Europe

Now definitively part of Germany, for a while the Saar's status was in flux. And, for a fleeting moment in history, the region was also an unlikely centre of footballing attention, explains Paul Joyce

The golden age of football in the Saar – today a region of Germany that borders Luxembourg and France – was a by-product of the tug-of-war over its political status.

For the second time this year, Italian football has been rocked by a violent death, but this time the killer was a policeman and the victim was a fan asleep in a car. Vanda Wilcox examines the tragedy

In the early hours of Sunday November 11, Gabriele Sandri climbed into the back of a friend’s car and went straight to sleep. A group of fans were headed for Milan, to watch Lazio take on Inter. The 28‑year-old shop manager had been up DJ‑ing all night at one of Rome’s best-known night clubs, but his nightlife never stopped him from following Lazio home and away, however far he had to travel. He was friends not only with individuals in the club’s established ultra groups – though not himself a member – but also some players.

Ciudad de Murcia have been taken over and relocated in the manner of Wimbledon moving to Buckinghamshire – while their fans have been ignored, writes Phil Ball

When I was a kid, a mate nicked a bike that was propped up on a lamp-post. I asked him why and he replied: “It’s not tied up. It’s mad not to nick it.” It was a brutal sort of logic, but I shrugged and let him get on with it. I’d forgotten about the incident till this summer, when Carlos Marsá, a 57-year-old industrialist from Granada, bought the shares, footballing rights and contracts of Spanish second-division club Ciudad de Murcia, and changed them into his own Granada 74, thereby effecting an MK Dons-like take-over – or, more prosaically, nicking the bike. Needless to say, as with Wimbledon, various bodies, among them UEFA, have shrugged their shoulders and let him get on with it.

Bohemians of Prague return to the top flight. Frantisek Bouc reports

In mid June, the Czech Republic’s football community had a few significant issues to deal with. National coach Karel Bruckner came under pressure after his team’s mediocre Euro 2008 form continued with a goalless draw in Wales; rumour had it that former German international Lothar Matthäus could soon take over. At the same time, the Czech Under-21 team was taking part in the European Championship in the Netherlands, where they didn’t get past the group stage. However, this was all overshadowed by the return to the top division, the Gambrinus Liga, of one of the country’s most popular clubs, Bohemians of Prague.

Lyon attempt to cement their domestic dominance by floating on the stock market. Steve Menary reports

Olympique Lyonnais dominate their domestic scene in a manner few can match. They have won the past five French titles and are on their way to a sixth, 16 points clear with nine games left at time of writing. Yet though they are routinely tipped as potential Champions League winners, Lyon have always fallen short. To provide a bigger challenge to English, Spanish, Italian and German clubs, they want to quit the 42,000-capacity Stade Gerland and move to a new stadium seating 60,000 and costing €300 million (£200m). They decided a stock-market flotation was the best way to finance the move. But why did the European Commission, which is interested in promoting greater ownership of clubs by fans, force the French government to change the law in order to help Lyon out?

Amid the gloom, some hope that the staging of the 2012 European Championship could be Italy’s Euro 96. Matthew Barker reports on the hopes invested in a bid and the new stadiums that may result

In the weeks leading up to the death of Filippo Raciti, the Italian sporting press was quietly optimistic of a successful bid to host the 2012 European Championship. Ahead of the announcement on April 18, so too were the clubs, with some, notably Juventus and Lazio, unveiling plans for new or rebuilt homes, set to benefit from generous tax concessions and credit deals from a government keen to be seen to back the bid, if reluctant actually to bankroll it.

The financial muscle of Bundesliga clubs is hurting Germany’s lesser lights in unexpected ways. As Paul Joyce explains, ill‑regarded but well funded B teams are squeezing out lower-league sides

In December, José Mourinho dismissed English reserve competitions as “not good enough” for his starlets. “This country should look to other countries, to France and Spain,” where second teams compete in the professional leagues, he declared. He would “love to see” a Chelsea B side play in the Championship. If Mourinho looked to Germany, however, he would see that such an integration of reserve sides has proved deeply unpopular.

When countries had only one European Cup entrant, the UEFA Cup commanded attention. All that seemed to change. But, asks Luke Chapman, is the junior competition now the less predictable one?

Two years ago, after a defensive display in Turin earned Liverpool a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League, a radio reporter light-heartedly asked a Reds fan what was more important: winning the European Cup or ensuring qualification for the competition next year. “Hmm,” pondered the supporter, apparently in all seriousness, “that’s a tough one."

As Juventus go kicking and screaming into Serie B, Matt Barker reports on the failure of the new board to realise just how seriously the Moggi match-fixing scandal has damaged the club's reputation

When, in July, the initial sentences in the Moggiopoli scandal were announced, Juventus appeared to take their punishments with reasonably good grace. They would, club officials claimed, co‑operate fully with the legal process and abide by whatever penalties were imposed. There was talk of a club reborn and, in the shadow of sporting director Gianluca Pess­otto’s attempted suicide, of a more humble side to La Vecchia Sig­nora. Some people even started to feel a little sympathy for them.

Some people are never happy – take Bayern Munich. Dominant at home but toothless abroad, the German champions have taken out their frustration on Owen Hargreaves, as Karsten Blaas reports

When Bayern Munich secure yet another Bundesliga title, mostly with two or three games to spare, the players gather in the centre circle after the final whistle to celebrate. They start jumping up and down and wave at the crowd. One of them, usually Hasan Salihamidzic or Bastian Schweinsteiger, produces a large glass of wheat beer, a Bavarian speciality, and pours it over somebody else’s head. Oliver Kahn clenches his fists and grits his teeth at the supporters and throws his gloves into the crowd. After about 15 minutes, the players gradually disappear into the dressing room. It’s a dull procedure, probably even for those who feel affiliated to the club.

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