Image laundering?

Today’s Guardian features a scathing assessment of the Abu Dhabi regime that owns Manchester City, saying the UAE state is using the Premier League club to launder an image tainted by allegations of torture and repression.

Penned by regular World Soccer columnist David Conn, the article highlights a recent case involving the arrest, alleged torture and a “fundamentally unfair” trial, and long prison sentences handed down earlier this month to the 69 people convicted.

Amnesty said the trial demonstrated “a deeply flawed judicial system” at odds with the “global image the UAE likes to project of itself as an efficient, forward-thinking country, which in many ways it is”.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) referred to Manchester City, claiming that ownership of the Premier League club is enabling Abu Dhabi to “construct a public relations image of a progressive, dynamic Gulf state, which deflects attention from what is really going on in the country”.

“In this situation, a Premier League club is being used as a branding vehicle to promote and effectively launder the reputation of a country perpetrating serial human rights abuses,” said Nicholas McGeehan, UAE researcher for HRW . “That should be of concern to football supporters as well as human rights organisations.”

And you all thought that this was an investment based on Sheikh Mansour’s love for English football.

In 2009, some City fans clubbed together to pay for a banner. In huge white letters on a sky blue background, it says: “MANCHESTER THANKS YOU, SHEIKH MANSOUR.”

This is not something unique to Manchester City fans, though. You could ask fans of any club to nominate a close family relative for waterboarding and most would submit a list, provided there was a guarantee of a cash investment to be spent on new players.

The Premier League is also happy to turn a blind eye to the true nature of those investing in its members.

The former Football Association chairman Lord Triesman proposed including in the sports authorities’ “fit and proper person test” for club owners consideration of HRW’s human rights reports by country.

How quaint, and no surprise that the proposal was rejected outright by the Premier League.

Conn’s piece, though not exclusively about football, is well worth a read – if only to enlighten you about the type of person and regime the Premier League is prepared to sanction.

Death of football?

The president of the French football league (LFP) has said he believes the country’s proposed 75% tax rate for millionaires would signal “the death of football in France”.

Frederic Thiriez was speaking after receiving an offer from the finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, to discuss the LFP’s concerns.

Thiriez said clubs would find it impossible to cope with the increase in costs brought about by the law, proposed by Francois Hollande’s government.

“Nothing has been decided yet. We are talking, which is important,” he said in quotes reported by RMC. “What is certain is that, if this tax were applied in the terms presented, it would be the death of football in France – let’s be clear about that.

“There would be an increase in costs of 30% in one fell swoop, and no company could withstand that. It would be even more unfair given that individual sportsmen and women in golf, tennis and Formula One, would escape it, as would artists.

“The only ones to really have to pay this tax would be football clubs. From the bottom of my heart I hope that, along with the government, we can find a solution. I think that is the minister’s wish – and, in any case, it is mine.”

The LFP warned that the new tax could cost French clubs €80 million or, if you were running PSG or Monaco, about the equivalent of half your annual transfer budget.

However, Moscovici questioned the €80 million figure and reminded the LFP that the new tax would last for only two years.

He told L’Equipe: “My minister’s calculations make it around €45 million. This tax is an effort requested for a limited period, of companies that pay extremely big salaries, in virtue of the effort that everyone has to make to help the country recover.”

Meanwhile, Thiriez defended the decision to force Monaco to adhere to the same tax laws as all the other clubs in the French league by 2014.

“If the tax laws don’t change, Monaco would be €50 million better off every year,” he said. “That is the equivalent of the budget of a club like Montpellier.

“We have given ourselves a year to implement the same rules for every club in the league. We gave Monaco a one-year delay. Let’s use that year to talk.”

Currently, Monaco benefit from an historic agreement that means foreign players do not have to pay income tax – a rule that has helped the Ligue 2 champions splash out more than €145 million on players such as Radamel Falcao and Joao Moutinho this summer.

Another one bites the dust

“We could do that, we could do more than that. We have a certain amount which we’ve held in reserve and we also have new revenue streams coming on board. All of these things mean we can do some things which would excite you. We can think about all kinds of things.”

So said Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis last month when asked whether the club could compete financially with their bigger spending rivals for the likes of Wayne Rooney.

The belief that Arsenal were finally to throw caution to the wind was proving contagious, with midfielder Jack Wilshere speaking excitedly about the imminent new arrivals.

“Everyone at the training ground has been talking about big-name signings,” he told reporters.

You could have heard a pin drop at the training ground when little known Yaya Sanogo was unveiled earlier this month.

“It would give us all such a massive lift. Not just the players but the staff and everybody connected to Arsenal,” added a somewhat desperate Wilshere.

It all seems like a different era now with Arsenal having subsequently been outbid by Napoli for striker Gonzalo Higuain, while Shakhtar Donetsk have just had an offer accepted for Bernard, another target for the Gunners and their supposedly bulging war chest.

Alexandre Kalil, president of Bernard’s club Atletico Mineiro,  reportedly said: “It’s Shakhtar. They’ve reached the price we want. If he [Bernard] wants to go, he’ll go.”

The player himself seems unsure about the move to Ukraine, but it is not Arsenal who are tempting him, but Portuguese champions Porto, who were recommended to Bernard by his international team-mate Hulk.

Bernard said: “I don’t know if it will be best for me, I’m talking with my family.

“But nothing is certain yet. I had a meeting with the president and he told me what Shakhtar offered him and myself. It is between Porto and Shakhtar.”

And what of Arsenal? Well, theoretically, they remain interested in signing Luis Suarez, but notwithstanding their cheeky £40,000 + 1 bid, have so far shown no desire to actually push the deal through.

Another bid is expected, but this too, at a reported £42.5 million, falls woefully short of the £50 million+ Liverpool are demanding.

It all must seem horribly familiar to Gunners fans.

Goal of the day

Memphis Depay scored a stunning long range goal in PSV Eindhoven’s Champions League qualifying win over Zulte Waregem.

Quote of the day

”What was my debut like? My dream is turning into a reality and I’m very happy. Messi is an idol of mine and I am very happy to be with him and playing alongside him. He is a great player and a great person.”

After making his debut for Barcelona, Neymar says he is just happy to be playing in the same team as his idol Lionel Messi.

Pal Joey

Joey Barton has admitted that he wants to join Everton – a revelation that will send shivers down the spine of anyone connected with the club.

The QPR midfielder whom no one seems to want, is prepared to make a significant financial “sacrifice” to be able to play for the team he supported as a boy, according to his agent Willie McKay.

The 30-year-old spent last season on loan at Marseille and appears surplus to requirements at Loftus Road, where the Championship club are desperate to clear his £70,000 a week salary off the wage bill.

Unlike QPR, Marseille are clearly a club with more sense than money and they have informed McKay that they will not be trying to sign the midfielder on a permanent basis.

This morning Barton tweeted “Once a blue..” and his agent admits they have approached new manager Roberto Martinez, begging bowl in hand, about a possible move.

“Obviously his package with QPR is pretty big for Marseille’s terms really,” McKay told talkSPORT.

“Joey said there was only one club he would make a sacrifice for and it would be Everton and I made that call to Martinez.

“That is the club he loves. I have approached them and said Joey would love to have Everton on his CV.”

There is a bit of history involving Barton and Everton, but as it concerns the midfielder getting involved in a bar brawl with a fan in a Thai bar, it’s possibly not the best manifestation of his ‘love’ for the club.

McKay claims Martinez is an admirer of Barton.

“Roberto Martinez said he likes him as a player and he also spoke to (Martinez’s assistant Graeme Jones, who loves him as a player,” he added.

“Anything can happen in football. It could happen.”

Sadly, he’s probably right.

Heart failure

Christian Benitez died of heart failure, Qatari club El Jaish said Wednesday without providing further details.

The Ecuador striker died Monday, a day after playing his first match for his new club.

“The official medical reports were issued by official state entities and stated that the sudden death was caused by heart failure,” the club said in a statement.

On Tuesday, Ecuador football federation president Luis Chiriboga said the 27-year-old Benitez had been taken to the hospital with sharp stomach pains, developed peritonitis and died of cardiorespiratory arrest.

El Jaish say they will cover all costs of returning Benitez’s body to Ecuador.

“Sadness and sorrow prevailed all over the club after hearing the sad news,” read a club statement. “El Jaish management assures again its endless support to Christian’s family and stand by their side during this hard time.”

Too tired

Former England coach Fabio Capello believes he has identified the reason for the country’s repeated failings on the international stage.

Poor players, poor technique, poorly coached and poorly motivated, would have been most people’s opinion but, according to the Italian, the litany of failures has a much more prosaic explanation. They players are more tired than their international opponents.

Capello points to the high standards set during the first half of the Premier League, that ultimately fade during the second half as players, without the benefit of a winter break, begin to struggle.

“[England are] the least fresh of any of the competing national sides, because their league doesn’t have a break,” he stated. “It’s like when you’re driving a car: if you stop halfway to put fuel in then you’ll definitely get where you want to go, but if you don’t then there’s always the chance you’ll be running on empty before you reach your goal.

“In my opinion the football played in the first half of the English season is much better than in the second half. And because of that, if you want to be a competitive team in the Premier League, you need a really big squad, which is a luxury you don’t get with the national team.”

Stories we couldn’t make up

Liverpool have issued members of staff with a list of “unacceptable” words and phrases in their efforts to combat all forms of discrimination at Anfield.

The guide, part of a wider anti-discrimination programme run by the club, lists terms that employees should deem offensive under the headings of race/religion, sexual orientation, gender and disability.

Surprisingly the word ‘negrito’ isn’t on the list. Presumably, because that horse bolted a long time ago.


Barcelona have announced on their official website that club legend and former Spain international Antoni Ramallets died on Tuesday at the age of 89.

The goalkeeper made over 400 official appearances for the club between 1946 and 1961, winning six Liga titles and five Copas del Rey in the process.

“Tuesday was a very sad day for barcelonismo. The legend Antoni Ramallets has left us, the great keeper of Barca that won five cups,”  club president Sandro Rosell stated.

“He was admired by generations of Cules and he’s always been a leader to our players. People and athletes like Ramallets contributed to making this club great and they’ve reinforced the Blaugrana feeling.

“In these moments of grief, I want to express my condolences to his family for their loss and send them all of our support.”

There was a minute’s silence ahead of Tuesday’s friendly game against Lechia Gdansk in memory of Ramallets.