Licence to cheat

Michael Laudrup has courted controversy by suggesting that there is nothing wrong with teams paying rival sides to win games.

Can you hear that squeaking noise? It’s the sound of can of worms being opened.

While the Dane insisted he was completely against “match fixing”, he believes the term needs to be “better defined”. Would “cheating” work better?

Laudrup was asked about the issue by a journalist at a news conference.

He replied: “If Swansea play the last game against a team and a third team pays Swansea to win the game, I really don’t see anything bad about that.”

“To say I’m against that [match-fixing] is like saying today it’s Thursday – it’s obvious.

“The worst match fixing I’ve heard was what happened in Italy before I came there in the beginning of the 80s, where somebody bought three or four of the players in a team to lose a game.

“That means that seven or eight players in a team were playing to win, like normal, and three or four of them just to lose.”

However, Laudrup has no problem with what is known in Spanish football as the “suitcases” culture.

“It’s just a bonus. For me, match-fixing is somebody pays someone to lose a game,” he said.

“In Spain where there’s one or two matches left in a season we always talked about the suitcases.

“But the suitcases is to win – I don’t see anything bad about that.

“I think we have to define very well what is match-fixing because there’s different levels, I think.”

I can see that Laudrup is attempting to adopt a nuanced stance over the issue of match fixing, but surely the integrity of sport is a subject that requires absolute clarity. If a club can be persuaded to try harder to win a game, how much easier would it be to persuade a side to lose a game?

Racism rears its ugly head

There have been calls for Lazio to be punished for the behaviour of their fans at Thursday’s Europa League game against Tottenham.

Monkey-chanting was heard to come from the away end on several occasions directed against Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend, but surprisingly, not Gareth Bale.

Members of anti-discrimination group Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) who were in the crowd at White Hart Lane, said they heard monkey chanting and they are now filing their reports to UEFA to help them with any potential disciplinary action.

The group’s executive director Piara Powar thinks European football’s governing body need to issue a tough punishment on Lazio to send a strong message to the club that racism will not be tolerated.

He said: ”UEFA normally operate a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy, and I think Lazio are at first base in that respect, but if (UEFA) really want to set the bar high, if they really want to send out a strong message, then I think they can do so regardless of whether it’s a first or second offence.

”I therefore think that UEFA could move directly to something like a match behind closed doors (punishment).

”They could suspend that punishment, perhaps, and then if something happens further down the line, then they can trigger that.”

Yes, there’s plenty UEFA could do, but whether they will is another matter. Forgive my cynicism, but UEFA talks the talk of racism, but rarely walks the walk. Last season, Manchester City were handed a bigger fine for returning to the pitch after half-time one minute late, than their opponents, Porto, received for their fans racially abusing City’s black players.

Worth a try

It’s that time of year again. The time when Liverpool and Manchester United go at each other hammer and tongs while the rest of the footballing world turns its back slightly fearful that the repercussions and the recriminations will dominate the headlines for the foreseeable future.

For decades now, the two clubs, encouraged by their more militant supporters, have done their worst to foster discord and breed enmity.

Now, out of the gloom, comes a suggestion from an unlikely source that may actually pour some oil on the troubled waters.

Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler says Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez should lay floral tributes before Sunday’s game. The gesture would carry a significance beyond Anfield for it was these two who came to personally embody the animus of the fixture via last season’s ugly race row.

“It would be nice for Luis Suarez to put some flowers at the United end regarding Munich, and for Patrice Evra to do so at the Kop,” Fowler said.

“The two clubs do have a rivalry, but some things are far more important than football and this is one of them.”

Fowler believes that Suarez should commemorate the Munich air disaster of 1958, in which eight Manchester United players died, while Evra should pay tribute to the 96 Liverpool fans killed at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough in 1989.

Let’s be honest, it’s not the worst idea you’re going to hear in connection with this fixture over the next 48 hours.

Better late than never

If your heart really is set on a life of crime, here’a tip for you: move to Argentina. For there, the wheels of justice turn very slowly, if at all. With a bit of luck, and a decent lawyer, you could be dead before justice is meted out.

Take the case of Argentine-born Italian international, Mauro Camoranesi, who has just been ordered to pay £40,000 plus interest in compensation and damages for a brutal challenge he made in 1994. After all those years the interest payable is probably greater than the actual fine.

Camoranesi was playing for Aldosivi at the time while his victim, Roberto Pizzo, was representing Alvarado.

Here’s the challenge, which is not recommended viewing for those of a squeamish disposition.

Voting with their feet

Borussia Dortmund supporters will protest against Bundesliga ticket prices by walking out at Hamburg when the match between the two clubs kicks off.

Two years ago, Borussia fans started the “Kein Zwanni” (No €20 tickets) movement, a campaign against ticket-price rises by Bundesliga clubs.

Kein Zwanni will now focus its protests on Hamburg, where the cheapest seat costs €40.

A Kein Zwanni statement said: “We call on all BVB supporters to join in our protest. An empty away standing area and many vacancies in the seats will not be overlooked by the media.

“Let’s increase the pressure on the people in charge together and lend weight to our claim for affordable tickets. We might ask a lot from you – but we hope you join in. United we are strong. Keep football a sport for all people.”

A quick google reveals that the most expensive ticket price in England last season was at Arsenal where some tickets at high profile matches cost £100 each. In this regard, Germany puts England to shame.

With Dortmund fans unhappy at paying €20 to watch their team, imagine what they would make of the situation in the UK where only 11 out of 104 clubs in England and Scotland will offer adults the chance to enjoy a day at the football for less than £20.

When it comes to making money out of their supporters then Bundesliga clubs have an awful lot to learn from their British counterparts. Hopefully, for the sake of their own supporters and what is a vibrant, youthful fan culture, it’s a lesson they will never learn.

Death by a thousand cuts

Economist Jose Maria Gay has expressed his belief that Spanish football is in terminal decline, in his annual report on the financial developments in Europe’s top five leagues.

Gay states that Barcelona and Real Madrid are the only two Liga teams that are making steps forward, while adding that the remaining teams have made no progress whatsoever in the past five years. For someone renowned in his field, it’s surprising he hasn’t made the connection between the duopoly that soak up all the money in Spain, and the remainder that live off the scraps.

“The Primera Division is not moving forward. Barcelona and Real Madrid are the only two clubs that are growing. All the other teams are still in the same situation as five years ago,” Gay told reporters.

“Spanish football is dying if you ask me. They are five years behind the other big leagues. The poor state of the stadiums is the main reason.”

Before people in England get too smug, though, there’s bad news for fans of the Premier League.

“The model of the Premier League is bankrupt from a financial point of view,” Gay continues. “It is based on club ownership, and losses are financed through holding companies.

“Football is a true reflection of a country’s economy, and France and Germany are leading the way at the moment.”

Time for a change

Former Scotland boss George Burley has been sacked by Cypriot outfit Apollon Limassol after just two matches – one of which he won.

Limassol president Nikos Kirzis was quick to deny speculation that Burley was fired because he was spending too much time enjoying the island’s nightlife, insisting his removal stemmed from a personality clash with the club’s director of football, Daniel Quinteros. Apparently the pair didn’t see eye to eye – usually because Burley’s eyes were quite blurry whenever their paths crossed.

“If you know football in Cyprus then this would not come as a surprise. The decision was mutual because the results were not expected. We lost our last game.

“I have no complaints about him because we had a good relationship.

“Yes, there have been some rumours but that’s because Cyprus is a small island. Things get out of proportion and you can quote me on that. But it was a decision made by mutual consent and we wish George all the best.”

Murky business

Those of you wishing to be blown down by a feather, present yourselves now.

The man appointed to investigate corruption at FIFA has said the organisation has “skeletons in the cupboard” and that he has encountered resistance to his work.

Mark Pieth, brought in to chair FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee (IGC) by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, told the BBC he believed some members of the organisation were resisting his investigative efforts.

“We’ve introduced this new, independent judicial system but I think they need to look at the past,” he said.

“They have skeletons in the cupboard, that’s true. There are some, usually older people, who don’t agree with what is happening.”

I wonder who he could mean?

Quote of the day

“Berlusconi and I have known each other for 33 years, so there isn’t any possibility of a misunderstanding between us,”

Milan CEO Adriano Galliani dismissing suggestions that club owner, Silvio Berlusconi, was ready to sack coach Massimiliano Allegri. I think this is Galliani’s way of saying that he knows where Berlusconi buried the skeletons.

Mascot misery

A camel, the saying goes, is a horse designed by committee. This came to mind on hearing that the potential names for the 2014 World Cup mascot were selected ”after a vote by a high-profile judging committee” in Brazil.

Unfortunately, when presented with the options, it transpires that Brazilians don’t like the names listed by local organisers – Amijubi, Fuleco and Zuzeco.

More than 23,000 people have signed an online petition demanding a ”more democratic” approach in which fans could make suggestions. It says it’s important the mascot has a ”decent name.” It’s not, but if that’s how people want to spend their time then who am I to judge.

The initial list had 450 names, according to local organisers, who said the names which made the final list had to meet several legal requirements in order to be approved. After that palaver you can see why there is a reluctance to open the process up again.

”The names will not be revised,” the local organising committee said in a statement. ”We are confident that after the Brazilian public votes to decide the name of the mascot, it will start developing along with the character.”

A case of you will will like it whether you want to or not.