Games without frontiers

A Mastercard report into a new breed of football fan has shown that they are collectively spending €35bn each season supporting clubs from foreign countries.

The Fans Without Borders report identifies a new type of supporter, one who essentially supports a team from outside his or her home country.

These fans typically come in three different types: Highlight Fans – who follow for glory and attractiveness of football, Regional Affinity Fans – those who have a positive association with the area, be it through work, friends or family etc. Star Followers – those who follow a key player such as Ronaldo or Messi and support the club they are at.

According to the study, one quarter of Europe’s football supporters (41 million) are classed as Fans Without Borders, with Barcelona the most popular foreign team (29%), followed by Real Madrid (10%) and Manchester United (8%). Liverpool, belying their recent travils, and Champions League finalists, Chelsea, follow next on 5% a piece.

The report’s compliers have also produced a nifty graphic to illustrate the supporters trends.

Fans Without Borders - Mastercard

Goal of the day

Darko Bodul scored a spectacular equaliser for Sturm Graz against Austria Vienna.

Quote of the day

” You cannot compare a Ferrari with a Porsche because it’s a different engine… It’s not about who is better. I just don’t like to be compared with anybody. Some people say I’m better, other people say it’s him, but at the end of the day, they’re going to decide who is the best player at the moment, which I think is me.”

Cristiano Ronaldo believes he is a better player than his arch-rival Lionel Messi.

Liverpool search continues

Liverpool’s hunt for a new manager continues with the club reported to be casting their net far and wide in search of a successor to Kenny Dalglish.

The Fenway Sports Group’s have identified a number of possible candidates, although it would be misleading to describe these candidates as a shortlist, given that most out-of-work managers and many in work, are on it.

The names range from the fanciful (Pep Guardiola and Fabio Capello), to the optimistic (Jürgen Klopp and Andre Villas-Boas), to the realistic (Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers). Indeed, so diverse are the names on the (long)list (young/old, British/foreign, hugely successful/plenty of promise, managed in England/no experience of the Premier League) that one wonders whether there is a coherent strategy in place at Anfield.

Liverpool managing director, Ian Ayre, one of the few to survive the night of the long knives Anfield cull, believes that the club is justified in setting its sights high.

“I think that if you lined up some of the big names you are alluding to, Liverpool still gets everyone excited and interested,” he said. “If you are a manager at that level or you are a manager aspiring to get there, I still think this is one of the biggest jobs in world football.”

Ole Ole Ole

While Liverpool throw a proverbial dart into the board, Aston Villa have identified Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the man they would like to become their new manager.

Solskjaer, who led Molde to their first Norwegian league title in 100 years last October at the end of his debut campaign in charge, has opened talks with Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner on Friday about becoming the club’s next manager.

It’s clearly an imaginative approach and considering Solskjaer’s relative lack of managerial experience, it would certainly be a bold appointment. But, after 12 uninspiring months under Alex McLeish, ‘bold’ is the least Villa fans deserve.

Different perspective

Manchester City’s official website has screened some previously unseen footage of the final dramatic moments of the season.

Here, a camera is trained almost exclusively on an increasingly distraught-looking Roberto Mancini, as he prowls the touchline with the Premier League title seemingly slipping away from City.

And Here is the scene from inside the tunnel, before, during and after the final whistle. The post-match footage shows that this triumph did actually mean a lot to the people involved.

Art imitating life

FC Dallas midfielder Brek Shea has been suspended for three games by the MLS for kicking the ball at an assistant referee.

Shea, who apologised for his behaviour via Twitter, is one of more interesting footballers playing his trade in the United States.

After he was signed by FC Dallas, painting both helped to fill the long hours of spare time after training and to decorate the walls of his new apartment. Since then, he’s produced dozens of paintings, giving them to friends and family or auctioning them off for charity.

The forward, who has been compared to and bears a passing resemblance to, Fernando Torres, said that his painting mirrors his football.

“In a game, I play my best when I’m not thinking. I’ll do a move or score a goal and then I don’t remember how I did it or what I was thinking when I did it. When I go back and watch film, I’m like, ‘Oh, I did that. That was pretty cool.’” Until you kick the ball at the referee’s assistant.

Fear of racism

Theo Walcott’s family has decided to watch this summer’s Euro 2012 finals on TV, because they are concerned by the prospect of racist attacks in Ukraine.

The England winger’s elder brother, Ashley Walcott, shared the news on his Twitter page.

“Unfortunately my dad n i have taken the decision not to travel to the Ukraine because of the fear of possible racist attacks confrontations [sic],” he wrote. “Some things aren’t worth risking, but begs the question why hold a competition of this magnitude in a place that can not police itself for foreigners of any creed to feel safe, but I’ll be watching every minute.”

The announcement comes on the day that the UK Foreign Office has warned any black or Asian supporters going to Ukraine for this summer’s European Championship, that they face the possibility of being racially abused.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “You cannot rule out the possibility of racism towards visiting fans. There is a risk in Poland and Ukraine as with many other countries where England play. We encourage visiting fans to report any incidents to the police.”

Naturally, the Ukrainian authorities dismissed the warning, claiming there have been few recent reported incidents of racism in the country.

“We would like to stress that there is absolutely no problem of this sort in Ukraine,” said Volodymyr Khandogiy, the country’s ambassador to the UK. “We are surprised by this issue being raised now. We have had a few minor incidents and the reaction was how it should be. There is no need to have fear for the Euros. I guarantee that all fans, no matter their nationality or colour, will enjoy the football festival.”

Just to be on the safe side though, 80,000 police and stewards in Ukraine are receiving anti-discrimination training ahead of the finals.

Women and children only

Fenerbahce have been ordered to play six matches in front of just women and children next season, as a punishment for their fans rioting in the wake of surrendering the Turkish Super Lig to rivals Galatasaray.

Turkey’s disciplinary committee (PFDK) has decided male supporters will not be allowed to enter the Sukru Saracoglu stadium, after they were found to be responsible for the trouble that broke out last Sunday.

The punishment is not without precedent. Last season the club was forced to play in front of an all-female crowd as a punishment for the misbehaviour of their fans. The 40,000+ in attendance mustered all the fervour of their male counterparts, but none of the pathetic, nasty aggression.

Fenerbahce have also been fined €38,750 for being unable to control their fans, while Galatasaray president Unal Aysal was found guilty of unsporting conduct and fined €15,000 for comments made after the incident.


The biggest game of the European season takes place on Saturday when Bayern Munich face Chelsea in the Champions League final.

For one player in particular, the match carries extra significance. Bayern winger, Arjen Robben comes up against his former club, and he remains bitter about the manner of his departure from the west London club in 2007.

“I can’t deny I left the club with a bittersweet feeling,” he said. “I felt I should have played more and was probably exploited.

“Now vengeance is in my head, I just want to be a champion of Europe with Bayern Munich and don’t care about Chelsea.”

The Dutch forward has been an eye-catching talent since he first emerged at Groningen at the age of 16.

His former coach Jan van Dijk has revealed that Robben was already an incredible player at that age.

“Arjen was only 16, but he was already incredibly good,” he said. “He had it all, pace, individual skill, and scored plenty of goals. Those characteristics are very important in football. And he was very enthusiastic, never seemed to worry about anything. He was convinced of his own qualities.

“I also pointed out that he should work on his decision making in front of the goal. They often won big with the youth teams. They could win 9-0 for example, with Arjen scoring eight. However, it could have been 15-0 had he passed the ball six more times.”

Nothing’s changed there then.

Here’s footage of Robben back when he was first starting to make a name for himself at Groningen.