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Harder they come…

Jose Mourinho believes winning La Liga with Real Madrid was the toughest of the seven league titles he has secured in his managerial career. Given that they have had to overcome a side believed by some to be the best of all time, it’s hard not to disagree.

“It was the most difficult,” the 49-year-old said after Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao secured the club’s 32 league title. “Up until the final moment nobody gifted us anything. Bilbao put out their best team, the stadium was full and the team wanted to win and fight, which is the way it should be.”

“Barça won a lot of games and tried to push the league as far as possible. I think that they themselves, champions and a club with a great tradition, know that we deserve this league title.”

Mourinho has now won the league title in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain, the first man to win leagues in those particular countries, but not –  as has been stated elsewhere – the first man to achieve the feat in four different countries.

Ernst Happel won titles in  Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria, and the current Ireland coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, in Italy, Germany, Portugal and Austria. However, in the pantheon of successful Pan-European coaches, it is Tomislav Ivic, who is the daddy of them all:  the Croatian, who died last year, won the Yugoslav, Dutch, Belgian, Greek, Portuguese and French league titles.

Goal of the day

While the world rightly raved about Papiss Demba Cisse’s goal against Chelsea, there was another goal scored last night that may even have eclipsed the Newcastle striker’s astonishing strike. In Brazil, Marco Antonio produced a wonderfully acrobatic volley for Gremio against Fortaleza.

Brawl of the day

We’ve seen rival managers fight with one another, players from opposing sides have a go at each other, and even players from the same side come to blows, but it’s exceedingly rare to see a manager attack one of his own players. Step forward Fiorentina coach Delio Rossi, who attacked Adem Ljajic during his side’s 2-2 draw with Novara.

Ljajic appeared to say something to his manager after being substituted  just 32 minutes into the match, which prompted Rossi to punch the errant player.

Viola president Andrea Della Valle was left with little choice but to fire the coach, but he did so with a hint of remorse, aware of the stresses the coach had been placed under.

“In a few seconds months of stress came out. I am sorry because the coach has never committed acts of this kind.

“For his own good to make him understand he has made a mistake I had to take this decision. No provocation justifies this reaction.”

Former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi provided an interesting overview of the incident, telling Tgcom24 on Thursday that the act was “deplorable, but it’s the consequence of the environment. The football system lives on excess and when everything is excessive reactions become that way, too.”

Blunder of the day

Still in Italy, an uncharacteristic blunder from Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon kept the scudetto race alive. With the league leaders five minutes away from a 1-0 win over 10-man Lecce, the experienced Buffon miscontrolled a back pass which allowed Luis Muriel to nip and grab a late equaliser for the visitors. The dropped points mean that Juve lead Milan by just one point with two matches remaining.

Golden Age of goalscoring

Lionel Messi reached another milestone in his absurdly successful season when he broke Gerd Müller’s 39-year-old record of 67 goals in a season for a European top-flight club.

Messi scored a hat-trick, his 9th of the season, in Barcelona’s 4-1 win over Malaga. This season, as well as his 46 league goals (a record), he has scored 14 goals in the Champions League, two in the Copa del Rey, three in the Spanish Super Cup, one in the European Super Cup and two at the Club World Cup.

With a mind-boggling 68 Messi has 10 more than the Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 44 in La Liga (4 more than he managed last season when he set a new all-time record for Spain). With just two goals separating the pair at the top of the scoring charts, their personal duel will provide an intriguing sub-plot in the remaining two league matches of the season.

Here’s Messi’s 3rd and the goal that saw him eclipse the all-time European mark.

Stranded

Al Ahly have been stranded in Mali since Sunday due to skirmishes taking place in Bamako following a counter-coup attempt by a group of soldiers.

The Egyptian side lost their round of CAF Champions League 16 first leg against Stade Malien and have been unable to return home to continue their preparations for the second leg which is scheduled to be played on May 12.

“We are all okay, thank God, but at the same time we want this to end as soon as possible,” defender Sherif Abdul-Fadil told the club’s official website.

“The players are fine but there is some anxiety because it is still unclear to us when shall we return home.”

Money down the drain

Liverpool have reported a loss of almost £50 million for the last financial year as a result of failed new stadium costs and pay-offs to departing members of staff.

The bulk of the loss can be attributed to the club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG),  writing off £35 million associated with the HKS-designed Stanley Park project of predecessors Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Current managing director Ian Ayre insists the accounts, without that “extraordinary” expenditure, are in good shape.

“I guess people will focus on the loss of £49.4 million and there’s no business – or people running any business – who are going to be pleased with any loss,” Ayre told the Liverpool Echo. “But I think the important indicator here is this £59 million charge for exceptional items and as a business that’s been in a transition, it’s about moving from where we were to where we want to be.

“We have written off a huge amount on the stadium project. A big chunk of that £50 million loss relates to the HKS project – which is now defunct – and associated costs around that.”

The other big unnecessary expenditure – assuming Andy Carroll’s annual salary is deemed necessary – was the £8.4 million relating to contract terminations, the bulk of which will have ended up in the pockets of former manager Roy Hodgson (wonder what happened to him?), who left the club after 191 largely miserable days in charge.

Liverpool fans, fearful that the compensation packages might impact upon the club’s future spending plans, were reassured by Ayres that the payouts have actually left the club in a much better position to strengthen the squad this summer.

“If we had not written off these extraordinary costs, we would have been looking at breaking even,” he said. “We have reduced interest charges from £18 million to about £3 million. That puts us in a much stronger position to utilise our revenues more effectively on the team.”

So, the days of spendthrift days of splashing out £35 million on an unproven striker with a questionable attitude are definitely not over. This must have been how Greece got into such a mess.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Bill Miller is nearing a takeover of Rangers after being granted preferred bidder status by administrators Duff and Phelps.

Miller last month unveiled plans for an £11.2 million bid for Rangers that would create what he described as an “incubator” company while the Duff and Phelps attempt to take the club out of administration through a Creditors Voluntary Arrangement (CVA).

The American businessman will still have his work cut out persuading the club’s supporters that he is the best man for the club. The majority of Rangers’ fans had favoured a deal with a consortium led by former director, Paul Murray, and some demonstrated their feelings at last night’s game against Dundee United by waving banners declaring “Yanks No Thanks”.

Rangers boss Ally McCoist, who knows better than most the precarious position the club finds itself in, encouraged the fans not to rush to judgement.

“Listen, I can understand the fans’ concerns about everything,” said McCoist. “They are well within their rights to have concerns about anybody who is going to come in and take over the club. But all I would ask for is that they give whoever gets preferred bidder status a chance.”

“Everyone has to be given a chance. Whether it’s Bill Miller, or whoever it may be, we would all be wrong to sit and be judge and jury immediately before anything happens. I don’t think we are in a position to be anything other than supportive of someone who will come in and hopefully take the club forward. We’ve got to be supportive of that person or persons.”

One stumbling block for a Miller-led takeover is that the US businessman has, thus far, refused to engage in negotiations with Rangers disgraced current owner Craig Whyte. While this is a laudable and principled stance to adopt, it does rather ignore a huge elephantine-shaped object in the room: namely, Whyte still owns most of the shares as well as Ibrox Stadium and Murray Park. However unpalatable the thought of doing business with him might be, he cannot be ignored for ever.

Justice will be done

Fenerbahce vice-president Nihat Ozdemir has insisted that the club is being victimised by corruption allegations that have rocked Turkish football.

The Istanbul outfit was kicked out of this season’s Champions League and has seen 13 of their members, including president Aziz Yildirim, charged in the ongoing scandal.

But Ozdemir remains confident that his club would be exonerated when the Turkish football federation (TFF) releases its findings on the allegations.

“There are so many mistakes against the privacy of investigation. Fenerbahce has been victimised,” he claimed in a press conference

“Fenerbahce, despite all the injustice and illegality of Turkish justice, continued to trust the legal system.

“Regarding the process, we will just have to support it. We have attempted to talk less, and in doing so, we have received criticism from fans.

“But in doing so, we feel that we showed respect for the legal process.

“We insisted on our innocence. We believe in our president and his vision shall still guide us for success.”

A total of 93 officials and players are on trial, accused of helping to fix domestic matches last season.

Best of friends again

Following on from yesterday’s report that Diego Maradona had threatened to leave his club, Al Wasl, comes news that the relationship is on the mend.

Maradona claimed that he lacked the playing resources to do his job properly, and said it was 50-50 whether he would stay with the club.

The club said in a statement sent that Al Wasl Management held a meeting with Maradona and discussed a number of issues including the recent outburst by the Argentinian.

“Following a three hour meeting with Al Wasl Management held last night, Diego Maradona has discussed a number of issues with the club management and a strategic plan for next season has been identified.

“The Al Wasl Coach has acknowledged that his recent outbursts were not in the best interests of the team and that he understands the club’s disappointment. But as a reassuring measure, he has reaffirmed that he will not be leaving Al Wasl under any circumstances and that he will respect his contract that runs until the end of next season,” the club said in a statement.

Well, that seems to be that. Until the next time.

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