Costly misses

Udinese failed to reach the group stages of the Champions League following their penalty shootout defeat in Tuesday’s qualifier to Portugal’s Braga. The elimination of the Serie A side means that Italy will have just two teams in this year’s competition – a calamitous fall from grace for what was once Europe’s strongest league.

During last night’s game, Udinese missed a wonderful chance as Colombian wing-back Pablo Armero raced through on goal, took aim, lined up his shot, and…

Worse was to come during the penalty shootout when midfielder Maicosuel strode up to take a penalty during the shootout. Perhaps emboldened by Andrea Pirlo’s exquisitely executed ‘Panenka’ at Euro 2012, the Brazilian decided that with £15 million riding on the outcome of his spot-kick, now was the perfect time to try something a little different…

Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin, who prior to kick-off had described the game as the “most important match of his life”, sounded like he needed a stiff drink after it had finished.

“We knew it was tough and there’s no point hiding that this is even more painful than last year,” he said. “Repeating a season like that is pretty much impossible, so just finishing top six would be great. That’s the bread and butter for a club like Udinese.”

“This is causing us enormous pain. Evidently I am not capable of leading a team into the Champions League. When you get so close several times and can’t go through, you have to learn from that experience and accept the truth.

“Unfortunately we were incapable of giving more and the coach has to take responsibility, because a team like Udinese ought to play better. I blame the coach, as the team should’ve been more prepared for this play-off.

“I am going home now to hopefully rest and reflect on the situation. That is all.”

China crisis?

As reported in Tuesday’s World Soccer Daily the situation at Shanghai Shenhua shows no signs of improving and there is a very real chance that Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka have played their last games for the club.

Shenhua’s billionaire chairman Zhu Jun is threatening to withhold foreign players’ wages unless fellow shareholders grant him majority control, an unnamed senior executive told China’s Titan Sports.

“If Zhu Jun cannot get the majority stake, he can only pay for foreign players based on his own stake,” the club executive told Titan.

“Drogba, Anelka and (Colombian midfielder Giovanni) Moreno’s salary cannot be guaranteed in future, and they may not be able to attend future matches.”

A confrontation could come as early as Shenhua’s next game, at home to Liaoning Whowin in just over a fortnight.

“Whether Drogba can play on September 15 remains a question, and we don’t have the answer now,” the executive added.

“The key is whether Drogba can play on September 15, not other matters. Speculation that Shenhua may apply for bankruptcy if Zhu Jun cannot get the stake is nonsense.”

Solvency is one thing, but if Shenhua were unable to meet their obligations with regard to their big money imports, then the entire credibility of the Chinese Super League will suffer. Now, while that may not be a bad thing for Chinese football as a whole, it would be a hammer blow to the legion of ageing pros looking to wind down their career bolstered by one final, lucrative pay day.

On the move?

QPR manager Mark Hughes believes there is still a possibility of Joey Barton’s move to Marseille being revived.

On Tuesday, a mournful Barton lamented the collapse of his move to the Stade Vélodrome, but according to Hughes: “The Marseille ordeal may not be dead in the water.”

Barton’s agent Willie Mackay also believes a deal involving Marseille midfielder Stephane Mbia moving to Loftus Road could be reignited.

“I think you will find that maybe a deal will happen on Wednesday with Joey flying out to Marseille and Stephane Mbia will arrive at QPR,” he said.

If the London club can manage to offload the trouble magnet, it will represent a triumph of sorts.

Earlier this summer the club took legal advice over the possibility of sacking Barton, but with three years left on his £70,000-a-week contract a termination would have cost Rangers around £11m.

For a fresh perspective on the enigma wrapped within a riddle that is Joey Barton, readers may wish to check out this piece.

Value for money

On the subject of overpaid underachieving English footballers, and let’s be honest here, the Premier League is awash with them these days, comes news that Arsenal’s Theo Walcott has turned down a new deal believed to be worth £75,000 a week.

Without wishing to indulge too much in a bout of ‘has the world gone mad’ contemplation, does Walcott, a man whose principal, and some would argue sole asset, of being able to run very fast, really merit more money than that. More pertinently, are there clubs out there willing to pay him more than what the Gunners have offered?

Arsenal have issued an ultimatum to the 23-year-old: sign or be sold, and one can understand why they appear unconcerned by the prospect of losing the England international.

Inevitably, Manchester City, who despite their vast wealth have yet to flex their financial muscles this summer, are reported to be interested.

Goal of the day

Wigan’s Maynor Figueroa struck an unerring shot in his side’s League Cup win over Nottingham Forest.

Fairytale ending

On Monday night , Magnus Eriksson played his final game for Atvidabergs at home to Norrkopings before he joins Belgian outfit Genk.

Trailing 1-0 with just a minute left on the clock, it looked like the prolific Eriksson would leave Sweden on a low. Then, he collected the ball on the edge of his own penalty area and put his head down…

”I was exhausted when I got the ball and did not think anything, but it just sat up right,” he stated somewhat modestly after the game.

Quote of the day

“Ricardo is not part of our plans for the season. It is up to him whether he wants to continue playing football or stay at Real Madrid and meet his contractual obligations and practically end his sporting career.

”

Jose Mourinho delivers an ultimatum and some tough love to out-of-favour defender Ricardo Carvalho.

Age discrimination

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has spoken out against age restrictions for officials in football’s governing body although he would be prepared to accept a limit on the length of time they can hold office.

A proposal to impose an age limit of 72 on officials at the time they are elected will be considered by FIFA next year. It would also limit the FIFA president to two four-year mandates and the executive committee members to three four-year mandates.

“I’m in favour of limiting the length of time officials can serve but against an age limit,” said the septuagenarian.

“Capabilites have nothing to do with age. There are 70-year-olds who are young in the head. But a mandate limit could have a chance,” the 76-year-old told Bild.

Blatter insists he will not run for office again, although he has not ruled out the possibility of shuffling along gingerly in his Zimmer frame.

Confusion reigns

Nuri Sahin believes he can help his new club get back into the Champions League places this season. Someone should tell him he’s joined Liverpool.

“I am looking forward to playing this season and we will do everything to get into top four,” the German-born Turk said after agreeing to join Liverpool on a one-year loan from Real Madrid.

Sahin opted to join the Reds ahead of Premier League rivals Arsenal, and he admits his decision was influenced by what the former Liverpool and now Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso had to say about life at Anfield.

“Xabi said good things,” Sahin explained. “He played a long time for Liverpool and is still in love with the club.”

Liverpool appear to have scored something of a minor coup in persuading Sahin to join, although he does came at a cost.

The BBC report that he earns £115,000 a week at Real Madrid, the majority of which Liverpool have agreed to take on. Moreover, Liverpool paid a loan fee of close to £5 million, a huge amount considering that Sahin cost Real Madrid only £3.7 million more than that when they signed him on a permanent transfer last summer.

Liverpool fans may also be concerned by the fact that this significant outlay has not come with an option to make the deal permanent at the season’s end. Instead, a successful spell at Anfield will almost certainly see him returning to Madrid, confidence enhanced, form restored, reputation rebuilt.

So, a victory of sorts for Liverpool to outbid Arsenal, but looking at the small print, one could argue that could ultimately it could end up being a Pyrrhic one.

Symbolic move

Athletic Bilbao midfielder Javi Martinez travelled to Germany without permission on Tuesday, say his club as the midfielder tried to conclude a move to Bayern Munich.

“Athletic Club would like to make clear that at no time did they authorise the trip their player Javier Martinez made to Munich on Aug. 28,” Bilbao said in a statement on their website.

The club had asked the player for an explanation, the statement added.

Meanwhile, in Germany, reports claim that Martinez has passed a medical at Bayern, paving the way for him to complete what would be a record transfer for the country.

The Spain international midfielder has a €40 million release clause in his Athletic Bilbao contract.

Martinez told waiting reporters: “Todo bien” – meaning “everything’s fine” – as he left the medical.

Bayern’s chief executive officer Karl-Heinz Rummenigge had been negotiating with the Spanish FA – against Bilbao’s wishes - as Spanish transfer rules say a player can buy himself out of his contract and deliver the release clause money to the Spanish FA.

Martinez will fly back to Spain and deliver the money, and Bayern president Uli Hoeness told Bayrischer Rundfunk he was “very optimistic” that the transfer could be completed within the next few days.

If completed, the deal will surpass the previous German transfer record, also set by Bayern when they signed Mario Gomez from Stuttgart for a reported total of €33 million in 2009.

It’s rare, though not unprecedented for a Spaniard to play in Germany, although it is very unusual for a top class Spanish player to make such a move. In many ways the move is symbolic of the economic balance of power in Europe at the moment, with cash rich Germany taking advantage of stricken Spain. No doubt Bayern will continue to lecture the rest of Europe about the virtues of prudent housekeeping, all the while cherry picking talent from clubs whose commercial operations they dwarf.

Symbolism aside, though, it is a sad day for everyone’s second favourite team of last season, who face the prospect of losing not only Martinez, but also of in-demand striker Fernando Llorente. Given their Basque-only recruitment policy, it’s not as if they will be able to compile a lengthy shopping list of potential replacements.

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