Europe

It’s 14 years since Napoli were Italian champions led by Diego but, as Roberto Gotta explains, while he has grown ever larger the club and crowds have shrunk alarmingly

Diego Maradona has not come back to Naples for a while. He’s visited Italy a number of times, accepting fees of up to £10,000 for appearances on local television stations, ski slopes (he stood in the snow in shorts), carnival parades and – although this was for free – children’s hospitals, the latter probably having made nurses and parents happier than the kids, who ob­viously had no idea that the chubby figure was once one of the world’s greatest footballers.

Paul Pomonis examines the bribery allegations that have tainted football in Greece

On September 7, Greece beat Armenia 1-0 in Yerevan in a Euro 2004 qualifier. A few hours later, Suren Baghdassarian, press officer with the Football Federation of Armenia, alleged that the Hellenic Football Federation (HFF) had unsuccessfully attemp­ted to buy the game. According to Baghdassarian, in the days leading up to the game, former Armenia international Yervard Sukassyan had repeatedly phoned the national man­ager and the chairman of the federation, offering $1 million (£600,000) on behalf of the HFF chairman Vassilis Gagatsis in order to secure victory. The Armenian officials had taped the incriminating phone calls and, prior to the match, notified UEFA’s match delegate, who decided to give the match the go-ahead and look at the case afterwards. Based on the evidence col­lected since, UEFA have appointed a disciplinary in­spector, Austrian Gerhard Kapl, who is ex­pected to report back ahead of the final series of qualifying matches on October 11.

Ben Lyttleton looks at what's going on behind the glitz and glamour in Spain

Spanish football looked in a healthy state when two billion fans tuned in to see David Beckham sign for Real Madrid last month. After all, the England captain had joined the biggest club in the world to play in the best league in the world. But Beckham’s arrival has coincided with a financial crisis in the Spanish game that Catalan daily El Periodico described as: “Total ruin, immense debt, crippling of the sector, zero credibility with the banks as well as on­going investigations by tax officials.”

Just one level beneath the Swedish top flight, Assyriska Föreningen are the highest-ranked immigrant-based club in Europe. Marcus Christenson reports

Assyriska Föreningen in Södertälje, south of Stockholm, was founded by Sweden’s Assyrian minority in 1971 with the aim of helping new immigrants settle. The society provided translations and information on the cultural and social aspects of Sweden and created four different sections – culture, youth, women and football – within a few years of its foundation.

John Chapman explains why the Belgian FA is making it tough for clubs

In a country with 18 political parties and three official languages, it’s no surprise the Bel­gian FA has labyrinthine regulations. Euro 2000 supremo and ex-FA official Alain Cour­tois once commented: “They’re so complicated, I’m totally lost.” Recently, those same regulations have swung into action as economic realism hit Belgian football with a vengeance.

Isidro Langara explores the reasons behind the deaprture of Jesus Gil from Atletico Madrid

Goodbye to the great entertainer. Atlético Mad­rid’s controversial president Jesús Gil y Gil has announced his resignation, claiming it’s the “best thing” for the club over which he loom­­ed large, figuratively and literally, for 16 years.

Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger investgates the scandal engulfing the Bundesliga

A week after All Fools’ Day, Franz Beckenbauer made international headlines. He said Bayern Munich would apply for membership of Serie A should the Bundesliga penalise the club for a clandestine contract with the Kirch Media Group. That, of course, was a typical Kaiserism, the kind of irreverent remark Beckenbauer is known for, but it reflects a serious dispute that began four years ago.

Racing Santander’s forthright new president-cum-manager has been derided by critics but, says Phil Ball, he might just be on the right track

Dimitri Piterman is no ordinary chap. Shortly after buying a 24 per cent majority shareholding in Ra­cing Santander in January, the new millionaire president of the ailing Spanish top-flight club was stopped outside the entrance to the El Sardinero stadium by a TV journalist and asked if he thought that his stated intention of personally running all aspects of the club – right down to team management – was perhaps a tad over-ambitious, even ar­rogant? Espec­ially when he was not qual­ified to do so? Piterman leaned into the beam of the cameras and eyeballed the journalist with a withering stare: “There’s a dork running the most powerful country in the world without a qualification to his name. And you ask me for a diploma to run a football team? Give me a break.” And so began one of the lengthiest me­dia circuses witnessed in Spain over the past couple of decades, with the result that the 39-year-old Piterman has be­come at least as famous as Jesus Gil.

A Swedish television show recently hooked up the national coaches with microphones, similar to Graham Taylor. As Marcus Christenson notes, it also hasn't gone down well

In hindsight, Sweden coaches Lars Lagerbäck and Tommy Söderberg should probably have asked Graham Taylor for advice before agreeing to have microphones on them during last summer’s World Cup. But they didn’t – and now sections of the media are calling for their resignations after television broadcast some of their conversations during the team’s games. Like Taylor, who was filmed giving nonsensical orders to substitute Nigel Clough during a game with Norway in 1993, the two Swedish coaches have not come out of the pro­ject look­ing particularly clever. The fiercest criticism has been reserved for their half-time chat ag­ainst Senegal when they discuss whether to substitute Aston Villa striker Marcus Allbäck.

Having a bad season? Worried that things couldn't be much worse? Cheer yourself up with som schadenfreude as Roberto Gotta looks back on AC Milan's darkest hour

AC Milan had to wait a long time for their tenth title, and with it the gold star that permanently adorns the red and black shirts. But it all came good in 1978-79 – three points ahead of the surprise challengers, un­beaten Per­ugia, and seven in front of the hated Juventus. The fol­lowing year they finished third, but were then relegated in the fall-out from the Totonero betting scandal, some Mi­lan players (led by goalkeeper and notorious racing enthusiast Enrico Albertosi) having conspired with others to fix results. But, as a teen­age Milan fan, I felt strangely unconcerned. Iconic mid­fielder Gianni Rivera had retired so this was a chance to rebuild and come back much stronger. Going down for the first time in the club’s history was not going to be a disaster – but it turned out to be even worse.

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