Match fixing: worst yet to come

Italy’s chief of police has warned that more football match-fixing is about to be revealed, an announcement that will send shivers down the spines of Italian football lovers.

Speaking alongside Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble at a meeting of foreign media, Antonio Manganelli said that “some illicit behaviour has already been uncovered to remarkable effect”.

He added: “Other developments could be on the way and they will give us more answers, answers that could be even more sensational.”

At least 50 people have been arrested for match-fixing since last year, with dozens more under investigation by prosecutors in Cremona and Bari. A number of  clubs and players have already been punished by sports courts. Antonio Conte, the coach of Serie A champion Juventus, recently had his ban reduced from 10 to four months.

Worse is to come. This really is a cleansing of the Augean stables.

Blame the foreigners

Michael Owen has blamed the increase in diving in English football on the influx of overseas players over the past decade.

“It’s worse than 10 years ago with the influence of players coming from South America, Spain and Italy,” said Owen.

But the former England striker admitted he went down easily to win a penalty not once, but twice during successive World Cup matches against Argentina in 1998 and 2002.

He told BBC Sport: “I was running flat out, got a nudge, went down. Could I have stayed up? Yeah, probably.”

“Four years later I got a penalty, again against Argentina, and again I could have stayed on my feet.”

No sooner had the news broke than Owen, now managed by Divefinder General, Tony Pulis – and who among you can’t picture the Stoke City boss torturing confessions out of suspected divers – denied that he had indulged in simulation.

On his Twitter account, the 32-year-old wrote: “To have a headline saying: Owen ‘I dived to win a penalty’ is disgraceful. I have never won a penalty through diving and didn’t say so yesterday, despite what the headlines say.

“I have, however, gone down, WHEN FOULED, when I could have stayed on my feet. This is a regular occurrence in every league in the World. In two separate World Cups against Argentina, this was the case.

“As Pierluigi Collina said yesterday, ‘If touched and fouled, a player has every right to go to ground’. If that is wrong then virtually every foul that is seen on a football field is wrong.”

Goal of the day

Fluminense’s Bruno Vieira still had plenty to do when he received the ball against Bahia.

Quote of the day

“We play our game and we play in a different way. The only thing you are waiting for is for it to go bad, it’s how the media works. You build up, so then you can destroy. You have built me up, but will never manage to ruin me.”

Everyone’s favourite Swedish striker delivers another of his arrogant, yet self-pitying sermons on the perils of Being Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Swede dreams

It’s been a busy 24 for hours for the irascible Ibrahimovic, with his agent, Mino Raiola, forced to dispel talk of the striker returning to Milan.

With Ibrahimovic seemingly congenitally incapable of uttering a banal statement, it was no surprise to hear him enthuse about the possibility of playing for Milan again.

“I want the best for Milan, I was very happy there, I felt at home,” he told Aftonbladet. “Milan is a club where I would go, if I could choose today. Usually I do not go back to an old team, but I would like to return to Milan.”

“It’s a fantastic club. I hope the team does well and returns to success, I can only hope that everything works out for the best. If Milan need help then they know where to find me.”

Raiola told Sky Sport Italia that his client is focused on becoming a success in France.

“It was just a simple compliment,” Raiola claimed. “It would be a waste of time to get the Milan fans dreaming. It would be better to wake up and think about the future.

“Milan are the only one of his former clubs where he would go back to, but to talk about it actually happening would be excessive.

“He’s happy in France and doesn’t want to go back on his decision. He’ll be a top player for the next few years and he certainly won’t leave PSG for the next three years.

Crucially, Raiola admitted that even if Zlatan wanted to return to his former club, they could no longer afford him.

“Milan couldn’t afford a player under certain conditions. Ibra has now joined an ambitious club and he’s part of a great project.”

And that should be the end of that.

Where is the love?

Former France international Patrick Vieira has delivered a damning verdict on the technical ability of young English players and suggested that too many of them are no longer interested in representing the national team.

Vieira, who now works at the Football Development Executive at Manchester City, welcomed the long-awaited opening of the FA’s National Football Centre in Burton.

“Finally, they did something, because, if you look at all the big nations, they all have their own ‘house’,” he said.

“It’s taken them a long time for them to realise they need a place. But it’s better late than never.

“The people running the English game realised they are far behind other countries, that something is wrong in the system, and they are trying to make it work.”

“For a big country like England, with the number of kids who love the game, you don’t produce enough talent.

“I strongly believe one of the reasons is the coaches. They need to review how to coach the kids from eight years old to 21.

“There is a way to go and learn and see what other people are doing.

“For Clairefontaine, when it opened, the coaches went away and saw what they are doing in Spain and Holland and Italy. They tried to get the best and do it in France with the French culture.

“England will never try to do what Spain and France are doing because the culture is quite different.

“I believe in this country there is a passion and a love of the game – that is a strength in this country. England should base the training on that.

“Then they should say, ‘What is the difference between the Spanish players and English players? Why do the English players have to improve? Where are the English lacking and what can be done to improve that lack of technique and tactics?’

“The heart of the English players is, I would say, double or triple that of Spanish or French players. That is a good base to start with.”

More controversially, Vieira highlighted the lack of desire among young English players to represent their country.

“In England, I really don’t understand how come so many young players from the age of 16-21 pull out of the national team for injury,” said Vieira.

“I think it’s maybe the lack of FA (Football Association) power, I would say. Maybe this is as well a lack of love for the national team.

“When I grew up in France, I wanted to play for the French national team. That was my target, my dream and I don’t feel like in England, the young players are dreaming of playing for the national team any more.

“I don’t know the answer but, from the outside, I believe that, in England, they are not as proud as they are used to be.”

I’m not sure if pride is the problem so much as perception. For instance, England goalkeeper Joe Hart faces San Marino on Friday night; three weeks ago he was representing his and and Vieira’s club, Manchester City, at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid. Whichever way you look at it, the latter match is the one any player would want to be involved in. It’s not the players’ fault they operate in an era in which the international arena increasingly plays second fiddle to club football.


Speaking of England players not turning up for international duty, combining it with the recent introduction of the FA’s Code of Conduct, and we have Ryan Bertrand tying up the loose strands into one neat little package.

Bertrand has reacted angrily to people laughing at him for pulling out of the England squad to face San Marino with a “sore throat”.

The Chelsea man did what any right-thinking England player, whose loyalty has been questioned, would do: he reached for the phone and tweeted some nonsense culminating in an obscenity.

“Do you think a “sorethroat” could stop me being apart [sic] of a match for my club or country? #yourfuckingnuts this is what every boy dreams of.”

This, just 48 hours after he was briefed by the FA about the responsible use of social media. A briefing delivered in the wake of, and some would say as a direct response to, Bertrand’s team-mate Ashley Cole’s ill-conceived “bunch of twats” tweet.

Let’s just remind ourselves what the FA chairman, David Bernstein had to say about the players’ responsibility.

“The England players are representing their country, they’re role models, their behaviour is incredibly important in respect of everything else we’re trying to do,” said Bernstein. “I came into this position as chairman with five things I’d identified, one of which was respect, in its wider sense, not just towards referees but player to player. I’m beginning to think it’s the most important thing I’ve got to deal with as chairman of the FA.”

What with this latest incident, Cole’s recent outburst, the never ending John Terry Saga, it’s almost enough to make one feel sorry for the Chelsea PR man. Almost.

The FA have responded to the breakdown in civility by appointing Wayne Rooney, the only player to have been sent off twice representing England, as captain for Friday’s game against San Marino. The lunatics have indeed taken over the asylum.

Vote of confidence

Swansea coach Michael Laudrup has received a vote of confidence after reports the Premier League club’s players have complained about his management style.

According to the Daily Mail, a group of the club’s senior players expressed their concerns about Laudrup before the season had even started and have helf further talks with Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins to express their concerns.

The players are said to be unhappy with Laudrup’s changes to the team’s tactics and they also believe Swansea are not as fit as they need to be.

After winning their opening two games, Laudrup’s side have not won a league game since late August.

But Jenkins insists that problems between Laudrup and the players are to be expected following the departure of predecessor Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool and says he has no intention of sacking the Dane.

“As with any change in manager, particularly at a club who have been successful, it will take time to settle down,” Jenkins told the Daily Mail.

“Everyone has a different approach and this is a normal issue for us after Brendan Rodgers went to Liverpool.

“Michael knew the philosophy of the club when he came here and that won’t change, whether he is the manager or not. They all agree to manage the club a certain way.”

Renewing hostilities

Sunday’s clasico passed off reasonably peacefully, so it comes as a surprise to hear Barcelona defender Gerard Pique renewing hostilities with Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho.

The 25-year-old was absent for Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Real Madrid, but that small matter hasn’t prevented Pique from passing judgment upon the Portuguese coach.

“It is clear that there is not that same tension [towards Barcelona] that Mourinho had last season,” Pique told Catalunya Radio. “Mourinho has realized that there is no need to look at Barcelona because you will not find any problems.

“Additionally, now it seems that he is looking for it in his own house.”

Pique then dismissed suggestions that the title race is effectively over now that Barca enjoy an eight-point lead over their arch-rivals.

“The truth is that we expect a very good year, with many challenges and emotions,” he added. “The league is not won, it is true, but no one imagined a start so good Do not forget that in my first year we had 12 points and had to go to the Bernabeu to win the league.”

Re-opening old wounds

Alessandro Del Piero has admitted that he turned down the chance to join Liverpool because of the memories of the Heysel distaster.

Thirty-nine Juventus fans died during the stadium tragedy in 1985, and the former Italy international feels joining the Premier League side would be too sensitive a move.

“Talks with Sydney were already in an advanced stage when Liverpool came knocking, and then I thought about what had happened at Heysel,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Juventus and Liverpool have been able to rebuild their relationship, but that tragedy will forever be on the mind of many people.”

Del Piero’s loyalty and sensitivity to his former club is laudable; whether he should have shared those thoughts with the wider world, I’m not so sure.

Del Piero also expressed his disappointment with his departure from Juventus, but praised the club’s fans for the warm farewell they gave him.

“I never thought I would leave Juventus like this. I never even imagined this some 18 months ago. However, things then changed.

“I leave with a feeling of satisfaction, though, knowing that I always gave everything for Juventus.

“The fans outdid themselves for my farewell game. I knew that the fans liked me, but never thought I’d be that popular. Gigi Buffon told me that he envied me.”