Political football

No one had him marked down as a peace maker or a diplomat, but FIFA president Sepp Blatter has promised to do everything he can to ease travel restrictions placed on Palestinian footballers by the Israeli authorities and to help resolve the differences between the two sides.

After getting through the Confederations Cup unscathed, solving the Israel-Palestine crisis should be a piece of cake.

Blatter is in the Middle East on a diplomatic visit partly designed to relax the growing tension between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Palestinian FA are angry that Israel’s security forces, who control movement between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, often prevent its players from travelling freely between the two separated territories.

“I will go to defend not only the Palestine Football Association but I will defend the basic principles of FIFA (which are) to connect people and not to separate people…,” said Blatter on the eve of his visit. “The principles are … to recognise each other through football and to live not only in peace but in harmony.”

Blatter told an audience at Al-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus: “We will help you. Football will help you. I have taken you in my heart. I’m in a sport-diplomatic mission to transmit to the Israeli authorities the problems which your football faces, especially when it comes to the movement of players to get in and out of Palestine. I will fight for your cause. Football shall not create borders; football shall bring people together.”

However, the one thing that FIFA could do, the one thing that might make Israel think twice about restricting the movement of Palestinian athletes, Blatter seems reluctant to consider: namely the expulsion or suspension of Israel from FIFA.

Palestine FA head Jibril Rajoub has warned that if the matter is not resolved satisfactorily, he will call on delegates at next year’s FIFA Congress to expel Israel.

“We hope the Israelis will not lose this chance to reconsider their behaviour with the Palestinians. If they do not … we will ask next year that Israel should be expelled from FIFA,” Rajoub said.

Hristo almighty

Former European Footballer of the Year Hristo Stoichkov has resigned as coach of CSKA Sofia on Monday after just a month in charge of the troubled Bulgarian club, saying he had lost faith in the owners and their “endless lies”.

“I’m fed up, I’m leaving,” the former Barcelona striker said in a letter addressed to local media.

“I agreed to start coaching without a contract and I had a great desire to help.

“I had the support of the players and my staff. We endured until it became clear there’s no chance of promises being fulfilled.”

CSKA are the most successful Bulgarian club with 31 league titles but have hit difficult times of late with inept performances on the pitch combining with stifling levels of debt.

Titan Sport, a subsidiary of Titan International Holdings, have presided over this mess since acquiring 100 percent of CSKA shares in 2009.

In an attempt to pour oil on the troubled waters ahead of the start of the new season on July 20, they turned to Stoichkov last month for their fourth coach of the year.

Stoichkov was warmly received by thousands of fans during the club’s first pre-season training session, but the problems quickly followed.

Only two weeks later, the owners said that they had transferred all their 6.5 million shares to the 47-year-old Stoichkov, although the deal has yet to be concluded.

Stoichkov also said that several businessmen were ready to start investing in the club but the owners had prevented the change of the ownership.

“It is not my understanding of fair, transparent and professional work,” said Stoichkov. “This is no way to achieve high goals if there’s no respect between players, coaches and officials on the one hand, and the club owners on the other.

“Lies cannot be endless and we cannot go forward. Or at least I can not so.”

Only a small number of CSKA players continue training amid mounting uncertainty ahead of the start of the new season.

Goal of the day

Martinique stunned Canada at the Gold Cup, with their 1-0 win coming courtesy of a 93rd minute screamer from Fabrice Reuperne.

Gold standard

While Canada were being embarrassed by Martinique, perennial Gold Cup favourites Mexico suffered an equally humiliating defeat – a 2-1 reverse to Panama.

The loss heaped further pressure on coach Jose Manuel ‘Chepo’ de la Torre, who was already under fire after a poor run in World Cup qualifying campaign which has yielded just one win in six in 2013, and a disappointing showing at the Confederations Cup.

Nevertheless, Chepo, stoic chap that he is, fended off criticisms from the media and dismissed calls for him to resign.

While the press reacted to the defeat in a relatively civil fashion, the disgruntled Mexico supporters were less forgiving, resulting in Chepo having to withstand a barrage of objects as he left the pitch.

Quote of the day

“I think Didier Drogba, as a man and as a professional, is a good guy to be looked at as a very special player in the history of this club. I can use Didier as a profile to persuade the young boys to follow me because he did follow me from day one.”

Jose Mourinho believes Didier Drogba is a perfect role model for young players. We’ll just gloss over those minor outbursts whenever Chelsea were dumped out of the Champions League.

Force majeure

Paris St Germain sporting director Leonardo has confirmed negotiations are underway with Napoli regarding a deal to sign Edinson Cavani.

French champions PSG have emerged as the favourites to sign the Uruguayan striker and are understood to have already made a £43million offer for the striker.

However, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has been insistent that the Uruguay international will not be leaving the Serie A club for less than the €63m (£54m) buy-out clause in his contract.

“We presented De Laurentiis with an offer that I consider really interesting,” Leonardo told Il Mattino.

“The negotiations continue. We will remain in contact and, in these next few days, there could be news.”

Reports have claimed that Cavani, who is under contract at Napoli until 2017, has been offered a five-year deal by PSG worth €10m (£8.6m) per season.

The emergence of the nouveau riche French clubs PSG and Monaco has, if nothing else, livened up what has been a pretty moribund transfer market. Chelsea are understood to have made an approach to Napoli, but are not willing to meet the release clause in the 26-year-old’s contract.

Cavani made it known earlier in the summer that it would be a ‘dream’ to play for Real Madrid, but with the Spanish outfit unwilling or unable to commit to such an expensive deal, the path was open for PSG to flex their growing, steroid enhanced, financial muscle.

The long term consequences for European football in the age of Financial Fair Play, remain to be seen.

Villa in Spain

Barcelona have reached an agreement in principle for the sale of striker David Villa to Atletico Madrid, the Primera Division champions have announced.

The Spain striker has just one year left on his deal at the Nou Camp, so Atletico have been able to agree a deal for a fee of £4.5million. In this day and age, and in the light of the figures bandied about for Cavani, that has to represent fantastic value for money.

Tottenham and Manchester United have been linked with a move for the former Valencia forward, who has chosen to stay in Spain.

Prepare to be disappointed

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney has suggested that the current England squad can challenge for the World Cup in Brazil next year.

Rooney has won plenty of silverware during his time at Old Trafford, but international success has thus far eluded the 27-year-old.

Perhaps feeding off the Wimbledon success of fellow Britain Andy Murray – although it should be noted that unlike most English footballers, Murray is not only a world class performer, but also tee-total and a dedicated professional athlete – Rooney believes that the time is ripe for England to buck the sorry trend of international failure.

“Playing for my country is obviously something that I’m very proud about,” he said.

“But if I finish my England career without winning anything then it won’t be the success it could be be.

“You can have as many caps or goals as you want but it’s all about trophies if I’m going to look back on my time in an England shirt as a success.

But the Manchester United striker is convinced that he still has time to help England achieve success, with the current squad stronger than ever.

“There’s a few more years to go in which we can do just that. And I think that is achievable with this current England squad under Roy Hodgson.

“World Cups and European Championships are tough to play in, with some great teams.

“But we’ve got more youngsters coming through now than ever before in my time with the squad.

“It should give us the belief and energy we need to win a tournament,”  added Rooney.

If only it was that simple.

Bonus culture

Nigeria’s sports ministry has set up a panel to investigate the player bonus row that almost disrupted the country’s participation at the Confederations Cup when the squad initially refused to travel to Brazil.

A statement from the ministry said the six-member panel will begin work on Thursday and report back within two weeks.

The Nigerian players refused to go to the Confederations Cup last month after their bonuses for World Cup qualifying were cut in half by the federation from $10,000 for a win and $5,000 for a draw to $5,000 and $2,500.

The sports ministry intervened and made extra money available, eventually allowing the squad to travel to Brazil – where it arrived just in time for its opening game.

The Nigerian squad arrived in Brazil two days late and only around 36 hours before its opening game against Tahiti.

Finally…

Brazil’s reputation as the home of the ‘beautiful game has taken something of a pounding in recent weeks, and its status will not have been helped by a truly appalling and barely believable incident that took place in a local league match last week.

Police in the north of the country say one man has been arrested after a referee who fatally stabbed a player during a match was beheaded by angry spectators who stormed the field.

Local reports said the incident, which took place in the remote Brazilian town of Pio XII, occurred when the player, 30-year-old Josenir dos Santos, became involved in an argument with the referee, Octavio da Silva.

As the confrontation escalated, Da Silva allegedly produced a knife and stabbed the player, who died while being taken to hospital.

Reports said that outraged spectators responded by attacking Da Silva, before severing his head and sticking it on a stake in the middle of the field.

Police spokesman Valter Costa was quoted as saying: “We will identify and hold accountable all those involved in this incident. One crime will never justify another. Actions like this do not correspond with state law.”

Or any law.

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