Expanded Champions League? Nein danke

Bundesliga officials are opposed to Michel Platini’s plan to drop the Europa League in favour of an expanded Champions League.

In a recent interview, UEFA president Platini suggested expanding the Champions League to include 64 clubs, which in turn would increase the number of meaningless fixtures exponentially.

Bayern Munich president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge dismissed the idea. “We are no friends of the idea to have quantity instead of quality,” he said.

Rummenigge did suggest that the Europa League winners should automatically qualify for the Champions League the following year – a proposal that has been gathering momentum in recent months.

Hannover 96 general manager Jorg Schmadtke called the idea “dull and dispensable” and Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp said “it was as stupid as putting Bundesliga and Bundesliga II clubs in one league”.

“I don’t get the impression that the Champions League or the Europa League needs reform,” Klopp told the press.

Stuttgart general manager Fredi Bobic raised the question of how to name the merged competitions.

“Would it still be called the Champions League?” the former Germany international said. “If you integrate Europa League into the Champions League, it would be more of a Europa League.”

Call it the European Super League and the clubs would be salivating.

Borussia Moenchengladbach boss Lucien Favre warned: “It would be very dangerous if the same teams play in the Champions League year in year out. The rich would get richer and the gap between the clubs would continue to grow.”

Hs Favre slept through the past 20 years? German football may remain competitive, but for many countries the Champions League is a closed shop with few opportunities for upward mobility for the vast majority of the clubs.

When in Rome…

Two Roma fans have been banned from attending any sporting events in Italy for five years, Italian police have confirmed, after an attack on Tottenham fans left two English supporters with serious injuries.

Banning the hooligans from football matches is all well and good, but but banning them from entering bars armed with baseball bats when English supporters are in town would surely be more useful.

Two Tottenham fans were stabbed the night before the English side were due to play Lazio, and police have now confirmed that it was in fact Roma fans who have been charged with attempted murder.

“Agents of Rome police have informed two Roma fans in our custody that they are banned from accessing sporting events for the next five years,” a police statement read.

“Francesco Ianari and Mauro Pinnelli were arrested on November 22 for aggression towards some British fans of Tottenham on the Campo de’ Fiori after being identified by police a few hours later.

“On that occasion, a group of people, most of them with their faces covered, entered the Drunken Ship pub and attacked some English supporters. Some of them were injured in the raid, one injury being particularly serious.”

In the wake of the attack, Italian FA president Giancarlo Abete issued a sincere apology to the visiting fans, berating the ‘delinquent’ fans who had besmirched the country’s name with their ‘racist and anti-semitic anger’.

Welcome though he condemnation is, there are more practical but punitive measures which could be employed to counter the festering mood of racism and rancour that afflict too many matches in Italy. For the time being, though, the country shows no appetite to embrace them.

Possible solution?

One such measure has been proposed by Patrick Vieira, who says clubs should be docked points or kicked out of European competitions if their fans or players are found guilty of racism.

The former France international called on the authorities to take a strong lead after a number of incidents brought the issue back on the agenda.

“If you really want to fight racism, if you really want to show to the world that football wants to fight against it, you will have to use a deduction of points against clubs or kick them out of European competition,” Vieira told The Times.

“That will stop it, of course. If you kick a club out of Europe because they couldn’t control their fans, it will happen once and I can guarantee it’s not going to happen twice.

“If nothing is done, the situation will get worse and worse and you never know where things will go. Before we get to a place where you can’t control it any more, you have to stop it straight away and the only way you can stop it is to have clear, strong punishments.”

With regard to the aforementioned Italy, where Vieira enjoyed a number of successful seasons, the World Cup winner said it showed no desire to deal with the problem.

“I believe that Italy does not want to fight racism, for me that is clear,” said the 36-year-old who played for Milan, Juventus and Inter.

“I hope that England is not going to be like that. I don’t want England to get where Italy is because Italy will never fight against it, so as a black player, if you go to Italy you have to expect that and you have to accept it.”

Which, if true, is a rather dismal analysis of the current situation.

Goal of the day

Stunning volley from the edge of the area by Real Zaragoza’s Jose Mari against Granada.

Quote of the day

“Guardiola has a pre-deal to be the next manager of Manchester City. No matter if Milan or whoever make offers to him.”

Well, that settles that then. FIFA agent Francois Gallardo claims former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola has agreed a deal to take charge of Manchester City.

Political football

Alarm bells will be ringing in the corridors of FIFA after a Qatari poet was sentenced to life imprisonment follow a trial that human rights groups say highlights the growing crackdown on dissent across the Gulf.

Mohammed ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami was sentenced by the court after being charged with insulting the emir and trying to overthrow the government. By way of a poem, in case you thought this might be a genuine example of sedition.

Ajami wrote the “Jasmine Poem,” which criticized Gulf rulers in the wake of the Tunisian revolution, last year. The controversial poem was interpreted as attacking the emir, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani.

“We are all Tunis in the face of the repressive elite,” it read.

Historically, FIFA has turned a blind eye when it comes to human rights abuses, but in the age of social media where openness and inclusiveness are the modern buzzwords, burying your head in the sand and denying all knowledge of a country’s wrongdoing is no longer a realistic option.

There’s an understandable jitteriness, bordering on paranoia within the region in the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2012, and it will be interesting to see the fallout from the increased scrutiny that will fall upon Qatar in the run-up to their hosting the World Cup in 2022.

Say what you like about 2018 World Cup hosts Russia, but you would never be imprisoned for criticising the ruling regime in that country, oh wait…

To vote for one repressive regime to host a World Cup seems like chance, for it to happen twice, on the same day, well, that reveals more about the true nature of FIFA than any ethics committee ever could.

All in a good cause

According to its website, Stars on Canvas is “a colourful and imaginative art project created by hundreds of well-known names from the worlds of art, illustration, sport, music and entertainment. Collectively, the canvases can be seen as an exploration of modern culture – how we come to revere a diverse range of stars for their particular talents, skills and personalities, and sometimes simply for their fame.”

All the canvases will be sold online in aid of national charity, the Willow Foundation, and is currently being exhibited at at Maddox Arts – a London based gallery.

Among the celebrity artists are famous athletes and a number of high profile footballers, whose canvasses demonstrate that they are probably best advised not to give up the day job. Football, it appears has yet to unearth the equivalent of cricket’s Jack Russell.

One or two of the sportsmen and women show some promise. For instance, there’s this effort from Olympic athlete Mo Farah, which demonstrates potential.

But, then there’s something like this (see below). It’s by Wayne Rooney, but it looks like it’s been drawn by his child. In fact, my daughter, who has just turned six, never fails to add the smiley face when she’s drawing the sun.

Glutton for punishment

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed the possible future candidacy of former Real Madrid striker Ronaldo as president of Brazil’s Football Confederation (CBF).

Ronaldo, whose figure looms large – in every sense – over Brazilian football, has revealed an interest in football politics and is currently serving as an ambassador for Brazil’s 2014 World Cup organising committee.

“I am always happy when former stars decide to put their time and energy into working towards the development of football off the pitch,” Blatter said.

“When I last spoke to him he was very happy with the experience of being a part of the World Cup organising committee and it’s a good learning curve for him. It’s a question you should really ask the Brazilian people, if Ronaldo should be president of the country’s football confederation.”

Current CBF president Jose Maria Marin, who will turn 81 next May, is expected to step down following the World Cup in July 2014. Even within the gerontocracy that traditionally runs South American football, that is getting on a bit.

Honeymoon over

Appointed on a wave of popular approval new Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has wasted little time creating alienating some of his core support.

Scolari has angered bank workers by implying that staff at the country’s largest public bank have an easy life. Coming from someone who has spent his entire working life in the world of football, you can imagine how well that went down.

He said players in his squad who cannot take pressure should work at the Bank of Brazil, “sitting in an office and not doing anything”.

Responding to Scolari’s comments, the Contraf union said in a statement that he “has begun badly as the new Brazil coach”.

“We hope that he is not so out of date about football as he is about work in banks.”

The statement said that more than 1,000 employees in the financial sector left their jobs every month in Brazil for health reasons.

Scolari was later forced to apologise. In a way though, this kind of episode explains his popularity: with Scolari you just don’t know what might be around the corner.


FA Cup second round day in England on Saturday, with most eyes focused on one particular clash which brings together AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons, the team that stole their place in the league in 2004.

The encounter takes place because AFC Wimbledon, formed from the ashes of Wimbledon FC in 2002, did what most people thought MK Dons should have done if they wanted a place in the Football League: namely worked their way up from the bottom of the football pyramid. Wimbledon regained their league status last year after a decade climbing he rungs of the non-league ladder.

The Cup tie is being portrayed by the MK Dons owner, the odious Pete Winkelman, as some kind of eagerly-awaited derby match with added needle. But, for many Wimbledon fans, understandably reluctant to give any legitimacy to their opponents, it will be a painful occasion and one that they could happily have done without.

Anyway, to mark this fateful first meeting, and to remind the authorities of the mistake they made a decade ago, a Wimbledon supporter has compiled this poignant video.