Mercenary talk

It’s difficult to feel too much sympathy for a highly remunerated footballer who is prepared to walk out on his employer the moment another club starts waving pound notes under his nose. But, West Bromwich Albion’s Peter Odemwingie is arguing – quite convincingly – that it is he who has been hard done by, and not his club, in what turned out to the most farcical transfer saga on deadline day.

The striker has hit back at West Brom after his proposed move to Queens Park Rangers collapsed in humiliating fashion.

Odemwingie arrived at Loftus Road on Thursday night fully expecting to sign for Rangers, having mistakenly believed that Albion’s technical director, Dan Ashworth, had sanctioned the move. Rangers decided they could not let Odemwingie into the building and he was forced to perform a u-turn (literally and figuratively) and drove off.

Odemwingie told Sky Sports News: “I learned now that the role of technical director is not superior to a chairman. When you are in England, you are gentlemen and you have to understand each other. After talks there was no need for training. I said I can go now, I got the go ahead from what I understand.

“I went round to thank everyone in the club, the laundry, left some autographs. I promised to come back next week. I will miss them. I went to see everyone to say thanks very much. In my opinion everything was done right. In the last moment I don’t know what happened. I think he [Ashworth] can deny it, he has to look good in this situation.”

West Brom said Odemwingie had behaved “wholly unprofessionally” and the club’s chairman, Jeremy Peace, added: “Peter must now accept the fact he remains under contract for a further 18 months and has to focus on his Albion commitments.”

Odemwingie retorted: “We will find a way forward which is suitable for everyone. The truth is we all went wrong somewhere. A few days ago [Peace] told me himself we could have handled it differently. I agreed. I said we have burned some bridges. It was never out of money, it was my professional desire. I was ready to give up my bonus of £300K already earned and I offered it back to the club.

“I don’t know really what happened. Whatever path we have to take, we need to sit down and iron this issue out. I came to this club in a wholly unprofessional way. I wasn’t given any permission by Lokomotiv Moscow. I’m saying these things don’t matter so much when adults are dealing with each other.”

QPR manager Harry Redknapp said he felt sorry for the situation Odemwingie found himself in.

“The whole thing was a bit of a mess,” he said. “I felt genuinely sorry for him. I think there was a mistake. He travelled down and I think he thought the deal was done and that is why he turned up. I think he thought ‘I better get down, have the medical, sign the forms’ – it was just a mistake. It is now difficult as he has to go back to West Brom and get on with his life.

“It wasn’t easy. He is not a bad lad, he is a nice, nice boy and that is what disturbed me last night, that he got himself into that situation and there was nothing sort of malicious in it.”

Samba football

Redknapp could content himself with breaking QPR’s transfer record not once, but twice over the course of the transfer window. Even by his shopaholic standards, that is some going.

First there was Loic Remy, signed for £8 million, but that figure was eclipsed by the £12.5 million spent on Christopher Samba as the Premier League’s bottom club decided to go (for) broke.

Naturally, no club in QPR’s perilous position would spend quite so extravagantly without first protecting themselves by ensuring that the players agree to a significant pay cut in the event of relegation.

You’d think. But according to Samba’s agent, Walid Bouzid, the deal did not include a clause to decrease it if the club was relegated into the Championship. That is some mess Redknapp’s successor will have to clear up if the Harry Houdini act fails to work this time around.

Meanwhile, Samba said he was happy at his previous club, Anzhi Makhachkal, but the desire to be with his family made him return to England.

“To be honest, I do not know what to say,” Samba told Sport-Express. “I feel very strange, very strange. Everything happened so fast that I’m still in shock. I must be happy as I returned home to my family because my wife and kids live not far from London. But just a couple of days ago, I couldn’t imagine myself leaving Anzhi.

“I didn’t want to leave. To be more precise, I wanted not to leave, but to be closer to my family. They missed me, you know? We saw each other very rarely. When I had free time I wrote to them immediately, but that’s not enough, you know? I wasn’t around. And because of some small family troubles I had to return.”

Samba continued in this vein, sounding like a man who was being held captive with a gun pointed at his head.

“Everything was great,” the defender added. “I can only say good things about your country, the Russian league and my former team. I’m very thankful for the year I spent in Anzhi. In Russia, I was surrounded by great people and made many friends. I can’t even select the best. Our whole team was like one big family. I was appreciated. I worked hard.”

Rebound

Anzhi responded to the loss of Samba in the manner of many a person whose partner has just run off with someone else. They went on a spending spree and splashed out somewhere in the region of £30-35 million (depending upon which report you believe) to buy Brazilian midfielder, Willian, from Shakhtar Donetsk. It smacks of a rebound transfer, perhaps aimed at reminding rival clubs, as much as themselves, of their continuing virility.

The loss of the 24-year-old was felt on a personal level by Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu, who says he treated the midfielder like a son.

“There is a club willing to pay the release clause in his contract and Willian agreed to move. There is nothing I can do,” Lucescu said. “To tell you frankly, I tried to convince him to stay because I think his decision is hasty and not thought out well enough. He is like a son to me.

“He came to Shakhtar almost as a child and leaves us as a 24-year-old man. I told him he would have achieved more with us when we said goodbye. Why did he not listen to me? I guess he was under huge pressure from his agent and his relatives that wanted to get everything at once.”

Goals of the day

Difficult to separate these two goals from last night’s encounter between Vasco da Gama and Flamengo.

First up was this wonderfully struck effort from Vasco’s Dakson that arrowed unerringly into the top corner.

Later in the game, a mazy dribble from Renato Abreu, before the ball reaches Cleber Santana, who lashes it into the top corner with the outside of his right foot.

Quote of the day

“It is a shameful thing if my nation do not have confidence in their team. If they don’t have confidence in their team, it’s a big shame to my nation, including me, that they think it’s just a walkover for Ivory Coast. It’s a pitiful thing and if my players hear that, what kind of confidence is that to my players? Just pitiful stuff.”

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi is unhappy with the mood back home.

Doing it for the kids

Forget the knighthood, David Beckham is going all out for the sainthood, as he announced he will be playing for free at his new club Paris Saint-Germain.

The former England captain confirmed at his unveiling as a PSG player, that  he would donate his salary from his five-month contract to a French children’s charity.

“I won’t receive any salary. My salary will go to a local children’s charity. That’s one of the things we are excited and proud to do.”

“It’s something the guys [PSG management] do, but obviously it’s a very good figure. That’s one thing we’re very excited about. To be able to give a huge sum to a children’s charity in Paris is very special.”

Quizzed about the area of his working life that has received scant attention in recent years – the playing side – Beckham said he was relishing the prospect of working under coach Carlo Ancelotti, and alongside striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“I was lucky to work with Carlo and Leonardo [director of football] for a few months,” he said. “Carlo was one of the best managers I’ve played for so it’s exciting on a number of levels.

“[Ibrahimovic] is one of the players I’m excited to play alongside. Ibra was someone I’ve watched for many years, in my early days playing for England against Sweden, and I always felt he could be one of the best players in the world.

“I watched a lot of games last year and a lot of games this season.”

And he’ll be watching a lot of games in the next five months – mainly from the substitutes bench.

Press pack

There’s been a generally favourable reaction to Beckham’s arrival at PSG from the French press.

L’Equipe regards the signing as a significant publicity coup for the club.

“This transfer, negotiated in the greatest secrecy after one previous failure, has put Ligue 1 under the spotlight. With the arrival of Beckham, Paris struck a great blow. From a media point of view, this transfer is in line with that of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and more recently Lucas.”

For Le Parisien, Beckham’s arrival signals the club’s ascension to a new dimension.

“This signature definitely takes the Parisian club into another dimension. Zlatan is not alone. David Beckham, the world’s best-known footballer and an international icon, has joined PSG.”

Le Figaro barely mentioned Beckham’s sporting contribution, focusing instead on his ability to raise the profile of PSG in particular and French football in general.

“This is the last stage of the project of PSG’s squad formation. It will have a huge impact in terms of image and income. Beckham is glamorous in glory and beauty. Merchandising are rubbing their hands already. The arrival of this iconic global advertising will put the spotlight on Ligue 1. and the coming of the Spice Boy will indeed attract markets hitherto little explored, like Asia.”

Either Le Monde employed Beckham’s mother to pen their editorial or, their writer had celebrated the conclusion of his January detox in some style. Whoever it was, spoke in glowing terms that would make even the narcissistic Beckham blush as he admires himself in the mirror.

“The former captain of the England team has an extraordinary understanding of space and distribution in the game, a brilliant technique and excels in the art of the long cross. ‘Becks’ has an exceptional personality: Best, less alcohol, the genius of Gascoigne, kindness and more, and the iron determination of Keegan, but warmer. But the personality of David the Magnificent far transcends his talent.”

Taxing times

Diego Maradona has won a 30-year battle over tax evasion charges in Italy and will soon return to Naples, his lawyer claimed on Friday.

No sooner had that announcement been made that Italy’s tax collection agency has threatened to sue the lawyer that it had not ”annulled, declared extinct, nor modified” Maradona’s debts, and that ”to the contrary” it had rejected a request from the Argentine.

Most confusing.

Earlier in the day, Maradona’s lawyer, Angelo Pisani, said his client was cleared of a tax bill of almost €40 million, of which €36 million was interest built up since 1984, when Maradona joined Serie A club Napoli.

“There is a sentence from the central commission… that confirms the annulment of the fiscal scrutiny against Maradona,” Pisani told Italian television.

“Diego Maradona can return to Italy a free man. He is free from every debt because he was never a tax evader. He said he will return to Naples to say hello to the city, the Neapolitans and hopefully the football too.”

When Maradona visited Naples in 2006, he was mobbed by supporters but financial police relieved him of two Rolex watches worth €10,000 each to help pay off the bill. Every little counts.

I think this is a case of watch this space…

Another fine Messi?

Jordi Alba has dismissed claims that Lionel Messi was involved in a car park scuffle with Real Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa, following Wednesday’s Clasico encounter.

According to Marca, Messi is alleged to have approached Arbeloa at the Santiago Bernabeu after Barcelona and Real Madrid had played out a 1-1 draw and launched a verbal tirade at the Spaniard.

Arbeloa’s wife, who was also at the scene, was reported to have been shocked by the incident, which ended after Messi was dragged back to the Barcelona team bus by his team-mates.

Alba, however, insists the World Player of the Year was simply frustrated after a testing meeting with Real Madrid.

“I didn’t see anything wrong with the car park incident. Messi was just annoyed,” Alba said

Finally…

It’s fair to say that South Africa’s African Nations Cup has yet to catch fire, with some underwhelming matches, played on terrible pitches in front of sparse crowds.

Tournament organisers acknowledged that there had been problems and addressed two areas which they believe could be fixed as the finals reach the knockout stages.

Improving an appalling pitch in Nelspruit, which has resembled a sandy beach, and boosting attendance numbers are top priorities, said Mvuzo Mbebe, head of the local organising committee.

He said turf experts were attending to the pitch, treating it with chemicals to kill the algae and applying fertilisers to get the grass growing, while the sand had been removed.

“We hope there will be gradual improvement for the quarter final and hopefully for the semi-final too,” he said rather unconvincingly.

So far numbers, except for games featuring hosts South Africa, have been low, with thousands of empty seats in stadiums throughout the group matches. Looking at ticket sales for the remainder of the tournament, it seems fair to state that the tournament has not exactly grabbed the attention of the South African public.

“We are still working with the local organising committee, engaging with radios, broadcasters (to improve attendance). This is a priority as much as the pitch in Mbombela,” Hicham El Amrani, general secretary of the Confederation of African Football, said.

He added that some 6,000 tickets were left for the final and 19,000 and 24,000 seats for the first semi-final in Durban and the second one in Nelspruit, respectively.

To put those figures into some kind of context: the capacity at Nelspruit is only 40,000, so at the moment, fewer than half the tickets for the semi-final have been sold.

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