Hart to Hart

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has moved to put Joe Hart in his place by reminding his goalkeeper that any criticism of the team should come from the manager.

A visibly distraught Hart was interviewed immediately after City’s 3-2 Champions League defeat to Real Madrid, though on reflection, he might have been better off fully digesting the defeat before passing judgement upon it.

“You can’t go 2-1 up with five minutes to go and lose the game,” Hart told ITV. “We can only blame ourselves.”

“We dug deep, got a lead twice and we lost it, so we can only blame ourselves. It’s hard to come off the field after losing 3-2 and be positive. I’m really sorry.

“We’re not a team that should come here and pat ourselves on the back for doing well. We’re a team that gets results.”

Admirable sentiments one might have thought, but on hearing them Mancini decided to assert his authority, by stating: “I agree but I think Joe Hart should do his job. I can criticise the team not Joe Hart.”

The Italian added: “Joe Hart should stay as goalie. I am the judge, not Joe Hart.”

Perhaps implicit in reminding his keeper to focus his job was a hint that Hart had not done so for Real’s third goal when, though partially unsighted by team-mate, Vincent Kompany, he still reacted slowly to Cristiano Ronaldo’s fizzing shot.

Back in the game

While Hart fumes and Mancini assumes authority, his Real counterpart, Jose Mourinho, basked in the relief brought about by Ronaldo’s lifeline.

On the eve of the game, mounting criticism of the Portuguese’s methods poured forth, most notably from Marca (Real’s de facto in-house publication, and therefore not to be dismissed), which contrasted the Mourinho who traditionally protected his players, with the man who hid behind their collective and individual failings in the wake of a dismal start to the season. At a club like Madrid, where supporters expect to be enthralled, results are the only fig leaf for a pragmatic coach like Mourinho to hide behind. Without them, the ground swell of disaffection, which simmers just below the waterline, begins to percolate the surface. Trouble looms.

In what was a somewhat callous and vindictive piece, Marca concluded: “What needs to be ascertained is whether Real Madrid has a manager or a hair-growing-products salesman.”

The white handkerchiefs cannot be far away. Mourinho, perhaps conscious of the perceptible change of mood at the Bernabeu, played down his significance, while hailing the rediscovery of the players’ self-belief.

Mourinho said: “I am no-one in the history of Real Madrid. I have only arrived recently, I have done very few things.

“But as a coach I am entitled to say – even though I wasn’t born a Real Madrid fan like many million people – that Real Madrid fans want this.

“They want commitment, they want better quality of play – and me too. Last year we had it and this year we will have it.

“There was low self-esteem and doubts within the team – and the coach – but it was difficult to play better than we did.

“It was a great commitment from the team, from everyone, without exception.”

A penny for Sergio Ramos’ thoughts – the man who was omitted from last night’s starting line-up and who will no doubt become the focus of any anti-Mourino agenda.

Ban extended

FIFA has announced that it has extended the two-month ban given to Benfica defender Luisao to cover all competitions.

The 31-year-old was already suspended from domestic football until November 14 after attacking a referee in a pre-season ‘friendly’ against Fortuna Dusseldorf in the summer. Now the ban will also cover European and international football.

The incident and indeed the suspension, carried echoes of the infamous Paolo di Canio shove on referee Paul Alcock – though without the comical backward tumble. For that misdemeanour, the Italian was suspended for 11 matches.

Here’s Luisao’s attack on the official.

Celebration of the day

Ever wondered how it feels to discover that the job you were worried about losing, was safe for the time being?

Goals of the day

Malaga’s Isco scored twice in his side’s 3-0 Champions League win over Zenit St. Petersbrug. Either goal was worthy of winning goal of the day. The opener, a jinking run topped off with a curling strike off the far post possibly shaded it. The second, a powerful drive into the roof of the net from the edge of the penalty area, completed a memorable double. Here are both of the Isco Kid’s goals in all their glory.

Celebrity fan of the day

Liam Gallagher, former singer of Oasis, was in attendance at the Bernabeu to watch his team, Manchester City, take on Real Madrid. Here’s the nasal-voiced one celebrating City’s opening goal. According to Marca, Gallagher’s boisterousness (euphemism obviously) resulted in him being thrown out of the ground, although other reports claim he departed when Madrid levelled the score at 1-1. Which, given the eventual outcome, was probably just as well.

What the Butler saw

Malaysia international goalkeeper Sharbinee Allawee, who was accused of throwing a match by his club manager, has passed a lie-detector test, a government anti-corruption agency has said.

Terengganu’s coach Peter Butler substituted 25-year-old Sharbinee after the goalkeeper had clumsily palmed the ball into his own net to allow Kedah to equalize in a Malaysia Cup match. After the game, an angry Butler said Sharbinee would never play for the club again. He might have to revise that opinion in the wake of the goalkeeper passing the polygraph.

“As far as we are concerned, he is innocent,” Md Yusoff Md Zin of the country’s Anti-Corruption Agency told Wednesday’s Malaysian Star.

“We conducted a thorough investigation lasting more than two weeks and there’s no evidence or document linking Ahmad Sharbinee with fixing matches.

“We even conducted a polygraph test on Sharbinee and it yielded no significant reaction which would link him to match-fixing.”

Sharbinee, however, was hit with a fine of 1,000 Malysian ringgit (£200) for throwing a water bottle at Butler after being substituted. Butler, meanwhile, was banned for six months and hit with a 4,000 Malaysian ringgit (£800) fine for wrongly accusing two other players of behaving improperly by bringing guests to their hotel room before a match.

Homophobia a growing problem

Racism remains a problem in English problem but when it comes to discrimination, it is being outstripped by growing instances of homophobia.

A report published by the government said that while anti-racism schemes had proved successful, fans were becoming increasingly aware of homophobic chants at grounds.

“Evidence is now emerging that homophobia may now be a bigger problem in soccer than other forms of discrimination,” the report said. “Recent research found that 25 percent of fans think that soccer is homophobic while 10 percent think that soccer is racist.”

“It added that 14 percent of match attendees questioned had reported hearing homophobic abuse.”

John Whittingdale MP, chairman of the committee, said: “Much has been done to improve the atmosphere and behavior at football matches and it has become a much more family friendly activity.

“However, recent incidents of racist abuse in the UK, both on and off the pitch, have highlighted the fact that there remain significant problems.”

The report also said more needed to be done to increase the number of black and Asian coaches and officials.

Norwich City’s Chris Hughton is the only black manager in the Premier League while match officials are generally white.

“There is a clear need to encourage more candidates from ethnic minorities to train as coaches and referees to ensure that clubs and boards can select from a more diverse pool of recruits from within the football pyramid,” the report stated.

Quote of the day

“We haven’t conceded a goal and that is a step forward. In the first half we made a lot of technical mistakes. It’s not an easy phase we’re going through as we’re using up a lot of mental energy.”

Milan coach tries to put a positive spin on his side’s disappointing 0-0 home draw with Anderlecht.


Spare a thought for Porto’s Lucho Gonzalez, whose father died shortly before Tuesday’s Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb, and who promised his ailing father he would find the net ahead of the game.

The new Porto captain, who didn’t tell his team-mates before the match of his loss, for fear of them becoming distracted, confirmed the news of his parent’s death to reporters after the game.

“It was in the script that I’d score,” he said after opening he scoring in the 2-0 win. “When I heard the news that my father had died, the coach and the club directors spoke to me and gave me their support.”