Divorce on the cards

Reports in Spain and in particular in the well-connected Marca newspaper, indicate that Jose Mourinho’s eventful three-year spell at Real Madrid will soon be at an end.

Under a picture of a broken heart, Marca says: “José Mourinho will not coach Real Madrid next season.

“Both Mou and Florentino Pérez believe the Portuguese’s cycle on the bench at the Bernabéu is exhausted and that the current situation cannot continue beyond 30 June.”

Mourinho, booed by sections of the crowd in last Tuesday’s Copa del Rey defeat of Alcoyano, offered supporters the chance to vent their frustration by arranging to come to the side of the pitch 40 minutes before the Atletico game.

The reaction was mixed but with less than 5,000 fans inside the Bernabeu at the time it is hard to draw any firm conclusions about the gesture. Nonetheless, there was something gimmicky about Mourinho’s offer in the first place which did not sit well with a board which expects its managers to act with a modicum of dignity when under pressure.

For the club’s bosses, many of whom have been prepared to tolerate Mourinho’s methods, provided they brought with them success, the sight of Madrid trailing arch-rivals Barcelona by 8 points, is simply too much to bear.

The Special One, whose aura has never really bewitched the Madrid hierarchy in quite the same way as it had at his previous clubs, looks set to depart at the end of the season.

Pastures new?

Mourinho will not be short of offers should he leave the Bernabeu and the obvious destination would be a return for England, where the Portuguese claims to have unfinished business. The list of possible suitors within the Premier League is effectively a list of the biggest clubs in England.

The likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal, coincidentally the same clubs who continue to be linked with Pep Guardiola, would all be alerted by news of Mourinho’s availability and let’s not forget Manchester United who must soon start contemplating the post-Ferguson era.

The veteran United manager is a fan of Mourinho and asked if he could replace him in the Old Trafford hot-seat, he told ITV4: “He can manage anywhere, absolutely. I’m not going to put any forecasts on what is going to happen at this club.

“I won’t last forever, but Jose can manage anywhere, there is no question about that.”

The shadow of Ferguson will inevitably loom over his successor, but the one person who might actually enjoy not only the pressure but also the approval of his predecessor is Mourinho.

“I would never think a guy who hasn’t played a game could be a top coach but then you’ve got to look at his personality,” said Ferguson admiringly.

“He’s got a marvellous, strong personality and that bridges that gap. I remember his first press conference [at Chelsea, in 2004] and I thought: ‘Christ, he’s a cocky bastard, him’. He was telling the players: ‘Look, I’m the special one, we don’t lose games’.

Just say no

Barcelona have joined forced with the European Commission to help football fans quit smoking. 

Some of the club’s biggest names participate in a video imploring supporters to say ‘no to smoking’ and have pledged to offer guidance and support to fans wanting give up via an app called the FCB iCoach.

The app gives personalised tips, information on quitting smoking and motivation from the Barcelona players, along with other influential figures at the club such as coach Tito Vilanova and president Sandro Rosell.

Speaking at a press conference at Camp Nou, Rosell called upon supporters across Europe to get involved in the scheme.

“At Barça we have the best fans in the world and we want to take care of them,” he said. “Our motto ‘Mes que un club’ (more than a club) means we’re committed to a philosophy that should be evident in all we do.

As saying goes, they are more than a club. Tomorrow Barcelona set their sights on global warming. Not solving it – that’s the easy bit – but convincing sceptics that it exists – now there is a challenge.

Rosell continued: “We always act with a social consciousness and another way for us to do this is to stand side by side with the European Commission as we launch ‘Quit Smoking with Barça’. Making our facilities and our stadium smoke-free was an important milestone and the next one is today – the launch of the FCB iCoach.

“When you sign up to the FCB iCoach, the whole club will support you every step of the way giving you the expert knowledge of people within the club to help you in your fight to quit cigarettes for good. We want all smokers to consider quitting.

“If you can commit to trying we can commit to standing by your side every step of the way on your journey to a smoke-free life. There has never been a better time to quit than now.”

It would never have happened in Johan Cruyff’s day.

Cruyff about turn

Speaking of the former Barca player and coach, Cruyff has been fired an adviser to Guadalajara club Chivas.

“Guadalajara has decided to end its contract for services and advice with Johan Cruyff’s consultancy by virtue of not having achieved the results and objectives set out at the beginning,” the club said in a statement

It always seemed a strange appointment, with Cruyff still intimately involved with Ajax, meaning Chivas, based several thousand miles away, were never really going to receive his full attention.

Under the former Barca player and coach, Chivas hired fellow Dutchman John van’t Schip, but they finished eighth in Liga MX, crashing out in the first round of the playoffs, and didn’t make it out of the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League.

On his way

Mauricio Pellegrino has described Valencia’s decision to sack him as “unfair”.

The 41-year-old was relieved of his position after his side fell to a 5-2 home defeat to Real Sociedad on Saturday, a result which saw them slip to 12th in La Liga.

“I just want to comment on the decision,” he told journalists at a press conference. “Everyone knows that I consider it unfair and do not share it with the board.

“I think it is an irrational and hot-headed decision, but that is what you get in football.

Los Che have won only five times in 14 league fixtures so far this season, but Pellegrino, who is clearly a glass half-full kind of person, believes there were encouraging signs from his team before his departure.

“Obviously this is not what I want and I am hurt, but I believe this club is a work in progress,” he added.

“As a player, I endured barracking from the fans on four or five occasions under Benitez and Hector Cuper and both projects ended up being successful.

“We are only four or five points off our objective in La Liga, we’re into the Champions League last 16 and still alive in the King’s Cup. But this is football.”

Goal of the day

Real Betis’ Joel Campbell cuts in from the right to unleash a stunning left foot shot to give his side the lead against Deportivo La Coruna.

Quote of the day

“As coach, I have to take my share of responsibility, but the players have to do the same. I get the impression the players feel the club’s project and the problems in the team’s play don’t concern them.”

PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti belatedly realises that the players did not join the club because they liked the ‘project’.

Selling their soul

Interesting piece by World Soccer columnist David Conn in today’s Guardian about the “50 per cent plus one” rule of ownership that operates in Germany, which means the the clubs are owned by their members. This is contrasted with the situation in England where several Premier League clubs have been bought by individuals, or companies, from overseas.

One prominent example is Manchester City who coincidentally, face Borussia Dortmundin the Champions League on Tuesday night.

Of their opponents, Watzke told the Guardian: “I am a little bit romantic, and that is not romantic.

“In England people seem not to be interested in this – at Liverpool they are fine for the club to belong to an American. But the German is romantic: when there is a club, he wants to have the feeling it is my club, not the club of Qatar or Abu Dhabi.

“Germans want to have that sense of belonging. When you give [the supporters] the feeling that they are your customers, you have lost. In Germany, we want everybody to feel it is their club, and that is really important.

“In former times in England I think the relationship between the club and supporters was very strong. Our people come to the stadium like they are going to their family. Here, the supporters say: it’s ours, it’s my club.”

Fans in Germany enjoy cheap ticket prices, which boosts attendances and perhaps more importantly ensures Bundesliga matches are affordable to the next generation of fans.

“Here, it is our way to have cheap tickets, so young people can come,” Watzke said.

“We would make 5 million euros more a season if we had seats, but there was no question to do it, because it is our culture. In England it is a lot more expensive. Football is more than a business.

“Everybody told me you cannot play in the Champions League against clubs like Manchester, they have more money. But we are trying to do it ourselves, in our way.

“There are a lot of ways to Rome,” he said. “Chelsea have won the Champions League. But Chelsea’s question is: what happens after [Roman] Abramovich?”

After Roman Abramovich? Even Rafa Benitez doesn’t want to manage you.

Taking nothing for granted

Speaking of the Spaniard, who has managed to do the impossible since his Stamford Bridge appointment: arrive as the most unpopular appointment ever and within the space of 10 days somehow make himself even more unpopular.

It’s been an impressive transformation and one which led to speculation that Chelsea were about to appoint Avram Grant to help Benitez through the difficult first few months at the club. The lugubrious Grant, it should be noted, was the one name other than Benitez who the fans did not want to see involved with the club. So, mention of him returning to the club he led to the 2008 Champions League final was greeted with dismay by the Chelsea faithful.

“There is no truth in reports that Avram Grant will be returning to the club,” said a spokesman.

Benitez, who three matches into his reign, already has that trapped in the headlights expression etched into his face, admitted that the task of overhauling Chelsea was bigger than he first thought. It can’t be easy inheriting a squad that won the Champions League just 6 months ago and which has been supplemented by a £75 million summer spending spree that went on the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar. Oh no, woe is the man who walks into that particular mess.

Asked whether the scale of the task was greater than he imagined, Benitez replied: “Could be. It’s a top side in the middle of the season, and things aren’t the best.

“We’ll try to improve things, but it will take some time.”

He added: “My concern is improving the team. If we do that, and start winning games, we’ll be able to turn things around. The main thing for me is to improve the team. I’m not thinking about anything else.”

Back to the future

The Russian government has backed a proposed new league that would unite clubs from across the former Soviet Union.

The idea would essentially see a return to the old Soviet Top League, which ran from 1936 to 1991.

Government officials believe there is scope for a new competition modelled on the likes of ice hockey’s Kontinental Hockey League and basketball’s VTB United League.

“Such a championship, where the best clubs of three to five CIS countries would play, would be by definition a stronger and more exciting league than any national championship,” said Sergei Ivanov, the head of President Vladimir Putin’s administration, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti. “Exactly the same thing has happened in hockey and basketball.”

It’s a not a huge surprise to hear the Russian administration express support for the inclusion of clubs from the former Soviet Union; if they had their way, the countries themselves would be absorbed back into the former federation.

Both the Russian Premier League (RPL) and Zenit St. Petersburg have come forward to back the idea of a championship spanning the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

RPL chief Sergei Pryadkin said the proposal was “correct” and “interesting,” adding that the league will study the viability of such a competition.

Ivanov admitted he was sceptical that UEFA and FIFA would back the plan. And in truth, were they to do so they must know that they would be opening the largest can of worms imaginable.

However, he added: “This must be done, because this is professional sport, and I don’t agree with people who consider football a social phenomenon. This is a business, and that’s how you should approach it.”

Ah, glad to see the romance of football is alive and kicking.