FIFA has more to worry about than the desert heat of Qatar

The heat at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar should be the least of the sport’s concerns given the more pressing problems surrounding next year’s competition in Brazil, according to the world players’ union FIFPro.

FIFPro secretary general Theo van Seggelen said other important issues such as the transfer system and third-party ownership of players were also being marginalised by the ongoing debate over the timing of the Qatar World Cup.

“It astonishes me that the media is obsessed with Qatar in nine years’ time and does not seem very bothered about the World Cup in 2014,” Van Seggelen told Reuters.

Van Seggelen, speaking after a meeting with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, said travelling and, ironically given the preoccupation with Qatar, heat, were FIFPro’s biggest concerns for next year, where some matches are being scheduled to kick off at 1300 local time in tropical venues.

“I spoke to the Italian and Spanish players after the semi-final and they said it was impossible to play extra time in that heat, and that was a late afternoon kickoff,” he continued.

“We have to realize that it’s not just the quality of the game that is affected, but the players’ health could be damaged.

“The travelling is also a problem, you have four-hour flights in some cases and when you have just played a tough game and only have a few days to recover, that also has an effect.”

The Dutchman added he was waiting for a detailed report about the conditions in Brazil before taking the matter up with FIFA again.

Van Seggelen warned that after FIFA failed to consult players over plans for 2014, FIFPro would take a tougher stance in the future.

“Unfortunately, we are going to have to start playing hardball, not because we want to but because we have no other choice,” he said.

With the clubs unhappy with the way the game is being run, and the players’ representatives also beginning to flex their muscles, perhaps a Perfect Storm centred on Qatar is on the horizon.

Paolo Di Canio and the Sunderland fiasco

Today’s Telegraph has published details of the dramatic departure of Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio and the player revolt that left his position untenable.

The Rome-born Di Canio clearly saw himself as a warrior-style leader in the Augustus mould, but the more we learn about his brief but tormented reign at the Stadium of Light, the Roman emperor that immediately to mind is Caligula.

Having angered many supporters with his provocative stance after the final whistle following Saturday’s dismal 3-0 defeat to West Brom, Di Canio marched into the away dressing room and launched into one of his by now trademark tirades at his players.

Former club captain Lee Cattermole, blamed by Di Canio for West Brom’s third goal, bore the brunt of the verbal assault,

Cattermole, who had come on as a substitute midway through the second half, asked why he was being picked out for blame for the defeat and was backed by team-mates.

Thereafter, according to one witness, all hell broke loose as several players went nose to nose with Di Canio and refused to back down when he challenged them.

The row was brought to a conclusion when one player remarked: “All you have done since you got here is criticise us and the old manager [Martin O’Neill]. The difference is we liked him and would run through walls for him. Nobody likes you here. Nobody wants you here.”

That row prompted a delegation of senior players to visit chief executive Margaret Byrne and director of football Roberto De Fanti on Sunday.

They accused Di Canio of behaving like a dictator and revealed he had lost the dressing room to such an extent that certain players were going to refuse to play for him again.

At that point, there was no way back for the Italian. And, unless his man management skills improve dramatically, there may never be a way back into football management for him.

Singapore match fixing gang the world’s largest

A football match-fixing ring based in Singapore was the world’s “largest and most aggressive” such operation, according to an Interpol chief.

International Criminal Police Organization Secretary-General Ronald Noble hailed the arrest in Singapore last week of 14 suspects.

“I’m confident that Singapore law enforcement authorities have arrested the mastermind and leader of the world’s most notorious match-fixing syndicate,” Noble said.

“It is significant because this syndicate is considered the world’s largest and most aggressive match-fixing syndicate, with tentacles reaching every continent and the mastermind was someone many believed was untouchable.

A source confirmed to AFP that among those arrested was Singaporean businessman Dan Tan, the syndicate’s suspected head.

The European police agency Europol in February said it had smashed a network which had fixed hundreds of games, including the Champions League matches and World Cup qualifiers.

Tan, whose full name is Tan Seet Eng, has denied involvement in match-fixing.

“Why I’m suddenly described as a match-fixer, I don’t know. I’m innocent,” he told Singapore’s The New Paper in 2011 in his only known media interview.

Tan, however, has a standing warrant for his arrest issued by Italian investigators over the wide-ranging “calcioscommesse“, or football betting, scandal, which implicated a swathe of big names and clubs.

In May, Tan was also charged in Hungary over the alleged manipulation of 32 games in three countries.

Bittersweet loss for Spanish football

La Liga president Javier Tebas has played down the significance of this summer’s departure of many top players from Spain.

Only Barcelona and Real Madrid made notable purchases in the close season, with the champions signing Neymar from Brazil’s Santos for €57 million (Dh282 million) and Gareth Bale joining Real for a world record €100 million from England’s Tottenham Hotspur.

Other La Liga clubs were forced to sell their best players as as they started coming to terms with Spain’s deepening economic crisis.

The likes of Radamel Falcao, who left Atletico Madrid for French league club Monaco for €60 million, Roberto Soldado who moved from Valencia to Tottenham for £26 million, and Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Nevas both of whom left Sevilla for Manchester City for a combined £31.3 million, highlighted an unprecedented drain of talent from Spanish football.

Tebas seemed unperturbed, telling Gulf News he wasn’t concerned by the departures. “Many of the stars still remain. It could be happening at some of the clubs that are adjusting their balance sheets,” he said.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet taste. Some players are leaving and some clubs could be a concern, but at the same time it is one step back and two or three steps forward because in two years those clubs will be in a great situation to be competitive and get the best players again.”

Perhaps, but the reality of Spanish football is that several clubs are struggling to stay afloat. Deportivo La Coruna are in administration and struggling to survive with debts of €150 million, while Malaga have been banned from  Champions League participation — as part of UEFA’s new financial fair play initiative — for failing to balance their books.

Tebas said: “Not only are we concerned but we are doing something about it. Malaga has to be congratulated because in one year they have adjusted their balance sheet in an outstanding manner and we are collaborating with Deportivo to avoid the club disappearing.”

Meanwhile, regarding Barcelona and Real Madrid’s domination of the league, a trend that can only be exacerbated by their  economic strength relative to the rest of Spanish football, Tebas, lifted his head from the sand to reply: “You have to see it in perspective. We’ve witnessed probably one of the best teams in history in Barcelona in recent years. But when they become mortal then we will see the true reality of the situation.”

And of the English Premier League’s claims on Spain’s supposed ‘top league’ league, Tebas said: “In the last UEFA Champions League there were two Spanish sides in the semi-final, so perhaps that’s a question for the other leagues to answer.”

And those teams were?

Goal of the Day

Going down the divisions to the Belgian second tier and a remarkable effort from Hoogstraten’s Glenn Van der Linden, who sees his penalty kick saved before reacting quickly to volley an overhead shot past Mouscron keeper Alexandre Oukidja.

Quote of the day

“Of course, I don’t know [what my best team is]. “But the players have to give me the answers. I cannot dig and dig and dig looking for the best team. The players must give me the answer.”

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho admits he is struggling to identify his best team.

Benfica coach Jorge Jesus paying the price

Benfica coach Jorge Jesus could be in serious trouble after he grappled with police following his side’s 1-0 win at Vitoria Guimaeres.

The 59-year-old was unhappy with the police’s treatment of a pitch invader, who was wrestled to the ground after running on to celebrate following the  away victory.

Jesus initially tries to take hold of the fan himself, but as police pinned the  supporter to the floor, Jesus began pushing and shoving officers until he too was led away.

“The fans came on the pitch and security tried to block one of them and I wanted them to leave him alone as he only wanted to look for a (player’s) jersey,” Jesus said afterwards.

However, he was later arrested and questioned for interfering with police work and, in addition to any minor criminal charges. 

A Bola claim that no officials charges have been brought against Jesus yet, but Eurosport have confirmed that in addition to any criminal charges, Jesus could face a touchline ban of up to three years.

Why Real Madrid broke the bank to sign Gareth Bale

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has claimed the Spanish side decided to act fast to sign Gareth Bale because Manchester United had bid for him.

Bale, 24, finally confirmed his move to the Bernabeu for £86million a day before the transfer deadline, although had it been up to Perez, the deal would have gone through in 12 months time.

Perez said: “Tottenham did not want to sell and we respected that.

“Then, when we found out that Manchester United would be making an offer, we made our own.

“Since his childhood he had the dream of playing for Real Madrid and he asked us to make it possible for him to come.”

Perez also claimed that, despite his world record transfer fee, Bale represented a bargain.

He added: “Bale was cheap.

“The signing of Gareth Bale is the model of Real Madrid, signing the best player in the world at this moment, and that is what I say.

“All the great players of Real Madrid have been cheap. I will not say the amount, but we must not focus too much on the purchase price.”

For Bale’s sake, perhaps it’s best if they don’t.