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SHARES
27 February 2008
“Bullshit.” That was the last word Ruud van Nistelrooy said to me as a Manchester United player. It was in New Jersey three years ago following a pre-season friendly between United and AC Milan. I’d asked Ruud to respond to accusations that United’s US trip was more about commercial gain than football and he replied with a well constructed argument about the players liking America because they enjoyed the relative anonymity, the excellent training facilities and a high quality of opposition. “Whatever anyone else says is bullshit,” he concluded.  Tomorrow, I’ve got a one-on-one interview with the Real Madrid striker in the Spanish capital, something I’ve been chasing for three months. Ruud was superb for United yet, if anything, he’s been even better for the Spanish champions. He’s maintained the phenomenal goal ratio, but he’s a more complete player who provides assists and has been central to the rejuvenation of Raul. He looks fitter, happier and more productive than he ever did in his final years at Old Trafford. I’m looking forward to the trip and not only because interviews with bright, articulate footballers are rare. I started spending time in Spain in 2001, driving from Manchester via the Portsmouth - Bilbao ferry to Barcelona with some belongings. The journey across the north of Spain contrasted between the lush mountains of the Basque country with the arid solemnity of the meseta – the high plateau on which sits much of inland Spain. Breaking the often desolate landscape was the construction of the high speed AVE rail link between Barcelona and Madrid. That link finally opened last week, three years late.Previously, a train between Spain’s two biggest cities took six hours, meaning the air route between Castile and Catalonia was the planet’s busiest, with planes every twenty minutes. Now, the 342 mile journey takes just 2 hours 38 minutes on one of the fastest rail routes in the world and you get a full refund if the train is more than 10 minutes late.Booking the ticket was a frustration, however. AVE’s website twice crashed when I tried to make payment and the lady at their call centre was thicker than the mud in Morecambe Bay. She was confused by a simple ticket enquiry between those unknown villages of Barcelona and Madrid. As she also seemed to be doing the booking on a ZX Spectrum, I gave up, cursed Spanish inefficiency, walked to the station and paid a hefty £150. For that price I expect Penelope Cruz to be driving the train and her sister Monica to be hooting the hooter.I intend to use the journey time well, finalising questions for the Dutchman and working out which team to play for Manchester La Fianna’s big game against Iveria, the reigning league champions and cup winners, this Saturday. Iveria are comprised of Georgian immigrants, several of them former professionals from Tbilisi and have around 100 fans at each game. We’re on a run of seven consecutive wins, our last defeat a 2-1 slip against Iveria in November. I was absent and received several painful score texts as I watched Bolton beat Manchester United. It was a bad day, but Manchester have improved since, a true test of which will come this Saturday. We’re without three key players, but don’t tell the Georgians that…
SHARES
27 February 2008
After many months of seeing his sulking son being brutally booed and bullied by fans and hacks alike, the big daddy of Valencia has stepped in to end the entertaining affair. Bautista Soler, father of club president Juan Bautista Soler, confirmed on Tuesday that his family will be flogging their 35% stake in the Mestalla madhouse for a cool 65 million euros, according to Marca. The man who will be taking on this footballing burden is former VP, Vicente Soriano, currently the second biggest shareholder at the club. Unfortunately, Soriano does not have that kind of cash lying around, so is going into the deal with a financial partner, Juan Villalonga. Villalonga - stop drifting off! - is the best buddy of former Spanish president José Maria Aznar, according to an admiring Marca, and also ex-president of Telefonica. Not that the two could possibly have any link, of course. La Liga Loca already holds an intense dislike for what may be a perfectly nice man, as the blog - along with the rest of the country - is currently getting royally stitched up by Telefonica's internet costs. And the EU agrees, having fined the company $206 million dollars for breaking antitrust rules, back in July 2007 - second only in value to the punishment handed out to Microsoft. Should the deal go through, then the Bautista boys can pat each other on the back, having won next to nothing under their leadership, gone through 4 coaches, 5 sporting directors and increased the club's debt from 120m to 300m euros, according to El Pais. When and if Soriano takes over the club, then it could be either good or bad news for Ronald Koeman - depending on your point of few. Last year, the former Veep boasted that were he in charge at Valencia then the Dutchman would "last ten minutes. And Bakero (assistant coach) fifteen". On Tuesday, Koeman replied that, "ten minutes is long enough. If they want me, they want me. If they want me to go, I'll go. No problem". Especially, as he is sitting on a handy two and a half year contract. Marca seems to think that the deal is an excellent idea, saying that "Spanish football is beginning to globalise", despite the fact that the club's ownership could be moving from the hands of one extremely rich, powerful Spanish family to another extremely rich, powerful Spanish family. For all those interested in a cup competition that is rigged against the smaller clubs and has had all tension beaten out of it with a rolling pin, Valencia are in action in the first leg semi-final of the Copa del Rey against Barcelona, on Wednesday night. The second leg is sometime in June. It was Tuesday, yesterday, so Sevilla president José Marie del Nido did his best to raise expectations of his club to an impossible level only to be cruelly disappointed by the harsh realities of football, just days later. "When we get a Champions League spot, it will very hard to move us from it", said the Ferengi doppelganger who also compared his club to a shell. But it could be a limpet. La Liga Loca's dictionary is far from sure. And its Spanish is far from good. Good news for Real Madrid fans. Marca's Roberto Gomez has found the root cause of his favourite club's current plight. "Guti and Gago can't play together. They are similar players. Almost identical", says the paper's finest freebie-loving writer. "No they're not", says everyone else. AS have flashed the not-that-exciting-really news on their front page that Real are interested in Spartak Moscow striker, Roman Pavlyuchenko. Having failed to lure Kaka to the Bernabeu, it appears Pedja fancies the footballing virtues of the 26 year old forward who has been top scorer in the Russian league over the past two seasons and stuck two past England, last October. Sport's "22 finals for Barcelona!", still rules supreme in La Liga Loca's "finals' top ten. Marca's rather disappointing effort on Tuesday claimed that Atlético Madrid had four finals left. Must do better. And finally, in typical, stereotypical 'aren't foreigners funny style', Monday's La Liga Loca informed the good 442 readership of the Spanish tendency to reverse into traffic without looking. And this links rather snugly and smugly into the story concerning Manuel Ruiz de Lopera's vertigo-inspired vomit-fest. It appears that as the Betis big-wig was arriving at Seville's Santa Justa station, on Monday morning, to catch the train to meet the king, de Lopera reversed straight into another car, possibly causing his subsequent funny turn, speculates Marca. La Liga Loca loves it when a plan comes together.
SHARES
27 February 2008
Finding an opponent’s weakness is all part and parcel of the game.So when it came to light that Ricky Kaka was playing through the pain barrier of a knee problem it was odds-on the Brazilian would soon become the target of Serie A’s masters of the dark arts of the late challenge.In fact, it was all of two minutes before the World Player of the Year was left writhing on the ground during Sunday’s league game against Palermo. A minute later and he was again picking himself up off the San Siro turf.Two shaven-headed midfield assassins, in the shape of Roberto Guana and Giulio Migliaccio, had taken turns at aiming kicks at the fragile knee and in doing so could have boosted Arsenal’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League.Kaka limped off at half-time, not to return but to lament that referees were not giving him enough protection from the hatchet merchants. It certainly seems to be open season on the God-fearing south American and the club’s official site even published a photo of one of the fouls framed inside a telescopic gun-sight, along with the catchy little caption: “Hunting for Kaka”.  Milan hope to have their star performer back for the arrival of the Gunners next week but as the head of the MilanLab, Daniele Tognaccini explained: “Any normal person taking these constant knocks would not be able to get out of bed never mind walk …” so the chances of recovery would seem to hang in the balance.Kaka isn’t the only player to have been brought to his knees of late. Adrian Mutu is out with strained ligaments for at least a month and will definitely miss the first leg of the UEFA Cup tie with Everton.Zlatan Ibrahimovic tried to outdo the other two by claiming he had a hole in his knee tendon which suggests he should be hobbling off to the nearest emergency room rather than trying to strut around a football pitch.Just as the public in England got to know the workings and failings of the metatarsal bone ahead of the 2006 World Cup finals so Italians are now experts on ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments for those who aren’t). Gazzetta dello Sport has been sounding more like a medical journal in recent weeks and produced a number of handy diagrams on where these troublesome ligaments and tendons actually are inside the maze that is the knee joint.Ronaldo kicked the whole thing off so to speak but there has also been Inter defensive pair Ivan Cordoba and Walter Samuel along with midfielder Olivier Dacourt and Empoli and Italy Under-21 striker Nicola Pozzi all succumbing to the curse of the ACL or some equally season-ending equivalent.There has been a lot of head-scratching, and not some other appendage for a change, up and down the country to remember the last time there had been so many popped knees and ruptured ligaments. The general consensus is that referees need to clamp down on the aggressors so the flair players aren’t kicked out the game completely. Another school of thought maintains that’s the way of the world in macho Serie A and the likes of Kaka should quit their whinging. Wherever you land on the issue, at least it’s a good time to be an orthopaedic surgeon.
SHARES
27 February 2008
SHARES
26 February 2008
Last week, Ajax effectively checked into rehab. Newcastle United, by contrast, are still in the early Amy Winehouse "no-no-no" denial stage. The surprise of the Geordie Messiah’s return to Tyneside pales beside the astonishing twist that sees the saviour of Ajax returning to rebuild the club he inspired to three European Cups in a row between 1971 and 1973. Most Ajax fans were further cheered to hear that another Ajax icon Marco van Basten will coach them from next season.
SHARES
26 February 2008
Trust River to wait until a big one to start winning. Disciplined, practical and no longer running around like kids in an Easter egg hunt, Simeone's team thoroughly overcame their past problems, by beating San Lorenzo 2-0, who certainly haven't overcome their problems.
SHARES
25 February 2008
“New 11-a-side football team starting in the Barcelona International Football League. Players of all nationalities welcome. Interested? Email XXX.”
SHARES
25 February 2008
Good Day Mad Sammy Eto'o Cameroon's striking superstar celebrated his first hat-trick in the Spanish league, by grabbing a camera off a Mundo Deportivo pitch side photographer and snapping a rather blurred shot of Bojan. And Mundo Deportivo were tickled pink by this. "A Hat-Click from Eto'o!" they punned underneath the headline of "It's Two Points!!!! Aarrrgggh!" (The last bit was completely made up). Unfortunately, the rest of the paper left the reader with the familiar sense of soul-destroying emptiness and inky fingers. A couple of decent results against Celtic and a Levante side who are bottom of the table and trained for the game by going on strike, let's not forget, have perked up a previously gloomy Frank Rijkaard, no end. "People are back to believing in the side", declared the Dutchman. Although the title is now in Barcelona's hands - and Real Madrid's as well - the best news from the whole wild weekend is that what had been the easiest of cakewalks for Real Madrid has now become a proper bun fight. And this is best pastry related pun achieved by the blog since writing a film list containing 'Eclair and Present Danger" and "Crumble in the Bronx". Happy days, indeed. Getafe
SHARES
25 February 2008
Despite seeing themselves as the crazy kids of Europe, Italians are in fact very traditionalist and conformist in the way life should be conducted.

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