League to replace international friendlies?

UEFA is considering a radical overhaul of international football that would see national teams playing a new Nations League competition.

The idea, mooted at executive committee meetings that preceded a UEFA meeting in Dubrovnik last month, would see European football’s governing body using existing dates for friendlies in the international calendar to launch a new league involving all 54 member nations.

The Guardian reports that the idea was one of several suggested at the meeting as countries looked at ways to make international football a more attractive proposition.

Under the plans, all UEFA members would be divided into a series of perhaps nine divisions based on their recent results, with promotion and relegation following each round of matches.

The winner of the first division would be UEFA’S Nations League champion and win a cash prize, with the bottom team in each division being relegated in favour of the winner of the division below.

The Norwegian FA president, Yngve Hallen, who sits on UEFA’s national committee for international tournaments, said: “It is true that a series of games is one of the models being discussed.”

If the UEFA Nations League idea is developed, then the European governing body would be likely to look to centralise the TV and marketing rights in the same way as it has for the Champions League.

“The success of the Champions League has already inspired the Europa League. This is also something they are trying to look at in connection with the Nations League – how this can sharpen the market. That’s what this is largely about,” said Hallen.

“But there have been very clear political guidelines from all 54 federations that the focus needs to be on the football/competitive aspect. All countries should have equal opportunities,” he added.

“No-one should have to qualify for this tournament – everyone plays from the first game. And then there is also a recognition that tournament form should be easy to understand for most people. All this we need to work out.”

The Swedish FA representative Karl-Erik Nilsson told Aftonbladet that “it has been established that it is difficult to get interest around friendlies”.

“For 2020 it has been looked at whether it would be possible to combine traditional qualifiers with with this league format, instead of friendlies, to increase interest,” he said.

“It is worth looking at but we were clear that it can’t have an impact on the qualifiers for the Euro tournaments. The qualifiers are No1 and have the highest priority. There won’t be more international games because of this.”

He said the initial reaction among the 54 members was that “creating more interest is not something negative”.

Nilsson added: “All 54 members were in Croatia and the idea was presented from a perspective of: is this worth looking at? And the overall feeling was: ‘let’s look at it but don’t let it have an impact on the qualifiers’.”

With interest in friendly internationals at an all time low, the idea has some appeal. One wonders though, whether the likes of England or Spain would be prepared to write off the income they would lose from lucrative friendlies against the likes of Brazil and Argentina. If UEFA could guarantee them financial compensation, one would imagine they would.

Clubs happy with Champions League

The European Club Association (ECA) has insisted it is happy with the UEFA Champions League format after Galatasaray chairman Unal Aysal called for it ti be replaced by a European Super League.

Aysal was talking at the Leaders in Football Conference in London, and stated that the time had come for a new league for Europe.

“I think it is the future of football,” he said. “It has to be created, not after 10 years, but as soon as possible.

“Football is a big industry, a growing industry, and a European super league will bring a lot of support and also energise football in general.

“I think it could be 20 big teams, for example, in Europe, with the last three, four or five teams can change every year.

“I think it can be operated in a proper way in order to make it effective and useful to European football and also to bring new horizons in football.”

Aysal insisted that a Super League would not necessarily mean a breakaway from UEFA, but admitted that this would be a price worth paying to get the new league up and running.

“The system has to be put in place, either by UEFA or by the clubs themselves. Then we will decide if a breakaway will be necessity or not,” he continued.

“It’s not yet totally elaborated and prepared and put on the paper. But it is a concept that is under discussion for a few years. It is not a new concept, but we favour it.

“The first 15-20 big clubs of Europe all agree with this – nobody will say no. Manchester United, Paris St Germain, Real Madrid.

“There may be one or two exceptions for local reasons, political reasons, and I will understand, but as the future for European clubs and the future of football, nobody can say no to this.

“Every reality starts with a dream. At the moment, it looks like a dream, a vision. I am sure, sooner or later, in a maximum of five years’ time, it will be a reality.

“Other clubs’ bosses, presidents and chairman are looking at this opportunity and talking to each other I think we will come together and look into each other’s eyes and follow it.”

However, the European Club Association issued a quick rebuttal to Aysal’s comments, insisting they are more than happy with the current Champions League set-up.

A statement read: “The European Club Association (ECA) has taken note of comments made today regarding the alleged creation of a European Super League in 2018.

“ECA underlines that such an idea was never discussed within the association and never figured on any meeting agenda. ECA is very happy with the current European club competitions.”

Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the head of ECA, said: “Our European Super League is the UEFA Champions League!

“We are very happy with the current competitions and our extremely fruitful collaboration with UEFA.

“We will continue to work together with UEFA, and this beyond 2018.”

Real Madrid fines fined for Nazi symbols

A Spanish government commission has imposed fines of 3,000 euros each on four Real Madrid fans who displayed Nazi symbols at last month’s La Liga match against city rivals Atletico at Real’s Bernabeu stadium.

The four were members of the far right “Ultras Sur” group and the symbols displayed including a swastika and the German word “Totenkopf”, a reference to the Nazis’ SS paramilitary organisation, according to an official who asked not to be identified by name.

Real, who lost the match 1-0, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The four, who were not named, were also banned from sporting venues for six months.

The punishments were imposed by Spain’s commission against violence, racism, xenophobia and intolerance in sport.

Goal of the Day

Luc Castaignos scores from a near-impossible angle for Holland’s Under 21s against Georgia.

Quote of the Day

We realise England expects. They expect us to play well in these two games and to win them. It is a big responsibility when you take on the role of manager of an England team. We are England. We are one of the big nations and we are expected to qualify for World Cups and European Championships.”

England coach Roy Hodgson admits that expectations in the country are high, as his side face crucial back-to-back World Cup qualifiers.

Zinedine Zidane aspires to hands on coaching role

Zinedine Zidane has admitted he wants to coach a team in the future, but says being Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant at Real Madrid is “perfect” for now.

Zidane, 41, joined Ancelotti’s technical staff when the Italian took over at the Bernabeu this summer, and he hopes the experience is a stepping stone to a top coaching role.

“That’s the aim,” he said. “I’m just going along my way, I’m learning. I’m in contact with people who are important in football. It’s a good experience.

“With what I’m looking at doing in the future, being assistant to Carlo Ancelotti is perfect. It’s good preparation for the rest of my career. I’m happy. It’s a job full of passion, difficult but interesting.

“There are two assistants, one of which is Paul Clement, who prepares and takes training sessions. It’s very interesting to talk to him because he’s been doing that for 22 years. He explains things well to me. With Ancelotti, we talk more about tactics and the players.”

More of a figurehead under Ancelotti’s predecessor, Jose Mourinho, Zidane is relishing a hands-on role.

“With Mourinho, I wasn’t on the pitch, and wasn’t even involved in what happened on the pitch. I didn’t have any meetings with him about the team, about tactics, about what he wanted to put in place. Now, on the other hand, I have a real role. I have to tell Carlo Ancelotti how I see things,” he explained to L’Equipe, adding the former Paris Saint-Germain coach remains in overall charge.

“There’s a boss, that’s Carlo Ancelotti. He decides, he has the final word. But what’s really great with him is that there is a real exchange on tactics, on players, on the make-up of the team. I’m learning, I see how he works and how I can give him something.”

Chants about Balotelli a sign of respect, says Cannavaro

Italy’s World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro believes supporters chant at Mario Balotelli because they “fear and respect” the Milan striker.

The Italy international has been frequently targeted by groups of opposing fans since his return to Serie A in January, with Roma issued a fine last season due to offensive singing within the stands while Inter supporters also verbally abused the forward during February’s Milan derby.

The former Manchester City man was again subjected to chants by Juventus fans despite not playing for the Rossoneri in their 3-2 defeat in Turin, but Cannavaro the striker should take the the abuse as a compliment.

“[Balotelli chants are caused by] fear, perhaps respect. He has an attitude they don’t like, then he is strong and opponents are scared of him. That’s why they goad him,” Cannavaro wrote in Gazzetta dello Sport.

Milan CEO Adriano Galliani was furious after his side was handed a stadium ban following insulting chants against Neapolitans and Cannavaro agrees that the actions of the minority of fans are motivated by “stupidity” rather than racial hatred.

“The insults are not racism, but stupidity. I’ve been called a ‘southerner’ a thousand times, and [Lilian] Thuram once told me, ‘Calm down Fabio, they’re insulting me more than you today’ when were playing in Verona,” the 40-year-old added.

Pele sued for child support

Two teenage grandchildren of Brazil football legend Pele are suing him for child support, according to the Diario de Sao Paulo.

The two, aged 13 and 15, are the sons of Pele’s daughter Sandra Regina, who died in 2006.

They are seeking support payment of $6 000 for each to cover health insurance and education as well compensation of an unspecified amount.

The newspaper quoted their lawyer, Claudio Forssell, as saying that the teenagers “were abandoned intellectually, morally and materially” by their grandfather.

“Pele always rejected them,” according to the lawyer who said the teenagers had not met with their grandfather since 2011.

Pending a final ruling scheduled for next month, judges ordered Pele to pay each grandchild $760.

Pele, now 72, is considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, having helped Brazil win World Cup titles in 1958, 1962 and 1970.