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Thin end of the wedge

Europe’s leading clubs have reached agreement with UEFA to drop the traditional August friendly games from the international calendar. Long a bugbear of the European clubs, the August friendly is now a thing of the past – provided FIFA approves the calendar change.

European Clubs Association (ECA) chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said:, “The agreement with UEFA is a major breakthrough for European club football. With this agreement, UEFA clearly recognises the importance of clubs and the significant contribution they make to the success of national team football.

“The negotiations have not always proved easy, but were always conducted in a fair and respectful manner. I sincerely thank UEFA, in particular UEFA president Michel Platini, on behalf of all European clubs and look forward to our continued cooperation.

“This is once more a proof that in the European football family solutions can be found in a co-operative and fair way.”

Provided of course, that the clubs get their own way.

The ECA also said that it wants to restrict players to one international tournament each year, which could have an impact on call-ups to the Olympics in August. And the clubs also want the Copa America played earlier in July, and the Africa Cup of Nations to start earlier in January so that players return sooner to their clubs.

Rummenigge insisted that the agreement was with UEFA and not the world governing body, FIFA.

“While an agreement has been reached with UEFA, the situation remains unsatisfactory in relation to FIFA,” he said. “Unfortunately, discussions with the FIFA president have failed to lead to a satisfactory outcome which takes account of the clubs’ demands.”

All of which came as surprise to FIFA, which pointed out out that a meeting was scheduled to be held on March 5, involving representatives of continental confederations, national associations, clubs and players to discuss the international match calendar.

In a statement, FIFA said: “Both ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and ECA general secretary Michele Centenar…have been invited to attend the meeting, but have declined to take part.”

Make of that, what you will.

Barcelona offered compensation over doping story

A Spanish radio station has offered 200,000 euros to Barcelona in compensation for a report that alleged their players had taken performance-enhancing substances.

Barcelona are suing Cadena COPE over a report last year, which featured comments falsely attributed to the club’s rivals Real Madrid casting doubt on the ethics of Barca’s doctors.

“The information cited turned out not to be true and came from an unchecked source. We therefore recognise that an affront to the honour of the club occurred,” COPE said in a statement released late on Monday.

The station “in the next 48 hours will allocate 200,000 euros for the value of the harm and damages caused,” it added.

Two hundred thousand euros might not be enough; Barcelona have demanded more than six million euros in damages.

Licence to print money

Most clubs do not regard the Europa League as much of a cash cow, but the unexpected appearance of Manchester United in the knockout stages of this season’s competition, has made some realise that it might be possible to make a killing.

Athletic Bilbao, United’s opponents in the next round, intend to charge £77.50 for the tickets, approximately double what they charged in their previous-round win over Lokomotiv Moscow. United will be charging ‘only’ £36 to Bilbao fans for the first-leg match a week earlier.

The English club have written to UEFA to complain about the price hike, but given that European football’s governing body charged up to £326 for tickets for last season’s Champions League final, their complaint is likely to fall on deaf ears.

AVB fears the sack

Chelsea manager André Villas-Boas has expressed fears for the first time that he could be fired by owner, Roman Abramovich, before he is given the chance to implement his long-term plans.

In an interview conducted by the Lisbon-based radio station TSF the Portuguese compared his situation to that of his predecessor at Stamford Bridge, Carlo Ancelotti.

“We are now in the exact same moment as last year,” said Villas-Boas, alluding to the last few months of Ancelotti’s reign which petered out with the Italian effectively a lame duck manager. “It is an exact copy but with a less experienced coach [in charge].

“I know that, in the Abramovich era, we have the worst results but I think I have felt the confidence from the owner. Let’s see if he wants a change in the club or not. The pattern of behaviour of the owner has led to a downfall [of managers] in similar situations, or even ‘better’ situations. What will be his reaction? It will be one of two: either a continuation of the project and full support from above; or a continuation of the cultural pattern that has happened before. We don’t know. We don’t know if it’ll be tomorrow or in two years from now. It’ll depend on what is the understanding of what is happening at the moment.”

Given that bookmakers are taking bets on whether Villas-Boas will survive the week, let alone the season, his candour is admirable.

St Pauli pay a heavy price

A court at the German Football federation (DFB) has ruled that St. Pauli must play their forthcoming game against Karlsruher without 5,800 fans in the standing areas of their Millerntor-Stadion. The lower capacity will effectively cost 2. Bundesliga side €63,000 in lost ticket sales.

The ban was imposed after a St Pauli fan threw a roll of paper from a cash register roll onto the pitch during a match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

At the trial on Monday in Frankfurt am Main, the 20-year-old responsible for throwing the object made a personal appearance and was visibly upset when explaining his actions. The fan had already apologised to Eintracht Frankfurt’s midfielder Pirmin Schwegler, the player struck, in person and in writing.

Here’s what all the fuss was about.

Goal of the day

Braga’s amazing winning run continues. Their 4-0 victory over Guimares was their 8th win in a row and took them to within three points of leaders Porto and Benfica. The goal of the night came from Andre Filipe Ukra, who cut into the penalty area before unleashing a low, powerful drive past the keeper.

Quote of the day

“They may be a little club, but they have ambition. This is a team with a realistic chance of playing at the highest level of European football. They have the ambition and the money. They have bought me for £12m – plus Roberto Carlos, Yuri Zhirkov and Samuel Eto’o. There will be more big names coming. I know of two which will surprise people that we will sign this summer. We’d like to do what Man City have done.”

Congolese defender Christopher Samba explains that it wasn’t the money that persuaded him to join Anzhi Makhachkala, but the club’s ambition. At least he stopped short of saying it had always been his dream to play in Dagestan.

Show me the money

McDonald Mariga has pulled out the Kenya squad for their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier with Togo, over a dispute with the football authorities in Kenya over outstanding payments for expenses.

The midfielder, who is on loan at Parma from Inter, was in 2010, the first Kenyan to play in the Champions League.

The Mariga’s brother, Celtic’s Victor Wanyama, is still with the squad but is understood to be unhappy with the way his brother has been treated.

“I know Wanyama is a very good midfielder and I have him in my plans for the match but football is teamwork,” said coach Francis Kimanzi, just before his side started falling apart.

Coincidentally, Kenyan newspaper The Star was last week detailing Mariga’s latest purchase, a customised Cadillac Escalade Luxury SUV Platinum Edition, which will be joining his other cars that include a Hummer, Land Cruiser VX and Jaguar.

Sympathy for Mariga over his expenses dispute in a country where the average annual income is about £490, and most of the population earns less than 66p a day, will be in short supply.

Match fixing remedy

K-League officials have elected to scrap South Korea’s domestic knockout cup competition in a bid to avoid a repeat of the match-fixing scandal which hit the game last year.

The K-League Cup often saw teams field weakened teams and was at the centre of the scandal, with gambling syndicates exploiting the low-key nature of the competition to bribe players to fix matches.

“We’ve made extra efforts to ensure fair and transparent officiating,” K-League commissioner Chung Mong-kyu told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. “Games will be refereed in acceptable and reasonable fashion.”

The K-League’s 30th season gets underway this coming weekend and Chung unveiled a new format.

A split system will see the 16 clubs divided into two groups of eight based on their records after 30 matches. They will then play seven more games, once against each other, with the worst two clubs in the lower half relegated to the second tier in 2013. The new format will increase the number of regular season matches from 30 to 44.

In a bid for transparency, the authorities have somehow contrived to increase opacity.

Finally…

Egypt midfielder Ahmed Hassan claims that the Pharaohs’ 5-0 win over Kenya on Monday represented his 179th appearance for his national side, effectively making him the most capped men’s player of all time.

“The game is an official international. FIFA has been informed about it and the number of substitutions was limited, so it is authentic,” Hassan told Al-Hayat TV.

Until the match is officially sanctioned by FIFA, Hassan is tied for first place in international appearances with Saudi Arabia’s retired goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Deayea, with both players on 178 caps.

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