Real milestone

Lionel Messi gets most of the plaudits these days, which must make life difficult for Cristiano Ronaldo, whose arrogant, yet insecure personality, demands the spotlight falls upon him.

Last night, against Lyon, the Portuguese forward scored his 100th (and 101st) goal for Real Madrid, in his 105th appearance for the club, a better striker rate than Messi. In virtually any other era in the sport’s history he would be staking a claim to be one of the all-time greats, but in the age of the Messiah, Ronaldo’s remarkable accomplishments merit barely a footnote.

The player, who must be getting thoroughly fed up with having to answer questions about his arch-rival, was keen to play down comparisons.

“It’s not time to compare, or to think abour Barcelona,” Ronaldo explained after the win against Lyon. “I’m just happy for the team and I’d like to thank my team-mates and the coach, who gives me the chance to play and grow as a player and as a person.”

Save of the day

Tony Beltran made an astonishing clearance in the MLS play-off match between Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

With the score goalless at the time, Beltran cleared Seattle’s Jeff Parke’s powerfully-struck volley by diving to head clear. It turned out to be crucial intervetion too, as although Seattle won 2-0 on the night, they went out of the play-offs 3-2 on aggregate.


Edenbridge Bonfire Society, which is connected to the famous Lewes bonfire celebrations, has unveiled a 40ft effigy of Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli which will be set alight during this year’s fireworks.

Balotelli, you may recall, recently fronted a fire safety campaign in Manchester after he and his friends accidentally set alight a bathroom whilst launching fireworks out of the Italian’s house. As you do.

Jon Mitchell, from Edenbridge Bonfire Society, said: “We were all quite worried a few days ago because no celebrities had done anything quite silly enough to be celebrated on 5 November.

“For that reason we are fairly sure he will see the funny side and understand that we are right behind him in his campaign.”

Perhaps the participants can all wear white pointy hoods and burn crosses to make him really appreciate the joke.

Hit them where it hurts

If there’s anything that is likely to stop FIFA president Sepp Blatter in his tracks, it’s the news that one of his organisation’s biggest commercial partners is considering terminating its relationship.

Dubai-based airline group, Emirates, is currently one of six blue-chip FIFA Partners alongside Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai/Kia Motors, Sony and Visa. In 2006 it signed a US$195 million deal with football’s world governing body to become its partner from 2007 to 2014.

However Boutros Boutros, divisional senior vice-president of corporate communications and one of Emirates’ most senior executives, has stated the company is “seriously thinking” about not renewing its commercial partnership.

The sponsors are unhappy that amid all the turmoil surrounding FIFA in the past 12 months, no one has had the decency to write to them outlining what has happened and how it might have impacted on those associated with the organisation.

“We don’t get into politics but we believe the situation with FIFA went beyond an internal problem and became much bigger,” said Boutros.

“As a sponsor you expect they will come and write to you in the middle of the issue or at the end of it. To them they act as if it’s nothing for sponsors. For us, in our history of sponsorship, it is the only event that when it happened our clients started writing to us saying ‘why do you support this organisation?’”



It’s unusual to find a top class manager who doesn’t find fault with referees and the further down the managerial ladder you climb, the greater the criticism of match officials tends to be. So, imagine what it’s like when you finally reach the level of Diego Maradona. That’s when the C word is bandied about; yes, conspiracies abound in the mind of the Al Wasl coach.

The Argentinian was unhappy with the referee’s performance during his side top-of-the-table defeat to Al Jazira in UAE’s Pro-League.

“Today the referees seemed like they were putting on a show and not the players,” Maradona said.

“The refs controlled the game and all their decisions went Jazira’s way. The referees always seem to lean towards Jazira.

“I think I must train my players how to fall and shout and appeal, maybe that way we can get the referee’s sympathy.”

One suspects, as the season progresses, that a theme may develop when it comes to Maradona’s relationship with match officials.

Cassano faces heart op

Maradona did take time off from his busy ranting schedule to pass on his best wishes to Milan forward, Antonio Cassano, who will undergo heart surgery on Friday.

The Argentinian, who suffered a heart attack in 2004, and who in Cassano possibly sees a kindred spirit, wrote a letter of support that was published in Corriere dello Sport on Wednesday.

“I know about the thoughts, worries and torments that are going through your mind. I know that feeling of confusion and, why not, even solitude, that makes everything suddenly look black,” Maradona wrote.

“I know well, and that’s why I feel close to you and Rino Gattuso, who is also experiencing a sad period.”

Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani has revealed that Cassano could be out from four to six months, which almost certainly rules the player out of next summer’s Euro 2012 finals.

Samson looks for payback

No sooner had the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) confirmed the appointment of Stephen Keshi as their new national coach, than former Super Eagles coach Samson Siasia has launched a legal action against them.

The NFF announced that Siasia was sacked after he “breached a key clause in the contract” signed with the football authority on 1 December.

But Siasia’s legal team, who have given up their day job of chasing ambulances to concentrate on this case, are claiming a breach in contractual agreement signed with the Nigeria football authority upon ‘termination of contract’.

According to them, the NFF has violated a formal 30 days’ notice and deprived the former Nigeria international of important working conditions, as agreed. In a lawsuit that will probably become known as the ‘straw clutching’ case, Siasia’s claims he was not served a ‘dismissal letter’, provided with a physical trainer whilst he was in charge of the team, nor given accommodation as outlined in his contract.

The Special One: the movie

Contrary to what you may have read about him, Jose Mourinho is kind, likes to joke and tell anecdotes and is nothing like the arrogant, overbearing bully we get to see on the football pitch. So says close personal friend, Nuno Luz, the man who has directed a film in tribute to the Portuguese coach.

The documentary, named ‘José Mourinho the best Coach in the world’ and one assumes that Mourinho agreed to collaborate provided he had a say in the title of the film, premiered in Milan this week.

From the synopsis we don’t learn much about the man, but there is a rare insight into his motivational techniques.

“Before games he only meets the players for 10 minutes and tells them all their opponent’s weaknesses. His greatest quality is to be authoritarian but at the same time a friend, brother and father. Above all he instils them with pride,” Nuno Luz revealed.

Thereafter he is returned to the laundry basket and wheeled out of the dressing room, lest any eagle-eyed UEFA observer be on the premises.

There’s no mention in the film of eye gouging opposing members of staff, nor of intimidating match officials, verbally abusing players, journalists and football leaders, but perhaps they’ll be available on the DVD extras.

Zlat attack

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been speaking about his experiences at Barcelona, where it’s fair to say he didn’t have the most enjoyable 12 months of his career.

Swedish publication Aftonbladet reports that the striker reveals in his forthcoming autobiography how he told Barca coach Pep Guardiola that he was afraid of then-Inter coach Jose Mourinho and that he could “go to hell”.

“I yelled to him: ‘You have no balls!’ And probably worse things than that. And I added: ‘You are sh***ing yourself about Mourinho! You can go to hell!’ I was completely mad. If I were Guardiola, I would have been frightened,” Ibrahimovic writes in the first chapter of his book.

The Swede also spoke about his feelings for Barcelona’s holy trinity of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

“The atmosphere in the dressing room was way too quiet for me,” he said. “Messi, Iniesta and Xavi always obeyed without protesting. They were like schoolboys. I’m not like that and I couldn’t be myself.”

Ibrahimovic and Barcelona was always going to be an ill-fitting match. The problem, one suspects, arose from his psychological need to be the biggest fish in any pond he inhabits, at a club where Lionel Messi was already bigger than the pond itself.


Wigan Athletic’s summer signing from Barcelona, 18 year old Jessua Angoy Cruyff, the grandson of legendary Dutch player, Johan Cruyff, showed he is a chip off the old block.

Playing for Wigan’s youth team in a Lancashire Cup tie against Preston North End Cruyff lashed home an 81st minute stunner to give his team the lead.