Enough is enough

The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and several clubs have rejected a suggestion by the country’s Prime Minister, Mario Monti, that professional football should be halted for two or three years to get over the match-fixing scandal.

“It’s particularly sad when a world which should be an expression of the highest values – sport, youth, competition, fairness – turns out to be a mass of foul play, falsehood and demagoguery,” Monti said at a news conference with visiting Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

“This isn’t a government proposal, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to suspend the game for two or three years.”

Understandably, the proposal was rejected by the FIGC.

“I understand and share the bitterness of Prime Minister Monti,” federation president Giancarlo Abete said in a statement.

“But to stop the championship would mean humiliating all of football, penalising the majority who work honestly and it would also mean the loss of thousands of jobs. It is not the solution.”

Reaction from the clubs was equally dismissive.

“Before saying we need to stop playing football he should think about his own problems and everything he is destroying and closing down with his laws,” said Maurizio Zamparini, president of Palermo.

“Monti is showing his ignorance because professional football clubs pay 800 million euros ($1 billion) to the state every year.”

The incredible Hulk valuation

Chelsea are close to a deal to sign Porto striker Hulk with sources telling the The Telegraph that the transfer was “90 per cent” complete.

The fee is reported to be £40 million, some way short of the £60 million Porto were hoping for and a long way off the eye-watering £80 million release clause in Hulk’s contract. However, the 25-year-old Brazilian international has made it clear that he is desperate to leave and the Portuguese club have reluctantly acquiesced.

Hulk enjoyed another successful campaign last season, scoring 21 goals in 38 games as he helped guide Porto to their second successive league title.

The Brazilian is been touted as a ready made replacement for the departing Didier Drogba, though it should be noted that he lacks the overbearing physical stature of the Ivorian.  He was actually named Hulk not because of any physical attributes, but due to an uncanny resemblance to Lou Ferrigno, the actor who played the comic book character on TV.

Our survey says…

A new survey has revealed that Manchester United have 659 million “followers”, an increase of 98% on the last comparable survey in 2007.

Of the 659 million, 173 million of those who named the club as the team they “followed” were from the Middle East and Africa, 325 million from the Asia Pacific and 108 million in China. Only 1% of United’s fans are from the UK, the club said.

Richard Arnold, Manchester United’s commercial director said the results of the survey showed that United were well placed to see off the threat posed by rivals Manchester City.

He said: “This year, we finished our season in first place and City finished winning on goal difference.” Well, technically you finished second, but let’s not get bogged down in the detail.

“Competitors come and go over time. The one thing that remains constant is Manchester United. That’s why you see this growth in terms of the number of fans and us continuing to be the most popular team in the most popular sport in the world.”

What will they do with those 659 million supporters, you’re probably wondering. Well, it’s a huge, largely untapped market, and United are not unaware of the commercial potential that comes with being followed by 1 in 10 of the world’s population.

With Park Ji Sung expected to leave there is a gaping vacancy in the United squad for a face to appeal to the lucrative Asian market. Godzilla has retired, so step forward Japan playmaker Shinji Kagawa, who is set to join United from Borussia Dortmund.

However, Arnold has denied suggestions that the club are looking to sign Kagawa simply to shift shirts.

“We don’t sign players to sell shirts.” Arnold said. “We are reliant on 25 players and they are all massive stars. We have 25 George Clooneys.”

“Ji is very popular in Korea, just as Javier Hernandez is hugely popular in Mexico, but Paul Scholes has his own Chinese character. These are huge stars and the big stars are the big stars in every country. Our games are shown in 1.1 billion homes across the globe and you think ‘which film does that 60 times a year?’

“Be it George Clooney or Brad Pitt, what is there where that is shown? There just isn’t anything like it.”

Quote of the day

“I think I am a genius but not a rebel. I have my life, my world, I do what I want, without annoying anyone. I believe I am more intelligent than the average person. The talent God gave me is beautiful and wonderful but it is difficult because you are always facing other people keen to judge you.”

Whatever else he might lack, Mario Balotelli is not short on self-confidence.

Euro 2012 countdown continues

UEFA have released details of the opening ceremony for the Euro 2012 finals.

The 12-minute show will be held at the National Stadium in Warsaw on 8 June before the tournament’s opening match between Poland and Greece

Critics who have taken the co-hosts to task over their dubious record on race relations, will be relieved to hear that the centrepiece of the ceremony will not be an assortment of blonde haired, blue-eyed children belting out an updated version of  Tomorrow Belongs to Me. No, instead we will be treated to Hungarian classical pianist Adam Gyorgy performing a Chopin ‘‘Étude’ in a minor.

Trivia buffs may be interested to learn that Gyorgy, a keen footballer, was previously a member of the Hungarian national futsal team.

Brazil unveil World Cup slogan

The official slogan for the 2014 World Cup has been unveiled.

“All in one rhythm,” is the joint effort of Brazil and a FIFA committee. It’s an odd, jarring phrase, which appears to confirm the adage that a camel is indeed a horse designed by a committee.

FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke at a ceremony in Rio, noting it “represents the unique flavor” Brazil will bring to the tournament.

Valcke attended the ceremony in Rio to mark the publication of the slogan; it was the first time he had set foot in the country since being barred for suggesting the 2014 hosts needed a “kick up the backsides”.

He’s definitely ‘on-message’ these days though.

“Based around the central idea of ‘rhythm’, it will unite fans in Brazil and abroad, around what will be a colorful and vibrant celebration set to a uniquely Brazilian rhythm,” he said at the slogan’s unveiling.

Super Mario

There’s zero tolerance and, well, there’s Mario Balotelli, whose response to racist abuse is commendably uncompromising.

The outspoken Italian has threatened to kill anyone who throws a banana at him in the street or on the pitch during the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine.

“I will not accept racism at all,” he said. “It’s unacceptable. If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail, because I will kill them.”

The 21-year-old was once pelted with bananas in a Rome bar before the European Under-21 Championships in June 2009.

“It was lucky that the police arrived quickly because, I swear, I would have beaten them,” he claimed. “I would have really destroyed them. I hope it never happens again.”

If Balotelli didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him just to make press conferences more interesting.

Reds alert

Brendan Rodgers, who last week ruled himself out the running to become the new Liverpool manager, appears to have undergone a u-turn and will now speak with the Anfield club’s board about the vacancy within the next 48 hours.

According to the Guardian, Rodgers has told friends that he is intrigued by the chance to manage one of football’s biggest clubs. But, until such an opportunity arises, a spell at Liverpool would certainly enhance a threadbare CV.

With Wigan boss Roberto Martinez still in running, the appointment may ultimately be determined by the willingness of either candidate to work alongside the famously abrasive Louis Van Gaal, the man tipped to become Liverpool sporting director.

Spanish practices

The idea of a competitive and equitable Spanish domestic league remains fanciful, but at last, there may be reason for the majority of clubs in Spain to dream of better times.

Real Madrid and Barcelona may be willing to agree a fairer distribution among Spain’s professional clubs of revenue from television broadcasting rights, according to sports minister Jose Ignacio Wert.

“I believe that Madrid and Barcelona are receptive and are ready to be more flexible in the sharing out of (income from) rights,” Wert told As.

Clubs in La Liga negotiate their TV deals individually, which is good news for the big two – who take about half the total fund of around €641 million – but not so good for the other 18 clubs, most of whom have accumulated huge debts in a forlorn attempt to keep up with Madrid and Barcelona. A stark illustration of the groaning chasm developing in Spanish football can be seen by looking at the league table: Valencia, who finished third last season, were 30 points behind second-placed Barca and 39 behind champions Real.

Spanish clubs had combined debt of some €3.53 billion in the 2010-11 season, research conducted last month showed.

Clubs owe a total of €763 million to the tax authorities alone and Wert said he was confident a recent agreement under which those debts would be paid off over time would work.

“We are in a very difficult liquidity situation,” Wert said.

“I do not believe that any club will fail to meet its obligations and that the situation will be resolved relatively rapidly,” he added.

“The professional football league (LFP) is very committed and very active in the preparation of the protocol and I believe the clubs will meet their obligations scrupulously.”

And if they don’t, the books can always be cooked, just as they were to eradicate Real Madrid’s obligations.

Secret of success

USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been outlining his philosophy for success at international level.

Klinsmann was in charge of Germany for the 2006 World Cup that it hosted, and he believes lessons from that tournament can be applied universally.

”It is very simple. In a soccer-driven country, which Brazil is, Argentina is, Germany is, England is, it all depends on how much you all go in the same direction.”

”What we tried to do in Germany before the World Cup was to get everybody behind their team and say it’s everybody’s World Cup,” he said. “It’s the whole nation, every fan, every Brazilian person’s World Cup. It’s not only the team that plays hopefully successfully.

”So they have two choices. You can say, I support my team, from the media perspective, too, or I give them trouble and I give them doubts and I give them, I don’t know, nasty comments or whatever.”

Klinsmann also had advice for England, considered by some to be the perennial underachievers of international football.

He said: ”England often beats itself. It’s not the opponents necessarily.”

True, but if England doesn’t beat itself, the opponents usually do.