Rafa still the gaffer

Rafa Benitez remains in charge at Chelsea, despite ranting at the club’s supporters and his claim that the club erred badly by appointing him as interim manager.

He has a point that no one would dispute: appointing him in any capacity turned out to be a huge mistake.

So, it’s been quite an eventful week for Benitez, what with the fans, the club, the players, all alienated. The Spaniard also confirmed that he would leave at the end of the season, which represents a victory for Chelsea fans and a devastating blow to the rest of us who have enjoyed watching one of the world’s richest clubs tearing itself apart at the seams.

“I think for us every game, every trophy is really important,” Benitez said. “I have been manager for 26 years, I have won the Fifa Club World Cup, the Champions League, FA Cup, a lot of trophies and I’m really a little bit disappointed with some fans, a group of fans singing and I think they are not making any favour to the team.

“They have to support the team instead of wasting time doing banners or singing songs. What they have to do is support the team and create a good atmosphere in Stamford Bridge. If we cannot achieve the target that we are looking for, to be in the Champions League… If they continue singing and talking and talking then I think they are not making any favours. They have to support the players, they have to support the team, I have experience as a manager, I will do my best until the last day.

“They (Chelsea) gave me the title of interim manager, it’s a massive mistake. I am the manager and I will manage the team until the end, every single minute.”

The comments (full transcript here), which have garnered much attention, was not as intemperate as some have alleged. The fact that he conducted two separate interviews for press and radio and espoused identical views in both, indicates that this was less an emotional outburst and more a premeditated act. But, to what end?

If the intent was to make himself virtually employable in England, he certainly achieved that. Surely, only supporters of his former club Liverpool, who still get misty-eyed at the mention of Benitez’s name, would roll out the red carpet on his appointment. Elsewhere, would any self-respecting club place there fate in the hands of someone quite so volatile? It seems unlikely.

For the time being Benitez stays, but what kind of reception can he expect when Chelsea face West Brom on Saturday afternoon?

Behind closed doors

Lazio have been ordered to play their next two home European games behind closed doors after their fans were found guilty of racist behaviour by UEFA for the fourth time this season.

Considering they have only played five games in Europe this season, there can be little complaint form the Italian side. Or so you’d think. But, no, the Lazio president, Claudio Lotito, was angry at the punishments and said the Rome side would appeal.

“Two games behind closed doors, it’s incredible,” Lotito told Rai.

“We will appeal, that is certain. It’s an abnormal sanction with respect to the reality, Lazio did everything we could and ought to have done to stop what happened.

“To suffer a punishment of one or two games behind closed doors, which will cause serious economic damage to the club and prevent fans from participating in an event like this, seems absurd to me.”

Absurd? No, absurd, is the Lazio’s failure to deal with the issues of racism that have hung over the club for many years.

Empty stadium

Holders Corinthians beat Colombian side Millonarios 2-0 in a Copa Libertadores match on Wednesday that was overshadowed by a ban on the home team’s fans that left the 38,000-seat Pacaembu stadium empty, save for four fans who successful won a court appeal and were allowed to watch the game.

South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL had banned the Brazilian club’s fans after they let off a flare that killed a 14-year Bolivian supporter during last week’s game against San Jose in Bolivia.

“It was a strange experience,” full back Fabio Santos said. “We knew we’d need to concentrate and we managed that and not to lose a goal. But I hope that the fans are back for the next game because this was terrible.”

Earlier in the day, Corinthians unsuccessfully tried to overturn the ban, though four fans did win a court appeal and were allowed in to watch the encounter.

More than a club?

A bad week just got worse for Barcelona after it emerged that the Spanish club have breached FIFA regulations on the international transfer of players designed to stop child trafficking and exploitation.

Barcelona have a number of under-age players recruited from outside Spain on their books but have have now been instructed by FIFA not to select six players for their youth teams: French boy Theo Chendri, Koreans Lee Seung Woo, Paik Seung-Ho and Jang Gyeolhee, 14 year old Nigerian-Dutch Bobby Adekanye and Cameroonian Patrice Sousia.

Barcelona spokesman Chemi Terres claimed FIFA’s communication caught the club by surprise.

The club said it educated youngsters at its La Masia training facility in a complete manner, and that Spanish law allows minors to live and study in Spain as long as they are accompanied by a legal guardian.

FIFA have a policy to strictly control the transfer of minors to prevent child trafficking. Barcelona, renowned for discovering and developing young players, may soon be compelled to focus on those born closer to home.

Match fixing latest

If you’re struggling to keep up with the endless stream of match fixing revelations, imagine what it’s like working for FIFA, who have the onerous job of dispensing sanctions to the various miscreants.

Today, FIFA has banned 74 more officials and players from world football for helping fix matches, this time in Italy and South Korea.

FIFA says the charges involved “match-fixing (direct involvement or omission to report match-fixing), illegal betting or corrupt organization (association to commit illicit acts).”

Prosecutors in Cremona, Bari and Napoli have pieced together a conspiracy they believe was organized from Singapore to bet on fixed Italian matches.

Last week, Italian authorities detained suspect Admir Suljic, a Slovenian national, when he arrived in Milan on a flight from Singapore.

Suljic, alleged to be an associate of Singaporean businessman Tan Seet Eng (reportedly the Goldfinger-style mastermind behind the operation), faces charges of criminal association and sports fraud.

Singapore police said last week that Tan was helping them with their enquiries.

FIFA said the four new South Korean cases follow worldwide sanctions imposed on 10 people last year and a further 41 last month.

Will it ever end? So long as people bet on football matches, probably not.

Goal of the day

A stunning long range effort from Graham Carey in St Mirren’s 2-0 win over Hearts.

Quote of the day

“Why don’t you ask me about (Bayern strikers) Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben and where they will be playing next season. We could be talking about other things as well.

A tetchy Jurgen Klopp responds to questions about the future of Borussia Dortmund striker, Robert Lewandowski, who has been linked with a move to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich.

Speed freak

Spanish police say Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema faces the loss of his driving licence and a fine after he was caught speeding at more than 60 mph over the limit.

Police say Benzema has been charged with reckless driving after being caught going 134 mph in a 62 mph zone in Madrid on February 3.

The French striker has form – off the pitch at least – in June 2011, Benzema was fined for reckless driving when police caught him racing through the city on the island of Ibiza.

As a practising Muslim he fasts during the month of Ramadan, and drives really fast for the rest of the year.

Broken man

Lebanon coach Theo Bucker, who spoke yesterday about how his wife first alerted him to the possibility that one of his players might be throwing matches, said he is unsure if he would continue in the job.

The Lebanese Football Federation handed out the various penalties, including life bans for defender Ramez Dayoub and forward Mahmoud El-Ali, on Tuesday with the Asian Football Confederation’s disciplinary committee also investigating.

“A whole country was hoping to do something different. Now everything has been demolished,” the German said in an interview.

“I’m looking in the next two or three days to have a meeting with the federation to talk about my position.

“I don’t know yet what I will do, I need to speak to the board and the president. I can’t say whether I will continue or not,” Bucker said.

“Inside, I’m broken. I really need to think things over and make the right decision, that’s it.”

Bucker has guided the team to shock World Cup qualifying victories over regional heavyweights Iran and South Korea despite the team being ranked a lowly 178th by FIFA less than two years ago.

A 1-0 defeat by Qatar in November hit their hopes of taking one of the two qualifying spots from the five-team Group A.

It is not the first time Lebanon has been caught up in a matchfixing scandal.

“The tragic thing is when I came to Lebanon 12 years ago, I was facing the same situation,” Bucker said.

“Lebanon got kicked out of the federation because of match fixing, now after 10 years I come back and there is exactly the same situation.”

“Personally, I’m very disappointed with a couple of guys I really trusted.

“I don’t know what to think. Me, personally, I was putting a lot of effort, a lot of time, a lot of work into making a path in this country, and some really stupid idiots have destroyed everything.”

Finally…

In a strange twist to the Lebanese match fixing scandal, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) says it has no evidence that any of the alleged World Cup match fixing took place.

There are suspicions over the Lebanon’s 1-0 defeat to Qatar, which featured a misplaced backpass by Ramez Dayoub, who has since been banned for life for match fixing.

The AFC says in a statement it ”has no knowledge on any suspicion surrounding Lebanon’s … 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.”

“AFC would like to congratulate the Lebanese Football Association for carrying out the investigation and imposing sanctions on its players and would continue to support such initiatives by our member associations,” the statement said.

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