He who pays the piper…

Television channels in China would like the Clasico game between Real Madrid and Barcelona to be played at noon on December 11. They’d probably like it played in Beijing, but they’re prepared to take it one step at a time.

An estimated 60 million Chinese people watched Real’s 7-1 thrashing of Osasuna on Sunday, in a match played at noon in order to stimulate interest in La Liga in Asia. It’s unclear how many people watched until the end, with many, in search of a more competitive fixture, reportedly switching channels to view the annual Shanghai Shooting Fish in the Barrel final.

It was the first time Real Madrid had kicked off that early and if the viewing audience in China is confirmed at twice the population of Spain, it certainly won’t be the last.

AS quoted Chinese Shenzhen Newspapers as saying: “How wonderful it was to see Real play after dinner, without having to wait until dawn to see the game.”

AS quoted the official Chinese press agency Xinhua thus: “The Real-Barca game should be played at the same time because it would have a massive audience in China. Spain wants to take care of its Chinese fans and this is why it has changed the kick-off times of the games.”

Given that there’s little money in Spain at the moment, they might as well chase the Chinese Renminbi. Who knows, perhaps earlier kick-offs to appease the Asian market can form part of a Chinese rescue package to revive the moribund Spanish economy.

Coincidentally, Barcelona president, Sandro Rosell, said on Monday, that television rights money in Spain needed to be shared out more equally.

“It is the only league where TV rights are negotiated individually and some time in the next three or four or five years we have to put it all in one pot and make the distribution the way it is in Serie A and the Premier League,” he said.

Perhaps, finally, the penny has dropped.

All change at Fiorentina

Sinisa Mihajlovic has been sacked as coach of Serie A side Fiorentina and replaced by Delio Rossi.

Mihajlovic, 42, was already under pressure and Sunday’s 1-0 defeat by Chievo – which left them 11th in the table – proved the final straw for the club board.

“Sinisa Mihajlovic did his job with dedication and professionalism,” a Fiorentina statement read. “We want to thank him and wish him the best so that this career can continue with increasing satisfaction and success.”

The Serb came in for some heavy criticism from the club’s supporters in the closing weeks of his tenure. Many called on Mihajlovic to quit but also attacked his Serbian nationality. However, guilt-stricken fans then hung a banner at the club apologising for their behaviour, which read: “As a coach we can oppose you but as a man we respect you, sorry!”

Mihajlovic, no stranger to racist controversies, will understand the irony of the situation.

Time to move on?

The Football Association have once again written to FIFA asking them to change their minds about letting England wear poppies on the shirts when they take on Spain on Saturday.

It’s clearly not enough that there will be a minute’s silence preceding the game, plus a two-minute silence the day before, nor that their training tops will bear the poppy logo, nor indeed that there will be the armed forces on the pitch at the start of the game on Saturday, as well 500 servicemen and women in the stands. No, they insist the poppy adorns their kit for a meaningless friendly match.

Very few people would begrudge a country the right to honour its dead, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that in England, the reverence with which the public is implored to treat the armed forces, is bordering on the fetishistic.

Slave trade

Goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, betraying an ignorance of history or perhaps the English language, has claimed he is being treated like a “slave” by Manchester United after manager Sir Alex Ferguson blocked a proposed loan move to Leeds.

Kuszczak said: “I’ve become a slave to Manchester. I’m frustrated but I don’t want to slander or criticise Ferguson. It’s not my style.

“I’ve talked to Ferguson recently. I asked him to let me leave the club now, before the January transfer window. I told him I want to play and get back into the national team, because Euro 2012 [which Poland will co-host with Ukraine] is just around the corner – but it seems he doesn’t care.”

More likely, he’s relishing the predicament of bitter rivals Leeds, who are certainly in dire need of an experienced keeper at the moment. Current incumbent Paul Rachubka was hauled off at half-time in the recent 5-0 home defeat to Blackpool. Looking at the three first half goals, he was lucky to last that long.

Naming rights

Chelsea are set to announce a naming rights sponsor for their Stamford Bridge stadium in the new year.

Chief executive Ron Gourlay said: “We have outgrown our stadium.”

Scanning the thousands of empty seats for this season’s Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen, it certainly looked big enough that night.

“We hope to make an announcement on naming rights in the next six to eight months. It would make a big step as we have to drive up the revenues.”

“We need a 60-65,000 stadium. We have the eighth biggest stadium in England and the 61st biggest in Europe.

“But when you look at the activity of stadiums planned for next few years, we will fall out of the top 75 which can only be restrictive to the football club. We have corporate hospitality that is second to none and 30,000 season ticket holders.”

The long-term desire to extend capacity is clearly an issue for an aspirational club like Chelsea, but equally pressing is the short-term need to increase revenue before UEFA introduces its Financial Fair Play regulations.

Manchester City, you may recall, cannily sidestepped the regulations by signing a naming rights deal worth £400million with Etihad Airways. A comparable agreement for Chelsea would ensure a steady supply of Fernadno Torres-sized signings for the foreseeable future. And there appears to be not a thing that UEFA president, Michel Platini, can do about it.

Suarez speaks out on race charge

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has broken his silence over the Patrice Evra row to deny claims he racially abused the Manchester United defender.

The Football Association has spoken to both players and its investigation is ongoing, with Evra claiming that Suarez repeatedly verbally abused him.

“The FA will have to clear it up with him, because there is no proof at all that I have said anything racist,” Suarez told Uruguayan newspaper El Pais.

“I didn’t say anything like that to him. There are things that happen in football, all in the moment, that leaves one feeling bad.

“Now we have to wait to see this issue decided and then the Manchester player and I will have to clear things up.

“Depending on who ends up in the wrong, one of us will have to apologise.

“There were two sides of our discussion, one in Spanish and one in English. I didn’t insult him, it was just my way of expressing myself.

“I called him something that his own Manchester United players call him. Furthermore, even they were surprised at his reaction on the pitch.”

Goal of the day

Today’s efforts comes from Arsenal Sarandi’s Apertura victory over San Martin. Emilio Zelaya deftly flicks the ball over the defender before lobbing the keeper

Tough justice

South Korea is to impose tougher punishments for match-fixing in sports in the wake of the scandal that hit the nation’s professional football league earlier this year.

Under the new government regulations, players or coaches involved in match-fixing will face fines of up to 50 million won (£31,000), up from the maximum 15 million won now.

Brokers who bribe players or coaches will face imprisonment of up to five years or a maximum fine of 50 million won, an increase on the previous punishments of up to two years in prison or 10 million won in fines.

Dozens of people were charged with rigging K-League football games after revelations in May this year that players had taken bribes from betting rings.

Goalkeepers are different

Police say Hibernian goalkeeper Graham Stack has been arrested after a fight broke out in a London club.

Stack was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm to a man in his 20s in an incident that took place early Monday.

The news comes just 24 hours after the arrest of Rangers keeper, Grant Adam, who was charged following an altercation in a Glasgow nightclub.

In a bid to deal with the problems associated with excess drinking, there’s been talk recently of introducing legislation to increase the cost of alcohol in Scotland. A laudable sentiment, but they’d have to go some if they’re going to find a tariff that deters professional footballers from getting drunk.

Finally…

Gary Smith, the coach who led the Colorado Rapids to their only MLS Cup last November, has left the club in acrimonious circumstances.

Rapids’ managing director Jeff Plush announced Monday he decided not to renew Smith’s contract, which ended with the 2011 season.

“I’ve worked tirelessly under extreme duress at the club, I’ve gotten little to no help from Paul (technical director Paul Bravo) or from Jeff, and still managed to put a team together that won a championship and got in the playoffs this year,” Smith said. “I feel as though I’ve been very disrespected in all of this.”

Plush responded by saying: “Reasonable people can disagree what the right next path is, whether that’s players or travel (arrangements). There’s any number of things. I wouldn’t pin it on any one thing. I think it’s more philosophical.”

Plush said he has a list of potential coaches and expects to attract a quality replacement for Smith.

“We’re a good team, we’ve got players under contract, it’s a great soccer facility in one of the loveliest markets in North America to live in,” Plush said. “So there’ll be no lack of candidates who will be interested in this opportunity.”

Top of that list if believed to be former Rapids striker, John Spencer, who impressed observers leading the Portland Timbers in their inaugural season in MLS.

Spencer captained  the Rapids to three straight play-off appearances from 2002-04 and he was inducted to the Rapids Gallery of Honour on August 30, 2009.

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