Paris match

Alex says he is enjoying life at Paris St Germain more than he did at Chelsea, in part because no one at the Parisian outfit acts as if they’re bigger than the club. He doesn’t name any names, but I think we can work out who he has in mind.

The Brazilian defender made the move to PSG in January to link up again with former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti.

He said in the Daily Star: “I feel better at PSG than I did at Chelsea. Chelsea’s squad had a lot of big names – and that entails a lot of egoism.

“Nobody at PSG feels more important than the others. We’re at the start of a big adventure and we’re all pulling in the same direction.”

None more so than the club’s sporting director Leonardo, who is revelling in his first season at PSG.

“When I arrived on 14 July last year, I was already ambitious, in my heart, to win the championship this year,” he said. “But if you had told me we would be second on 1 April I would have signed with both hands.”

A somewhat disingenuous response when one considers the investment made by the club’s hugely wealthy Qatari owners.

Leonardo admits that there is a price to being the richest club in French football.

“Each time there is a player for sale, it is known that PSG are likely to have the means to buy them. So it is easy to use us,” he added.

A very small price.

French fancy

On the subject of PSG, Adel Taarabt has attributed his season-long slump in form to the disappointment of missing out on a move to Paris Saint-Germain last summer. Nine months down the line, that’s one hell of a sulk for a grown-up man.

“I was hurt early in the season because my head was in Paris,” said Taarabt. “With Paris it was done. I was already in Paris where I met with the Qataris. But the arrival of Leonardo blocked things.”

His head was in Paris, and he has played all season as if his feet were in Plaster of Paris.

Saturday’s goal against Arsenal was the Moroccan’s first of the season and he celebrated by enjoying a puff on the shisha pipes with his compatriot, the Gunners striker, Marouane Chamakh. As you do.

Shisha is a waterpipe in which fruit-scented tobacco is burned using coal, passed through a water vessel and inhaled through a hose. Smoking it is not illegal in the UK, although as one session is reported to be the equivalent of smoking 100 cigarettes, it’s not exactly a healthy lifestyle choice for a professional athlete.

Messi v Ronaldo

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been asked to compare Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and concluded that the Argentinian is more naturally gifted.

“Leo Messi is all talent, while Cristiano Ronaldo is the product of much training,” Ibrahimovic told TV3.

However, speaking ahead of Milan’s Champions League meeting with Barcelona, the Swedish striker suggested that Ronaldo is probably the more complete player as Messi is somewhat one-footed.

“Messi does not need his right foot, though,” Ibrahimovic conceded. “He only uses the left and he’s still the best in the world! Imagine if he also used his right foot … Then we [Milan] would have serious problems!”

Maradona in the clear

Al Wasl coach Diego Maradona and Al Shabab have escaped punishment from the UAE Football Association’s Disciplinary Committee after last week’s scuffle in the stands.

Maradona had to be escorted from the terraces by police, after he confronted Al Shabab fans who allegedly had abused his wife, Veronica Ajeda, and player Juan Mercier’s partner.

Meanwhile Al Shabab claimed Ajeda and Mercier’s partner initiated the trouble by abusing their Brazilian player Ciel.

However, despite the scenes, the Disciplinary Committee opted not the punish either club.

An Al Wasl spokesperson told The National: “We expected some action against Al Shabab, but having said that, we fully accept the decision of the disciplinary committee and they are the best people to decide.”

Cassano back

Milan and Italy striker Antonio Cassano has completed a remarkable recovery from  minor heart surgery and been given the go-ahead to resume playing again.

A 10-man commission gathered by the Italian Sports Medicine Federation approved Cassano’s return and Milan’s own medical institute concurred with the decision.

The announcement was welcomed by Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who had made the Milan striker a cornerstone of his side until illness struck him down last November.

“I’ve very happy,” Prandelli told reporters on Monday. “I cannot say anything other than I’m just very happy.”

It was initially feared that Cassano would not play again this season and may even have been forced to retire, but it is now being reported that he could play some part in Milan’s meeting with Fiorentina this weekend.

Goal of the day

With Manchester United drawing 0-0 against Blackburn Rovers and time running out, Antonio Valencia produced what could turn out to be on of the pivotal moments in the race for the Premier League title. A powerful swerving strike from outside the area, it even elicited a rare ‘grandad at the wedding’ jig from United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson.

Quote of the day

“I am Inter’s biggest fan. The club is my home and I will definitely return. When? There’s nothing to say about my future right now. I still have a contract for two more years at Real and I have never said that I won’t stay at Madrid.”

Jose Mourinho says he’ll return to Inter one day.

Blue knights in shining armour?

There is light at the end of the tunnel for Rangers fans after it emerged that  Paul Murray has agreed a deal with Ticketus to allow them to be part of the consortium that bids for control of the club.

Murray’s Blue Knights group had been negotiating with the firm, whose money financed Craig Whyte’s takeover.

Administrators Duff and Phelps have said recent court proceedings gives them the right not to honour the club’s agreement with Ticketus, who invested £24m in Rangers in return for future season ticket sales.

That deal helped Craig Whyte finance his takeover in May, but the club going into administration nine months later cast doubt on the ticket firm’s claim on revenues.

However, the Blue Knight group are keen to keep Ticketus on board in order to avoid a possible counter claim from the company that might block the sale.

Meanwhile, Whyte, the majority shareholder and possibly the club’s only secured creditor, is bemused at being described by the administrators last month as “absolutely irrelevant” to their efforts to sell the club.

“They can describe me this way if they like, but I would disagree with it,” Whyte said. “I am still the owner.

“I haven’t spoken to Paul Murray since May last year,” he said. ”But I’ve spoken to a couple of the Blue Knights. There are decent people within that group.

“The businessman maintains the club will emerge in a better position than when he took over last year.

And he insists he has been given a raw deal in being blamed for the club’s current predicament.

“I think I’m a useful scapegoat,” he added. “I’m not responsible for the problems I inherited.”

“But I am willing to walk away if it is for the good of the club. I wouldn’t make anything out of it.

Considering he didn’t put anything into it, that only seems fair.

Benitez regrets

Former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has told FIFA.com that he regrets leaving the club, claiming that the owners at the time couldn’t see the progress him and his team were making and weren’t able to help him make that final step to challenge for honours.

A claim that conveniently overlooks the fact that Liverpool finished the season in 7th place, were knocked out of the Champions League at the group statges, were eliminated at the 4th round of the League Cup by Arsenal and the 3rd round of the FA Cup by Reading. With the benefit of hindsight, that final step begins to resemble a yawning chasm. No wonder Kenny Dalglish talks with the fervour and self belief of a man who thinks he’s leading the club out of the wilderness.

When asked outright if he has regrets about leaving the club before new owners took over, he’s clear “Yes, obviously with the money they have spent and the squad that we had, we could have been even better.”

Benitez isn’t sure that current boss Kenny Dalglish can reach the heights he did himself at Anfield.

“It depends if he has the support of the owners,” said Benitez. “They have spent a lot of money but can they continue spending big money? I don’t know.

“But if you want to challenge against United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham, you have to have a very good plan and keep spending some money wisely.”

And looking at some of Liverpool’s big-money signings, the key word there is wisely.

Like many people who have enjoyed success, Benitez struggles when it comes to being self-critical. An inflated opinion of his own achievements means that even his widely derided spell at Inter, which culminated in him being sacked after just five months and the club in disarray, is deemed by him to have been a success.

“I went to Extremadura and we were promoted in the first year. Tenerife, we were promoted in the first year. At Valencia we won the league title after 31 years, and Liverpool won the Champions League after 21 years. And then we went to Inter and won two trophies in six months…”

Finally…

Besiktas have replaced Portuguese coach Carlos Carvalhal with his predecessor Tayfur Havutcu, the club said on Tuesday, two days after the struggling Istanbul club lost at home to relegation-threatened Samsunspor.

Besiktas initially promoted Carvalhal from his assistant role when Havutcu was arrested after the club became involved in a last year’s match-fixing scandal.

Havutcu was detained during the investigation, in which 93 people including the chairman of champions Fenerbahce, are being tried in an Istanbul court.

Carvalhal remained head coach after Havutcu was released pending the match fixing trial which will take place on December 12, 2011.