Champions League returns
The Champions League groups stages kick off returns tonight and depending upon your viewpoint, it’s either the moment when the European season truly kicks off or, the start of yet another endless procession of predictable matches culminating in the same clubs reaching the knockout stages.
The pick of tonight’s games sees Italian champions, Milan, start their campaign with a daunting trip to holders Barcelona.
The match provides Milan midfielder Mark van Bommel with an opportunity to renew acquaintance with his former team mates. The midfielder spent a season at Camp Nou five years ago, but the lasting memory most of his former colleagues will have of him will be from last year’s World Cup final.
Van Bommel, along with his team mates, earned criticism for an overly physical approach to that game, and his presence for Milan has prompted questions about a fear factor within the Barca camp.
“I do not fear Van Bommel, I had no problems with him at Barca. I have nothing against him,” Andrew Iniesta told reporters during a pre-match press conference.
“I like to think we all act in good faith, defending our own interests. There were hard tackles but it ended very well for me, for us.”
It did for Iniesta, who scored the winner in that game, but a quick look at this clip shows how differently it could have ended.
Kick-start the season
For Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal, tonight’s Champions League opener represents an opportunity to kick-start their respective seasons.
Arsenal’s problems have been well-documented, and Bundesliga champions, Dortmund, have not exactly fared much better. Five games into the campaign and they languish in the lower half of the table with just 7 points.
Another team looking for a transformation in form, is Marseille. Last year’s runners-up in the French league have picked up just three points from their opening five matches this season.
Marseille face Greek side Olympiakos, who have yet to play a match this season having seen both their league games postponed.
As openers go, Marseille couldn’t really have asked for much more. Coach Didier Deschamps though, was in a glass half empty kind of mood.
“The fact Olympiakos haven’t played yet is not ideal, as we only have information from their friendly matches, but they are an attacking side with quality players in midfield and attack,” he said.
Channel 4’s Dispatches exposé on the problems of drug taking within English football turned out to be something of a damp squib. Viewers hoping for any scandalous revelations about big-name players, or at least a chemical explanation for England’s dismal World Cup campaign in South Africa, will have been left disappointed by the programme.
The highest profile player named was Scottish international, Garry O’Connor, who tested positive for cocaine while on Birmingham’s books in 2009. Perhaps more damaging was the revelation that his then manager, Alex McCleish, covered for O’Connor when the player was serving a two-month drug ban, by telling reporters the striker was undergoing an operation.
The FA do not reveal the identity of those who fail tests, claiming that the public exposure would undermine their attempts to rehabilitate players. Mmm.
O’Connor is now with Scottish outfit Hibernian and last May fled from police officers who eventually caught up with him and found him in possession of a white powder, suspected to be cocaine.
So much for rehabilitation.
Too old, too slow
Fernando Torres is under investigation by his club Chelsea – not as you night expect for impersonating a striker – for describing some of his team mates as too old and too slow. To be frank, I wonder who he could be referring to.
The comments published on his website last weekend were taken from an interview he gave in Spain. Inevitably, Torres, who has lived in England for four years now and seems to be relatively fluent in the language, claims his remarks were translated incorrectly.
Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas, who was preparing for his first ever Champions League group game and could have done without the distraction, said the matter would be looked into.
“We are going in-depth to regain the tape of that interview,” said Villas-Boas. “He says he didn’t say that. We will see if things play exactly as they are in that interview.”
Wizard of Oz
On the subject of players getting slower and older, Harry Kewell has been speaking about his decision to return to Australia to finish his career with A-League outfit Melbourne Victory.
Kewell, who after spending months trying to eke as as much cash out of Australian football, eventually agreed to join Melbourne in a novel deal. His salary is under wraps, but what is known is that his basic wage will be supplemented by any revenue he brings to the club in terms of memberships, jersey sales and sponsorships.
“I still feel like I can play at the highest level and I want to be able to show that to my team-mates, the players I play against and also the fans,” said the 32-year-old, who has signed a three-year deal.
“It’s the right moment for me to come back and give something back to Australian football.”
By squeezing it dry?
Goal of the day
Today’s goal of the day comes from the Danish Suoperliga. It’s a wonderful swivel and volley from Soren Berg in AGF’s 4-2 win over Midtjylland.
Former Mexico international Benjamin Galindo has been named as the third coach of the year at Santos Laguna. He replaces Diego Cocca, who was fired 10 days ago after only six months in charge.
Galindo is clearly a glutton for punishment, as he returns to the club after enduring a short, unhappy stint in 2006.
“Benjamin wants to make up for last time and now has more experience and a squad with more potential than the first time around,” said Santos the trigger-happy president Alejandro Irarrogorri.
Vote of confidence
Alarm bells are already ringing for Roma coach Luis Enrique. Having seen his side knocked out of the Europa League, the new Serie A season began badly for the club with a home defeat to Cagliari.
Nonetheless, Roma’s owner, Thomas Di Benedetto, in terms he may one day come to regret, has reiterated his support of Enrique.
La Repubblica reports that Di Benedetto confirmed that: “The Spanish coach is untouchable, even if we lose every game.
Further support for the fledgling coach came from midfielder Daniele De Rossi.
“He’s an honest person and an innovative Coach, a young one who likes possession and offensive football,” De Rossi told Sky Sport Italia.
De Rossi was even able to find a silver lining to Roma’s Europa league exit.
“Our exit from the Europa League will mean that we’ll avoid some long midweek trips and this could actually be an advantage to us,” he said.
World Cup cutbacks
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has revealed that Russia intends to reduce the number of stadiums it plans to use to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Russia’s bid had originally proposed 16 stadiums in 13 cities, but a desire to cut costs will see that number shrink to 12 or 13.
However, Mutko told Reuters: “Twelve is a more practical number because the more cities you have, the bigger the cost is of staging the tournament. We haven’t made the final decision and in theory all 16 (original) venues still have a chance to be selected. But in the end we would have no more than 13 stadiums.”
When they’ve stopped barracking Fernando Torres, don’t be too surprised to hear Chelsea fans haranguing Bayer Leverkusen midfielder, Sidney Sam, during tonight’s Champions League encounter.
Ahead of the game at Stamford Bridge, Sam decided to update his Facebook page with his thoughts about the match.
“Torres, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Ashley Cole,” Sam wrote. “Who the f*** are Chelsea London?”
Remarks, which even allowing for the sub-standard translators employed by professional footballers, seem clear enough.