Eating humble pie

FIFA’s secretary-general Jerome Valcke has apologised to Brazil, after he was lambasted for saying that preparations for the 2014 World Cup were behind schedule.

That the preparations are behind schedule is beyond dispute, but it was the language used by Valcke, in particular his assertion that Brazil needed “a kick up the backside” that incurred the wrath of the 2014 hosts.

So infuriated were the Brazilians that they stated they would no longer work with Valcke and that that he would be unwelcome in the country. Quite a problem for a man whose remit is to ensure the 2014 World Cup proceeds as planned. Ideally, in Brazil.

Valcke, a man who has emerged unscathed from previous controversies, understands that there’s a time to take a stand and a time to grovel. Quickly, it became apparent to him that this was one of those occasions when a sizeable portion of humble pie needed to be consumed.

“I would like to present my apologies to everyone who was offended by my comments,” Valcke said in a letter sent to the Brazil sports minister Aldo Rebelo.

Amusingly, in his defence, Valcke resorted to the tried and tested excuse beloved by footballers when they have been caught speaking out of turn: he claimed his remarks had become lost in translation.

He explained that in French the phrase “se donner un coup de pied aux fesses” (to give someone a kick up the backside” only meant “to pick up the pace”. The translation into Portuguese used a stronger expression, he added.

“I lament profoundly that the incorrect interpretation of my words caused so much worry. I would like to apologise to [Rebelo] and any other person who might have been offended with my words.

“Please be assured that making the World Cup in Brazil, a country for which I hold great respect and admiration, a success is not only my duty but my greatest wish.”

Rebelo, who acknowledges receipt of the apology on his Twitter page, has so far not responded to the letter and it remains unclear what kind of reception Valcke will receive when he lands in Brazil on a forthcoming fact finding inspection.

Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to assume that they won’t be recreating the Rio carnival in his honour, when he touches down next week.

The problem that won’t go away

Italy’s chief of police Antonio Manganelli has claimed further revelations on match-fixing in Italian football are imminent.

Atalanta began the current season on minus six points after being implicated in the Calcioscommese match-fixing scandal, while their former captain Cristiano Doni was banned for three-and-a-half years.

Manganelli told Gazzetta Dello Sport: “The investigations into illegal betting in the world of football continues, soon there will be further news.

“The phenomenon involves criminal and civil justice, but it is unthinkable to speak of pardons for those who have committed offences.

“There will be more news soon, data and results, because the investigations are continuing and this involves the acquisition of new elements, but it is unthinkable to talk about amnesty.

“We can get match-fixing out of the game but we need to understand that those who commit crimes are not pardoned by the criminal justice.”

A previous match-fixing investigation, the infamous 2006 Calciopoli affair, saw Juventus relegated from Serie A and stripped of their titles from 2005 and 2006, and punishments were also meted out to Milan, Fiorentina, Lazio and Reggina.

“The phenomenon of football betting is of no small importance in Italy,” conceded Manganelli. ”This aspect is now a very special focus of attention: we have already identified match-fixing and the involvement of members, we’re still finding more.”

Which doesn’t sound too encouraging.

Macheda U R stupid LOL

Manchester United striker Federico Macheda has been fined £15,000 by the English Football Association for making a homophobic comment on Twitter.

The Italian, currently on loan at Queens Park Rangers, allegedly tweeted: ‘shhhhhhh u little stupid gay!’

It’s mildly reassuring to discover that it’s not just the English education system that is churning out semi-literate, text-speaking imbeciles. Anyway, that breathtakingly immature remark resulted in Macheda being guilty of using “an abusive and/or insulting word including a reference to a person’s sexual orientation.”

He is the latest in a lengthening line of footballers fined for making similar remarks. Newcastle United’s Nile Ranger and Walsall’s Manny Smith were fined £6,000 and £1,200 respectively by the FA on 1 March for the same charge.

West Ham’s Ravel Morrison and ex-Leicester player Michael Ball have recently been fined for similar cases.

Goal of the day

Galatasaray took the lead against Sivasspor with a wonderful piece of skill and improvisation from Necati Ates.

If you can’t do the time…

Hamburg striker Paolo Guerrero has been banned for eight matches for a tackle from behind during a Bundesliga match.

The word ‘tackle’ is a euphemism for what was actually a brutal two-footed assault on Stuttgart goalkeeper Sven Ulreich. If Guerrero committed this offence in any other profession he would face instant dismissal, and if he committed it away from the football pitch, he would now be looking at a custodial sentence. In the circumstances, an eight-match ban seems lenient.

Note how he pleads innocence.

Quote of the day

“I am trying to build my career and not destroy it.”

Short and succinct: Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers rules himself out of the running for the vacant Chelsea manager’s position.

Rafa in line?

One man undeterred by the prospect of walking through Stamford Bridge’s revolving door, is former Valencia, Liverpool and Inter coach, Rafa Benitez.

The Spaniard was linked with the Chelsea when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked, although reports claimed that the club’s owner was keen to employ him only until the end of the season. Benitez, though, is looking for a long-term deal, even if such an appointment might rankle with supporters of his former club Liverpool.

“Can anybody argue [against the fact] that the Liverpool fans love me? No,” said Benítez modestly. “If we agree with this, what do you want for somebody who you love? The best for him. I cannot be waiting at home for five years. Everybody understands that I will need a job.”

“If they (Liverpool fans) want me to have the best, they can say you can manage a team at the bottom of the table or manage a team at a top of the table and try to win trophies. That is my idea, to have the option of a top side and try to win trophies. If they love me, they will understand.”

Again with the modesty.

“I want to win trophies; it’s not just a case of wanting a job and having some money. It has to be something,” he continued. ”They have now Roberto Di Matteo in [temporary] charge, and I have to respect the manager in charge. I have to wait and [see] if something happens in the future. As a manager with experience in the Champions League, in Spain and in Italy, I am open to offers.”

Bizarre decision

There’s officiating and then there’s officiousness. A referee in Belgium was guilty of the latter when he sent a player off for diving.

Nothing wrong with that; the art of simulation is one of the scourges of the modern game and any moves to deter it should be encouraged.

However, when, during a provincial match between Templeuve and Quevy, the referee sent off Julien Lecomte, not only had the player not dived, but he was seriously injured. Reports after the match concluded than Lecomte had suffered three displaced vertebrae. A more observant referee might have thought twice before showing a card to a player clearly in a lot of pain. The stretcher was something of a giveaway.

Conspiracy theory

On the subject of referees, Barcelona have boycotted a Spanish football federation (RFEF) meeting which will decide where the Spanish Cup final will take place, in protest at what they claim is a refereering conspiracy against them.

“We’ve decided not to attend this meeting of the federation as a sign of disenchantment. The force of our objective arguments has not been taken into account, so we are relying on the decision of the RFEF,” club spokesman Toni Freixa said.

Matters came to a head on Saturday with the dismissal of defender Gerard Pique in the 3-1 win over Sporting Gijon at the Nou Camp.

Pique claimed after the match that his sending off was “premeditated” by the referee and the club are appealing the decision.

To support Barcelona’s claim that they have suffered at the hands of officials this season, a sympathetic admirer has produced a compilation of mistakes which purports to show that Barcelona have been refused 12 penalties in 26 La Liga matches this season.

Finally…

Just days after the European Clubs Association (ECA) reached agreement with UEFA over the abolition of international friendly matches in August, comes the announcement that FIFA wants to do the same.

Football’s world governing body have submitted a proposed calendar of international matches from 2015-18 after a meeting of world football bodies and interested parties, which was boycotted by the 200-member ECA following a public falling-out with FIFA.

The suggested calendar calls for double-header dates each March, September, October and November, plus June in odd-numbered years.

FIFA’s executive committee must approve the calendar at a March 29-30 meeting in Zurich.

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