Rock and a hard place

Gibraltar have been accepted as a member of UEFA, allowing their national team and clubs to enter to participate in international competition.

UEFA’s annual Congress voted in favour of a motion to allow the British colony to become their 54th member.

Gibraltar, which was granted provisional membership last October, first applied for UEFA membership in 1999 but had faced strong opposition from Spain.

In the past, Spain have threatened to boycott any competition in which teams from Gibraltar take part.

“This is a momentous moment for us,” Gareth Latin, president of the Gibraltar FA, told the UEFA Congress. “It means we can now begin the next chapter of Gibraltar football.;”

Gibraltar’s case was strengthened in 2011 by a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling that UEFA have to consider its membership.

Their teams will first feature in the qualifying competitions for the 2014 European under-17 and under-19 championships.

Gibraltar have been drawn against England, Armenia and Ireland in the under-17 qualifiers and Croatia, Czech Republic and Cyprus in the under-19 tournaments.

Their first full international competition is likely to be the qualifiers for Euro 2016.

Gibraltar is a British overseas territory, whose citizens are full British citizens. Meanwhile, Kosovo, recognised as an independent country by 99 United Nations states, still awaits any kind of recognition from UEFA.

Party spirit

Roma midfielder Daniele de Rossi has appealed to fans to “leave their weapons and knives at home” for what promises to be a tense Italian Cup final against local rivals Lazio.

Sunday’s match comes around seven weeks after a Serie A meeting between the two neighbours was preceded by violent clashes in the streets of Rome in which several people were stabbed.

“It will be a big party: there are lots of people who want to come to the stadium hoping to celebrate a win but who will leave their weapons and knives at home,” De Rossi told reporters.

“We know that tension is high and we have to be the first to not go over the top on the pitch because that could spark unwanted incidents,” added De Rossi, who was sent off in November’s 3-2 derby defeat after punching Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri in the face.

“Everyone, but above all me being Roman, wants to see maturity from everyone in the city.”

There’s always a first time…

Money money money

Claudio Ranieri has revealed that Monaco are keen to emulate Chelsea and wants to challenge in Europe in the near future.

The French outfit secured promotion back to Ligue 1 earlier this month after two seasons in France’s second division and with club president Dmitry Rybolovlev willing to spend big.

Indeed, the newly-promoted club provided a glimpse of their immense ambition with the signing on Friday of Porto’s midfield duo Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez for a combined £60m. Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao is tipped to follow next week.

For Ranieri, who was in charge of Chelsea when Roman Abramovich bought the London club, there must be a real sense of deja vu. If only the French had a word for that kind of thing.

“Monaco will become the new Chelsea. The president wants to do big things here. We won Ligue 2 and our goal now is to finish third in the top flight to qualify for the Champions League,” Ranieri told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“However, we can not just buy attackers in order to achieve success. We need to build a team from the bottom down. My dream is to play in the Champions League in 2014 with Roma in the competition as well. That would be really nice.”

The 61-year-old then went on to discuss rumors that Monaco is considering hiring Roberto Mancini as its new coach, while he also spoke about the controversial tax situation in the principality.

“I know that the Monaco coaching job is a popular one now, but I’m not afraid. I have a three-year deal here. I have never been given any presents during my career,” he said, perhaps mindful of his time at Chelsea, when he was shown the door as soon as a high profile replacement became available.

“The tax situation has always been like this in Monaco and nobody ever said anything about it. Now we have a Russian president it’s all of a sudden a big deal…”

Interest rates

There was a time when Manchester United were considered big hitters in the transfer market, but those days seem long gone and while the likes of Moncao sweep up all the desirable talent, the Premier League champions are left feeding off scraps.

They remain a huge cash cow, but now a large chunk of their profit is siphoned off to pay interest on the loans the Glazer family saddled them with when they bought the club.

So, every penny counts and today comes new that the club have trimmed £10 million off the annual interest bill on their debt through a refinancing arranged by Bank of America.

The American Glazer family bought United for £790 million in 2005 and the debt currently stands at £367 million, resulting in  interest payments of £46 million in the nine months to the end of March.

“If calculated today, we estimate that the starting rate of interest would be approximately 2.78 percent, resulting in an interest reduction of around £10 million per year,” United said in a statement issued late on Thursday.

£10 million might be small change for the wealthier clubs, but for United, that represents a windfall.

High expectations

Across the city of Manchester incoming City manager, Manuel Pellegrini, has been told by the club’s chief executive that he is expected to win five trophies in the next five years. No pressure there then.

Pellegrini is expected to be confirmed as Mancini’s successor on 3 June after finishing the season in Spain with Málaga, and after a disappointing trophyless season under his predecessor, Roberto Mancini, Ferran Soriano has raised the bar high for the new man.

“I think that next season is going to be much better. I am convinced about that,” Soriano said. “It doesn’t mean we are going to win one or two titles but in the grand scheme of things, if we look at the next five years and I could plan now, I would say I want to win five trophies in the next five years.

“That may mean we win no trophy one year and two in another but on average I want one title a year. That includes the Champions League, the Premier League or the FA Cup. Is it a realistic aim? I think it is, yes, but I am talking about five years.

“If next year we don’t win but progress our football and get to the semi-finals of the Champions League, finish second in the Premier League and lose the FA Cup final again that will be fine.

“What we are asking the new manager to do is build a squad but also a football concept and a way of working that will last for the next 10 years. The manager has a shorter span [than that]. We are asking the manager to win this season, next season and every Sunday.”

The Spaniard said that the City board were concerned about the image of the club during Mancini’s three-and-a-half-year reign.

“I was worried about the image we were giving to the world,” Soriano said.

With a transfer outlay pushing £1 billion over the past 5 years, I think that ship might have sailed.

Police state

UEFA President Michel Platini says he wants a European sports police force to tackle betting, corruption, match-fixing, doping and hooliganism.

Speaking to the UEFA Congress in London on Friday, Platini said his previous calls have been ignored by governments for six years.

”Given the absence of any reaction and the lack of awareness on the part of politicians, I renew that call today,” Platini said.

”And if, by misfortune, this call again falls on deaf ears, I ask that each country, at the very least, adopts specific provisions of national legislation addressing the issue of match-fixing, in order to finally have the legal tools necessary to rigorously punish these cheats.”

Platini says he will ask each of UEFA’s 53 member nations to introduce match-fixing laws to give them the ”legal tools necessary to rigorously punish these cheats.”

Platini says only 10 nations have such provisions.

The UEFA president said fixing matches ”strikes at the soul of our sport, the very essence of the game.”

”We are not dealing with petty criminals who are looking to make ends meet,” he added. ”It would seem that we are, in some instances, dealing with mafia-type organizations that are using certain matches to launder money, tarnishing our sport in the process.”

But, enough about the way FIFA operates, what about the people fixing matches?

Inter sacking

Sky Sport Italia claim that Andrea Stramaccioni has been sacked by Inter.

Nerazzurri technical director Marco Branca is understood to have telephoned the coach on Thursday, informing him of the club’s decision.

The news will come as a surprise to Stramaccioni, who last week admitted that although he retained the support of Inter president Massimo Moratti, he would have no complaints if he was sacked.

“Moratti confirmed me four days ago, so I doubt he has changed his mind in such a short space of time,” said Stramaccioni. “Even if he did, I would have absolutely no complaints.”

A statement which the candid Stramaccioni may now have cause to regret. After all, if you have so little faith in your abilities, then why should your employer.

Stramaccioni is set to be replaced by Walter Mazzarri after he confirmed last weekend that he would not be staying at Napoli.

Inter finished this season in ninth after they lost 16 League games.

Quote of the day

“I tip my hat to Mr Havelange, he’s a myth in the world of football even though he has made mistakes. It really is a pity he should withdraw at this point, he has rendered services to FIFA and I pay tribute to Mr Havelange. I think Mr Havelange tried to help FIFA by withdrawing his name in a moment that was difficult for FIFA.”

Michel Platini pays tribute to Joao Havelange, the disgraced former FIFA president, who quit as the organisation’s honorary president after an ethics committee found he had taken bribes.

Goal of the day

A stunning long range free-kick from El Gounah’s Mohamed Al Adham against Haras El Hodood.

Radical overhaul

UEFA has confirmed that from 2015 the winners of the Europa League will qualify for the following season’s Champions League.

Sixteen teams rather than the current six will also qualify directly for the group stages of UEFA’s secondary competition in a bid to boost its prestige and attractiveness to sponsors.

“This decision will have a huge impact on the Europa League and it will also have an impact on national league competitions,” UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino told a news conference after the governing body’s annual Congress.

“It is fair to say there has not been the same enthusiasm for the competition in the past but this will boost the whole of the European football movement.”

The decision was taken after detailed discussions between the European Club Association comprising Europe’s top clubs and UEFA and the change will come into effect after the current TV contract for the Champions League expires in 2015.

The Europa League, which replaced the UEFA Cup, has long been seen as a devalued competition in comparison to the elite Champions League.

The change means clubs taking part in the Europa League may treat it more seriously and field stronger teams because it offers a path into the Champions League the following season.

“It will also benefit clubs in some of the lower leagues. As 16 teams from the top 12 nations will now go directly into the Europa league group stage.

“This means that, for example a team from country ranked 25th say, would not have to play a team from one of the top nations to qualify, but has a better chance against say a team from a country ranked 20th, so it will have a big impact.”

Infantino also said a maximum of five teams from any one country would be able to compete in the Champions League from 2015-16.

This means in the event of the winners of the Champions League and the Europa League coming from the same country but finishing outside the top four, the team who finished fourth in the domestic league would not take part in the Champions League.