War of words

Suspended Juventus manager Antonio Conte has issued a statement dismissing remarks made earlier this week by Inter striker Antonio Cassano.

This storm in an expresso cup has its origins in a comment made by Conte a few days go. Asked why he did bid for the striker this summer, Conte replied that Cassano “is all talk” and “not the kind of player” wanted at Juve.

Such language was a red rag to the notoriously combustible Cassano

“Conte said I’m all talk? I’m not the one who is suspended for failing to report match-fixing,” he told Mediaset.

“I have done many silly things in my career, the so-called ‘Cassanate,’ for which I have also been banned. However, if Conte starts talking to me about morality then it’s the end of the world.”

That outburst prompted Conte to release a statement denouncing the Italy striker.

The statement read: “I was amazed to read the declarations made by Mr Cassano today, in the light of which I feel compelled to clarify a few points.

“First of all, I have never uttered the word ‘morality’, which is something I am blessed with despite my ban for failing to report alleged incidents – and I have already given my thoughts on that matter. When asked how I select players for Juventus, I spoke of men who conduct themselves as footballers with impeccable professionalism. By that I mean: commitment, respect for the rules and people’s roles, favouring the common good of the team.

“I think Mr Cassano has demonstrated on numerous occasions throughout his career, both on and off the pitch – his imitations of Fabio Capello
 while at Real Madrid, the rude gestures made at the referee Mr Rosetti and other episodes besides – that he does not possess the requisites required by the undersigned.

“He has told us other similar anecdotes in his own biography, on page 109 for example. I therefore feel I need add nothing further, other than that when I use certain terms I give careful consideration to their literal meaning.”

The passage referred to page 109 was on Cassano’s time at Madrid, where he was overweight and continued to eat all the wrong foods. In the context of his eventful career, that wouldn’t even make it into the list of mildly controversial moments.

The masked man

Is he losing the plot? Roberto Mancini, that is. The Manchester City manager appeared for his traditional Friday press briefing wearing a David Platt mask – presumably one left over from Halloween.

It was the Italian manager’s way of having a laugh with journalists – taken straight from the Mario Balotelli joke book – with whom he has endured a volatile relationship in recent weeks.

Despite his attempts to mend bridges with the media, the City boss was placed immediately on the offensive by questions about the departure of Mario Balotelli – linked with a return to Italy – and the possible arrival of Luis Suarez, presumably to fill the gaping maverick void in the event of Balotelli’s departure.

“It is not true, I do not know where you get this from,” Mancini said. “For two weeks we talk about Monaco, after (Pep) Guardiola, after another manager, now Suarez, now Mario.

“We have a good team and we don’t need to buy another player in January.

“We can’t buy Suarez or any another player because we have four strikers. Suarez is a top player but he plays for Liverpool.”

Mancini also dismissed rumours linking Balotelli with a move back to Italy.

“No, he is not (going). He did not play last week, but that was my choice. I have 20 players and if there are some players who don’t work well, they don’t deserve to play and Mario is just like any other player.

“There were other players who were working better than Mario and they deserved to be on the bench or play. He is an important player for us, and we are not thinking of selling him in January.”

Staying put?

So, Mancini has no desire to sign Suarez and, judging by his response to the speculation, the Uruguayan has no desire to leave Liverpool.

Suarez has explained that it has always been his dream to play for a mid-table side where team-mates turn their back on him when he scores. No, really he did.

“I have a very long contract here and it’s a dream come true to be playing at a club like Liverpool because, as I’ve said, as a boy I dreamt of playing for a team like this,” he told the club’s official web site.

“Now I’m here, it’s all about enjoying myself and trying to be here for as many years as I can, because I’m at a club where I’m very happy, my family is happy, I’ve got fantastic team-mates and a manager from whom I’m learning so much.”

It’s just as well Liverpool have a well-respected, honest, competent Director of Communications who can nip in the bud transfer stories such as these… oh, hang on a minute.

Back to Suarez, who chose to gild the lily somewhat with his idealistic depiction of life at the Elysian Fields of Anfield.

“As a player, it’s vital to have the backing of your manager and so I think that the confidence Brendan [Rodgers] is showing in myself and the team as a whole is very important and it’s down to us to repay that trust out there on the pitch,” he added.

“The other important thing is that the squad is very united. In spite of not getting the results we would have liked, we have a great spirit of togetherness and let’s hope we can continue to pick up points.”

Now, he’s just taking the mickey.

Quote of the day

“Guardiola did a fantastic job. He is the Steve Jobs of football: experimental, brave, a lover of beauty, and innovative. He is an important point of reference in the footballing world, and rightly so.” 

Former Real Madrid director Jorge Valdano praises former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. Hell will freeze over before he speaks about Jose Mourinho with the same enthusiasm.

Goal of the day

Although his Sydney FC side continue to struggle, 38-year-old Alessandro del Piero appears to have been rejuvenated by his switch to the A-League. Two more goals in the 4-2 defeat to Brisbane Roar, took his tally to 5 in 5 matches. Sounds like an impressive return until you see the state of the defending he comes up against.

For his second goal, two opposing defenders appear to stop running as he approaches the penalty box, while the goalkeeper throws himself out of the way before the Italian has even taken his shot. To paraphrase, Geoff Boycott’s mum could have scored that.

No wonder Emile Heskey (5 goals in 6 matches) is in the form of his life.

By hook or by crook

I don’t know about you but if I was feeling demoralised at work and looking for a confidence boost, the last person I’d want to receive a visit from was a convicted to tax evader who’s just been sentenced to 4 years in prison.

Fortunately, for me, and them, I’m not a member of Milan’s playing staff; otherwise I’d have been confronted by the sight of Silvio Berlusconi at work today.

The former Prime Minister turned up at training at Milanello this morning and spent 10 minutes talking to the players in an effort to boost morale ahead of this weekend’s Serie A match against Napoli.

Reports in Italy say that Berlusconi is becoming less interested in the club and is considering selling to the owners of Guangzhou Evergrande, the Chinese side coached by Marcello Lippi. He denies them.

”There have been no negotiations with anyone,” Berlusconi said. ”The Chinese could come in as sponsors. Moreover, it doesn’t make sense to sell a club at this time. First we have to return to the top, then maybe we can consider it.”

Milan are currently in 12th place after losing six of their first 12 games this season.

Berlusconi last visited Milanello in October 2011, before Milan lost to Juventus.

”I don’t have any institutional duties anymore. I can go back to taking care of Milan from close by,” Berlusconi said. ”I will return to the stadium.”

Milan lost to Fiorentina 3-1 last weekend, again raising questions over coach Massimiliano Allegri job status. But Berlusconi reportedly met with club vice president Adriano Galliani after the match and decided to keep faith with Allegri.

”If Allegri is here it is because he has my confidence,” Berlusconi said. ”Otherwise as president I would have fired him. In 26 years we have changed coaches during the season only twice. It’s not our custom, we are serious.

”I have a good relationship with the coach, he’s a good person as well as a good coach. And with him we won a title before a stunning list of injuries.”

A number of key players departed Milan during the close-season, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain.

”It was impossible to say no to selling Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva,” Berlusconi said. ”In three years we have saved €160 million, between transfers and wages. No one in their right mind would have refused that in this economic climate.

”We have to start again, but after 26 years of caviar and champagne, we need to have patience.”

With four years in jail looming, you’ll need it Silvio.

The one that got away

Man of the moment Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed how close he came to becoming an Arsenal player at the start of his career, but turned down a move as the Gunners’ manager Arsene Wenger expected him to undergo a trial. The cad!

Ibrahimovic, was playing for Swedish side Malmo with the two clubs close to an agreement to sign the striker, which eventually collapsed.

“Arsene gave me the No 9 shirt with Ibrahimovic on it and I was so pleased. So then I waited for him to convince me that I should join. But he didn’t even try. He never actually made me a serious offer, it was more, ‘I want to see how good you are. Have a trial.’ I couldn’t believe it,” Ibrahimovic said.

Wenger admitted that the deal fell through because the Swede, 16 at the time, refused to showcase his talents.q

“He came here to visit the training ground,” said Wenger. “He didn’t want to make a trial because he was 16-years old at the time. He went home and we concluded to watch him again.

“I wanted to see him in training but it didn’t stop him from making a great career. In the end, he chose to go to Ajax Amsterdam. That happens. He’s not the only one in that case.

“The confidence he shows – if a performance isn’t there, you can say you don’t agree with it, but when a performance is there, you think his confidence is justified.

“Through his career, he has justified why he believes in his own talent.”

Save of the day

A lower league match in Argentina between San Martin and Bell Ville was the scene of a bizrrare incident in which a non-playing keeper encoached on to the pitch and made a full length save to prevent  a certain goal.

San Martin’s reserve keeper Marcos Juarez, who was standing behind his team’s goal, dashed onto the pitch to make to make a goal-saving goal.

The referee could only award an indirect free-kick, which to compound their woes, Bell Ville fluffed.

No accounting for it

Spanish club Real Oviedo will live to play another match.

Club president Toni Fidalgo said that Oviedo had staved off immediate extinction after an external accounter discovered that the club’s immediate debts were significantly lower than originally thought.

Instead of requiring €1.9 million, the club needed €1.1 million to avoid being forced into bankruptcy.

Oviedo’s fundraising effort of selling new shares in the club has already surpassed that amount, bringing in €1.5 million since November 3.

Fidalgo said that the accounting error was based on the omission from the previous audit of the money Oviedo were due from the transfer of former player Juan Mata from Valencia to Chelsea, along with some advertising revenue.

Oviedo will continue to sell new shares for the time being, with the club needing another €1 million to ensure it survives the season.

”Now we have to keep working to make sure Oviedo can stay afloat until the end of the season,” club spokesman David Alonso told The Associated Press.

Fidalgo, who is acting as Oviedo’s caretaker president after former president Alberto Gonzalez was charged with tax evasion and went into hiding, said that the club has had various contacts with investors looking to take over the club through the purchase of a controlling stake.

”We have spoken with 12 investors. Our position with respect to some is very distant, with others it is very close,” Fidalgo told Spanish sports daily AS. ”I believe Oviedo will have a happy ending.”


Bundesliga club Hoffenheim says midfielder Boris Vukcevic has awoken from a coma, 6 weeks after he was injured in a car accident.

Vukcevic was placed in an induced coma after operations following the accident on September 28, when his car collided head-on with a truck.

Hoffenheim says the 22-year-old German is conscious a few hours a day and able to communicate with his relatives.

But the club says that in view of the head injuries he suffered it’s still not possible to make any “serious forecast” about prospects for a full recovery.

“We are very happy that it is steadily getting better for Boris. Our thoughts are with him every day,” Hoffenheim general manager Andreas Muller said.

“We, the players, his colleagues, of course would like to visit him. But that is absolutely secondary right now. It is more important he gets the best possible treatment for his recovery. We have the greatest sympathy for his family.”

Vukcevic’s parents, Dragan and Sonja, are in close contact with the club.

“We are pleased, Boris is making progress. But we ask you, in the interest of our son, to respect he still has a long way to go and needs a lot of rest,” they said.