Super Mario

Mario Balotelli’s eventful stay in England appears to have come to a predictably premature end after his club, Manchester City, agreed terms with Serie A outfit Milan.

City have accepted an offer from Milan understood to be in the region of £17million plus £2.5m in add-ons.

Balotelli has also helped the deal to go through by agreeing a pay-cut of nearly £1m so he could join the club he supported as a boy on a £3m-a-year deal. 

And so ends the transfer window’s longest running saga and Balotelli’s brief, but entertaining spell in the Premier League. Like a firework the Italian dazzled brightly for a while, before fizzling out somewhat disappointingly.

The departure of Balotelli will certainly be a loss to the headline writers in Britain, but given his minimal contribution on the pitch, less so to English football. To be honest, shortly after his arrival, the enigmatic mutated into petulance, and by the time that occurred, the novelty of Balotelli had long since worn off.

Passing the Buck Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers has abdicated all responsibility for Liverpool’s abject FA Cup exit at the hands of League One side Oldham Athletic, preferring instead to pin the blame on the club’s younger elements.

In a remarkable demonstration of buck passing that would have a politician squirming, Rodgers singled out a couple of players and warned all of them that they would be playing in the lower leagues unless their performances improved.

“The boy Smith hadn’t scored a goal at home in two years and he’s come up against two big units we have at centre half [Skrtel and Coates],” Rodgers said. “He is a boy who has come out of university football and he looks like Didier Drogba.

So,not content to ridicule his own players, he decides to mock the opposition too.

But what of the fabled Rodgers tiki taka philosophy? Surely that should prevail whatever the grade of opposition or state of the pitch? Apparently not.

“Going to places like Oldham, you know what you’re going to get. It’s not a Premier League game. It’s a game where you have to roll your sleeves up and fight and as I said, it was too soft.

“One or two were too soft, it’s as simple as that. I’m talking in general, about the physicality around the team, not just Martin Skrtel. I would expect all the players to react, not just him.”

Clearly, playing a team like Oldham away from home on a wet and windy January afternoon, did not merit a mention in the 180-page dossier that Rodgers purportedly presented to the Liverpool owners at his job interview.

Uruguayan centre half Sebastian Coates, who struggled against Oldham, faces an uncertain future at Anfield with Rodgers conceding that the 22-year-old would benefit from a loan move away from Merseyside.

“It would maybe be best for Seba to go out on loan, but perhaps that isn’t the best for the club at this stage and there have been no approaches for him,” Rodgers said. “Seba is a player who needs games, but I also need to protect the club and the size of the squad.”

The Liverpool manager fears that some of his players lack the necessary mental strength to compete at the top level.

“I don’t think that as a team we are physically light or short in anyway,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s mental and that’s something we need to improve. We’ve been in many games where physical questions have been asked of us and we’ve come through that.

“And if you’re a young player here who’s going to get a chance, you have to step up to those demands. If they don’t they will find themselves playing in League One and regretting the opportunity they missed.

“Oldham may not have been a big game for one or two of them, but they will learn over the course of time because if they don’t, they won’t be here, it’s as simple as that.

“And the same goes for the older players too.”

And quite possibly the manager too.

Goal of the day

Ludicrous effort from Doxa’s Ricardo Fernandes against Alki Larnaca.

Quote of the day

“The atmosphere in the dressing room is not exactly good. It’s common knowledge that Mourinho does not communicate with his players anymore. The dressing room is divided at the moment. We will have to wait and see what happens at the end of the season and whether Mourinho will leave.”

Iker Casillas’ girlfriend Sara Carbonero lifts the lid on the mood in the Real Madrid dressing room.

Car trouble

Manchester United’s Paul Scholes has had his car stolen after he left its engine running while defrosting the windscreen.

Police said the grey Chevrolet estate had been taken from the drive of his house in Greenfield, Oldham at around 08:00 GMT on Monday.

A police spokesman said “inquiries to locate the car are ongoing”.

The spokesman added that Greater Manchester Police had issued warnings about “ice bandits – offenders who target vehicles left outside houses, early in the morning, with the engine running while the owner returns to the house”.

“Motorists may be tempted to leave their vehicle with the engine running while they go inside to stay in the warm – however, it only takes a few seconds to steal a car when keys have been left in the ignition,” he said.

Like his tackles on the pitch, Scholes took his eye off the ball, allowing the intrepid robber to drive off with his car.

Ban lifted

Lee Cattermole is once again free to cause havoc in his home town after a four-year pub ban was lifted.

The 24-year-old Teesside-born midfielder was banned from bars in Stockton for three years in December 2008 after being arrested for disorder on a night out in Yarm.

Police had been called to the Keys nightclub by door staff and Cattermole, former Middlesbrough FC captain Matthew Bates and Cattermole’s brother Gavin, were subsequently arrested and given fixed penalties for a public order offence.

The former Boro star, who signed for Sunderland AFC in 2009, appealed shortly after his barring, which was considered and refused by the local Pubwatch group.

Despite being turned down Cattermole repeatedly breached his ban, and as a result, it was extended to December 2012.

However, Steve Paling, chairman of Stockton Pubwatch, has now confirmed the ban has now expired.

“However, every individual licensee has the right to refuse entry to premises without reason,” he said.

“And we know a number of licensees in the Stockton area who won’t want him in their pubs.”

It will be interesting to see if Cattermole has become a reformed character in the intervening years. The portents don’t look good. Following a night out, Cattermole was arrested on 6 December 2011 along with former Sunderland team mate Nicklas Bendtner and charged with damaging five cars in Newcastle, close to St James’ Park. Charges against Bendtner were subsequently dropped, but Cattermole accepted a conditional caution and paid over £4,000 in damages. Lock up your windows people of Stockton.

Mind your language

Newcastle United’s new arrivals from France have been told to learn to speak English quickly or they will be fined.

None of the five French players signed by the club this month speak the language and manager Alan (Dep)Pardew has insisted they pick it up as soon as possible. It’s a bizarre state of affairs and as the 14-strong French contingent now outnumbers the homwgrown players, it would make sense to make the English players learn French.

The players are only allowed to communicate in English on the training pitch and in the dressing room, with instructions translated by those French speaking players, like Yohan Cabaye, who have picked up the language.

“These players, unfortunately, don’t have the luxury of taking time to adapt,” said Pardew. “If they are going to play, they are going to have to come in at full-speed. We can’t wait for them to settle and I have given them that message.

“They have to learn English quickly, otherwise they get penalties. Hopefully they are grasping it, we need them to hit the ground running. It’s very important English is the number one language. The challenge for me is to get a team to gel quickly.”

I’ve no idea what the odds are on Newcastle getting relegated, but anyone reading this, must be tempted by a quick flutter.

Newcastle’s goalkeeper Tim Krul said the new signings are being given a crash course in “football English.”

“Some of them don’t really speak much English yet so from our point of view we have to help them all we can,” said the Dutch international.

“I have to make sure I can communicate with them. That will take a few weeks, but football language isn’t that difficult.

“It doesn’t take that long to integrate. I’ll teach them the most important words they’ve got to know. ’away’, ’man on’, ’keeper’s ball’ that kind of thing.”

Despite the language problems, Pardew remains optimistic that the players will adapt quickly to their new environment.

“Footballers are very adaptable, they are chameleon-like in their manner. They accept new players coming in, it’s part of the process. We are pleased these players have arrived.

“We have managed to strengthen when, perhaps, we should have done in the summer, we have openly admitted that.

“I don’t really see team spirit as a problem. I’ve never encouraged groups to form cliques.”

Cliques? That’s a fine straight away.

Political football

English football has been told it must introduce reforms within a year or the government will impose changes.

A government report outlines concerns about financial management, the balance of power between the Premier League and the Football Association and the impact of significant risk-taking by owners.

There’s no little doubt that English football has struggled to run itself properly in recent years, but the idea that the politicians, especially the current incumbents, could do a better job, seems a hard one to swallow.

Sports minister Hugh Robertson MP said: “We welcome the report.

“The report from the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport committee (CMS) shows the will there is across Parliament for football to modernise and change for the better.

“We have been clear that we want the football authorities to carry out the reforms they promised by the start of the 2013-14 season – most notably around improved governance and diverse representation at the FA, the development of a licensing system and greater financial transparency.

“If football does not deliver then we will look at bringing forward legislation.”

The FA, Premier League and Football League responded in a statement: “Significant headway has already been made on many of these proposed reforms, not least on sustainability and transparency.

“The remaining reform proposals are the subject of consultation within the game and we are confident that the necessary progress will be made.”

Lots of encouraging words, mostly vague, none of which are in any sense meaningful. Pardew’s French contingent would have a phrase for that…plus ca change.

Lame duck

Bayern Munich honorary president Franz Beckenbauer says he understands Jupp Heynckes’ unhappiness over the media attention directed towards the imminent arrival of Pep Guardiola.

The Spaniard will replace the retiring Heynckes at the end of the season, and with Bayern 9 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga, much of Heynckes good work is being overshadowed.

“Definitely! Jupp puts up a winning streak like never before – and then the talk is only of Guardiola. That would annoy me too,” Beckenbauer told Bild, before explaining why he felt Guardiola chose to join Bayern ahead of several English clubs, all of whom coveted the Spaniard’s services..

“Bayern are a greater challenge for Guardiola than Chelsea. We have no (Roman) Abramovich (the English club’s billionaire owner),” he said.

“In Bavaria there is also the chance for Guardiola to improve something. We need fast switching play, to hold the majority of possession, put the opponent under constant pressure. Dortmund are currently closer to Barcelona than we are ”

Beck in training

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has confirmed David Beckham is training with the club. Despite the media brouhaha after he left the Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of the Major League Soccer season, the former England skipper is still without a club.

“He called me,” Wenger said. “He has asked to come here and to work on his fitness. He has not done anything for a long, long time. [It’s] purely for fitness. There’s no speculation about signing or anything.”

With Wenger playing down the possibility of Beckham signing on a permanent basis he was asked what benefit there is for Arsenal. He said: “Nothing. To help somebody. We are open for people who behave well when they come here.”

It was reported last month that the 37-year-old former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England midfielder was considering 12 offers from clubs around the world, including Europe, South America, North America, South Africa, Russia, China and the Middle East. So, it is somewhat surprising that he finds himself, just two days before the transfer window closes, without a club.

Has he priced himself out of the market or were those offers less enticing to Beckham than he would like to reveal? It has to be said that in an austere age of belt-tighgtening, buying Beckham does seem a like the height of extravagance, bordering on decadence.