FIFA hits back against Europe

FIFA has responded to claims made by a Council of Europe advisory panel motion that there were “certain inaccuracies” in Sepp Blatter’s re-election as president last year.

The Council of Europe’s committee on culture, science, education and media had called for an investigation into whether “the successful candidate” (Blatter) had exploited his position to obtain “unfair advantages” during last year’s election. Do the words ‘no brainer’ mean anything in the corridors of the Council of Europe?

The committee added that FIFA should “cast full light on the facts underlying the various scandals which, in recent years, have tarnished its image and that of international football”.

The sun itself would struggle to illuminate the murky goings on at FIFA in recent years.

FIFA responded by reminding the Council that Blatter had been exonerated in an investigation conducted by his, sorry its Ethics Committee.

Bayern consider legal action

Bayern Munich said they could consider taking legal action over media reports suggesting their coach Jupp Heynckes will leave the club at the end of the season.

A dismal run which has seen Bayern win just 4 of their last 9 games has prompted media speculation about the future of Heynckes. However, the German outfit have been swift to dispel talk of him being fired.

“Bayern Munich have full confidence in Jupp Heynckes and his work,” Bayern said in a statement.

“Parts of the media have speculated about the early resignation of Jupp Heynckes and there are rumours suggesting there have already been discussions at the club about the coaching position.

“Those in charge of Bayern Munich condemn this outrageous media speculation, which is based on no facts, in the strongest terms.

“We protest against this type of ‘gossip journalism’ and will be investigating our legal options in the future.”

Coincidentally, or not, Bayern have had a total of six coaches in the past five years.

Super Mario

Camera shy, publicity shy, Manchester City forward, Mario Balotelli, has broken his media silence by conducting an interview to be screened this Saturday on BBC’s Football Focus programme.

Balotelli, an Oasis fan, only consented to the interview on the condition that the band’s former songwriter, Noel Gallagher, posed the questions. Gallagher, a lifelong City fan, was only too happy to oblige.

The backdrop to the encounter is almost as interesting as the interview itself, with the BBC’s Dan Walker explaining how he eventually persuaded the reticent Italian to speak to the media. Perhaps the most revealing moment of the interview, in that it demonstrates a surprising degree of naivety on the part of Balotelli, comes when he asks City fanatic, Gallagher, ‘Why do you like me so much?’

Hopefully, the musician/footballer crossover interview will be contagious. With a bit of luck and in about 30 years time, we might be able to get Shakira to persuade Carlos Tevez to spill the beans about his days in England.

Goals of the day

Yes, that’s goals plural. On the day that Lionel Messi was acclaimed by some as the best footballer ever, Brazil’s Neymar served notice that he too may one day join the pantheon of greats, by scoring a Libertadores Cup hat-trick against Internacional.

The first goal was from the penalty spot, but goals 2 and 3 were rather wonderful, identikit solo efforts.

With Neymar scoring wondergoals, Messi breaking Champions League records and Cristiano Ronaldo averaging more than a goal a game for the past two years, it’s worth asking whether we’re in living in a Golden Age of attacking. Or, if you’re a glass half-empty type, you may prefer to think of this as a Dark Age of defending.

Quotes of the day

Too many eulogies to Lionel Messi to choose from, so here’s a sample of some of the tributes paid to the Barcelona forward after he became the first player to score five goals in a Champions League game.

“At least I can say that I have coached Lionel Messi. Messi is among the greatest. Di Stefano, Cruyff, Maradona… And I add Pele, otherwise he’ll be angry.”

Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola.

“Without Messi, they are still the best but with him they are from another galaxy.”

Bayer Leverkusen coach, Robin Dutt.

“It is not just about his five goals today, he has been showing this already for years. He is now in a region with Pele and Maradona. Sometimes, you have to stand on Messi’s feet to get a grip on the match.”

Rudi Voller, Bayer Leverkusen sporting director.

“Messi is a joke. For me the best ever.”

Wayne Rooney, Manchester United forward.

“Was this a CL game or was this Messi in a PlayStation game? Unstoppable!!”

Falcao, Ateltico Madrid striker.

Down to earth

After the excitement of the Lord Mayor’s show comes…the hangover that is the Europa League or, if you’re of a cynical bent, the Greater Manchester Consolation Plate.

United, the self-styled biggest club in the world and their upstart neighbours City, the nouveau richest club on the planet, are back in action tonight against Atheltic Bilbao and Sporting Lisbon respectively. Attractive ties they may be, but it’s hardly Barcelona at Camp Nou, is it.

Bilbao have been one of the surprise packages in Spain this season, challenging for a Champions League spot and already through to the final of the Spanish Cup. The Basque outfit’s campaign has been masterminded by wily Argentinian coach, Marcelo Bielsa, a mentor for manager-of-the-moment, Pep Guardiola.

United boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, is respectful of Bielsa and wary of the threat posed by his Bilbao side.

“I admire his work because I see the emergence of a very good Bilbao side,” he said.

“They are very determined and organised, with a great belief in themselves. That is the hallmark of their coach. He has instilled these qualities in his team.

There’s a fascinating dissection of Bielsa’s career in today’s Independent.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Signs of a thaw in relations between FIFA and 2014 World Cup hosts, Brazil with legendary World Cup striker Ronaldo admitting that FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke may have had a point when he inferred the country was incapable of making a caipirinha in a sugar plantation.

Valcke angered Brazil when he said the organising committee needed “a kick up the backside” if they were to get building work back on schedule.

“Valcke has already apologised to the Brazilian people. The way he made his criticisms was regrettable, but that is not to say that he wasn’t right,” Ronaldo told Bandeirantes TV.

“Brazil is late in infrastructure work, there are a lot of things which are behind schedule,” added Ronaldo, who is a member of the organising committee.

Malaysia cry foul

The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) have asked FIFA to take action against their head of security Chris Eaton after helinked them to alleged match fixing.

Eaton, who is stepping down from his role with football’s world governing body in May, was quoted by the Straits Times newspaper last month as saying he had unconfirmed allegations of match-fixing involving Malaysian officials.

The FAM said they wrote to Eaton asking for clarification of his remarks last month and earlier this week said they were disappointed with his reply.

“He has gone overboard with his unethical statement. I do not know if there is a hidden agenda but FIFA must explain if there is no evidence in such a claim,” FAM deputy president Prince Abdullah Ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah said.

“FIFA must also take action for issuing such a damaging statement.”

Malaysia has certainly had a problem in the past with match-fixing. In February, 18 youth players were banned for two-to-five years for match-fixing.

Can of worms opened

In a media-managed age one has to admire a global institution that permits its employees to speak openly, on the record, and with a degree of candour about their place of employment. However, when that institution is Liverpool FC, a walking, talking, t-shirt sporting, PR disaster, surely, in the current climate, any interview should be vetted in advance. When the interviewee is Glenn Johnson, the only non-white face in the starting line-up, then alarm bells should have begun ringing.

The conversation between the Liverpool full-back and the Daily Mail’s Ian Ladyman, turned, inevitably, to the recent controversy surrounding Luis Suarez’s refusal to shake hands with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, the man he was accused of racially abusing.

Although Johnson was on the pitch at the time of the infamous non-handshake, he didn’t actually witness the slight. In fact, he only saw it afterwards on television, thus rendering his assessment, like everyone else watching from afar, relatively meaningless.

Johnson told the Daily Mail: ”Evra was clever at Old Trafford. Because – I’m not being funny – but if I wanted to shake your hand I would stick it right out in front of me like that. But if my hand is down here, almost by my side, then it’s because I really don’t want to shake your hand.

“Evra probably stayed up all night thinking about how to do that. The whole thing was ridiculous.”

Incidentally, as for the controversial T-Shirts sported by the players in support of Suarez, well that was not the work of an enterprising player, but, admits Johnson, “It was the club’s idea. But obviously we all agreed. We didn’t really think about how people would react.”

No, Glen, that’s been half the problem throughout this whole sorry saga.

Finally…

Former Real Madrid defender and Marcos Alonso Imaz, better known as Marquitos, has died aged 78, the Spanish club said in a statement on Wednesday.

Playing alongside all time greats such as Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Gento, Marquitos was a five-time winner of theEuropean Cup between 1956 and 1960.  he also helped them to win five Spanish league titles, a Spanish Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.

Not a bad return for a player described by former team mate, Pachin, in El Pais, as “not very gifted technically gifted”

Marquitos, whose son was also a professional footballer, has a grandson, Marcos Alonso, who is on the books at Bolton Wanderers.