Serie A players announce December strike

Serie A football has plunged into chaos after the Italian Players’ Association (AIC) called a strike on the weekend of December 11-12.

The strike comes after talks between the AIC and the league regarding a new collective bargaining agreement for players broke down on Tuesday.

An earlier strike planned for September had been postponed and talks were said to be progressing, but the latest setback means a full round of Serie A matches are now in doubt.

“From our side there was willingness and availability, we sought an agreement but no agreement was reached. A strike has been declared for December 11-12,” AIC vice-president Leonardo Grosso said.

The match between Juventus and Lazio is the highest profile fixture to be affected, while Inter Milan, AC Milan and Roma are also scheduled to play on the strike-affected weekend.

Serie A president Maurizio Berretta slammed the decision by the players’ union, branding it ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous’.

“Today’s meeting was incredible, without precedence in history,” Berretta said.

“The union refused to listen to the intervention of the federation president, which included the issue of players outside the squad. At that point they got up from the table and left.”

“We are participating in a dangerous and absurd massacre. The footballers’ strike is an irresponsible decision and isn’t based in reason.”

The strike comes just a week after Scottish referees took similar industrial action to illustrate their displeasure with the poor treatment of officials by clubs and players.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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Wenger rules out January transfers

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will not be looking to add players to his squad when the transfer window opens on January 1.

With only a month until the start of the new transfer season, rumours are already beginning to circulate about potential targets for the Premier League’s third-placed side.

But Wenger insists he is happy with the squad he has and believes his current crop of players are capable of returning the Premier League title to north London.

“My policy is to stick to the squad I have, we will not be on the market,” said Wenger.

“I want to keep my squad and I want to continue with these players. We will not be on the market unless we lose some.”

One player who will return to the Emirates Stadium in January is midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who has just begun a short-term loan stint with Championship outfit Nottingham Forest.

Ramsey, 19, is still on the comeback trail after breaking his leg against Stoke in February, and Wenger said the loan deal was the perfect way for the young Welshman to regain full fitness before he returns to the Gunners.

“He is fit but not competitively match-fit,” said Wenger.

“I left him the choice to go where he wanted. There are seven games before January when he comes back and I thought that is the best way.”

“I decided to give him a run in the Championship and if he manages to play four or five out of the seven he will be fit to play for us.”

“We were a bit pushed by the deadline. To do it before Christmas we had to do it last week so I rushed a bit my decision but it was the only opportunity.”

Tue 30 November, 2010
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Cesar key to Corinthians´ title charge

His namesake at Inter Milan may get more press worldwide, but Corinthians goalkeeper Julio Cesar is on his own pathway to glory.

The 26-year-old shot-stopper has played a crucial role in his side’s attempts at a fifth Brazilian Serie A title, and they’re fate will be known after the last round of fixtures this weekend.

Corinthians need to overcome the relegated Goias on Sunday and hope first-placed Fluminense slip up and at least draw at home to another relegated side, Guarani.

Cesar was a part of the squad that won the national title in 2005, and despite not getting much time in the first team, will use his experience on the league’s final day to steer his side to the title.

“I was part of the squad so I consider myself a champion,” Cesar said.

Despite starting this season in the shadows of preferred goalkeepers such as Felipe Dos Santos and Aldo Bobadilla, Cesar rose above both to claim the number one spot, and has not relinquished it.

“We are always prepared because we train a lot at a big club like Corinthians. Football is very dynamic, you only get one chance,” he said.

“We go on the pitch prepared but we never know what is going to happen. If you go in and don’t play well people start doubting you and you’re out of the starting line-up, but things have gone well for me.”

Cesar has kept four clean sheets in his past five matches, but said his role is not a numbers game.

“It’s not just about goals, it’s also about great saves, so the keeper has to appear a lot. I am very happy that I am going through a good phase like this,” he said.

In spite of his own stellar form, Cesar credits Corinthians’ major push for the title to their recently appointed manager, Tite.

“Everyone has his importance, but the most important thing was the arrival of Tite to bring our confidence back,” Cesar said.

“He recovered what we left behind in the seven games without a win. We have a good team, a winning group, there are players who have already won important titles. So our group makes the difference.”

The battle for the title between Corinthians and Fluminense will be decided when the season’s final matches kick off at 1900GMT on Sunday.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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Mancini to experiment in Europa clash

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini will shuffle his line up for Wednesday’s Europa League clash with Red Bull Salzburg.

It is a crucial match for City, who can seal their progression to the last 32 of the competition if they win and Juventus fail to beat Lech Poznan in Poland.

City are unbeaten in their last five games in the Premier League and beat Salzburg comfortably last time they met, with Mancini signalling his intention to rest some key players during a busy time of the season.

“We will have a strong team on the pitch but we will change some players because we are playing two games in three days and that is difficult,” Mancini said.

“You cannot play all the same players in both games.”

“Supporters are supporters – when you win they are happy, when you lose they are not, that’s normal and we must always respect their support.”

“Our job is to continue to work and improve and win for them and that is always the job. Supporters must help the team.”

The right results on Wednesday could see City secure a place in the knockout rounds and Mancini will have one eye on the other game in Group A.

“If we beat Salzburg then we will hope that Juventus lose or draw in Poznan, but we must try to win and wait to see what happens,” he said.

“Tomorrow (Wednesday) is important because we have to win if we want to get into the second stage.”

Defender Pablo Zabaleta is in line for a rare start and he is confident Manchester City have the players to mount serious challenges both domestically and in Europe.

“I don’t like to compare our squad with those of other teams, we have our own ideas and different players and we focus on us,” Zabaleta said.

“We have young players and some very experienced players and that will be a great mix during the season.”

At least three members of Mancini’s expensively acquired squad will be unavailable for selection.

Wayne Bridge will not be risked after suffering a number of setbacks in his bid for regular fitness and Yaya Toure is out after complaining of migraines.

Long-term absentee Michael Johnson is nearing a return but needs a run of games in the reserves to regain match fitness.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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Russia criticises World Cup bid alliances

Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko on Tuesday criticised alliances in the race to host football’s World Cup in 2018, insisting that the Russian bid had sold itself on its merits.

“We do not support the idea of any alliance or collusion,” Mutko told journalists

“We would certainly like these alliances and collusions not to happen,” he added, after being questioned about an alleged deal between Spain-Portugal’s bid for 2018 and 2022 candidate Qatar to support each other in voting.

Mutko is also a member of the executive committee of world football’s governing body that will choose the hosts of sports biggest crowd puller on Thursday.

England is bidding to win the 2018 tournament ahead of bookmakers favourites Russia and joint bids from Spain and Portugal and Holland and Belgium.

The 2022 race sees Australia, the United States, Qatar, Japan and South Korea vying for the tournament.

Concerns have been raised in recent weeks about the unusual decision to hold the race to host the two World Cups simultaneously, amid fears that it gives greater weight to behind-the-scenes political swaps rather than the sporting, economic or technical merits of bidding nations.

The president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, has admitted that with hindsight the decision may have been a mistake.

Eight of the nine nations vying for the two World Cups have representatives on the 22 strong executive committee that will vote for the hosts in secret ballots on Thursday. Australia is the only potential host without a vote.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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Russian bid chief condemns collusion

Russia’s 2018 World Cup bid chief Vitaly Mutko has denied his team would be willing to trade votes to guarantee hosting rights for the event.

Speaking at a press conference in Zurich on Tuesday, Mutko said talk of collusion between FIFA delegates from countries involved in the 2018 and 2022 bids was a black mark on the process.

“Of course we don’t like it when you try to present your bid, then you hear that conditions have been put in place that somebody else must support somebody else’s bid. This is of course not right,” Mutko said.

“We are also following the situation, and of course we know something about this, and of course we don’t support any alliances if they exist.”

“If the entire world knew for sure that such alliances existed, and everyone made concerted efforts, than this wouldn’t be (the idea behind alliances). Of course when some countries made not so much effort to promote their bid and suddenly they become favourites, it may be an unjust situation.”

In response to the BBC’s controversial Panorama documentary, which alleged corruption among FIFA executives, Mutko said he ignored the hype, stating his country’s bid had nothing to hide.

“We tried not to react and not to pay too much attention to it. We have just been working (to promote the bid), that’s all. I know that any programmes, Russian committees can say nothing against our bid because we have worked honestly, openly, tried to explain our arguments, no more than that,” Mutko said.

FIFA will announce the host countries of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Zurich on Thursday.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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Hleb ´embarrassed´ by omission, says McLeish

Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said Alexander Hleb was ‘embarrassed’ after he was left out of the side which recently beat Chelsea.

The Belarusian is at Birmingham on a season-long loan deal, but has failed to impress after arriving at St Andrews with a big reputation.

The former Arsenal and Barcelona playmaker has struggled with injury since returning to England and has also had difficulty fitting into Birmingham’s style of play.

Hleb was dropped from the Birmingham side which shocked Chelsea 1-0 just over a week ago, and McLeish said the midfielder needed to improve his work rate in training if he wanted to return to the side.

“I’ve repeatedly told him that he is not fit enough to start games,” McLeish said.

“He was disappointed not to start against Chelsea. He thought it was a slight and was a bit embarrassed by that.”

“A top player thinks he can just walk into the team – but it doesn’t work like that.”

McLeish is also looking for improvement from six-million-pound signing Nikola Zigic, who is yet to make his mark on the Premier League.

The towering striker is slowly adjusting to English football, but McLeish said the Serb needed to improve his attack on the ball.

“For such a big guy, the aggression is not in his game,” McLeish said. “He is a passionate guy but we’ve tried to put aggression in his game and he is getting better.”

“It is about telling him to attack the ball because in Europe he probably only heads the ball three or four times in a game, and it’s the same with Serbia.”

“He is used to the ball being played on the deck but we want him to become more aggressive.”

Birmingham face arch rivals Aston Villa in the Carling Cup quarter-finals at St Andrews on Wednesday.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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More corruption claims mar World Cup race

More claims of graft in world football marred the final stages of the race to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups on Tuesday, as Olympic chiefs vowed to probe one of their own officials caught up in the allegations.

The renewed allegations and action by the International Olympic Committee failed to dampen an intense lobbying drive by British prime minister David Cameron in Zurich to woo support for England’s 2018 bid ahead of Thursday’s vote.

But a spokesman for Vladimir Putin said that the Russian premier would follow in his rival’s steps, as officials from Russia 2018 suggested that the members of the FIFA executive committee had already made up their mind.

The final decision will be made in a secret ballot among the 22 top footballing officials on Thursday, the first time the hosts of two tournaments had been chosen at the same time.

England, Russia and joint bids from Spain and Portugal and Holland and Belgium are competing for the 2018 World Cup, while Australia, the United States, Qatar, Japan and South Korea are bidding for the 2022 tournament.

The allegations surrounding suspect payments more than decade ago for FIFA’s veterans have cast a shadow over the competition for votes, forcing executive committee member and African football chief Issa Hayatou to reject the claims.

Hayatou is also a member of the International Olympic Committee, which has vowed “zero tolerance” for corruption.

A report by the BBC late Monday alleged newly-surfaced evidence showed three committee members – Hayatou, Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil and South America’s Nicolas Leoz – received secret payments from a marketing firm that collapsed in 2001.

Hayatou on Tuesday told broadcaster France 24 that the firm, International Sports and Leisure (ISMM/ISL), had made a 25,000 Swiss franc “solidarity” payment “in the context of the organisation of the African Football Confederation’s 40th anniversary.”

Hayatou said he had “no fears” that the affair would spill over and affect the attribution of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, adding that his conscience was clear.

Nonetheless, fellow Olympic chiefs on Tuesday moved to examine any evidence.

“The IOC has taken note of the allegations made by BBC Panorama and will ask the programme makers to pass on any evidence they may have to the appropriate authorities,” the Swiss-based body said in a statement.

“The IOC has a zero tolerance against corruption and will refer the matter to the IOC Ethics Commission,” it added, without specifically naming Hayatou.

FIFA insisted on Tuesday that the ISMM/ISL “investigation and case are definitely closed,” without convictions of its officials.

Although FIFA had dropped a criminal complaint over alleged kickbacks for TV rights contracts, in 2008 a Swiss court handed down fines for embezzlement or false accounting on three of the ISMM/ISL executives while prosecutors revealed a murky trail of suspect payments.

Only weeks ago, FIFA suspended two other executive committee members following a British newspaper report on vote buying opportunities in the bidding process.

Leaders of England 2018 bid fear the new BBC documentary would undermine their chances.

In a high powered attempt to limit the damage, Cameron was lobbying Warner, head of the North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region, regarded as lynchpin in the vote.

“I’ve only got one focus here and that’s trying to bring the World Cup home for England,” Cameron told the BBC.

England officials will also have support from heir to the throne Prince William, due to meet FIFA delegates on Wednesday, and English football icon David Beckham.

Russia, the bookmakers’ favourite, is also vying for the 2018 tournament, but a spokesman for Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said in Moscow that he does not intend to visit Zurich ahead of Thursday’s vote.

Eight of the nine nations vying for the two World Cups have representatives on the executive committee that will vote for the hosts, including England and Russia. Australia is the only potential host without a vote.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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New graft claims overshadow World Cup vote build-up

More corruption claims dogged FIFA on Tuesday, only two days before it picks the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts, as Olympics chiefs vowed to probe one of their own officials caught up in the allegations.

As prime ministers and royalty headed for the Swiss city of Zurich ahead of Thursday’s two announcements, fresh media allegations even prompted a call for football’s world governing body to postpone the decision.

And Russia, one of the frontrunners to stage the 2018 tournament, railed against the move to award two tournaments in one go, saying it encouraged collusion.

The final decision will be made in a ballot among the 22 members of FIFA’s executive committee on Thursday, the first time the hosts of two tournaments had been chosen at the same time.

A report by the BBC late Monday alleged three committee members — Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil, African football chief Issa Hayatou and South America’s Nicolas Leoz — received secret payments from a marketing firm over a decade ago. Hayatou is also a member of the International Olympic Committee.

Panorama also accused a fourth FIFA executive committee member, Trinidad’s Jack Warner, of attempting to sell World Cup tickets on the black market, expanding on an earlier known controversy.

International Sports and Leisure (ISMM/ISL) collapsed in 2001 in a controversy over alleged kickbacks for TV rights contracts.

Although FIFA dropped a criminal complaint, a Swiss court handed down fines for embezzlement or false accounting on three of the company’s executives in 2008 while prosecutors revealed a trail of suspect payments.

The renewed allegations come only weeks after FIFA suspended two other executive committee members following a British newspaper report on vote buying opportunities in the bidding process.

The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that it would examine any evidence of corruption.

“The IOC has taken note of the allegations made by BBC Panorama and will ask the programme makers to pass on any evidence they may have to the appropriate authorities,” the Swiss-based body said in a statement.

“The IOC has a zero tolerance against corruption and will refer the matter to the IOC Ethics Commission,” it added, without specifically naming Hayatou.

But FIFA insisted on Tuesday that the ISMM/ISL “investigation and case are definitely closed,” without convictions of FIFA officials.

The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International has called on FIFA to postpone the bidding contest pending an independent probe, warning that FIFA’s decision making processes were being discredited.

Leaders of England 2018 bid fear the BBC documentary would undermine their chances.

Trying to limit the damage, British Prime Minister David Cameron was on Tuesday lobbying Warner, head of the North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region, regarded as lynchpin in the vote.

“I’ve only got one focus here and that’s trying to bring the World Cup home for England,” Cameron told the BBC.

England officials will also have support from heir to the throne Prince William, due to meet FIFA delegates on Wednesday, and English football icon David Beckham.

Other nations were also engaging on a lobbying offensive in Zurich’s plush hotels.

Russia is also vying for the 2018 tournament, but it faces strong competition from a joint Spain-Portugal bid which has been at the centre of allegations of collusion with 2022 hopefuls Qatar.

Asked about those reports, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told reporters: “We would certainly like these alliances and collusions not to happen.”

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has admitted that with hindsight the decision to make a joint decision may have been a mistake.

Eight of the nine nations vying for the two World Cups have representatives on the executive committee that will vote for the hosts in secret ballots on Thursday. Australia is the only potential host without a vote.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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Graft claims overshadow World Cup vote build-up

Fresh corruption claims dogged FIFA on Tuesday, only two days before it picks the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts, as Olympics chiefs vowed to probe one of their own officials caught up in the allegations.

As prime ministers and royalty headed to the Swiss city of Zurich ahead of Thursday’s two announcements, allegations contained in a new documentary prompted calls for football’s world governing body to postpone the decision.

And Russia, one of the frontrunners to stage the 2018 tournament, railed against the move to award two tournaments in one go, saying it encouraged collusion.

The final decision will be made in a ballot among the 22 members of FIFA’s executive committee on Thursday, the first time the hosts of two tournaments had been chosen at the same time.

A report by the BBC late Monday alleged three committee members — Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil, African football chief Issa Hayatou and South America’s Nicolas Leoz — received secret payments from a marketing firm over a decade ago. Hayatou is also a member of the IOC, which oversees the Olympic Games.

Panorama also accused a fourth FIFA executive committee member, Trinidad’s Jack Warner, of attempting to sell World Cup tickets on the black market.

The programme said it had obtained a confidential document from International Sports and Leisure (ISL), which detailed 175 payments totalling 100 million dollars made between 1989 and 1999.

Many of the payments were funnelled to front companies set up in Liechtenstein, Panorama alleged, with much of the cash eventually being paid to a “handful” of FIFA officials.

The ISMM/ISL firm collapsed in 2001 in a controversy over alleged kickbacks for TV rights contracts, prompting a FIFA criminal complaint that was later dropped.

The new allegations come only weeks after FIFA suspended two other executive committe members following a British newspaper report on vote buying opportunities in the bidding process.

Following the allegations, the IOC said on Tuesday that it would examine any evidence of corruption.

“The IOC has taken note of the allegations made by BBC Panorama and will ask the programme makers to pass on any evidence they may have to the appropriate authorities,” the Swiss-based body said in a statement.

“The IOC has a zero tolerance against corruption and will refer the matter to the IOC Ethics Commission,” it added, without specifically naming Hayatou.

The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International called on FIFA to postpone the bidding contest “until full light is shed on the allegations”.

“These have brought such discredit to the decision-making processes at FIFA that a decision in the current circumstances would only fuel the controversy,” it added.

Leaders of the bid by England to stage the 2018 tournament have vented their anger at the BBC for airing the documentary so close to the decision, fearing it would undermine their chances.

Trying to limit the damage, British Prime Minister David Cameron was on Tuesday to lobby Warner, head of the North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region.

As well as the British premier, England officials will have support from heir to the throne Prince William, due to meet FIFA delegates on Wednesday, and English football icon David Beckham.

Russia is also vying for the 2018 tournament, but it faces strong competition from a joint Spain-Portugal bid which has been at the centre of allegations of collusion with 2022 hopefuls Qatar.

Asked about the reports of a stitch-up involving Qatar and Spain-Porgtual, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told reporters: “We do not support the idea of any alliance or collusion.

“We would certainly like these alliances and collusions not to happen,” added Mutko, who also sits on the executive committee.

The president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, has admitted that with hindsight the decision to make a joint decision may have been a mistake.

Eight of the nine nations vying for the two World Cups have representatives on the 22 strong executive committee that will vote for the hosts in secret ballots on Thursday. Australia is the only potential host without a vote.

Tue 30 November, 2010
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