Hard act to follow

A defiant Rafael Benitez has vowed to win over Chelsea’s support after his debut as the club’s interim first-team manager prompted a hostile reaction reaction from the stands and a show of support for the recently fired Roberto Di Matteo.

It was not the start Benitez wanted but it was probably the start that he and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich expected. Surprisingly, for a set of supporters so committed to their departed manager, not a word of criticism was directed at the club’s wealthy owner, the man who pulled the trigger. Strange that. The price paid for the unprecedented success Chelsea have enjoyed over the past decade is that the fans have no say in the running of the club. It is no longer their club, it his his plaything. Perhaps he should clarify his position by utilising the Stamford Bridge public address system to chant: “I’m Roman Abramovich, I do what I want!”.

Benitez claimed not to understand what was been sung about him, which is surprising considering he has lived and worked in England for much of the past decade. Besides, surely the language of booing does not need to be translated.

“I have been here in England for eight years and have heard a lot of things,” he said. “The good thing is I don’t understand what people were singing. I was asking: ‘What are they saying?’ But I don’t care. I’m just focused on the game. I want to change the perception. How? By working hard, doing my best and winning games.

“I can understand it because of the rivalry in the past [with Benítez’s Liverpool side from 2004-10], and we cannot judge the supporters. We have to respect them. But I’m sure the majority of the fans will understand. I’m a professional.

“I will do my job and I want to win, and I want to win for this club. I hope they share those ideas. The fans, apart from that, are with the team. They will be with the team and, hopefully, with me in the next games because I will do a professional job and try to win.”

Boys from Brazil

Zico believes that Mano Menezes should not have been sacked as the Brazil head coach.

The legendary ex-Brazil international, who is currently coaching the Iraq national side, has emerged as one of the favourites to replace the outgoing Menezes, who was fired Friday.

“He left at the wrong time,” Zico said to reporters at the weekend.

“Usually, a coach has a base on which to work, but Mano started with nothing and had to start almost from scratch. What’s important is the World Cup, not friendly matches.”

Speaking about potential replacements to Menezes, Zico believes that many of the names being linked to the role are worthy, especially those from Brazil.

“The names linked with the job are actually the ones that have achieved the best results in recent years and it would be a reward for those who began their careers in Brazil,” he added.

Santos manager Muricy Ramalho, Corinthians boss Tite and Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari have emerged as early candidates to succeed Menezes, with former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola also reportedly in contention. Surprisingly, the name of Harry Redknapp, newly installed at QPR, has not made the bookies shortlist.

Hate crime

The Football Association is to launch an investigation into the obscene chanting by some West Ham fans at Tottenham yesterday.

Spurs’ 3-1 Premier League win was overshadowed West Ham fans mocking the stabbings of the Tottenham fans in Rome last week.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: “Two men were arrested during the football match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham on Sunday November 25 on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence.

“The men accepted a police caution.”

Just four days after Ashley Mills was stabbed in Rome, fans were heard singing “Viva Lazio”, and “Can we stab you every week”, and hissed on several occasions, apparently mocking the Jews executed in the gas chambers during the second world war.

West Ham released a statement saying: “West Ham United are in contact with Tottenham Hotspur to assist them with their investigation into the conduct of a small number of supporters and alleged inappropriate chanting during yesterday’s match at White Hart Lane.

“West Ham United will take the strongest possible action against any of their supporters, including enforcing life bans from the club, that are found guilty of behaviour which is categorically not condoned by West Ham United.

“During the 46 games in the Championship last season, West Ham United had zero arrests for racism or violence, so while we are surprised to see such reports today, we will examine any available evidence of such conduct thoroughly and take the appropriate action.”

Goal of the day

Marvellous solo effort from Ruben Botta for Tigre against Godoy Cruz.

Quote of the day

“It is always possible to buy a team, just like PSG did. But spending a lot of money is not in the club’s interest, except in the short-term. With the big teams, like Ajax in the 1970s, [Arrigo] Sacchi’s Milan or Barca, there was a lot of players born in the country or promoted from within the club. With this philosophy, we don’t last two or three years, but eight or ten. That’s the difference.”

Johan Cruyff is unimpressed by Paris Saint-Germain’s spending policy.

Save of the day

Galatasaray’s Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo donned the gloves to face a last minute penalty against Elazigspor after goalkeeper Fernando Muslera has been shown a red card. The save was good, the celebration even better.

From Russia no love

In an attempt to halt football violence in Russia, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is calling for the most notorious hooligans to be banned from matches for life.

Last week’s Russian league game between Dynamo Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg was the latest to fall victim to an outbreak of hooliganism with the match eventually called off when the Dynamo goalkeeper was injured after a firecracker was thrown from the Zenit stands.

Zenit were fined and told to play its next two domestic league matches behind closed doors after the trouble – of which, more later.

The Russian government has introduced a bill that will include harsh penalties for badly behaved fans, such as temporary suspensions. On Monday, Medvedev urged the government to go further and introduce lifetime bans.

Medvedev said punishment ought to be “extremely harsh against those who come to the stadium to misbehave rather than watch the match.”

Russia is due to host a handful of major sports events in the coming years, including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup. Discussing the events Medvedev said that security for fans and athletes is a “priority” for Russia.

Meanwhile, Zenit St Petersburg, unhappy with the punishment they received after the trouble in Moscow, are threatening to leave the Russian championship and form a new league with other teams from the former Soviet Union.

“The answer is positive; maybe we will play in another championship,”Alexei Miller, chief executive of club owner’s  Gazprom, posted on Zenit’s website this weekend.

“Very, very many people think we could play a CIS football championship and I am also a strong supporter of this idea,” said Miller, referring to the Commonwealth of Independent States post-Soviet group.

“If the time comes to create a new championship, then we will act and take steps only with those people who support the idea,” said Miller, head of the world’s largest gas firm.

Which is sensible. No point taking steps with people who don’t support the idea; that wouldn’t work at all.

Sack race

Still in Russia, Spartak Moscow’s Brazilian players Ari, Rafael Carioca and Welliton were spotted enjoying themselves at a bar the night before the game against Dynamo, which they lost 5-1 and resulted in the sacking of Unai Emery.

­“Carioca, Ari and Welliton spent 200,000 roubles (nearly $7,000) at Barbados bar. It’s seems everything is OK with discipline at the club,” an entry from Barbados Bar’s Twitter feed said.

The text was followed by a picture showing that the Brazilians were accompanied by members of Spartak’s administration – deputy general director Roman Askhabadze and sporting director Dmitry Popov.

Ari, who was the only one in the trio to play against against Dynamo, was quick to dismiss the story.

“I didn’t go to the nightclub with Welliton yesterday. I know nothing about it,” he told Sovetsky Sport newspaper.

Meanwhile, Spartak’s coach, Unai Emery, was fired immediately after Sunday’s encounter at Luzhniki.

The Spaniard, who took charge of the Moscow side over the summer, couldn’t last even until the winter break.

Here’s the photo of Spartak’s deputy general director Roman Askhabadze, striker Welliton and sporting director Dmitry Popov at Barbados bar. 

Hard times

Two stories reveal the deepening financial recession afflicting Greek football at the moment. On Friday, players from Greek second division club Thrasyvoulos had their training session cancelled when unpaid employees locked the doors of Fylis Stadium.

The Athenian area team has failed to pay players and staff for the last two months and Thrasyvoulos captain Giorgos Syros said in an interview earlier this week that some of his team-mates do not have enough money to buy food.

“The players have pride and dignity despite the problems,” Syros was quoted as saying on the club’s website.

Team president Sotiris Masouris said that Syros’s statement was made in a ‘satirical way and was misunderstood’, although the sincerity of his comments seemed obvious to everyone else.

Elsewhere, the Greek Football Federation (EPO) strongly criticised media reports that accused the organisation of becoming a burden for the financially-stricken country.

Several publications reported last week that while Greek society is suffering from the crippling effects of the economic crisis, the federation remains largely immune and enjoys the benefits of money from state-run betting company OPAP.

The reports clearly touched a nerve, because the EPO swiftly issued a statement clarifying its position.

“The Football Federation, which is the supreme body of the game, is a sports association, and a legal entity which is organized, managed and operated according to specific state statutes and regulations; it is in no shape or form under the system of public services or utilities,” the EPO responded in a statement published on its official website (www.epo.gr).

“This legal form allows it to move freely in the market to obtain sponsorships, television rights and generally to operate as a private enterprise…it should be understood that the organisation does not receive even one euro from the state’s budget for sport.

“The clubs get money from OPAP only in return for sponsorship and advertising contracts, very much in the same context in which minimum grants are given to the Football League Association and members of EPO for the needs of the infrastructure of local leagues and tournaments.

“References to the internal workings of the federation then must be based on the actual nature of the organisation; otherwise this constitutes defamation of the character and the name of football.”


On the day that Catalonia went to the polls to vote in the local elections it seemed apt that Barcelona, to many the visible face of the region, was able to field an entirely homegrown XI. The milestone occurred in their 4-0 league win over Levante on Sunday.

The Catalans started the match with Dani Alves as the only player who did not come through the club’s youth academy, but had a complete team of La Masia graduates after Martin Montoya took the Brazilian’s place early in the first-half, until Jordi Alba made way for Adriano in the 75th minute.

“It’s extraordinary, especially for those of us who learned to play football at La Masia. We’re proving and showing the good work that’s being done [in the youth system],” Xavi told the club’s official website.

“[Former coach Louis] van Gaal said that his dream was to field 11 homegrown players, and today that dream became a reality.”

Of the 11, 8 were Catalan, while Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Pedro hailed form Argentina, Manchego and Tenerife respectively. All 11 had come through the club’s famed La Masia academy – a remarkable feat considering the global nature of modern-day football, not to mention the pressure for instant and constant success that accompanies Barcelona.