Europe

If you believe the leaks there is a new European Super League on the horizon. Ben Lyttleton searches for the clubs’ real motives

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas blamed his team’s Champions League elimination by Barcelona on fundamental flaws in the structure of French football; AC Milan managing director Adriano Galliani has asked UEFA to consider a salary cap as “a wind of crisis” blows across the European game; and Spain’s professional clubs have a combined debt of over €700 million. Reason enough, apparently, for all three to be accused of leaking plans of a new European Super League to sports papers across the continent. They all denied the claims, but the reasons behind the leak are as interesting as the plans themselves.

Barcelona may take pride in giving youth a chance but the story isn’t as simple as some people make out. Ian Farrell reports

After three of their graduates made the shortlist for World Player of the Year, Barcelona’s academy was widely hailed as the role model for these turbulent times of recession and chequebook team-building. But while the quality of its best players is not in question, the exact quantity “produced” is open to debate.

Belgium’s linguistic and political split between Flemings and Walloons is now affecting its football, writes John Chapman

Belgium holds a unique place in western Europe as it’s the only country that is anywhere close to be being roughly equally divided along linguistic lines. The two halves – Flemings (Dutch speaking) and Walloons (French speaking) – are rarely united these days; there has not been a national show of unity since 1996 when 300,000 Belgians took to the streets in protest against the police’s apparently mishandled investigation into a series of internationally reported child murders by Marc Dutroux. Prior to that, there are memories of an outpouring of grief at the death of King Baudouin in 1993 and the 1986 return to the Grand Place of the “Red Devils” after they had reached the World Cup semi-finals in Mexico.

Oil and gas has brought wealth to Kazakhstan but domestic football has seen little of this money, says Mark Gilbey

Kazakhstan’s president is an ambitious chap. Twelve years ago, deciding that he was bored with life in the capital, Almaty, Nursultan Nazarbayev opted to up sticks and build a new city 600 miles away in the desert. The move to Astana cost £10 billion, but money is no object for the oil and gas-rich Kazakhstani government. It’s just a shame that they aren’t football fans.

John Turnbull reports on how a book about a Brit who played in the Soviet Union may not be all it seems

Russian studies expert Jim Riordan includes dramatic tales in his memoir published last year, Comrade Jim: The Spy Who Played For Spartak. Such as a live cockroach appearing in the author’s cabbage salad at Moscow’s Higher Party School, where Riordan, a member of the British Communist Party, had enrolled. He also encounters Nikita Khrushchev, Yuri Gagarin and Lev Yashin and plays cricket with members of the Cambridge spy ring. Journalists and football historians in Russia have said little about these incidents. But regarding the central claim in Riordan’s book – that he started two home matches for Spartak Moscow in 1963, becoming the only Westerner to play in the top tier of Soviet football – they have one word: “nonsense”.

Matt Nation’s enjoyment of sixth-tier football in Germany has taken a hit. A long bike ride to the game was just the start of an afternoon of play-acting, clumsy football and dodgy sausages

Just as titles are proverbially won or lost on wet weekday evenings against the league’s dunces, cycling to a football match into a headwind without a handkerchief will make you reconsider whether you attend sixth-tier football because you like it or because you’ve not got the resources to do anything else. After 15 miles on a blustery trunk road, not even the most carefully placed boys’ brigade blow will prevent your cuffs from looking like they’ve been overrun by a battalion of molluscs. Getting to this game has made you look and feel disgusting. Your willingness to turn a blind eye is thus slightly lower than it might otherwise be.

Enrico Preziosi has faced bankruptcy and a match-fixing conviction, but Paul Virgo finds he’s still a hero to Genoa fans

For someone supposedly banned from professional football, Enrico Preziosi is not doing too badly as chairman of Genoa. This season Italy’s oldest club have outshone Sampdoria, something of a rare occurrence since their upstart neighbours formed in 1946, and at the time of writing they were challenging AS Roma and Fiorentina for Serie A’s final Champions League slot.

After a winter of mud and ice Ligue 1 sides are eyeing a permanent solution to bad pitches, reports James Eastham

When French sports daily L’Equipe described the Emirates Stadium pitch as “magnificent” the day after Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Roma in the Champions League last 16, you could almost hear the envy in their voice. Ligue 1 has just emerged from a winter in which the dreadful playing surfaces made a mockery of dozens of games. The word bachee (tent) entered the sporting lexicon as French clubs erected great big canvases over their pitches in futile bids to keep the frost at bay. When the covers came off just before kick-off, referees would usually decide pitches were playable, but the evidence in front of our eyes said otherwise.

Sion's mecurial chairman has been through 18 managers in five years – including himself. Paul Joyce examines the chaos

Christian Constantin’s two spells as president of Swiss team FC Sion have been nothing if not colourful. After taking charge of the side from the Valais region in 1992, the autocratic Constantin guided Sion to two league titles and three Swiss Cup victories in five years. Yet the 130 transfers that took place in this period left the club fatally overstretched. Constantin quit in 1997 after Sion failed to qualify for the Champions League, leaving debts of 13.4 million Swiss francs (then £5.5m). Unable to recover, Sion were demoted to the third tier in June 2003.

Carlos Queiroz's move home from Manchester United has not gone well. Phil Town reports on a national team suddenly in crisis

Despite a series of nearly-got-theres during five years as Portugal coach, by the summer of 2008 Luiz Felipe Scolari had overstayed his welcome and wanted out to lusher pastures. Perhaps seduced by his two successive World Cup wins at Under-20 level (1989 and ’91) and by his association with Manchester United’s successes in recent years, but apparently ignoring his indifferent previous spell as national coach (ten wins from 23 games between 1991 and ’93), the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) put their faith in the Mozambique-born Carlos ­Queiroz, at the time a popular choice. 

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