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Well, that didn’t go according to plan

Former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam has won his case against a lifetime ban from football for allegedly bribing voters during his challenge to Sepp Blatter.

Like the closing scene from a bad horror film, the baddie, who we assumed we’d seen the last of, has sprung back to life and is intent on avenging his nemesis. The verdict is a potential nightmare for Blatter, who now faces a fight on a fresh flank at a time when he is trying to convince the football community that he is the best man to usher in a new era of transparency. No,now, don’t all laugh at once.

Mercifully, for the FIFA president, Bin Hammam is currently suspended by the Asian Football Confederation – and how serendipitous that turned out to be – and so the prospect of him stalking Blatter through the corridors of FIFA headquarters will have to wait.

The good news for FIFA, and the straw they will clutch at, was that while overturning the ban, CAS did admit that Bin Hammam had not been found innocent of providing the cash for $40,000 payments, which were handed out by the former FIFA executive committee member Jack Warner to delegates of the Caribbean Football Union.

The CAS judgment found by a 2-1 majority, for bin Hammam, stating “It is more likely than not that Mr bin Hammam was the source of the monies … and that his conduct … may not have complied with the highest ethical standards that should govern the world of football and other sports.”

This being FIFA though, he’s probably overqualified to run the joint.

Following the CAS judgment, FIFA issued an immediate statement promising another investigation into Bin Hammam. Insisting that “Mohamed Bin Hammam has not been proven innocent”, FIFA promised to pass “all relevant files” to its newly-reconstituted ethics committee, to decide if “any action is required to be taken” against Bin Hammam.

As the saying goes, this one will run and run.

Capello’s good, but he’s not the Special One

Fabio Capello is poised to become Russia’s new coach, but it seems the Italian was not the first choice of Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.

Mutko, who has headed the chase for a new coach, gave the Italian a less-than-resounding endorsement.

“I think Capello has all the necessary requirements to coach the Russian national team, [but] personally I would prefer [Jose] Mourinho,” Mutko told Russian state television Rossia 2.

Meanwhile, former Russia manager Valery Gazzaev, said that the appointment of yet another foreign coach to manage the national side (after Dutch duo Dick Advocaat and Guus Hiddink), was a hammer blow to homegrown coaches.

“And I am on good terms with Fabio Capello, but I continue to consider idea of inviting a foreign coach to the national team of Russia as a wrong one,” Gazzaev said at a RIA Novosti news conference.

“With such appointments the Russian school of coaching is just being killed,” he said. “No matter how good a foreign specialist is, he can’t know the history of our football, its traditions; this is not a patriot (of Russia) at the end of the day.”

“Foreign coaches in clubs – that’s fine. In the national team, no.”

As for Capello, shrewd operator that he is is, he’s already getting his excuses in early.

“We all saw the team’s performance in Poland. The key to the problem was that there are too many foreigners playing in the Russian clubs,” Capello told Marca.

“I mean the rule allowing up to 7 foreign players to be on the pitch at the same time.”

Goal of the day

Rolling back the years part two. The other day it was David Beckham showing he could still cut it, and now it’s the turn of his fellow 30-something MLS superstar, Thierry Henry, to remind us that he can still turn it on when the mood takes him.

Quote of the day

“Something like ‘go fuck yourself!’, or something in that attitude. These people always have something to complain about.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s agent, Mino Raiola, responds to a Swedish reporter who had the temerity to suggest that his client’s move from Milan to PSG, was a step down for the striker.

Fat cats

Which brings us on neatly to the salary reportedly being paid to Ibrahimovic’s at PSG. The figures are barely credible.

The Swede, naturally, did not want to take a pay cut when he joined PSG, but with the recently-elected French government promising to introduce a new higher tax rate of 75 per cent, then clearly his gross pay would have to reflect this. The generally accepted estimate of Ibrahimovic’s pre-tax salary is somewhere in the region of €70-80 million a year.

Understandably, in an age of austerity, when many families are struggling to make ends meet and where bashing the rich is a political imperative, such a stupendous figure has not gone down too well.

France’s budget minister Jerôme Cahuzac spoke of his disgust at the ‘indecent’ amount that will be paid to the striker.

“At a time when everyone around the world is tightening their belts, these figures are not impressive, they are indecent,” he told Europe1 radio. “Sport is not about paying a player €15 million a year,” he added.

Cahuzac was not alone in condemning football in general and PSG in particular.

“These wages make me indignant and almost disgust me,” said former sports minister Roselyne Bachelot this week. “The amount is incredible when you consider that our smaller football clubs are fighting like dogs just to survive.”

Current Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron described the sum as “astronomical and unreasonable”.

“These wages are a reflection of everything that is deplorable about football,” she said, adding that it was time a cap was imposed on players’ wages.

Fourneyron also stressed the importance of UEFA’s new “financial fair play” rules which will force clubs to break even. Fourneyron said the regulations will help prevent clubs “buying victories”.

Meanwhile, amid the general contempt there was an acknowledgement that come good could come out of the situation: Ibrahimovic’s huge salary would result in an even bigger tax take for the government.

“I am over the moon that Ibrahimovic is going to pay his taxes in France,” said government minister Benoit Hamon.

“This is a demonstration that the 75 percent tax bracket would not prevent big players from coming to play in France.”

Traitor

Diego Maradona has called Juan Roman Riquelme a “traitor” for leaving Boca Juniors, thus renewing an ongoing feud.

“If one wants to fight with Maradona, that’s not important to me,” Maradona said on Radio Metro. “But what you can’t do is be a traitor to the fans at Boca.”

Which is a bit rich coming from a man who managed just a season at Boca before heading off to Europe, returning to the club 13 years later, a bloated, drug-ravaged wreck.

In contrast, Riquelme has spent 12 years at Boca incorporating two six-year spells, and at the age of 34, probably thinks his best days are behind him.

After last month’s Libertadores Cup defeat to Corinthians, the playmaker said he was “empty” and had nothing left to give to the club.

“You can’t be empty just after losing the final of the Copa Libertadores,” Maradona retorted. “If you’re empty, then fill up the tank.”

Of course, this outburst from Maradona has nothing to do with Boca Juniors, that is merely a pretext to perpetuate a feud that simmered for a number of years and reached a nadir when as coach of the Argentina national team, Maradona overlooked Riquelme for the 2010 World Cup.

One rule for the men…

Japan’s world champion women’s football team was told to fly economy class while their male counterparts sat in business class on a flight to Europe for the Olympics.

“It should have been the other way around,” 2011 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Homare Sawa told Japanese media after arriving in Paris en route to London. “Even just in terms of age we are senior.”

The Japan Football Association said the men flew business class because they are professionals. The association upgraded the women’s team from standard to premium economy in recognition of their status as gold medal contenders. Had they been rank outsiders, presumably they would have been stowed away in the hold.

Reality bites

Milan CEO Adriano Galliani has admitted that Serie A is no longer an attractive destination for the world’s finest players.

Milan have just recently sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to Paris Saint-Germain in order to balance their books.

The Swedish striker’s agent, Mino Raiola, claimed that the top players in the world will no longer play in Italy.

“I agree with Mino Raiola, who says that top players are no longer coming to Italy,” Galliani told reporters.

“Milan’s decision to sell him (Ibrahimovic) was a necessary one and in line with the economical conditions of the country. It’s time for Italian football to change its mentality and come up with new ideas.”

How times have changed. After being the number one destination for big-name footballers throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the gradual ascent of the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga, have relegated Italian football to the status of also-rans.

It’s all about money of course. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Italian football, certainly nothing that a bumper television contract or a handful of billionaire investors couldn’t remedy. For the time being though, Italy must live within its limited means and accept its diminished standing.

Galliani did offer a sliver of optimism for fans of Italian football. These things tend to be cyclical, he said, and a formidable football culture like Italy, would one day be back in the ascendancy.

“The top players will no longer arrive in Italy, but the country can develop them,” he added. “We have to realise that an era has come to an end, but I’m certain a new one will start.”

Wish you were here

Brazil star Neymar has expressed his sadness that David Beckham will not be competing at the London 2012 Olympics.

Neymar hoped to face Beckham to one day tell his children of the experience. However, the Santos striker believes Beckham’s absence will work in Brazil’s favour as they aim to win their first gold medal in men’s football.

“When Beckham was not selected I was a little happy and a little sad,” Neymar told the Telegraph newspaper. “I was happy because he will not be competing against us so it is a little less complicated for us.

“But I was sad because he is a great player, so I would have liked to have played against him one time. It would have been something I could have told my children.”

Neymar also expressed sadness that he will not get to face Zinedine Zidane, Diego Maradona, Eesebio, Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas all of whom he’d have liked to have told his grandchildren about.

Football X Factor

From Afghanistan comes a heartening story of football’s potential capacity to unify.

Thousands of young Afghans have signed up for a reality television program called “Maidan e Sabz,” or “Green Field.” They are looking to for a chance to play on one of eight football teams being created in the country.

Abdul Sabor Walizada, who is involved in the project, said the idea is to bring football into Afghan homes, stimulate business and strengthen national unity through sports.

“After years of civil conflict and war, people will focus on football and the businessmen from each zone will try to have the best players,” said Walizada.

“It will create national unity because if the central zone, for example, has a really good player, the southern zone team will want to buy him,” he explained. “They will not care about his ethnicity. They will not care about his tribe. They will care that he is one of the best players.”

It’s worth a try, I suppose.

The candidates will undertake a series of physical and mental tests – one involves running through mud and water while wearing ankle weights and then heading a suspended ball. If that’s the criteria they’re employing, we can expect to see a number of former Stoke City players in the auditions.

Each studio audience then will select the best 18 finalists and at the end of eight shows, 168 players will remain – enough for eight 18-man squads. The teams will then play each other in matches that will be televised live.

One can only wish them the best in their endeavours.

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