Europe

The Russian League plan to switch to playing through the winter, but James Appell wonders if anyone checked the weather forecast

Russia in winter is not an especially pleasant place, even when you’re wearing a thick coat. It can’t be any better wearing football kit. But the Russian Football Premier League (RFPL) have in recent years been considering moving the season of the top two divisions from summer to winter, in keeping with the majority of Europe’s major championships. Russia’s footballers will have been phoning through orders for thermal underwear since July 29 when the RFPL officially unveiled the plan to switch to an autumn-spring season by 2012. “The most important of our goals is the move to an autumn-spring system,” RFPL president Sergey Pryadkin told the press. “It’s difficult to give a fixed time-frame at this moment, but we expect this to occur in an even-numbered year where there will be a break for the European Championship or World Cup. It’s possible that it will be 2012. This is the way forward from a commercial point of view.”

The conflict with Russia placed Georgian football in the forefront of the struggle to maintain morale, as Jonathan Wilson explains

Under normal circumstances, Wales’s friendly against Georgia in August would not have been of too much concern to anyone – perhaps not even those playing in it. As Russian military support for the separatist regions of South ­Ossetia and Abkhazia continued, however, and threatened at one point to escalate into a march on Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, it became for the visitors a rallying point.

Olympiakos’s Champions League qualifier against Anorthosis did not go to plan for the Greeks. Paul Pomonis reports on Cypriot joy

The elimination of Olympiakos in the third qualifying round of the Champions League at the hands of Cypriot champions Anorthosis Famagusta was greeted in Greece with the traditional mixture of disbelief and outrage reserved for national sporting disasters: “Grief and unending sorrow”, “Crime and punishment” screamed two Olympiakos-friendly Athens sport papers. Although Anorthosis were grudgingly recognised as worthy winners, they were offered scant credit for their qualification, which was instead blamed on Olympiakos’s “bad luck” and “fatal mistakes”. As Anorthosis veteran Stefanos Lyssandrou noted: “It is as if Olympiakos were alone on the pitch.” Even at the hour of Cypriot football’s biggest triumph, the Greeks chose to completely ignore their “brethren”.

Financial restraints are making the Irish leagues consider dramatic changes, writes Geoff Wallis

As AGMs go it was as cosy as they come when the Football Association of Ireland met in Castlebar, County Mayo, on July 26. Chief executive John Delaney reported a healthy increase in turnover, that financial plans were well in place to secure the FAI’s role when the rebuilt Lansdowne Road reopens in 2010, and that their assumption of control over the Eircom League had seen an aggregate attendance rise of 100,000 over the last year. That figure represents slightly more per game than the mere 320 who attended the 4‑0 victory by Waterford (Delaney’s local side) over Longford the previous night.

Bologna have been taken over by Americans. Matthew Barker assesses whether this heralds a new era in Italian club ownership

Earlier this summer, after three years in Serie B, Bologna won promotion back to Italy’s top division. The celebrations were two-fold; not only was there success on the field, but off it a new takeover deal was announced just as the season was coming to a close. Joe Tacopina was the public face of an American consortium that paid €20 million (£16m) for an 80 per cent share of the club, with current owner and president Alfredo Cazzola set to cede the remaining 20 per cent in August 2009.

There's a new name in the German top flight and it belongs to a village team financed by a software billionaire. FC Hoffenheim's success has not been too popular, as Dominic Hinde explains

Tiny FC Hoffenheim achieved promotion to Germany’s top flight at the end of last season. It should be a story to warm the hearts of football fans everywhere. Yet many believe they shouldn’t be in the Bundesliga.

Joao Pinto, one of Portugal's feted 'Golden Generation' and the scourge of England in 2000, has retired. Phil Town looks back at his career

So farewell, then, João Vieira Pinto. The diminutive forward has retired at the age of 36 after a colourful career that started stratospherically, with two World Cup winner’s medals at Under-20 level nearly two decades ago. Among the highs along the way was a glorious display and hat-trick in Benfica’s 6-3 away crushing of Sporting in 1994 – for which JVP was awarded an unprecedented 10 out of 10 by sports daily A Bola – and that sublime headed goal against England at Euro 2000. The lows included an ignominious exit from Benfica in 2000 – he was considered surplus to requirements by the subsequently disgraced club president João Vale e Azevedo – and a six-month ban from football after punching referee Angel Sanchez in the defeat against South Korea in 2002, an aberration that effectively ended his international career.

FC Vaduz have become unwelcome guests in the Swiss top flight, writes Paul Joyce

The 35,365 citizens of Liechtenstein, the principality of only 62 square miles wedged between Switzerland and Austria, barely raised an eyebrow in March 2007 when Swiss troops on exercise mistakenly wandered into their country. An invasion in the other direction, however, is currently proving more controversial.

Zenit St Petersburg may be suddenly popular in one half of Glasgow, but the manner of their success means they have been losing fans in Russia. Saul Pope explains

Not many people outside Russia know it, but the country has two capitals. Moscow, the official capital, is the centre of business, politics and power; its people are seen elsewhere as being arrogant and pushy. St Petersburg, the “Northern capital”, is the country’s centre for culture and the arts; its people are considered to be polite and intelligent, although Muscovites see them as provincial. This dichotomy has largely been true of post-Communist Russian football: Zenit St Petersburg have played a stylish and attacking game, and have become popular among fans outside Moscow, but have always been outshone by the capital’s big guns. Until now, that is.

They reached European semi-finals in five consecutive seasons in the 1990s, but Paris Saint-Germain are in a sustained slump. Their fans aren't making them very popular either, writes James Eastham

Sympathy for Paris Saint-Germain is often in short supply in France, yet you had to feel a little sorry for them after the 2008 French Cup final. They dominated but ended up losing 1-0 to Lyon in extra time. It was, admitted winning goalkeeper Gregory Coupet, “un joli hold-up”.

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday