Milestones

As Pep Guardiola celebrated his 200th game in charge of Barcelona, Lionel Messi took his tally to 202 goals from 286 appearances in the 4-0 victory away to Viktoria Plzen.

Messi is now just 34 goals short of becoming Barcelona’s all-time top scorer and barring any catastrophic injury, the only question now is when, not if, he will pass that milestone.

“Messi will pass Cesar (Rodriguez) to become the top scorer in the history of the club, I consider it a done deal, and I don’t rule out that it will happen this year,” Guardiola told reporters.

“And he’s only 24. This says it all.”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the pitch, Victor Valdes also passed a milestone.

The keeper has not conceded a single goal since letting in two at Valencia in September. That’s 877 minutes, nine games and another club record.

As for Guardiola’s first 200 matches in charge, the bare statistics provide a compelling testament to his impact.

The 144 victories Barca have achieved during his time in charge give him a 72% win percentage, almost 15% higher than his nearest rivals, Frank Rijkaard on 58.6% and Johan Cruyff at 58.1%.

Under Guardiola Barcelona average 2.5 goals per game, which compares favourably to Cruyff’s Dream Team who managed  2.02 per game.

Stories we couldn’t make up

In 2010, Chilean wine company Concha y Toro, producers of the Casillero del Diablo range, signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Manchester United.

Until now there had been little visible sign of the relationship, but all that has changed with the release of an advert featuring Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Patrice Evra. Whatever other talents the trio might have, it’s fair to say that an ability to act is not among them.

Bahrain awarded Gulf Cup

Bahrain’s Olympic Committee has confirmed that the Gulf kingdom has replaced Iraq as host of the 2013 Gulf Cup.

General secretary Sheik Ahmed bin Hamad Al Khalifa says the decision to move venues was made by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, although no reason was given for the switch.

The 2013 Gulf Cup was originally awarded to Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, but Bahrain’s state-run media said Basra’s stadium and hotel construction were given a poor review by the GCC committee.

Iraqi sports officials criticized the move as politically motivated.

Basra will host the 22nd edition of the tournament in December 2014.

Iraqi FA president Najih Mahmoud said: “The extended period will help us in enhancing our infrastructure and improve our organisational abilities. The decision has nothing to do with the security concerns or any other considerations. We could have held the tournament in January 2013 but its success would be ascertained.”

Redknapp to undergo heart surgery

Tottenham have confirmed manager Harry Redknapp is to undergo minor heart surgery on Wednesday. The club had earlier announced that he would not be travelling to Russia for Spurs’ Europa League game against Rubin Kazan.

Redknapp said he was confident the problem would not stop him taking charge of Sunday’s Premier League match at Fulham.

He said: “I’m hoping I can be back at work again in a couple of days.”

On the stresses of management he added: “After a game I cannot sleep, there is too much going on in my head as I go over moves, think about game plans, think about which player has had a good or bad game – and it’s worse if you lose.”

And that’s just the stresses of the day job. Imagine what his heart goes through when he sits down with his accountant to compile the annual tax statement.

Goal of the Day

Valencia’s second in their 3-1 Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen was a clever backheel from striker Roberto Soldado.

The blame game

Former Netherlands and Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal has claimed that Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello have ruined foreign coaches’ chances of being appointed England manager.

“Hardly any country appoints a foreign manager these days. England have tried it twice with Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, but those two have ruined it for the rest,” Van Gaal told Voetbal International.

“There’s little doubt that the English FA will appoint an Englishman when they need a new manager.”

Indeed they probably will, but Van Gaal’s evident annoyance does prompt the question: why would any self-respecting foreign coach want to manage that rabble in the first place?

Milan to issue Cassano medical bulletin

Milan have confirmed that they intend to release details of the medical ailment suffered by Antonio Cassano.

Speculation over the cause has ranged from a mini stroke to a heart problem that requires surgery.

There have been suggestions that Cassano’s condition could be linked to that of Gennaro Gattuso, who has not played for Milan since suffering from blurred vision on the opening match of the season.

There are fears that the midfielder’s career could be over, but Gattuso’s more pressing concern is his general health and wellbeing.

“Before I saw triple and now double, so I am improving a little,” he said. “Football is no longer the central part of my thoughts. Now every day life is more important: it’s awful not being able to take the kids to school, not being able to drive.

“I find it hard to watch the TV and also to write an email on the PC: I see objects in one place while in reality they are in another. If you are not strong mentally, it’s very tough.”

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Roberto Mancini has admitted that Carlos Tevez only has to say sorry if he wishes to be welcomed back into the Manchester City fold.

“Every day, every morning all of us can make a mistake,” he said. “It is important to apologise for what you do and finish. I think it is. I asked him to apologise.

“It is easy. These are easy words. Always.”

Mancini is under some pressure to extend the olive branch to his recalcitrant player, given that there are fears within the club that Tevez may be entitled to terminate his contract if City refuse to field him.

Article 15 of FIFA’s regulations states that he must play for 10% of City’s total game time or be entitled to terminate his contract under ‘sporting just cause’ next summer.

“I don’t know his agent but I think that probably the people who stay around him don’t advise him well,” Mancini said in what may turn out to be the understatement of the season.

Fans behaving badly

Chelsea have condemned chants by their own supporters during Tuesday’s 1-1 Champions League draw at Genk.

Just to prove that awful behaviour is not confined to Italian fans, the 1,100 travelling supporters offered their backing to club captain John Terry, who is currently being investigated by the FA amid claims that he racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.

The visiting fans repeatedly sung “Anton Ferdinand: you know what you are”.

A Chelsea spokesman said in a statement: “The chanting was wholly inappropriate and we don’t condone it.”

Manager Andre Villas-Boas, who must have shared a glass of Arsene Wenger’s myopia-inducing home brew after Saturday’s thrilling Chelsea-Arsenal encounter, insisted he had not heard or seen anything untoward.

“I was concentrating on the game,” he said.

Finally…

At last some good news from the higher echelons of European football and a night to remember for APOEL Nicosia.

Their 2-1 victory over Porto kept them on top of Group G and left APOEL with a wonderful chance of becoming the first Cypriot team to reach the Champions League knockout stages.

“Certainly, it’s one of the most important moments in the history of this team,” APOEL coach Ivan Jovanovic said. “This gives us more motivation to remain in the fist two spots of the group and advance to the next round of the Champions League.”

“We know who we are, we know our opponents, we have great respect for Porto, Zenit, Shakhtar,” Jovanovic said. “We have great confidence and we’re going into these matches to show what we’re capable of.”

APOEL’s run in the competition certainly offers ample justification for Michel Platini’s decision to ensure more national champions from the smaller European leagues have a chance of reaching the Champions League group stages. I don’t think he envisaged a team such as APOEL reaching the knockout rounds, but that is where the Cypriot champions appear to be heading.

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