Making a stand

A friendly between Milan and Italian lower division club Pro Patria was suspended after players walked off because of racist chants coming from a section of the crowd.

Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng picked up the ball 25 minutes into the first half and kicked it into the crowd. Whether it was his intention to hit the supporters is unclear, but in the circumstances it is probably just that the ball rebounded off the stand; the last thing we need in this kind of situation is a muddying of the waters about who is in the wrong.

Boateng then removed his shirt and was followed from Pro Patria’s home pitch by both sets of players and officials.

There had been appeals for the abuse to stop from the public address announcer.

On his way from the pitch, Boateng applauded sections of the crowd, who then reacted angrily towards the corner of the ground from which the chants came.

Milan’s official website said other black players in the Milan side – M’Baye Niang, Urby Emanuelson and Sulley Muntari – suffered abuse.

Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri told reporters: “We are disappointed and saddened by what has happened.

“Milan play for the right to respect all players. We need to stop these uncivilised gestures.

“We are sorry for all the other fans who came here for a beautiful day of sport. We promise to return, and we are sorry for the club and players of Pro Patria, but we could not make any other decision.

“I hope it can be an important signal.”

Milan’s organising director Umberto Gandini added: “It is so sad but we had to give a strong signal. Very proud of all Milan players for their decision. No other comments.”

Will this moment serve as a watershed in Italian football? One would hope so, but only if the authorities give their full backing to those players victimised by the idiotic supporters.

Here’s the moment when Boateng snapped.

With friends like this…

Pictures have emerged of Roberto Mancini and Mario Balotelli indulging in what the papers like to call a ‘training ground bust-up’.

witness told the Manchester Evening News that the pair had confronted each other during a practice match, after Balotelli reacted badly to being berated for a mis-timed a challenge.

The source said: “Mancini ran at him – he was furious. He grabbed hold of him and appeared to try and throw him on the floor. It looked like Mario was too strong and he couldn’t get him down. Then all the coaches ran in to separate them but Mancini was having none of it. He kept trying to break free and have a go at him again.”

Balotelli then went straight to the dressing room before driving away minutes later in camouflaged Bentley (camouflage is something of a misnomer as the car must be one the most distinctive, recognisable vehicles seen on the roads.

The images of the pair’s confrontation can be found here.

End of the road

Johan Cruyff has revealed that Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw between Catalonia and Nigeria might well be his last game as a coach.

The Dutch legend, who starred as a player for Barcelona before guiding the club to 4 league titles and their first European Cup as manager, has been in charge of the Catalonia representative side for three years but will now step down.

“I do not think I will coach again,” Cruyff said. “I do not see myself on another bench. Although I always do too many things and I am not going to be bored.”

“I was very happy to do it. The players always wanted to be here. I am proud to have coached Catalonia.”

Not content with riding quietly into the sunset, Cruyff couldn’t resist leaving without a parting short for Real Madrid, whose dismal form this season has left runaway Liga leaders Barcelona, odds on favourites to regain the league title.

“At this stage of the season Real Madrid being 16 points behind Barcelona can only be called a failure,” Cruyff told reporters.

Pastures new?

Real Madrid coach  Jose Mourinho, whose days at the club appear numbered as a result of the aforementioned ‘failure’, has been linked with an unlikely move to the UAE.

Mourinho has been tipped for a return to England, where he enjoyed great success with Chelsea, but  Al Ahly coach Quique Sanchez Flores believes Jose Mourinho would consider coaching in the UAE.

When asked about the possibility of Mourinho moving to UAE, Flores told reporters: “Sure, I can see it perfectly. Jose is a person who is open to the world of football. He loves the work and I’m sure he is open in the future to come here. He knows that the UAE football will grow in the next few years.

“I was having lunch with Mourinho. I was hanging out with Mourinho and (agent) Jorge Mendes. For me it was important because we were talking about football, about his troubles in Spain and how it is different in Spain.

“He was asking me about the UAE league, what the situation is here. It was all very friendly. He told me that as an alternative, the UAE is perfect. Europe is the best option, but it is an alternative because it is a nice place and the UAE have the intention to grow in the future.

“He said ‘Quique, you are very happy here, I can see it in your face.’ He was interested to know about the UAE players and the UAE stars.”

Goal of the day

Stunning free-kick from Everton’s Leighton Baines in their 2-1 win over Newcastle.

Quote of the day

“Lucas is going to have to stay smart around that snobby Swedish star.”

Former Barcelona defender Edmilson warns compatriot Lucas to keep an eye on his new Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Nice work if you can’t get it…

£92,000 a week! I’ll repeat that: £92,000 a week! That’s what Joe Cole has been collecting for the past three years for twiddling his thumbs at Anfield.

Details of Cole’s salary at Liverpool have emrged after it became clear that he would be joining his former club West Ham United in the January transfer window. As part of that deal, Cole will be given £3 million by the selling club, which sounds a lot until you realise that the midfielder is entitled to £7 million if he stayed at the club until his contract expired in 18 months time.

When he arrived at Liverpool, Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard suggested that Cole was a more talented player than Lionel Messi.

“[Lionel] Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better,” he said. “He used to shock us in training by doing footy tricks with a golf ball that most players can’t even do with a football. I really fancy Joe for the [player of the year] award this season.”

It wasn’t to be and ultimately Cole made only 20 league appearances for Liverpool (more than half as a substitute), scored just two goals and such was his Messiesque influence, that three months later he was loaned out for the season to French club Lille.

Failing to deliver?

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said that he was surprised by recent criticism of the league by FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter.

“We still have a lot of work to do — we understand and accept that,” Garber said. “But arguably there’s probably not another sports league in the world that has achieved as much as we have in the last 20 years.”

In an interview with Al Jazeera broadcast on Saturday, Blatter criticised the M.L.S. and the development of the sport in general in the United States, saying that “there is no very strong professional league” in the United States.

“They have just the M.L.S.,” Blatter said. “But they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society.”

Blatter said that officials were “still struggling” to raise football’s profile to the level of more established leagues like Major League Baseball, the N.F.L. and the N.B.A.

“We had the World Cup in 1994,” Blatter said. “But we are now in 2012 — it’s been 18 years; it should have been done now.”

Garber has been the M.L.S. commissioner since 1999, the league’s fourth season. The organization he inherited was a money-losing operation in which, at one time, one owner controlled more than half the league’s teams.

In the past 13 years, the league has diversified its ownership, expanded to 19 teams. More than half the league’s teams play in purpose-built stadiums, and a 20th franchise can expect to pay an expansion fee nearing $100 million.

The league’s average attendance last year (18,807) was a league record and was higher than the numbers for the N.B.A. and the N.H.L, although those statistics are slightly misleading given the obvious constraints on sports played within indoor arenas. Television ratings for M.L.S do remain stubbornly low though.

“I know that the president believes in American soccer and believes in the league,” Garber said. “Sometimes I think these things happen when you’re not here for a while. When you’re not here or travel much to the U.S., it’s hard to fully understand what the sports market is like here. When you’re not living and breathing the North American sport market, it is easy to believe M.L.S. is being lost in some of the noise.”

Garber said he would to invite Blatter to a game.

“I’m sure if he does, he’ll see how far we’ve advanced, and I think he’d be very, very excited about that,” Garber said.

Korea opportunities

A South Korean club says it has signed North Korea striker Jong Tae Se from Cologne.

The Suwon Samsung Bluewings say they have agreed to pay the German club €300,000 for Jong, but declined to say how much they will pay the 27-year-old forward who represented North Korea at the 2010 World Cup.

Bluewings official Lee Ho-seung says Jong had sought the transfer and the negotiations lasted several months.

Jong was born and raised in Japan, but holds a North Korean passport. He will become the fourth such player to join South Korea’s K-League, league officials said.

He began his professional career with Japanese club Kawasaki Frontale in 2006 before signing with German second-division club Bochum in 2010 and joining Cologne last year.

“We’ve finalized talks with Koln over the transfer fee for Jong Tae-se,” the official said. “He will arrive in South Korea as early as next Monday for medical tests.”

Jong, born to a South Korean father and a North Korean mother, attended pro-North Korean schools there and has said in interviews that he considers himself North Korean.

Hard times

Zimbabwe may be forced to withdraw from the 2014 World Cup qualifying competition as the national football association has no money for a fixture in Egypt during March.

“There is no money to pay for travel expenses and other incidentals,” said Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) vice-president Ndumiso Gumede.

“We have decided not to engage in any international matches unless the government chips in with financial assistance.”

The football association is burned with a US$4 million debt in unpaid accommodation, transport and other bills that accumulated over several years and has been surviving on handouts from its president, Cuthbert Dube, and diamond firm Mbada Diamonds.

FIFA development officer for southern Africa Ashford Mamelodi, of Botswana, and a financial consultant met Zifa officials and deplored the state of the association’s coffers.

“I did not attend the meetings so I am not in a position to give you any details,” said Gumede.

After losing at home to Guinea and drawing in Mozambique, Zimbabwe are due to play Egypt late March in the third series of World Cup qualifiers.