Mourinho feeling the heat

The strain was beginning to show on Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho as he fielded questions ahead of tonight’s laest clasico instalment.

The habitually combative coach was a shadow of his normal self, muttering monosyllabic replies to most of the questions fired at him.

In today’s Guardian, World Soccer correspondent Sid Lowe described the scene.

“My colleague said that you are going to leave Madrid in the summer,” the coach was asked. “Are you?” The response was short and sharp: “Ask your colleague.”

“Will you stay until you win the European Cup,” he was asked. “I don’t know.”

“Why have you lost the support of the fans?” “I don’t know, you’d have to ask them.”

“The leaks from the club.” “I don’t know anything.”

“But do you think they are designed to damage you?” “I don’t know.”

“Are you happy at Madrid?” “Uh-huh”.

The coach was able to confirm one thing though: Pepe, the defender accused of deliberately stamping on Lionel Messi in last week’s first leg in Madrid, will start tonight.

Here’s footage of the press conference which shows an out-of-sorts, demoralised Mourinho looking like he would rather be somewhere else, indeed anywhere else.

Match of the day

In a match that shifted attention away from tonight’s clasico encounter, third division Mirandes pulled off the shock of the season by defeating Espanyol on away goals to reach the Spanish Cup semi-final.

The deciding goal came in the second minute of stoppage time and prompted a pitch invasion by ecstatic fans at the club’s 6,000-capacity stadium.

“Miranda de Ebro has found a place in the hearts of all Spaniards,” columnist Tomas Roncero wrote in As on Wednesday.

“Superheroes!” read the headline in Marca. “Mirandes have delighted Spain with their football, their passion, their effort, their confidence, their humility and their joy,” the paper added.

Here are the goals from an extraordinary evening in Miranda de Ebro.

eBay target moves

Brazilian striker Amauri, who last week was put up for sale at online auction house eBay by irate Juventus fans, has completed a move to Fiorentina.

The fee, reported to be just €500,000 is a sharp drop from his eBay reserve price of €10 million and a precipitous fall from the €22.8 million Juventus paid Palermo for him in May 2008.

Amauri has not featured for Juventus this season since being frozen out of the first-team picture for refusing various moves over the summer, including transfers to French side Marseille and Turkiush outfit Trabzonspor.

Political football

If there is one dispute that FIFA would like to keep out of, it would be an Israeli-Palestinian row.

However, football’s governing body looks like it is to be dragged into an ugly tug of war involving Ali Khatib, who was, until a few days ago, a member of the Palestinian side Jabal Mukkaber, but is now set to sign for Israeli Premier League side Hapoel Haifa.

The crux of the matter is inevitably, political: the Israeli and the Palestinian Authority associations do not communicate with each other, meaning no agreements are in place governing player transfers.

“Just because there are no official relations between the Israeli and Palestinian soccer associations,” Jabal Mukkaber coach Samir Issa said, “does not mean that Israeli teams can poach players willy-nilly.”

Except they can, or so Haifa will claim.

Full details of the impending dispute can be read here.

Flashing the cash

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of Equatorial Guinea’s president, has honoured his promise to pay the Nations Cup co-hosts’ squad $1 million in bonuses.

However, the source of his wealth has been the subject of much speculation.

Equatorial Guinea defeated Libya 1-0 in their opening match, prompting Obiang, the country’s agriculture minister, to make good on his promise of financial reward.

“It is remarkable that the president’s son has managed to find such a large amount of cash to help motivate his team to win. But the question must be, where has this money come from,” Adrian Lovett, Europe director for the global anti-poverty campaign group One, asks the BBC.

“Last year, the US government began legal proceedings to recover assets worth more than $70 million from Obiang, who is accused of using his ministerial position to plunder Equatorial Guinea’s wealth.”

For an revealing  exposé of the playboy lifestyle of Obiang, take a look here. It’s a fascinating and quite depressing read.

Goal of the day

Alessandro del Piero scored a lovely curler in Juventus’ 3-0 Italian Cup win over Roma.

Dispute proves costly

Carlos Tevez’s decision to stay in Argentina and work on his golf swing is proving quite costly for the striker. He has been hit with a £1.2 million fine by Manchester City for going AWOL, which means the ongoing row with his club has cost him a staggering £9.3 million.

“The club can confirm that Carlos Tevez was found guilty by a disciplinary hearing on Dec. 21 of gross misconduct for serious breaches of contract and was fined six weeks’ wages,” a City statement said.

“Carlos elected to appeal the finding, which was dismissed by an appeal panel made up of club directors. He has until Jan. 30 to make a final appeal to the Premier League.”

Tevez is desperate to leave City, but he’s not exactly been inundated by potential suitors. Following Inter’s withdrawal from the race to sign him, the forward is relying on Milan stumping up the cash, but as City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak notes, that is not a foregone conclusion.

“Carlos remains a player with contractual obligations to Manchester City for the next two and a half seasons,” Al Mubarak said in a statement to The National in Abu Dhabi.

“Unless we receive an offer that we deem appropriate, the terms of his contract will be enforced.

“As things stand AC Milan isn’t an option for Carlos Tevez. Mr. Galliani and his advisers have developed a misplaced sense of confidence from their premature discussions with Carlos and his advisers.

“If they want to be a consideration in this transfer window they would do better to stop congratulating one another and begin to look at how they would meet our terms.”

It would appear that Tevez’s representative, Kia Joorabachian, a famously shrewd operator in the transfer market, might have met his match.

First signs of unrest?

While Tevez works out what he could have bought with his £9.3 million, another City player looks like he might be ready to step into the breach, should a vacancy arise for a volatile, disaffected striker.

It will come as no surprise to learn that the player in question is Mario Balotelli, who days after revealing how happy he was at the club, now claims to be unsettled. Or at least that’s what his agent claims.

Balotelli, 21, is facing a four-match ban after being charged with violent conduct by the Football Association for appearing to deliberately stamp on the head of an opponent.

“I think he feels persecuted; he cannot go on like that,” said agent Mino Raiola.

“We had a very clear image of his career at the beginning and I told the press openly Mario will have to stay at Manchester City for at least three of four years, helping the club on this important project and grow as a man and a player.

“Obviously if he’s being banned every three or four games for one reason or another we cannot go on like that and there needs to be an end to that.

“If I find that there is something strange against Balotelli, my duty is to protect and then take him away.

“In this case I would speak with City, I’d ask them Balotelli’s price and would look for the best team for him, as there are only six or seven teams he can play for.”

And so the cycle begins.

Coffers empty?

Malaga have confirmed that they will not be allowed to register new players before an outstanding debt to Spanish league rival Osasuna is paid.

Malaga, who reportedly still owe the Basque club over the summer transfer of defender Ignacio Monreal, said in a statement that the delays in payment are “due to the complexity in approving budgets and transactions with foreign entities.”

The Andalucian club says owner Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani, who is a member of the Qatar royal family and therefore not short of cash, has personally guaranteed the shortfall.

Malaga, despite spending €120 million in the past year, are currently in 10th spot in the Spanish league.


FIFA President Sepp Blatter has sent a letter to the Portuguese Football Association to mark the birthday of former Portugal and Benfica legend Eusebio, who turned 70 today.

Nicknamed ‘The Black Panther’, Eusebio scored over 700 goals, in an illustrious career spanning the 1960s and early 70s. He was named European Footballer of the Year in 1965, led his country to a best-ever 3rd place finish at the World Cup the following year, and won 11 Portuguese titles and one European Cup with Benfica.

“It’s often said that the game’s true greats would be able to perform in any era,” said Blatter. “Eusebio belongs to that select group and there’s no doubt that, if he were playing today, he’d be lining up alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at the World Cup or vying with Lionel Messi to be the best player in the Champions League.”

The Portuguese Football Federation marked the occasion by preparing a surprise video where a number of footballing figures sent Eusebio his birthday wishes.

Here’s a compilation of the player in his prime.