Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand has not decided whether to accept his England call-up because of fitness considerations, according to his club manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Cynics might suggest that this is Ferguson’s coded way of saying: “I haven’t decided whether Ferdinand is fit enough to join up with the England squad.”

“I was as surprised as anyone when I heard that (he had been called up),” a somewhat disingenuous Ferguson told a news conference.

“Obviously Rio needs to speak to a doctor. We prepare Rio in certain ways, he has certain treatments he has to go through, the procedures have been the same all season which has given him a fantastic performance level when he has played for us.

“So we have to consider that and Rio is considering that and we will see what the outcome of that is.”

When asked if it was possible Ferdinand might not meet up with the England squad, Ferguson replied: “I think he has to make sure he is going to be okay in terms of the number of games he plays and that’s a factor.

“We’ve been doing that for two years for the lad. It’s worked, the way we’ve detailed his training programmes to give him the treatments he needs for the various complaints he has in terms of his back and groin and things like that and so far it has worked very well so we have to look at all these things before Rio decides.”

Serie A offenders

Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel has hit out at Italian football, claiming racist attitudes are ingrained in their culture.

The 41-year-old was part of the Tottenham side who lost 4-1 to Inter at San Siro on Thursday, only to advance to the Europa League quarter-finals on away goals.

But, once again at an Italian football ground, there was racial abuse directed towards several members of the visiting squad.

Friedel believes UEFA and FIFA face an uphill battle to eradicate racist chanting from Italian fans as they need to address the root of the problem.

“(UEFA) can do what they are doing and set up campaigns and things of this nature, but until certain countries want to set up their infrastructure and school systems, and they go inside the parents’ heads and the households, things will not change,” Friedel told reporters.

“When they do that then things will change, not so much (through) campaigns and things of that nature. I think education should be more stringent.”

Inter were recently fined €50,000 for racially abusing former player Mario Balotelli during a Serie A game, with inflatable bananas reportedly being waved in the striker’s direction.

Goal of the day

Khamis Esmaeel’s 40-yard strike for Al Jazira against Al-Shabab.

Quote of the day

“Everybody in Argentina can remember ‘the hand of God’ in the England match in the 1986 World Cup. Now, in my country, the ‘hand of God’ has brought us an Argentinian pope.”

Diego Maradona passes on his congratulations to compatriot Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis.

The word of god

In the beginning was Van Gaal, and Van Gaal was with God, and Van Gaal was God.

In an amusing put down to the club’s former coach, Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness has hit out at Louis van Gaal and believes the Dutchman’s ego has made him lose all sense of reality.

The current Dutch boss recently stated that Bayern’s current success is largely down to his good work from 2009 until 2011, while adding that Pep Guardiola was a suitable choice as the club’s new coach because the Spaniard follows the Van Gaal-philosophy.

“Only Louis van Gaal can say something like that,” Hoeness told De Telegraaf.

“Van Gaal’s problem is not that he’s god, but he’s god’s very own father. Louis was already there before the world even existed.

“If you look at the world from that perspective, like Van Gaal does, it’s hard to see what the world really looks like.

“Van Gaal is a good coach who cleaned up Jurgen Klinsmann’s inheritance. That’s his role in Bayern’s recent development. But that’s all he has contributed to the club’s success. And he didn’t play a role in Guardiola’s appointment either.”

Tit for tat

Sir Alex Ferguson has dismissed Rafael Benitez’s claim that the he refused to shake his Chelsea counterpart’s hand before Sunday’s FA Cup tie.

Benitez said after the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford that he had been waiting to greet Ferguson before kick-off, but the Scotsman had ignored the gesture and walked past him.

However, Ferguson said the claim was “ridiculous,” insisting he would have no motive to deliberately ignore a fellow manager, and he simply missed him by mistake. As you do.

“It is nonsense,” he said. “Why would I refuse to shake his hand?

“I was signing autographs and I never saw him. Why he has said that I have no idea. If he wanted to shake hands he could have stood straight in front of me. It is absolute nonsense.”

The pair will meet in the dugout again when the quarter-final replay is held at Stamford Bridge on Monday April 1, with the winner facing Manchester City in a Wembley semi-final.

Love is in the air

Paris St Germain sports director Leonardo surprised his girlfriend, Sky Italia presenter Anna Billo, by asking her to marry him live on air following today’s Champions League draw.

Billo was discussing PSG’s upcoming quarter-final with Barcelona with Leonardo and before asking him if he had any questions for the panel in the studio.

The former Brazil midfielder replied: “Anna, do you want to marry me?”

Leonardo, who has had a child with he presenter, persisted.

“Do you want to marry me? You have to answer me now. I’m waiting for your answer. It’s not that difficult,” he said.

A shocked but smiling Billo managed to reply: “OK… We’ll see.”

However as the programme cut to an ad break, the 36-year-old’s microphone remained on and she said: “He’s gone mad.”

I’d take that as a no, if I were you Leonardo.

Like father like son

Juventus have reportedly struck a deal with Flamengo for young midfielder Mattheus – the son of Brazil World Cup winner Bebeto.

The 18-year-old, who is a member of the Brazil Under-20 squad, is believed to have been signed for a fee of around €2 million.

The youngster’s current contract expires at the end of 2013, after Bebeto and MFD, the agency managing Mattheus’ career, made it clear that the youngster would not be extending his stay at the Gavea.

Mattheus was, of course, the inspiration for the original and still the best cradle-rocking goal celebration, as performed by his father at the 1994 World Cup.


According to a breaking news story on the BBC, the Football Association are investigation allegations of suspicious betting in matches.

Apparently, a number of people placed bets on Fernando Torres to score last night. And he did!

But seriously, the Football Association has contacted all 22 Blue Square Bet South clubs after concerns over suspicious betting patterns in the division.

The governing body, along with the Gambling Commission, has appealed to the clubs for information about possible breaches of betting rules.

The FA said it will not be making any further comment on this matter.

“Anyone with any information regarding possible breaches of these rules has been advised to come forward to The FA or to the Gambling Commission,” said an FA statement.

A spokesman for the league, which is in the sixth-tier of English football, added it was “inappropriate to make any comment at this stage of the investigation”.

If not now, when would be an appropriate time?