil, though an improving league, remains a relatively small pond which has a habit of exaggerating the merits of its bigger fish. One such fish was Robinho who, not so long ago, like Neymar, graduated from Santos, and set sail to Europe with much fanfare at the age of 21. It may seem unduly harsh to criticise a player who has won 90 caps for Brazil, not to mention multiple domestic titles, but Robinho remains a player who decorates rather than dominates games and whose impact since he arrived in Europe 8 years ago, has been singularly underwhelming.

Anyway, as to whether Neymar’s experience mirrors that of Robinho we shall have to wait and see. For the time being, the elder of the two, now with Milan after spells with Real Madrid, Manchester City and even a brief loan spell back at Santos, is looking to extend his stay at the San Siro.

“I want to finish the season on a positive note, play well next season and then it will be time to renew,” Robinho told Gazzetta Dello Sport.

“I can assure you that these won’t be my last six games in an Milan shirt.”

The 29-year-old’s contract runs out in 2014 and although he appeared to want to leave in January, back to the sanctuary of Santos of all places, he now says he is happy in Italy and wants to stay at Milan for many more years.

“I said when I arrived that I would like to stay here for 10 years, well there are still seven years to go,” Robinho added.

Which will come as a blow to all those clubs who are not beating a path to his door at the moment.

Out of the mouths of mothers

Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani could be set to leave Napoli, after his mother blurted out his desire to quit in am interview with a national radio station.

Speculation about the 26-year-old’s future has gone into overdrive after Cavani’s mother, Berta Gomez, revealed he is looking to leave the Serie A club.

“He has told me he wants to go elsewhere and to leave Napoli,” Gomez told Uruguayan station Radio Salto.

“Edi doesn’t know what will happen yet. Naples is a city that lives for football. The affection of the people is marvellous and I have always told my son, ‘You can go anywhere, but nobody will love you like they do at Napoli.’”

Not any more they won’t Mrs Cavani, not any more.

Finally…

Jose Mourinho was on good form as he looked ahead to the closing weeks of the season in his weekly Friday press briefing.

The Real Madrid boss denied reports that he was quitting Real Madrid, while chiding Jurgen Klopp, the voluble coach of Borussia Dortmund, opponents in next week’s Champions League semi-final clash.

The Portuguese was asked about a claim made by a local junior club president that he was leaving Real Madrid, but Mourinho suggested that  Manuel Alvarez, president of Canillas, spoke because he enjoyed being in the limelight.

Mourinho told reporters that Canillas, where Mourinho’s own son plays, had a place in his heart, but that Alvarez had spoken out of turn.

“Canillas is almost like a second home for me and for my son,” Mourinho said. “But it has a problem – a president who loves the media. He is a fantastic person, in the way he treats me and my son, but he has this little problem. The problem is not mine.”

Mourinho reiterated that he would sit down for a “friendly chat” about his future with Madrid president Florentino Perez once this season was over.

“I cannot say yet if I will be here next season,” he said. “My relationship with the president, and Jose Angel [Sanchez, Madrid's general director], with everyone at the club is very good. That means we can sit down and analyse things calmly. To decide what is the best for Madrid, for me, for the president. Usually there are problems between clubs and coaches, but in this case there are none.”

He also rejected the suggestion that he was discontented at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“I am not unhappy at Real Madrid,” he said. “I could like something more or less, but that happens everywhere. There is no such thing as the perfect club, or the perfect coach. The fundamental thing is to try and end the season well. We are two games from the [Champions League] final at Wembley. Then, when the pressure of the games has passed, we will sit down and arrive at a conclusion.”

Mourinho also suggested that the Borussia Dortmund boss, Jurgen Klopp, was another who had talked too much to the press.

“Since the draw was made, he has spoken every day,” the Portuguese said. “I have been silent. On Tuesday we will talk about that game. We have spent these two weeks preparing for it.”

One looks forward to some lively exchanges when the two coaches come fact-to-face next week. Not least, because Klopp is the man tipped to replace Mourinho, should he leave Madrid in the summer.