Political football

With the kick-off to Euro 2012 just 38 days away, there’s a storm brewing in one of the co-hosts, Ukraine.

Today’s Guardian reports that a diplomatic boycott of the event is being mooted by many European leaders.

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she and her cabinet would not attend any games played in Ukraine, which is co-hosting the tournament with Poland, unless the human rights situation under President Viktor Yanukovych improved.

Since then, more politicians have expressed their reluctance to attend unless Ukraine freed the opposition leader, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, was jailed for seven years in October after what her supporters claim was a politically motivated show trial.

Even Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former prime minister, called the campaign to free Tymoshenko “a political battle”.

In a letter published on Sunday in the Messaggero, Berlusconi wrote : “I remain convinced that Kiev authorities have a lot to gain if Ukraine presents itself as host of a large sports event with a decisive step forward in the field of human rights.”

And when Berlusconi starts complaining about the state of human rights in a country, then you know the situation must be grim.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that in the absence of all these European dignitaries, the number of available hotel rooms in Ukraine has literally doubled overnight.

Pay loads

Barcelona remain the best paid team in global sport measured by average first-team wages, with Real Madrid in second place. However, Premier League arrivistes Manchester City continue to close the gap on the Spanish pair according to the latest Sportingintelligence Global Sports Salaries Survey.

Details of the top 278 earners can be found here, but the most striking aspect of the survey is that the best paid sportsmen (on average) can now be found in the major football leagues of Europe.

When the survey was first published in 2010, baseball’s New York Yankees were No 1, and the top 10 included seven American sports teams, six of them from the NBA. A lot has changed in just 2 years, nowhere more so than at Manchester City, where at their current rate of progress (26 per cent salary increase on 2011), the Sheikh Mansour-fuelled spending spree will soon transform the club into the best paid sporting institution in the world.

The NBA remains the best-paid league overall per man, with average annual salaries of £2.65m a year, or £50,883 per player per week on average. Interestingly, the gap between the best and worst paid is tiny. The LA Lakers are the highest paying team in the NBA and the Indian Pacers the lowest, and the difference between the two is a ratio of 1.86 to 1. For all their free market instincts, Americans do, by and large, prefer the sporting arena to be largely egalitarian.

In contrast, and for those of you who’ve ever wondered why Spanish football is always a two-horse race, the ratio between the best paid and worst paid clubs in Spain is an astonishing 22.81 to 1.

Rank (last year) – Team – League – Ave player pay, £ per year (week)

1 (1) Barcelona * La Liga £5,260,313 (£101,160)
2 (2) Real Madrid La Liga £4,724,662 (£90,859)
3 (10) Manchester City * EPL £4,486,580 (£86,280)
4 (6) Chelsea EPL £4,118,227 (£79,197)
5 (4) LA Lakers * NBA £3,804,441 (£73,162)
6 (3) New York Yankees * MLB £3,748,831 (£72,093)
7 (14) Milan * Serie A £3,699,411 (£71,143)
8 (12) Bayern Munich * Bundesliga £3,579,961 (£68,845)
9 (13) Philadelphia Phillies MLB £3,525,612 (£67,800)
10 (7) Internazionale Serie A £3,454,681 (£66,436)

11 (16) Manchester United EPL £3,345,911 (£64,344)
12 (43) San Antonio Spurs NBA £3,302,712 (£63,514)
13 (28) LA Angels MLB £3,228,139 (£62,080)
14 (42) Chicago Bulls NBA £3,226,329 (£62,045)
15 (15) Boston Celtics NBA £3,224,721 (£62,014)
16 (22) Arsenal EPL £3,199,678 (£61,532)
17 (58) Miami Heat NBA £3,188,496 (£61,317)
18 (20) Liverpool EPL £3,169,631 (£60,954)
19 (8) Boston Red Sox MLB £3,086,731 (£59,360)
20 (27) Memphis Grizzlies NBA £3,040,693 (£58,475)

Goal of the day

The derby between Wisla Krakow and their neighbours, KS Cracovia, is contested between the two oldest clubs in Poland and is known as the Holy War. Monday’s encounter between the two teams was more significant than usual, with Maor Melikson scoring the goal that not only won the match for Wisla, but also resulted in their local rivals being relegated.


Quote of the day

“I’m like a wine: the older I am, the better I get.”

The ever-modest Zlatan Ibrahomovic explains the secret of his enduring success to Aftonbladet.

Row of the day

Age shall not wither him… He may be 70, but Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, showed during last night’s Manchester derby that he has not lost his appetite for a scrap. Trailing 1-0 and facing the ignominy of seeing his side squander an eight-point lead in the title race to their arch-rivals, Ferguson took exception to City counterpart, Roberto Mancini, speaking to the fourth official. Pot, kettle, black.

No home to go to

Lazio may not be allowed to use the Stadio Olimpico for European matches next season after failing to agree a deal with the stadium’s owners.

The Rome club needed to come to an arrangement with owners Coni by Monday, so they could be granted a licence by UEFA to host European football at the ground next season.

However, with the deadline having now passed, Coni president Gianni Petrucci has confirmed an agreement was not reached between both parties.

“The more time passes, the more I realise that with some people it is impossible to get along,” Petrucci told news agency ANSA.

Further bad news for the Rome side came with a €20,000 fine for their protests at the end of Sunday’s encounter with Udinese.

A brawl erupted after Roberto Pereyra scored Udinese’s second goal, with Lazio players unhappy because they thought the final whistle had been blown.

For their parts in the fracas, goalkeeper Federico Marchetti and defender Andrew Dias were banned until the end of the season. 

Jet propelled back into league

The Newcastle Jets will remain in the A-League after Football Federation Australia (FFA) and Nathan Tinkler’s Hunter Sports Group reached an agreement.

Australia’s youngest billionaire, Tinkler, will continue to run the Jets after resolving its differences with FFA.

Tinkler’s sports management group said three weeks ago that it was returning its license 18 months into a 10-year agreement because of “an irrevocable breakdown in confidence of the FFA management.”

But, after talks with Frank Lowy, a fellow billionaire and chairman of FFA, a peace deal was brokered and the club agreed to remain part of the A-League.

“It was a good opportunity for Nathan and I to meet face-to-face and resolve the issues that had affected the relationship between FFA and HSG,” Lowy said.

Tinkler’s distrust of journalists is legendary. He once told a reporter from Fairfax: “You’re a fucking deadbeat, people like me don’t bother with fucking you. You climb out of your bed every morning for your pathetic hundred grand a year, good luck.

Unsurprisingly, he responds better to approaches from billionaires.

“Frank Lowy flew to Brisbane to meet with me face-to-face and I took that as a sign of goodwill,” said Tinkler.

“I am delighted to be able to support the Newcastle Jets on behalf of football fans in the Hunter region and to continue to build a strong relationship with the community.”

Strike action

Radnicki, leaders of the Serb second division, lost 1-0 at third-placed Sloga Kraljevo on Sunday, but the match got off to a strange start as the visitors refused to play for the opening two minutes.

The referee blowing his whistle for the kick-off was the signal for all Radnicki players to drop to the floor. They remained there for a couple of minutes as the referee approached the keeper to find out what was going on.

Afterwards, Radnicki skipper Zoran Vaskovic, explained why the players had downed tools.

“The whole team agreed to make clear that we are not alone just because the owners don’t want to talk to us,” he said. “The owners promised to pay our unpaid wages but they haven’t. This was an announcement of  our proposed next steps.”

Oasis of calm

Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher made a surprise appearance at the official post-match press conference following Manchester City’s victory over rivals United on Monday.

City fan Gallagher gatecrashed the press-centre, took the seat reserved for boss Roberto Mancini, stating to the assembled press corps: “[Manchester United manager Sir Alex] Ferguson must have been on the whisky.”

He then said of Mancini, “he is nearly as cool as me.” To top it off, Gallagher hugged goalscorer Vincent Kompany with the words “Viva La Belgium”, and left the room.

Gallagher also posted a picture on Twitter of his meeting with Argentina legend Diego Maradona, who was at the game to watch his son-in-law (City striker) Sergio Aguero, accompanied by the words: ‘Maradona shakes the hand of God!’

Saint-Etienne and sinners

A number of Lyon players could face sanctions for joining in on derogatory chants about Saint-Etienne following their 1-0 French Cup final victory over Quevilly on Saturday.

The trophy was presented to the fans outside the team’s hotel in front of thousands of supporters. Several players including Cris, Maxime Gonalons, Alexandre Lacazette, Samuel Umititi and Jimmy Briand joined in the chants that mocked their rival club.

Saint-Etienne president Bernard Caiazo stated: “It is the duty of the players and officials to be respectful and not do something that can lead supporters to misbehave.

“It is quite undignified, I do not understand it. There are some big derbies, like Manchester City v Manchester United … you cannot imagine that the players [from these clubs] start singing these type of songs.”

Oh, I wouldn’t be too sure of that. Looking at the way the managers of those respective clubs are towards each other, I wouldn’t rule anything out.

Caiazo added that he will appeal to the LFP in an attempt to pursue the matter. Meanwhile, Jeremie Janot, keeper of Saint-Etienne, was also critical of the players’ actions.

“If, by any chance, there is misbehaviour and violence at the next derby, they are largely responsible. They have stirred up hatred,” Janot stated on Twitter.

“The Lyon players responsible for singing anti-Etienne chants must be punished! They have a duty to set an example. It is unacceptable,” he added.