Taking the moral high ground

Milan president Silvio Berlusconi has reacted angrily to FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s claim that players should remain on the pitch when confronted by racist abuse.

Rossoneri midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng led his team-mates off the pitch during a friendly match at Pro Patria last week after being subjected to racist chanting from a small, but vocal minority of the home fans.

Blatter, at odds with the prevailing mood on this issue, said there should be “zero tolerance” for racism in the game but did not feel players should “run away” from racist abuse.

Berlusconi criticised the FIFA president’s stance today, telling radio station RTL: “I am of the opposite view.

“In fact, I thanked and congratulated my players for their decision to leave the field during the friendly in Busto Arsizio.

“This is an uncivilised problem that needs to be stopped, people should not allow these things to happen.

“Teams out on the pitch should set an example of civility and the educational role of football should not be underestimated.

“It’s not only about the behaviour of players in the game, but of the public, and everyone needs to avoid giving Italy a negative image.”

It’s hard to imagine that this is the same person, who a little over a year ago, said on his People of Freedom party website: ”Milan cannot turn into an Islamic city, a zingaropoli [Gypsytown] full of Roma camps, besieged by foreigners to whom the left wants to give the right to vote.”

With double standards like that, it would be have been a criminal waste of Berlusconi talents had he not entered politics.

Uphill battle

The scale of Italian football’s battle with racism was highlighted at the weekend during the Lazio-Calgliari encounter, when the referee warned both captains the match would be suspended unless fans desisted from racially abusing players.

During the game a section of fans in Lazio’s notorious Curva Nord abused the Cagliari player Victor Ibarbo. Nonetheless, Lazio president Claudio Lotito, has again denied his club has a serious problem with racism.

“Lazio is always called a racist club which is not true,” Lotito told Sky, in a statement that seemed designed to ward off the possibility of yet another sanction for his club.

“We have lots of non-white players. We can’t control the actions of individual fans. Coming to these sorts of judgments you risk criminalising thousands of fans for the actions of a few.

“Since I became president … certain modes of behaviour that were there before are no longer there. We are tough on the fans when they behave in a way that is against the law but today I can say the majority of the fans behaved themselves.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Prince-Boateng, the player whose walkout sparked the latest bout of soul searching within the Italian football community, has admitted that he may leave the country to escape the stench of racism.

“It’s not something which you can just shake off,” he said. “I will sleep on it for the next three nights and then sit down with my agent Roger Wittmann next week. We will have to see if it’s really worth carrying on playing in Italy.”

Boateng said he was proud his team-mates had joined him in boycotting the match and revealed the chants started before the game commenced.

“I could hear the first monkey calls after five minutes when I was on the ball,” he said. “At first, I didn’t think anything of it but then it happened over and over again. I went to the referee and told him that if I hear it again, then I’d quit. He tried to calm me down. When it started again in the 26th minute with the monkey calls, then I thought: ‘That’s it, I’m not carrying on.’”

Where there’s smoke…

Coincidentally, or not, Lazio have been charged by UEFA over the alleged racist behaviour of their supporters during November’s Europa League draw against Tottenham.

Lazio supporters mocked Spurs’ links with the Jewish community by chanting “Juden Tottenham” at the away fans during the 0-0 draw at the Stadio Olimpico on November 22.

A statement from UEFA read: “UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against S.S. Lazio. Charges relate to the alleged racist behaviour of Lazio supporters during the Italian club’s 0-0 UEFA Europa League Group J draw against Tottenham Hotspur FC in Rome on 22 November 2012.

“Proceedings will also be instigated against S.S. Lazio for throwing of missiles and/or fireworks by their supporters, incidents of a non-sporting nature, late team arrival at the stadium, and late handling of the team sheet.”

Spurs have also been charged – presumably for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Can’t please all the people all the time

In a rare intimation of humility, Cristiano Ronaldo has admitted that while he does his utmost to please as many people as possible, he finds it impossible to keep everyone happy.

Ronaldo has performed wonders on the pitch in recent years, but his feats have been overshadowed by his nemesis, Lionel Messi, who is tipped to pip the Portuguese once again in Tuesday’s Ballon d’Or awards.

Living in the Messianic era clearly irks the Portuguese striker whose self-regard is such that he has long since stopped comparing himself to mere mortals.

“Not even God can please everyone. I always try to be a good person who the majority of people like. But showing too much humility is a flaw. People either hate me or love me,” he told Globo. 

“I always try and work hard in order to be the best at what I do. In my opinion, everybody should have the objective to be the best at what they do, regardless of his or her profession.”

Ronaldo is one of three players still in the running for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or alongside Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Pinocchio approach to Financial Fair Play

Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) new commercial partnership with the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) is justified by the Ligue 1 giant’s growing influence in the Arabic region, according to club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Al-Khelaifi told L’Equipe that the partnership is set to be formally announced in the next few weeks. QTA is expected to invest up to €200 million a year into PSG until 2016. The agreement has been questioned as it appears to contravene UEFA’s financial fair play regulations.

“The contract with QTA is justified because PSG’s influence in the whole region, not only in Qatar, has been important,” Al-Khelaifi said, his nose growing visibly each time he opened his mouth. “We have been building an international brand. This deal is a strong symbol. Qatar have benefited a lot from their investments in PSG.”

PSG’s heavy spending shows no sign of abating and this week the club spent €40 million on Sao Paulo midfielder Lucas Moura. The QTA deal will aid the club’s investment plans and will be retroactive meaning it will also help cover the huge transfer fees commanded by summer signings like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva.

“We will keep on investing,” added Al-Khelaifi. “It’s necessary to become one of the great European clubs. Other clubs have invested for 20 years. We have been there for a year and a half and now we must stop pouring money? It would be unfair.”

Barring one or two notable exceptions, other clubs have invested the money they have earned over the past 20 years. Therein lies the difference.

Goal of the day

Wonderful piece of improvisation by Benfica’s Nicholas Gaitan in his side’s 3-1 win over Estoril.

Quote of the day

“I will return to coach because I am young. I am 41. I have no team yet but I will coach. I don’t have a team, I don’t know, but I would like to go back to coaching. My decision has been taken to coach, but beyond that there is no decision taken.”

Pep Guardiola confirms he will return to coaching next season.

Poacher turned gamekeeper

Carlos Tevez has been explaining how he has tried to help Mario Balotelli through his current crisis of confidence, even letting the Italian striker take a free-kick during a recent match.

“I have tried to help him,” Tevez said according to the The Independent. “I have talked to him on and off the pitch.

“I talked to him just before we took a free-kick and I let him take it just so he could improve his confidence.”

Well, sometimes it’s the little things in life that count.

“I have been where he is now, so I know how it is and am always keen to help him through those moments. These kinds of things have happened at all the clubs I have been at.

“However, here at Manchester City the spotlight is always on us and always on Roberto and Mario, so it always makes the news. But this kind of thing happens everywhere.”

Down under

Perth Glory have ruled out making a move for Stoke City striker Michael Owen.

The former England international was rumored to be interested in a switch to the A-League, having struggled to set the world alight since joining Stoke in September.

But, after being linked with Glory, the Perth club has now dismissed a possible move.

“Michael is a player who comes with a high pedigree but it’s not the direction I want to take the club,” Perth coach Ian Ferguson said in a statement. “I am looking for a younger player and a player who has been playing more regularly.

“I have three or four irons in the fire that I am pursuing, which is good.”

To be honest, if these targets were literally irons in a fire they would still be more mobile than the current incarnation of Owen,who is not so much a shadow of his former self as a shadow of his former shadow.

Finally…

Brazil legend Ronaldo is moving to Britain to become a student.

The World Cup winner plans to study advertising, according to Brazil’s Veja magazine. He will stay for at least two years and take up a work placement with London-based communications company WPP, under the supervision of Sir Martin Sorrell.

Ronaldo is also on the organising committees for the 2014 Brazil World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics.

His spokesman said: “He intends to go to England, which he will receive advice and guidance from Mr Sorrell, who’s the head of the world’s largest advertising company.”

WPP is the world’s largest communications services group, employing 162,000 people, in 3,000 offices in 110 countries.

Ronaldo told a Brazilian newspaper: “Eighteen years have passed and I’ve hardly studied at all. I feel a great need to become a student again. I’ve learned a lot in life, travelling, living abroad, just in the school of life.

“But I also have to immerse myself in something. Learning from Martin will be perfect. I won’t leave him alone, I’ll be asking him questions all day.”