Pride restored

Real Madrid went down to Barcelona, but they can take consolation from the fact that they went down fighting. Not literally. Well, eight bookings and a red card might suggest otherwise, but this was an evening to savour a spirited comeback from Jose Mourinho’s side rather than dwell upon some moments of indiscipline.

Reaction in the Spanish press to Madrid’s performance in the 2-2 draw at Camp Nou has been favourable.

“Madrid shrugged off their recent complexes and were a centimetre away from a monumental achievement,” Marca said.

The draw represented something of a moral victory for Mourinho, who had come under fire for his negative selection in last week’s first leg match at the Bernabeu. This time, in came playmakers Kaka and Mesut Ozil in a more attack-minded line-up.

“(Fans) won’t whistle him for defeats like these,” El Pais wrote.

“Barca played badly and Real played well. Luck turned its back on Mourinho, but the game revealed the way to combat Barcelona.”

Luck, and if Mourinho is to be believed, a poor refereeing performance, cost his side the chance of a famous victory.

“I have played here with Chelsea, Inter [Milan] and Madrid various times and this is nothing new,” he said in reference to a disallowed second-half goal that would have given Madrid the win.

“I will congratulate Barcelona for what they did at the Bernabeu last week but not for the qualification.”

The Portuguese didn’t go as far as Real skipper Iker Casillas, who told referee Fernando Teixeira Vitienes to go and join the party with the Barcelona team as he left the pitch.

Rain stoped play

The start of the African Nations Cup tie between Libya and Zambia was delayed when the waterlogged pitch was deemed unplayable.

Fortunately, hi tech help was at hand.

The game eventually kicked off, but it was not all plain sailing; in fact, at times, the waters were quite choppy.

Positive talks

A split between UEFA and the European Clubs Association (ECA) group, representing Europe’s top clubs, appears to have been averted after talks to extend their working relationship beyond 2014.

There had been fears that a failure to reach agreement could lead to the ECA creating breakaway competitions to rival UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League.

“We are confident we can come to a positive agreement,” UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said  after a meeting of the executive committee.

The prospect of a Champions League breakaway could not be ruled out before a final cooperation agreement was reached, Infantino admitted.

Still, “all the clubs agree the Champions League is the best competition for clubs in the world – and it will remain like this in future,” he said.

Loss leader

While the ECA continue to press their demands for a bigger share of the European football pie, figures show that the more they earn the quicker they throw it away.

Europe’s top football clubs collectively lost more than €1.6 billion in 2010 and their debts are still rising despite the threat of sanctions for overspending via UEFA’s Financial FairPlay rules.

Accounts from about 650 clubs reveal 56 percent lost money in 2010, and their accumulated total debt was €8.4 billion.

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said it was “a last wake-up call” with clubs having been subject to UEFA’s financial fair play monitoring since July 2011.

“We must end this negative spiral and gamble for success.”

The figures reveal that the wealthier clubs are also also the biggest debtors.

Of more than 200 clubs playing in UEFA’s Champions League and Europa League competitions two years ago, 65 percent spent more than they earned.

Three out of every four clubs earning more than €50 million annually also recorded a loss.

“Clubs tend to spend more in order to obtain a competitive advantage,” said Andrea Traverso, the head of UEFA’s financial fair play project.

The ECA’s solution? Throw more money at the problem.

Financial stability

At least one country in Europe appears to have got its house in order. In Germany, the Bundesliga’s 18 clubs set a seventh straight revenue record, generating almost €2 billion in the 2010/11 season compared to €1.77 billion the previous season.

“In the current season we see breaking the two billion euro mark,” said the German Football League CEO Christian Seifert. “The Bundesliga is already the second league in terms of revenues behind the Premier League.”

Unlike the Premier League though, the Bundesliga also turned in a profit – €52.5 million in 2010/11.

The top division also set a new average attendance record per game with 42,101 spectators.

“The measures for an improved cost control approved by the clubs in August 2010 have borne fruit. With that, professional football continues to have a strong outlook of remaining a success story, also because the Bundesliga is as popular as never before with fans, sponsors and media partners,” said Seifert.

Goal of the day

There were several contenders in Wednesday’s clasico encounter, but Dani Alves stunning strike from the edge of the area was the pick of the bunch.

Secret of their success

The African Cup of Nations is turning into an expensive occasion for Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of the country’s president. As reported in yesterday’s World Soccer Daily, Teodoro has offered lucrative performance-related bonuses to his players for the duration of the tournament.

The players picked up a $1 million bonus for Monday’s 1-0 defeat of Libya, with another bonus on its way after their 2-1 victory against Senegal.

That result ensured that the lowest-ranked team in the tournament (151st in the FIFA world rankings), with a population of just 700,000, reached the knock out stages for the first time.

However, a closer look at the composition of the Equatorial Guinea squad sheds some light on their improbable achievements. They include a Brazilian goalkeeper, a Liberian defender, an Ivorian midfielder and a Cameroonian forward, as well as a number of Spanish players.

In fact, none of the 13 players that Brazilian-born coach Gilson Paulo used on Wednesday was born in the country. Of the full 23-man squad, only third choice goalkeeper Felipe Ovono and reserve defender Jose Bokung were born in Equatorial Guinea.

The Brazilian had previously introduced several of his countrymen into the Togolese national team when he was in charge there. Such a selection policy, though within FIFA rules, does rather undermine the integrity of international football.

Neuchatel Xamax appeal fails

Neuchatel Xamax have failed to win back their Swiss Super League licence prior to the restart of the season on February 4, after two courts ruled against the club.

The club were stripped of their license on January 18 less than a year after being taken over by Russian businessman Bulat Chagaev with the SFL saying Neuchatel were suspected of falsifying a bank document produced as a financial guarantee last year.

The club had appealed against the SFL decision in two courts, saying the league did not have the authority to take such a decision.

“The commercial tribunal and the regional tribunal (in Berne) have turned down Neuchatel Xamax’ demands for provisional measures,” the SFL said in a statement.

Neuchatel already had eight points deducted for irregularities in the the payment of players’ wages.

Chagaev bought the club in May saying he wanted to take Neuchatel into the Champions League.

He has since sacked four coaches, faced a boycott by fans and fired several players.

He also sacked the entire administrative staff, leaving the club unable to print tickets for the opening game of the season, and ended relations with all of the club’s sponsors.

Chagaev’s troubles don’t end there: Le Matin reported that Chagaev is actually an illegal immigrant in Switzerland as he does not have a valid residence permit.

Redknapp persecuted

Harry Redknapp said he was “sick and tired” of bung slurs and claimed he was victimised because of his Cockney accent, his tax trial has heard.

He told accountant Nigel Layton “I don’t care who looks”, as Portsmouth’s finances were examined by the Quest Premier League bung inquiry led by former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Stevens in 2006.

Redknapp said there was “nothing on me in this world” as he voluntarily revealed details about his Monaco bank account to the inquiry.

Redknapp said: “A friend said to me, he said ‘Harry, I can’t believe it’s always you, I have dealt with you enough times. Your problem is your name, Harry, and you have got a Cockney accent’.

Not sure who provided this character reference; Professor Henry Higgins possibly?


FIFA has denied a split with Roger Milla despite reports the Cameroon legend was dropped from its Football Committee, then resigned as a goodwill ambassador.

FIFA says in a statement “there was apparently a misunderstanding” over Milla’s status.

Milla reportedly told African media he lost his committee seat due to a dispute with Cameroon football federation president Mohammed Iya, who FIFA appointed to its 2014 World Cup organizing committee.

However, FIFA says “Roger Milla will keep his position in the FIFA Standing Committees and will also continue to be an ambassador.”