Eurozone crisis

UEFA’s decision to host the 2020 European Championship across the continent has been greeted with surprising levels of enthusiasm as countries struggle to deal with the ongoing financial crisis.

The event is being increased from 16 to 24 teams for the 2016 edition in France and UEFA said the format would help to ease the burden on host nations, although it claims this is a one-off move to celebrate the tournament’s 60th anniversary.

European Club Association boss and Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge believes that now is the right time for the whole continent to shoulder the burden of hosting the finals.

“At this time of a united Europe, I consider this to be a good decision. At a time of a euro crisis one or two countries should not be forced to invest in infrastructure projects but instead existing structures should be used,” he said.

Fellow German, Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the country’s Football Association was another to welcome Platini’s proposal.

“We expected such a…decision and we think it is an absolutely positive one. It is now the job of the federations commission, of which I am also part, to further develop the 2020 concept,” said Niersbach.

“One thing I can say today is that we will be bidding with one German city.”

Fernando Gomes, head of the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF), was another in favour of the idea, although like Niersbach, self-interest had a part to play in his decision.

“We congratulate them on the idea. In a period of great financial difficulties there is no doubt that this idea is welcome,” said Gomes.

“This decision gives Portugal the opportunity to welcome Euro 2020 matches in one city or another or in one stadium or another that we built for Euro 2004. We are sure UEFA recognizes the FPF’s capacity to organize big events and I am sure they will take us into consideration.”

A less enthusiastic response came from Turkey, reportedly promised the tournament by Platini, and the only country to have put forward a serious bid for the 2020 finals.

Turkey’s Aksam newspaper said: ”Platini, who had promised Euro 2020 to Turkey, has scattered it across Europe. The most we can get now is to host a semi-final or the final… the 2020 Olympics is all we have left.”

A decent silver lining, but there is no escaping the sense that the country has been sold down the river by the UEFA president.

Fantastic

But what of Platini, architect of the plan? What are his motivations?  Well, believe it or not, he is doing it for the supporters.

According to the UEFA president, supporters will be the principal beneficiaries of the decision to stage Euro 2020 across the continent.

“Before, the fans had to go to the Euro, now the Euro is coming towards the fans,” Platini told reporters.

“The fans won’t have to travel but we are taking the matches to fans and supporters in quite a number of countries.”

Not strictly true. Fans will still have to travel, but they will no longer be part of an all-consuming festival of football, which for many has always been an integral part of attending a major tournament; instead, they get to see Latvia get hammered by Spain.

“We have met with the Football Supporters Europe (FSE) recently and we reassured them we will do whatever is possible to make sure that fans get the necessary support when they travel.

“We won’t have a team playing in Sweden, Portugal and Kazakhstan with fans chasing all over the continent.

“This is what we explained to the supporters’ association, we told them we were going to help them and they had a much more positive attitude.”

There are a number of genuinely valid reasons for adopting this particular format at this particular point in time. Whether it’s financial, or to avoid the practical difficulties of two or more countries co-hosting, or because you doubt the capacity of Turkey to host the finals in the same year they might also be hosting the Summer Olympics. These are all legitimate concerns and would be worthy reasons to re-think the format. But the idea that UEFA is doing this for the benefit of the fans is, quite frankly, insulting.

Platini is in a hole here and it is one of his own making. His decision to bloat the Euro finals form 16 countries to 24 was always going to throw up problems for potential hosts. In fact, given the size of the tournament, it is arguable whether any country outside the bigger European nations could ever pull it off. Which is problematical for a man who owes his position as head of European football to his assiduous cultivation of the smaller members of the UEFA family.

The trans-Europe finals is actually quite a neat solution to Platini’s conundrum, but let’s not for a moment fall for this nonsense about it being done for the fans.

Getting off lightly

There aren’t many professions where a person could threaten to break someone’s legs and be rewarded with a new five-year contract.

But football is no ordinary profession and Chelsea, as they have shown with their handling of the John Terry Terry race affair, are no ordinary club; to wit, we still await a statement of apology for John Obi Mikel’s recent threat to break the legs of referee Mark Clattenburg.

Instead, last season’s European champions offered a new deal to John Obi Mikel just hours before the midfielder was given a three-match ban and fined £60,000 for threatening Clattenburg after Chelsea’s match against Manchester United on 28 October 2012.

In mitigation the player claimed he thought he had been racially abused by Clattenburg, but as there were no reliable witnesses to verify his defence, we’ll only have his word for that.

The length of the ban has been criticised by the referees’ union Prospect, and in a week when a linesman was kicked to death by players in Holland, one wonders what kind of message such a lenient sentence sends out.

A statement said: “Prospect, the referees trade union, today expressed dismay at the lenient punishment handed down to John Obi Mikel.

“For entering the dressing room and  threatening and intimidating the referee the penalty was no longer than for serious foul play.

“It is vital that officials are given real respect and this decision regrettably gave entirely the wrong message.

“A player in parks football found guilty of behaviour like Mikel’s would have faced a long-term ban.”

Mikel was also fortunate that although he was heard by onlookers shouting “I’ll break your f*****g legs” as he was being ushered out of the referees’ dressing room area, Clattenburg heard the words: “I’m gonna smash your f*****g face in!”

Goal of the day

Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Toshihiro Aoyama provides the one moment of quality in his side’s Club World Cup win over Auckland City.

Quote of the day

“If I behaved incorrectly, I’m ready to apologize before my teammates, I moved to the Zenit to play and win, but not to sit on a bench, walk around the beautiful city or make a lot of money. I arrived in St. Petersburg to win new titles with Zenit. And, I think, I’m trying to put all the effort into it.”

In the wake of him storming off the pitch after being substituted in the Champions League clash against Milan, an apologetic Hulk gives an unconvincing explanation as to why he moved to Zenit St Petersburg.

Schadenfreude

German football, as we keep being told, is on the rise at the moment. Years of prudent housekeeping, combined with patience to develop and nurture homegrown talent, all underpinned by a vibrant fan culture, have coalesced to make German football the envy of Europe right now.

And don’t they know it.

Bayern Munich CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, never shy to share his opinions, believes that Germany’s trio of Champions League clubs, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke have the rest of Europe running scared.

“At the moment, I don’t think anyone in Europe would be happy about facing a German team. We, and also Dortmund and Schalke, have earned great respect around Europe,” he said to the official Bayern website.

“It’s proof that the Bundesliga has carved out a place in Europe. Both Dortmund and Schalke survived difficult groups, meaning the Bundesliga has again made up valuable points on the Premier League in the five-year ranking.”

Further praise for German achievements comes from former Borussia Dortmund coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, who predicted that a golden age lay ahead for football in Germany.

“Clubs and national team profit from youth schemes,” Hitzfeld, now coach of Switzerland, wrote in his weekly Kicker column. “Bayern have Muller, Kroos and Badstuber. Dortmund have Gotze, Reus and Hummels, and Schalke have Holtby, Draxler and Matip, to name a few.

“The German stadiums are filled. Therefore, the good record of German clubs is logical.

“If Barcelona, Real and Bayern are regarded as the favourites, after this group stage you have to name Dortmund as well.”

In previous generations, German footballers (and West German before that) earned a reputation for being arrogant. They weren’t, they were just very good. It would appear, that as the country appears set to regain it place at the pinnacle of European football, those accusations will once again be levelled at Germany. Arrogant or proud of their achievements? It’s a thin line.

Trouble on the horizon?

It would be misleading to suggest that everything is rosy in the garden of German football.

Crowd trouble remains a small, but growing problem with figures showing that incidents of hooliganism have grown by 120 per cent in the past 12 years.

Borussia Dortmund president Hans-Joachim Watzke has argued that the trouble is a problem of society and called upon politicians to act.

“The issue is not within football itself,” the 53-year-old told Sky Sport News, adding: “It is a society problem. There are more injuries [occurring due to riots] at Oktoberfest.”

“Pyrotechnics are an absolute no-go, because they are simply too dangerous. That is a fact. We are constantly in controversial and constructive discussions with our fans. We try to convince our fans.”

It’s a tricky balancing act for the German authorities: sustaining the aforementioned vibrant fan culture without indulging the darker forces that utilise its potency.

On the warpath

Former Brazil great Romario says he is collecting signatures among other members of the country’s congress to investigate alleged corruption at the nation’s football federation.

Romario has been a persistent and vocal critic of the country’s governing body, which is being watched closely as it organizes the 2014 World Cup.

“We in the chamber (of deputies) will no longer allow this kind deceit of the people,” Romario wrote.

Romario said on his website that in 24 hours he gathered signatures of 188 legislators in favor of forming a commission to investigate the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). Only 171 are needed to install a commission.

In the document circulated by Romario, he suggests fraud may have taken place in the election of federation President Jose Maria Marin. Marin succeeded Ricardo Teixeira, who resigned in March amid charges of wrongdoing.

Let’s be honest here, in the murky dealings of the CBF it would represent a genuine shock if fraud didn’t routinely take place in the election of officials. Credit to Romario for taking the road less travelled.

Sexy and they know it

Stuck for Christmas presents this year?

A calendar’s always a safe bet at this time of year and you could do worse than buy one produced by cartoonist James Husbands entitled ‘Sexy Managers’.

It is, as the blurb points out, ‘the perfect gift for any football fan…featuring all our favourite managers in their very best poses’. Some of the images are genuinely disturbing, but mostly they’re harmless and quite amusing.

To get a good luck at the images, click here and if you want to buy one, then you can do so here.

Finally…

Sticking with the Christmas theme and a surprising tasteful offering from Everton.

The Premier League club have produced an online advert to promote their club shop. It’s heavily influenced by the John Lewis Christmas ads, but for a football club, it’s surprisingly palatable.

There’s a Halloween version where club captain Philip Neville jumps out of the box.