Feeling blue

Chelsea’s acting manager Rafael Benitez has played down reports of a bust-up with his players following Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester City.

According to reports, a posse of Chelsea players led, unsurprisingly, by professional agitator, and non-playing captain, John Terry, became embroiled in a row with the beleaguered Benitez in the dressing room after this weekend’s defeat.

One player is alleged to have reminded Benitez that, in addition to the Champions League, this Chelsea squad also won three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. All of which may be true, but surely if those players wish to take credit for past excellence they should also be prepared to accept responsibility for their current mediocrity.

The Spaniard, though, insists it was a typical post-match discussion between the squad and technical members.

“This was a normal meeting between players and technical staff, which happens after every game, it was normal talk, nothing else. You show your disappointment, that is normal,” Benitez said.

“I can understand the frustrations of Terry, he is an important player for us and has been injured with his knee.

“It was very brief exchange of ideas, and that is it, nothing else. It is just a team talk after a defeat.

“We had a meeting on the pitch with my players and technical staff, which is part of our business.

“Now we have to move on and start thinking about Middlesbrough.”

Asked about his relationship with the Chelsea players, Benitez added: “It is fantastic. I have no problem.”

Believe that…

When in Rome…

Lazio are facing the prospect of playing a home Europa League tie behind closed doors after UEFA charged their supporters with racist offences for the third time this season.

UEFA have confirmed that they have charged the club for the “racist behaviour” of their fans during last Thursday’s 2-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach as well as the “throwing of missiles and or fireworks” and “insufficient organisation”.

Lazio fans were found guilty of similar racist offences in the ties against Tottenham and Maribor. Following the game in Slovenia, UEFA suspended a sanction of playing a Europa League tie behind closed doors for a period of two years.

That could now be imposed when UEFA’s control and disciplinary body meets on Wednesday and could mean the Stadio Olimpico is empty when Lazio host Stuttgart on 14 March in the second leg of their last-16 tie.

Any repeat of such incidents and one assumes that the club will be thrown out of the competition. Or, if UEFA maintain their hardline stance on racism, a slap and the wrist and a €10,000 fine. We shall see.

The build up to the Mönchengladbach match was overshadowed by outbreaks of fighting between rival fans which resulted in three travelling fans being stabbed.

The Lazio president, Claudio Lotito, was dismayed by the latest outbreak of violence although he felt it was unfair to pin the blame on the club.

He told Sky Sport Italia: “I would urge the media not to label the protagonists of all these incidents as ‘Lazio fans’. Rome is a metropolis and as such is inhabited also by bad people.

“For example, there is no suggestion so far that those behind these incidents were part of Lazio’s organised fan groups. Nobody is trying to justify this behaviour but I say this because I am in constant contact with the police and want to understand if these people really are linked with Lazio. In my view they should do a quick trial and send them to prison for some time, so they don’t have the chance to do it again.”

Doing the decent thing

Steve McClaren has been explaining why he decided to step down as coach of FC Twente.

The former England manager resigned on Tuesday after a run of six matches without a win left them in fifth spot in the table, six points behind leaders PSV Eindhoven..

“The club is bigger than any one individual and Twente is too big in my heart to stand in the way of its progress,” McClaren said in a statement on the club’s website (www.fctwente.nl).

McClaren’s departure brings to an end his second spell as manager at the club he guided to their only ever Dutch league title in 2010.

The 51-year-old Englishman returned to Twente in January 2012 after short spells in charge of German club Wolfsburg and English second-division outfit Nottingham Forest.

“We talked about the expectations of the club, how European qualification was key each season and finishing in the top four,” he said.

“Despite being joint top at the winter break and second four weeks ago, recent results and performances have seen criticism, protest and demonstration from both supporters and the media.

“We talked about how we could change the situation and relieve the pressure on the team which was clearly affecting its performance.”

He said he had sought assurances from the board about his position both now and in the future.

“After much discussion and deliberation those assurances weren’t forthcoming and we have agreed it’s in the best interest of the club that I leave.”

The club did not seem overly upset to have lost McClaren, although they insist they were in no hurry to see him go.

“We thought that the disappointing results under McClaren could be turned around,” chairman Joop Munsterman said. “Steve, however, made clear that in the best interest of the team it would be better that he stepped down. We understand his decision and respect it.”

Goal of the day

Tottenham are in danger of turning into a one-man team as Gareth Bale ‘s hot streak shows no sign of abating. Two goals on Monday helped Spurs to a 3-2 win at West Ham, with his second, an outrageous dipping, curling effort, the latest in a long line of spectacular match winners.

Own goal of the day

This effort would not look out of place in Question of Sport’s What Happened Next feature. Galatasaray’s Selcuk Inan was the unwitting goalscorer.

Quote of the day

“I know they are looking at him. It is entirely understandable that the Swansea boss is being looked at by Real Madrid, where Laudrup played from 1994 to 1996. There is interest. But would Laudrup want to break one of football’s perfect marriages?”

John Toshack, a former manager of both Swansea and Real Madrid, believes that Michael Laurdrup might be tempted by the prospect of managing at the Bernabeu.


Vaslui defender Zhivko Milanov lost five teeth after being kicked in the mouth by CFR Cluj’s Cadu during Monday’s Romanian league game, prompting the Vaslui coach to label the incident a “crime”.

Milanov, capped 23 times by Bulgaria, was injured towards the end of the first half and was rushed to hospital.

“It’s a crime,” Vaslui coach Viorel Hizo told local media. “It’s not the first time Cadu has committed such a foul and I’m curious what his punishment will be.”

You can watch the incident below. Warning: not recommended for those of a squeamish disposition.

Back on his old stomping ground

Diego Maradona has appealed to the Italian authorities to clear his name in a tax evasion case.

The Argentinian said: ”I didn’t kill anyone. I’m here to seek justice.”

Maradona’s Italian debts of about £33 million stem from alleged unpaid taxes during the time he played for Napoli from 1984-91. His unpaid drugs bill from that period will be even higher.

Maradona says Napoli club officials were responsible for his playing contract with the club.

”Why do I have to pay and not them?” he said. ”I’m a victim because I earned a lot but I didn’t know anything about contractual questions. I’m showing my face because I didn’t kill anyone.

”If (Italian) President (Giorgio) Napolitano wants to speak with me, I’ll explain everything to him.”

In previous visits to Italy in recent years, tax police have confiscated two Rolex watches and a diamond earring from Maradona, plus £2.5 million he had earned from appearing on the ”Ballando con le stelle” TV dance show.

In 2010, plans for a match in Naples celebrating Maradona’s 50th birthday had to be abandoned due to threats from tax authorities.

Maradona said he wants to return to Italy with his grandson to watch Napoli.

”I want him to see what grandpa did and not to be remembered as an evader, which I’m not,” he said. ”I want to believe that justice exists. I want justice so I can walk freely in Italy and Naples.”

Judging by the reaction to his arrival in Naples, where he was mobbed by well-wishers, Maradona will never be able to walk freely anywhere in Italy.

Pep talk

Former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola employed a private detective agency to monitor the behaviour of his squad, according to reports in the Spanish media.

El Confidencial claims Guardiola hired Método 3 to see what his players were up when not on club duty. Among the firm’s targets was Gerard Pique, who came under surveillance after starting his relationship with pop star Shakira.

The reports suggest Guardiola would also phone his players’ landlines to make sure they were at home at appropriate times.

A club source told El Confidencial: “He was obsessed with what the players did in their private lives and that they did not go out on the town because later they would not they perform on the pitch.”

But the private eyes were not exactly discrete. At one point Pique allegedly reported to Guardiola that he was being followed.

Franck Ribery, you have been warned.

Hard act to follow

On the subject of Guardiola, former Bayern Munich coach Felix Magath is sceptical about the Spaniard’s chances of surpassing the achievements of current boss Jupp Heynckes.

Heynckes, 67, will make way for former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola next season but Magath remains unsure about the appointment due to the unrealistic levels of expectation already circulating.

“FC Bayern have hired a top man,” he told German daily Die Welt. “But expectations will be enormous. This can also turn out to be a problem, if expectations are fuelled, which, as they are too high, he has to fall short of.

“When I say Bayern play better than ever before: How could Guardiola make them better? And just imagine Jupp Heynckes is to win three titles. There’d be none left for Guardiola.”

Magath also said that he believed Bayern are the best club in Europe at the moment.

“After Barcelona’s defeat at Milan you have to assume they are,” he said. “I am convinced they will reach the Champions League final. They play better than ever before.

“In any case, I have never seen them better. They have been able to play on that level since the start of the season. If they continue to keep it up chances are good that they can win the title.

“Jupp Heynckes does a great job. Without diminishing his work, I believe, the current shape Bayern are in, the extreme position play is down to Louis van Gaal. The club profits from the work he has done. Heynckes has taken on the structures and elaborated them, that is as important and valuable.”


Ghana defender John Paintsil has been discharged from hospital after collapsing on Tuesday.

The former Fulham and West Ham right-back was rushed to the Ghana-Canada Hospital at East Legon in Accra after passing out at home.

The defender has been accused of stabbing his wife in the eye during a row between the pair, although he has denied the allegations. The Police say they are still piecing investigations together and may prosecute even though there was no official complaint from Paintsil’s wife,  Richlove.

An official statement from his media adviser, Ebenezer Aidoo, said Paintsil suffered from “exhaustion and dehydration”.

The statement added: “The past five days have taken a severe emotional toll on the entire Paintsil family, Richlove [Paintsil’s wife] and John especially, and that toll manifested itself in the unfortunate incident this morning.

“The Paintsil family is immensely grateful to the Government of Ghana and the Ghana Football Association for the big support they have given and continue to give the family.”