Jose Mourinho was in typically enigmatic mood after his Real Madrid side came from behind to a defeat ten-man Manchester, to earn a place in the Champions League quarter finals.
There was no sprint down the Old Trafford touchline to celebrate the win – indeed Mourinho was already halfway down the tunnel when the final whistle blew – and nor was there any post-match crowing. In fact, quite the opposite, as the Portuguese offered a remarkably humble and downbeat perspective of the night’s dramatic action.
United had looked on track for victory when leading 1-0 but the controversial sending off of Nani prompted a two-goal response from Real in the second half to turn the tie around.
“Independent of the decision, the best team lost,” he said.
“We didn’t deserve to win but football is like this. I’m not speaking about the decision as I’m not sure about it.”
“Manchester United were playing very well. They were very compact, they were very aggressive, very well organised technically and the match was very difficult for us.
“I doubt with 11 against 11 we could win the match.”
A remarkable account of what was a genuine triumph for his players; indeed one wonders whether there is a barely concealed subtext to the comments. It has been suggested that Mourinho quite fancies the prospect of succeeding Ferguson, and if that is the case, the positive comments about United could, if one were cynical enough, be construed as an attempt to curry favour with the club board.
In effect, this was Mourinho delivering his CV to the United hierarchy – all that was missing were references from a previous employer. Although if he continues in this mood, his current employers would be more than happy to supply one.
Quote of the day
“Sir Alex has won the right for every decision to be correct and never have a question mark against them. He is the best. He is the top. You are nobody, I am nobody (to question his decisions). He did a great job.”
After buttering up Manchester United Mourinho really went to town on United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, whose tactics, it would seem, are beyond reproach.
So what of Ferguson, the man whose response to Nani’s dismissal was not unlike that of a elderly man at the local whist drive pushing aside his fellow pensioners in the rush for the last custard cream. He was, according to his assistant, Mike Phelan, too “distraught” to face the press, after finally seeing a decision go against him. “The horror! The horror!”
Phelan told a press conference: “The manager is not in a state to talk to the referee about the decision. I think it speaks volumes I am here speaking now and not the manager of this fantastic football club. The decision seemed very harsh, possibly incredible at that moment in the game.”
As for Nani’s dismissal, Phelan admits he was aghast when the referee showed a red card.
Phelan described the referee’s decision – the worst of his United career, he agreed – as “amazing” and “harsh, almost incredible.”
Asked if it raised questions about the competence of the referee, the assistant manager replied: “That’s for you to write about and clear up.”
In which case, one feels obliged to stat that far from being incompetent, the referee applied the laws of the game as they were intended. Was the challenge dangerous? Yes. Could the referee interpret the challenge as dangerous play? Yes. The punishment for a dangerous play? A red card.
Furthermore, UEFA has done the sensible thing and backed Cakir over the incident.
“We have no problem with him,” a spokesman told The Guardian. “There are no issues for us regarding the sending off.
“We will wait for the official reports of the match delegate and the referee’s observer, as is procedure. If they raise concerns then we will act. He remains on our list of officials.”.
Lack of perspective
It was an emotional evening in Manchester last night and judging by the reactions of Ferguson and Phelan one can clearly sense the burning fires of grievance, but when it comes to demonstrating an utter lack of perspective about the night’s events, there were worse offenders.
In a competitive field it’s difficult to ascertain decide who was responsible for the most ridiculous overreaction to the Nani red card, but two candidates leap off the page.
There’s the 18-year-old who phoned the police to demand they arrest referee Cuneyt Cakir. In his defence he was probably a little drunk when he made the call.
And then there was the completely sober Henry Winter who began his Telegraph match report with the following lines:
“When Manchester United’s devastated players finally emerged from the dressing room, they would not, probably could not talk. The club had advised them to stay silent over Cuneyt Cakir’s unspeakable decision to send off Nani. Their inner fury, the anger in the eyes said it all.”
“United’s players felt the victims of grand larceny…”
And on and on he went until the poor reader was compelled to conclude that perhaps the man calling for Cakir’s arrest may have had a point.
As for the aforementioned time waster, police have decided not to pursue action for wasting police time after the man realised his bad judgement and said he was sorry.
Chief Insp Ted Antill said: “While this recent example may be amusing, it illustrates the sort of insincere calls we have to deal with on a daily basis in the control room.
“They waste our time and they direct us away from genuine victims of crime, particularly if we dispatch officers out to something that turns out to be a bogus report.”
Inquiries into Winter’s conduct are ongoing. He can expect the full force of the law to come down on him.
A referee in Lebanon was forced to flee after angry players attacked him and pursued him around the pitch.
The official is seen not giving a penalty, then brandishing a yellow card during the second division match between two unnamed teams.
However, whilst he holds a red card in his hand, the referee is forced to defend himself from punches before turning to run away.
A fan then chases him down before another two players try to hit the referee in scenes reminiscent of a Benny Hill chase.
Strangely, at no point does any player of official of either side, step into help the official.
Goal of the day
A neat passing move before the ball reaches Luka Modric who cuts inside a defender before unleashing a brilliant shot off the inside of the post.
Men behaving badly
Velez Sarsfield’s fans have been banned from away matches up to the Libertadores Cup semi-finals after causing trouble at Penarol in a clash of former champions last week, the Argentine club said.
Velez, winners in 1994, must also host the Uruguayan outfit behind closed doors when they clash again in Group Four next Tuesday.
A club statement said the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) had also fined them $100,000 after fighting between rival fans at the Centenario in Montevideo.
Penarol were fined $14,000, Uruguayan media reported.
The Argentine champions are “prohibited from selling visitors’ tickets to Velez supporters for the remaining group matches, round of 16, quarter and semi-finals should the team reach those stages,” said the statement on their website.
Velez will appeal against the sanctions, the club added.
The sanctions are similar to those imposed on title holders Corinthians after a young Bolivian supporter was killed by a flare launched by fans of the Brazilian side at their Group Five match at San Jose in Bolivia two weeks ago.
Corinthians were ordered to play all home matches behind closed doors until further notice and their fans banned from away games.
Good as gold
A pure gold replica of the Lionel Messi’s left foot, valued at £3.5 million, has been unveiled in Tokyo. The foot was created by Japanese jeweler Ginza Tanaka to commemorate the player’s achievements in 2012.
”It’s exceptional. You can see each line in the foot,” said Messi’s brother, Rodrigo. ”It’s an impressive piece of work.”
The jeweller said he cast Messi’s foot in Spain at the end of 2012.
”We loved the sound of making the ‘golden left foot,’ and it being gold, it was our goal to make the project of recreating Messi’s left foot a reality,” said Masakazu Tanaka, president of the company that made the piece.
The foot will go on sale on Thursday, with an endorsement from the Leo Messi Foundation, which helps children at risk around the world.
Other golden sculptures going on sale are Messi’s golden footprint worth £62,000 and the ”Golden Foot Mini,” which is half the size of the actual golden foot, worth £28,000.
Part of the proceeds will go to Messi’s foundation, which in turn will go to support children in areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami disaster that hit Japan in March 2011.
Montpellier chairman Louis Nicollin says that he would be open to talks with Diego Maradona about becoming the next manager of the French side.
Current boss Rene Girard’s contract is due to expire in June and reports suggest he will depart the club after leading them to the Ligue 1 title last season.
Not for the first time in his managerial career, Maradona is currently out of work and Nicollin admitted that he would welcome a meeting with the 52-year old.
“I know for weeks that Maradona is thinking of coaching in Europe and maybe with us. If he wants to come and talk with us, we would welcome him with pleasure; we are in contact with his representatives. I am very keen to meet him,” the chairman told L’Equipe.
“If he would accept for the minimum wages, we would hire him. I would find him a villa, it is out of the question to make him live in my house, otherwise if he comes to talk, we would prepare a nice press conference and I want more journalists than for the David Beckham press conference in Paris.”
Which, when it comes to making important appointments, is all that really matters.
The Argentine’s agent, Youssef Haijoub, revealed that the Montpellier post is something which interests Maradona too. Let’s be honest here Youssef, the offers have not exactly been flooding in.
“Maradona almost signed in Iraq, but refused for security reasons. Since he is not managing Al-Wasl, he really wants to work in Europe. He had first contact with Italian and English sides, but he is attracted by Montpellier,” he said in an interview with L’Equipe.
“It is a club with history, trophies and several South American players in its group. He told me: ‘Youssef, rush on with it and work fine on that case.’ Mr Nicollin is attracted too and I am convinced they could get on very fine together.”
By the sound of it, it is a match made in Bedlam.
Coincidentally, the Argentinian legend was in Manchester last night to attend the United-Real Madrid tie. He was later spotted posing with Wayne Rooney in a Manchester restaurant and, according to the woman who took the photo of the pair, offered his tie to Rooney.
Groundhog day at FIFA as concerns resurface over the slow rate of progress at some of next year’s World Cup venues, with Rio’s Maracana stadium the biggest concern.
FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, who has been totting up the frequent flyer points on his regular trips to the country in recent months, has embarked on yet another fact-finding trip to Brazil. Like his previous trips to the country, Valcke will be dismayed at the lack of progress.
The revamped Maracana is still without a roof as workers race to finish construction ahead of FIFA’s April 15 deadline for the Confederations Cup two months later. The stadium is scheduled to stage three Confederations Cup matches including the final.
FIFA originally gave the Confederation Cup’s six venues a December deadline to complete refurbishment work, then extended that twice. But only Fortaleza’s Castelao and Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao have completed the work
“The city which I will be visiting in two days is the one that worries me the most,” Valcke said.
The Maracana is due to re-open with a friendly match between Brazil and England on June 2, although at the present rate of progress, an improvised game of beach football on the Copacabana beach looks more likely.
“The date of completion is very important so we can test them before the start (of the Confederations Cup),” Valcke said. “May is too late and that could cause a lot of trouble for FIFA, for the World Cup and for Brazil.”
Last year, Valcke caused a stir by saying Brazil needed a “kick up the backside” to ensure the 2014 World Cup goes off on schedule.
But he later apologized for the remarks and patched up relations with his Brazilian hosts.