The man who destroyed Spanish football

Only one place to start and that’s in Barcelona where last night Spain’s big two continued their bitter and increasingly theatrical feud. The occasion was the Spanish Supercup second leg, and for the record, Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 3-2, though the game is likely to be remembered less for the result and more for the brawl that marred the closing moments.

Last night’s game marked Cesc Fabregas’ debut for his new club, and the midfielder, who came on as a second half substitute, is unlikely to forget the match in a hurry. He was involved in the build-up to Lionel Messi’s winner, but it was as the victim of a brutal challenge by Real defender, Marcelo, that was his most significant contribution to the night’s entertainment.

The foul sparked the by-now obligatory El Clasico brawl involving players, coaching staff and anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity. Real coach Jose Mourinho played his pantomime villain role to perfection: striding through the melee before slyly grabbing the face of Barcelona assistant coach Tito Vilanova.

After the game Barca defender Gerard Piqué fumed at the Portuguese’s actions, saying: “I do not talk about the brawl. But it’s a shame, it is not the first time and it’s always the same. Someone has to take action on the matter. Mourinho is destroying Spanish football.”

Which, although a little melodramatic, does hint at the rancour Mourinho has engendered since he arrived in Spain last year.

Meanwhile, Xavi, who rarely leaves home without donning his cloak of sanctimony, was equally scathing about Madrid.

“The image of Real Madrid is pathetic!… [Marcelo’s tackle on Cesc] was a criminal and bestial foul. We [Barcelona] try to play football.”

Marcelo’s foul, it has to be said, was awful, though in mitigation, the Brazilian could point to the fact that he had spent the entire evening receiving monkey chants from the Barcelona supporters.

Perhaps, Xavi and Puyol, when they eventually dismount from their high horse, will be equally forthright in their condemnation of the racists among Barcelona’s support.

Goals of the day

Pick any one of three from Barcelona’s Supercup triumph.

First, Lionel Messi’s wonderful through ball set Anres Iniesta free on goal, and the Spanish international chipped Iker Casillas.

Messi himself produced one of his trademark dink lobs over the Real keeper, but it was a cheeky back heel from Gerard Pique that made the goal.

The winner came in the closing minutes and once again involved Messi, who ended a neat move with an emphatic volley past Casillas.

Manager on the verge of a nervous breakdown

Arsene Wenger will find out today whether he will be charged by UEFA for breaching the conditions of his touchline ban by making contact with the Arsenal bench during the Gunners’ 1-0 win over Udinese on Tuesday.

In what has been a bad week for him, the Gunners boss may also find out whether he can still rely on the services of Samir Nasri for the rest of the season. Reports indicate that Manchester City are close to agreeing a deal for the French midfielder.

It was only a matter of weeks ago that Wenger dismissed the possibility of losing both Nasri and Cesc Fabregas.

“Imagine the worst situation – we lose Fabregas and Nasri,” stated Wenger. “You cannot convince people you are ambitious after that. You cannot pretend you are a big club.”

Sometimes, no comment is necessary.

Anatomy of a transfer

Arsenal’s rivals Tottenham find themselves in a similar predicament. Like their north London neighbours, they aspire to be part of the European elite, but unless they get there, they remain vulnerable to unwanted approaches for their personnel from wealthier nouveau riche rivals.

While Arsenal look set to lose Nasri to Manchester City, the original vulgarians, Chelsea, have trained their sights on Spurs midfielder Luka Modric.

Tottenham’s stance, with regard to the Croat, is a classic demonstration of the five stages of transfer grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

In June, chairman Daniel Levy said in a statement denying the possibility that Modric would leave.

“I wish to make it absolutely clear, as I have said previously, that none of our key players will be sold this summer,” he said. “In respect of Luka Modric, we are not prepared to sell, at any price, to Chelsea Football Club or any other club.”

In July, Spurs manager Harry Redknapp angrily dismissed fresh reports that the player would be sold.

“No, only the same response, we don’t want to sell him,” he told Sky Sports News. “There is nowhere to go with it really, the chairman has made a stance and he’s not for sale – and that’s it.”

But, ever the wheeler dealer, Redknapp was still prepared to bargain. You can take the boy out of the east end…

“Obviously I still think £27million is a poor offer for a player of that ability,” he said. “In my opinion it would not be anywhere near what I would think he was valued at, if he was for sale – but he’s not for sale.

Modric, as Redknapp acknowledged, became unhappy when he discovered that Spurs were attempting to block a move to Chelsea.

“He’s going to remain here, but there is no point me saying he’s walked in here today and everything is great, he’s happy and he’s going to stay,” said Redknapp. “The kid is a bit confused at the moment and it’s not been easy for him. I’d be telling you lies if I said he’s happy and he doesn’t want to go and play for whoever wants him – I think there are three or four of the top five that want him. But we want to keep him here.

In August, well, it would appear that Redknapp’s stance has softened somewhat and he is beginning to accept that there is little point trying to keep a player who wants to leave.

“You either sell him, go out and bring three or four players in and have a better team, probably, in all honesty, or you keep him,” he said. “When someone comes along and offers to treble your wages and gives you the chance to play in a team that can win the Champions League, it’s not easy.”

In September, Modric makes his debut for Chelsea?

World Under-20 World Cup

Portugal will meet Brazil in the final of the World U-20 World Cup. Victories over France and Mexico respectively ensured they would meet in Sunday’s finale in Colombia.

In reaching the final Portugal have now gone 615 minutes of football without conceding a goal, the second-highest duration in the history of the competition. The Portuguese need to keep it tight for just 19 more minutes to set a new best mark in Saturday’s final – fittingly against the current record holders.

This moment, in the closing stages of their 2-0 semi-final victory over France, is possibly the closest they’ve come to conceding a goal in the entire tournament

On the move

Anzhi Makhachkala coach Gadzhi Gadzhiev has hailed the impending arrival of Samuel Eto’o at the Russian Premier League side.

“I know nothing”, said Gadzhiev, “and I do not know when it [Eto’o’s signing] happens.”

Nothing like being kept in the loop when you’re a manager of a football club.

The Russian coach, though, remains optimistic that Eto’o is not simply being signed to raise the profile of the club.

He has done all the preparation with Inter, I’m not afraid about this.

”Samuel is not just advertising for us, but a player who will improve Anzhi within two or three years.”

If you build it…

Already under pressure from FIFA to get a move on with their preparations for the World Cup finals, Brazil could have done without a strike taking place at the venue for the 2014 finale.

Construction workers rebuilding the Maracana stadium for the 2014 World Cup finals went on strike after one of their colleagues was badly burnt in an on-site explosion on Wednesday.

Hundreds of workers held a demonstration outside the stadium to draw attention to their demands, which also include higher pay and health care.

The Maracana is due to stage the final of next year’s Confederations Cup, and even if it misses that deadline then it will be ready for the 2014 finals, but rest assured, even if it’s not, then it will almost certainly be ready for the 2016 Rio Olympics. They hope.

How the mighty have fallen

Egypt, champions of the three successive African Cup of Nations (2006, 2008, 2010) have decided to give up on their remaining matches in the 2012 African Cup of Nations qualifiers.

“The two remaining matches, against Niger and Sierra Leone, are not important so it would be good training for the Olympic team ahead of the 2012 qualifiers for the London games,” Egyptian Football Association president Samir Zaher told Reuters.

The Pharoahs, currently sit at the bottom of Group G with two points, and have no chance of reaching the 2012 finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Nonetheless, the decision to effectively play a weakened side in their remaining games is unlikely to do down well with South Africa, who currently top the group.

The revolution will be televised

Just to confirm that pointless brawls are not confined to El Clasico, Adam Moffat & Matt Reis squared up to each other at the end of New England Revolution & Houston Dynamo’s 1-1 draw on Wednesday night. Both players were eventually shown red cards for their part in the fracas. Compared to events in Barcelona though, it really is handbags.


Spare a thought for Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, whose father was kidnapped in Nigeria last week.

A management firm representing the player says the kidnappers have been in touch with his family over the abduction of his father and have made a “sizable” ransom demand.

Sport Entertainment & Media Group issued a statement Thursday morning saying negotiations have begun for the release of Michael Obi.

Remarkably, the player is set to play for for Chelsea on Saturday against West Bromwich Albion.