Athletic fans united

There was much to admire about Athletic Bilbao’s thrilling 3-2 Europa League victory over Manchester United, not least the contribution of their supporters.

While the players did their bit on the pitch, 7000 raucous fans maintained an incessant barrage of noise throughout, turning Old Trafford into a small corner of Bilbao for the night. United’s ordinarily buoyant home support seemed insipid and colourless by comparison.

The travelling support was reportedly the largest away following to have visited Old Trafford for a European tie. That could be explained by the furore over ticket prices for the return game at San Mamés.

For most of them, the trip to Manchester, including match ticket, flights, food and drink, car hire, and a week-long stay in a five-star hotel, and it will still work out cheaper than the ridiculous price they are expected to pay for next week’s second leg.

Value for money?

I’m indebted to World Soccer’s Spain correspondent, Sid Lowe, who tweeted the cost of Bilbao’s largely homegrown starting line-up  for last night’s game.

Lowe wrote: “Repeat to clarify: €22.36 is team from tonight, not whole squad (squad adds Lopez at €7m, Zubiaurre at €3[?], etc). Total around €30-35m.”

Or they could have bought Andy Carroll instead.

Passing the buck

As Rangers’ players negotiate pay cuts that they hope will preserve the club’s status, former manager Dick Advocaat, who presided over a huge spending spree during his spell in Glasgow, has dismissed suggestions that his splurge may have contributed to the club’s downfall.

Advocaat, who splashed a club record £12m on Tore Andre Flo, and shelled out £36million on players during his time at Ibrox between 1998 and 2002, justified his transfer dealings in simple terms.

“My team became champions,” he said. “In that way, the money was worth spending.”

I’m sure that will be some consolation to the players, as they contemplate pay cuts of up to 75 per cent.

Among those agreeing to significant reductions are Steven Whittaker and Steven Naismith, who according to the BBC, have already struck deals to take a 75% wage cut. The club’s biggest stars were being asked to take wage cuts of 75%, middle earners 50% and the lower paid members of the squad 25%. Meanwhile, manager Ally McCoist has reportedly offered to forego his wages until the end of the season.

Asian World Cup draw

The draw for the fourth round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup conducted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Friday.

The draw pits AFC heavyweights Australia and Japan together, although with two teams from each group qualifying, both will be favoured to make it to the finals in Brazil.

In the other group meanwhile, second seed South Korea will have an easier path to the finals after the 2002 World Cup semi-finalists were drawn with Iran, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Lebanon.

Group A
South Korea

Group B

Goal of the day

Athletic Bilbao’s victory over Manchester United contained many marvellous moments, none more so than when Oscar De Marcos volleyed home a wonderful chipped pass from Herrera for their second goal.

Dive of the day

Schalke boss Huub Stevens was left fuming after referee Craig Thomson awarded a penalty to FC Twente and sent off Joel Matip for ‘tripping’ Luuk de Jong. It was not so much a professional foul, as a professional dive.

Quote of the day

“I didn’t do anything wrong at the [strip] club, but I understand that if she [his girlfriend Raffaella Fico] had gone with her friends to a strip club, I would have been very angry. If you love a woman, you can avoid causing that pain. That was my first mistake. The second was to go two days before a game.”

Mario Balotelli explains his priorities to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Special one forgotten?

Amid the hullabaloo surrounding Lionel Messi’s five-goal haul for Barcelona on Wednesday, it’s easy to forget that the Catalan side are not even the in-form team in Spain at the moment, let alone Europe.

No, that accolade falls to Real Madrid. Fortunately, a useful site has been busy compiling statistical data to demonstrate the supremacy of the Spanish league leaders. Admittedly, that site is the official Real Madrid website, but facts are facts, whichever way you wish to dress them up.

So, here goes: Jose Mourinho’s Madrid is the first side in the history of La Liga to have two runs of ten consecutive victories in one season.

Their results this season away from home are especially impressive. They are enjoying the longest run with a clean sheet in away games out of 98 teams in the top five European leagues. Real have only conceded nine goals in 19 games on the road, or 0.47 on average per game.

See how that compares to the rest of Europe.

Club Country Games Clean sheets %
Real Madrid Spain 19 13 68%
Manchester England 22 10 45%
B. Dortmund Germany 19 9 47%
Tottenham England 20 9 45%
Bayern Germany 20 9 45%
PSG France 20 9 45%
Valencia Spain 21 9 42%
Liverpool England 19 8 42%
Lille France 20 8 40%
Atletico Spain 20 8 40%
Fulham England 22 8 36%

And there’s more. Mourinho will be in charge of the club for the 100th time this weekend when his side meet Real Betis, but he has already secured the title of the most successful centurion in Spanish history.

The Portuguese has won 76 of the 99 matches, with just 10 of the remaining 23 games ending in defeat for Madrid.

Mourinho’s tally of victories means that he has already beaten the win-percentage record previously held by former Madrid coach Miguel Munoz and current Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola, both of whom won 70 percent of their first 100 games.

The statistical medley fails to mention one significant fact: in 10 matches against Guardiola’s Barcelona, Mourinho’s Madrid have won just once. And regardless of the the outcome of this season’s league title race, that’s the figure that will continue to stick in Mourinho’s craw.

Money isn’t everything

Cologne’s Lukas Podolski has turned down a £40million offer from Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala in favour of joining Arsenal this summer.

According to reports in the British press, Anzhi were prepared to pay Podolski £40m over four years – £200,000 a week – to snub the Gunners, but he has opted to move to London for half that amount.

“Money is not the most important thing for me,” said Podolski. “What is crucial is the development of my game.”


Ricardo Teixeira, president of Brazil’s football confederation (CBF) has taken a medical leave of absence.

Whether Teixeira is taking the equivalent of gardening leave remains to be seen. Inevitably, though, there will be renewed speculation about his position amid the ongoing corruption allegations.

“Ricardo sent a letter to the federation presidents informing them of his leave for medical reasons, but he did not say for how long,” said Delfim Peixoto, president of the football federation in the state of Santa Catarina.

The announcement came on the same day Brazil’s sports minister attempted to defuse the long running dispute between Brazil and FIFA over preparations to host the 2014 World Cup finals – of which, Teixeira is head of the organising committee.

Who knows, perhaps progress on all fronts will now be possible.