All aboard the poppy bandwagon

British Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the ban on England’s footballers wearing poppies on their kit, calling it “outrageous”.

Political antenna twitching, and sensing that this issue could be a potential vote winner, Cameron said he hopes FIFA will reconsider its decision to ban the poppies for England’s friendly against Spain on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.

“This seems outrageous. The idea that wearing a poppy to remember those who have given their lives for our freedom is a political act is absurd. Wearing a poppy is an act of huge respect and national pride. I hope that FIFA will reconsider.”

FIFA has done just that and decided to stick to its guns.

A letter from FIFA to the FA sent on Tuesday said: “We regret to inform you that accepting such initiatives would open the door to similar initiatives from all over the world, jeopardising the neutrality of football. Therefore, we confirm herewith that the suggested embroidery on the match shirt cannot be authorised.”

That’s the end of that then. Except  the FA have responded by confirming that players and fans will be able to mark Remembrance Day in 12 other ways (yes 12!). Among them is that players will wear black armbands during the Spain game; presumably to commemorate the death of common sense.

Cynics, weary of the talk about wearing one’s poppy with pride rather than a sense of sadness and gratitude for the sacrifices made, may wish to take a look at the Daily Mash’s take on the burning issue of the day.

Political football

When Cameron climbs down from his high horse he may be interested to learn that his Culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has been accused of attempting to delay a Panorama exposé of FIFA bribery in case it jeopardised England’s bid to host the 2018 football World Cup.

The Guardian reports today that John Ware, a reporter on the BBC TV Panorama programme, alleged that a Government Minister, understood to be Hunt, phoned the BBC director general, Mark Thompson, in November 2010 and told him it would be “helpful” if the corporation delayed the programme.

“The director general then said ‘Did you want me to phone the editor and tell him to delay it? Within minutes it will end up on MediaGuardian and it will be on your doorstep. Is that what you want?’,” Ware added.

A spokeswoman for Hunt’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport declined to confirm or deny whether he called Thompson to press him to delay the Panorama broadcast.

“Jeremy Hunt has never done, and would never do, anything to undermine the editorial independence of the BBC,” the DCMS added in a statement.

He’s a politician, it’s inconceivable he would do anything unethical.

Managerial merry-go-round

Davide Ballardini has been named Cagliari coach on Wednesday following the sacking of Massimo Ficcadenti after the Sardinian club only managed to take three points from their last five matches in Serie A.

Ficcadenti became the seventh Serie A coach fired since the pre-season and the second in two days.

Sinisa Mihajlovic was replaced by Delio Rossi at Fiorentina, while at Cesena, Daniele Arrigoni has taken over from Marco Giampaolo.

Palermo sacked Stefano Pioli before the season started, replaced by Devis Mangia, before reappearing at Bologna, who had fired Pierpaolo Bisoli. And Gian Piero Gasperini’s spot as Inter coach went to Claudio Ranieri.

Confused? Perhaps best you don’t follow the political situation in Italy at the moment.

Tevez goes AWOL

Carlos Tevez faces further censure from Manchester City after he failed to turn up for training.

The striker flew to Argentina on Tuesday but he was expected to return to England for Wednesday’s training session.

On arriving at Buenos Aires airport with his daughter Florencia, Tevez said only: “I am here to get some rest.” Obviously, six weeks without a game has really taken it out of the poor lamb.

Tevez’s disappearance is not entirely out of the blue; his representatives asked City’s temporary chief executive John McBeath at the weekend if the 27-year-old could spend a week in Argentina but the request was denied.

It is understood that Tevez believes a move away from Etihad Stadium in the next transfer window is his best option. If he carries on like this, City will help him pack his bags and pay for a one-way ticket out of Manchester.

The numbers game

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola has backed his president’s call for a reduction in the number of clubs in La Liga from 20 to 16.

On Tuesday, Barca chief Sandro Roselli argued that La Liga should be cut down from 20 to 16 clubs to make the division more competitive.

“It will be a much more competitive league with 16 compared to 20 clubs,” Guardiola said. “But I don’t know [how it would work].”

You’d play fewer games, would be my guess.

“I think to win the titles, to win the games, is always difficult,” he continued.  I understand the game and I understand the sport in that way. Nothing is simple.”

Guardiola also stated that the decrease in club numbers would also give players more time to recover between games.

“You will have more time to rest, but I think that would increase the number of international friendly games,” he added.

If nothing else, cutting the numbers in La Liga would be a relatively painless method of increasing the TV payouts to top flight clubs. Real Madrid and Barcelona would earn the same as they do now, while the rest could divide the pool between 14 rather than 18. It’s an accounting sleight of hand, but if the numbers are attractive enough, it may persuade the turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Tough justice?

Former Juventus executive Luciano Moggi has been sentenced to five years, four months in prison by a Naples court for his role in the 2006 Italian match-fixing scandal.

Former referee selector Paolo Bergamo was sentenced to three years, eight months and colleague Pierluigi Pairetto was handed a 16-month sentence.

Former Italian soccer federation vice president Innocenzo Mazzini was sentenced to 26 months and former referee Massimo De Santis was given 23 months.

Fiorentina owners Andrea and Diego Della Valle and Lazio president Claudio Lotito received 15-month sentences for lesser charges, and former Milan executive Leonardo Meani was given a one-year sentence.

Another former Juventus executive, Antonio Giraudo, had already received a three-year sentence and has appealed

From the outside looking in, these sentences appear harsh, but they were broadly welcomed by an Italian sporting press which is keen to put the scandal to bed and move on.

Gazzetta dello Sport’s headline read: “They are guilty. Moggi gets five years and four months.”

An editorial expressed the hope that the sentences will allow the country to move on and focus on the games on the pitch, not off it. “Let’s return to football,” it said.

Corriere dello Sport‘s editorial stated: “This poisoned football – now rigour is needed.”

Turin-based sports newspaper Tuttosport felt the verdict was disproportionate but was glad that Juventus were not considered to be involved directly in the scandal.

Time running out

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke has made his daily appeal to Brazilian politicians to approve the law establishing the legal framework for the 2014 World Cup, stating “we can’t lose a single day.”

“We are late, we can’t lose a single day,” Valcke said, according to the Associated Press. “We need to start working together now or we won’t start at all.”

Ricardo Teixeira, president of the local organising committee and of the Brazilian Football Federation, broke ranks with his compatriots by urging the politicians to pull their fingers out.

He said: “We live in a democracy, it’s healthy to have this debate, but time is not on our side anymore. Brazil made commitments to FIFA and now it’s time to deliver an unforgettable World Cup.”

Back to work

Christoph Daum, who had not worked since Eintracht Frankfurt’s relegation from the Bundesliga last season, has agreed to take over Belgium’s Club Bruges.

Daum, who was set to become the coach of Germany until his predilection for cocaine was exposed, has coached Cologne, Stuttgart and Bayer Leverkusen and has previously worked in Turkey and Austria.

He takes over a side lying fourth in the Belgian championship with 22 points from 13 games, seven behind leaders Anderlecht.

Bad boy

Rafa Marquez has been left off Mexico’s squad for Friday’s friendly game against Serbia because of a lack of discipline that led to a three-game suspension from Major League Soccer, coach Jose Manuel De La Torre has confirmed.

The 32-year-old defender was sent off at the end of New York Red Bulls-LA Galaxy game for throwing a ball at Landon Donovan

De La Torre, who it would be fair to describe as ‘old school’ when it comes to discipline, may also be using the situation to plan for the post-Marquez era.

“I think it’s clear, discipline is always going to be a priority in the national team,” De La Torre said. “We’ve tried to be fair to the facts and take the decisions about who to call up and who not.

“When we call players up, we take into account everything that happens on and off the pitch, at all times, every day and everywhere. (Marquez) has been an exemplary person, with a glorious career, but everyone can make mistakes.”

“I spoke to him on the phone to say I was not going to call him up. The absence of Rafael Marquez is not final, I am not going to say that.”


Valentin Ivanov, one of the Soviet Union’s greatest players, has died at the age of 76.

Ivanov helped the Soviets reach the World Cup quarter-finals in Chile. He scored four goals and shared the Golden Boot with five others. He also played on the Soviet team that won the gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and was a ember of the side that won the 1960 European Championships.

Ivanov spent his entire career at Torpedo, the Moscow club where he played from 1952 until 1966. He was the team’s highest scorer with 124 goals in 287 games.

Here’s Ivanov in action for the soviet Union against Colombia at the 1962 World Cup.