February 11th, 2010
09:44 PM ET

Are UEFA to blame for Portsmouth's plight?

The economic woes of Portsmouth Football club may have been partially self-afflicted by the procession of foreign owners who’ve kept the club on a downward spiral, but I wonder if UEFA, and, in particular, the Champions League, inadvertently bears some responsibility too?

Is the chase for UEFA's Holy Grail putting more and more clubs into financial meltdown?.
Is the chase for UEFA's Holy Grail putting more and more clubs into financial meltdown?.

Yes I know Pompey have not been anywhere near the Champions League, as their best finish in the Premier League was 8th in the 2007-2008 season.

And I also know that UEFA has been tut-tutting about the financial state of Premier League clubs since Michel Platini became president.

But I still feel that UEFA may have been the catalyst to Portsmouth's downfall and that of other financially strapped clubs in England’s top-flight.

Previously, UEFA’s top competition was known as the European Cup and featured only the defending European champions and current national champions.

However, since it morphed into the Champions League in 1992, the format and eligibility requirements have gradually changed to the extent that now England and other leading nations get to send their top-four finishers into the competition.

What’s more, with the expansion of the league came an increase in the money and prestige on offer by taking part.

So much so that winning or being a top-four finisher in the English Premier League is no longer an end in itself but a means to an end, because it allows you to dip into the honey-pot that the Champions League has become.

Thus, the Champions League is somewhat of a giant carrot.

And ever since steel baron, Jack Walker, essentially bought Blackburn Rovers the title in the 1994-1995 season by financing a series of big-money transfers, English clubs, and others abroad, have been willing to gamble huge amounts of cash in the hope of taking a bite.

Of course, only the biggest clubs have been able to take the risk, and then only with the help of mega-rich benefactors like Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich, or via financial wizardry.

Even Barcelona are at a loss to know how Real Madrid have so much money to spend.

However, poorer clubs still find themselves having to stump up for higher wages etc. because, if a top club in the same league is paying its players and staff silly money, that becomes the going rate. What’s more no club-owner wants to be seen as un-ambitious, even if the cost of failure is massive.

The Champions League therefore has a trickle down effect on clubs with no hope of ever taking part in it, and the results are evident.

However, as the tournament seems certain to remain the Holy Grail, Portsmouth's fate may soon be the fate of many. Though let's hope not.

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Filed under:  Football
February 10th, 2010
08:20 PM ET

Was Portsmouth's day of reckoning first of many?

On a freezing cold day in London, standing out the front of the Royal Courts of Justice, it wasn’t the nip in the air that bit hardest but the reality of football’s financial problems.

A lone Portsmouth fan stands outside the London High Court waiting for news on his beloved club.
A lone Portsmouth fan stands outside the London High Court waiting for news on his beloved club.

Aside from some harsh facts being laid bare over Portsmouth’s sorry financial state, and their battle for survival, there were two other football clubs in court on Wednesday in a similar position on the Companies Court Winding Up List.

English second-division side Cardiff City and another club from a lower league, Southend United, faced lawyers from Britain's tax-collecting body who are chasing millions of dollars in owed money. All clubs had their hearings adjourned or delayed.

It must surely raise alarm bells across Europe and indeed the world, that hearings in court on Wednesday for three clubs across three leagues could signal the start of a greater financial crisis in soccer.

The collective debt of English Premier League clubs amounts to some $5 billion - despite the fact it is arguably the most lucrative and successful in the world.

On a Europe-wide scale the mountain of debt racked up by clubs employing a free-spending policy in the transfer market must surely be astronomical.

Already this year we have seen Dutch side Haarlem go bust with $2.75 million worth of debt and there have been others in Portugal and Russia.

Refinancing debt in the past used to be pretty easy for football clubs but since the global recession, money is much harder to find, especially with banks tightening their purse strings.

And finding suitable buyers with pockets deep enough to cope with paying outstanding debts and then investing in buying more players must be harder after the global economic problems.

Living off debt was a major factor in causing the global recession and surely the same must apply to football.

There is good reason to think the days spent standing at the front of a courthouses for sport reporters across Europe could become more regular as football’s financial crisis continues to bite.

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Filed under:  Football
February 5th, 2010
05:37 PM ET

Was Terry's dismissal an over-reaction?

The decision by England manager Fabio Capello to dismiss Chelsea defender John Terry as captain has shown continuity of thought from the Italian soccer boss, but is it an over-reaction?

Capello has set the tone for his team by stripping John Terry of the captaincy.
Capello has set the tone for his team by stripping John Terry of the captaincy.

There are few coaches in world football who have stated so openly that selection to, and status within, his side demands performance on the pitch as well as adherence to a strict moral code away from it.

On taking over as manager of England in 2008, Capello laid down a number of rules to establish his authority - players were no longer allowed to be late for team meals, suits would replace sportswear as the clothing of choice for players before and after matches, the use of mobile phones were banned in public and wives and girlfriends (or WAGS) could no longer visit the side's hotel when preparing for a game.

The transgressions of sport personalities around the world has been in the spotlight in recent times and unlike the Tiger Woods' affair, where there was no senior figure to pontificate or hand out discipline, Capello has used his power to demonstrate that a scandal-riddled private-life, proven or otherwise, is not for England.

However, while the disciplinarian approach may reap dividends by the time of the World Cup, Capello may have opened a can-of-worms in using off-field conduct to determine on-field acceptability.

How many careers of soccer stars down the years would have been blighted by admonishment if their lives outside of the 90-minute match had been taken into account? Who is to say that players will stand up to this scrutiny from this day forward?

It is clear the Italian coach does not appreciate actions that could turn teammate against teammate, and Terry was guilty of this, but by stripping him of the skipper's armband has he created a rod for his own back?

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Filed under:  Football
February 3rd, 2010
06:40 PM ET

Terry's fate should not rest with Capello

Move over Tiger Woods, there’s a new soap-opera in town. Tales of Tiger having been replaced by Tales of Terry after the captain of the England football team committed the alleged “transgression” (Tiger’s word not mine) of cheating on his wife.

Terry has tried to weather the storm by turning out for his club side Chelsea.
Terry has tried to weather the storm by turning out for his club side Chelsea.

Granted, the level of transgression is much lower than Tiger’s as Terry is only accused of cheating with one woman, not a whole posse.

Of course, in the greater scheme of things one extra-marital affair by a high powered businessman, which is essentially what Terry is, would be no big deal.

But the fact that the woman in question is the ex-girlfriend of his sometime England and former Chelsea team-mate – Wayne Bridge, makes the story a little more salacious, and therefore interesting to the media.

Terry could pay a high price for his alleged error of judgment (Tiger-speak again), as he could lose the England captaincy just a few months before he was due to receive the ultimate honor of leading his country at the FIFA World Cup.

Since he’s decided not to fall on his sword himself by resigning the captaincy, his fate as England skipper now lies in the hands of England’s Italian manager, Fabio Capello, who’s been passed the buck by the English Football Association which insists the decision on Terry will be his and his alone.

Should that be the case? No, because Capello’s brief is not to be the moral conscience of a nation but to put out the best football team he can in order for England to win the World Cup for the first time since 1966.

What’s more, while he outlined a whole host of disciplinary requirements when he took the job – no wives or agents in the team hotel; no tardiness for meals; no room service; no public use of mobile phones; no video games; no lolling about in flip-flops and shorts, - they were all designed to facilitate a better performance ON the pitch, making no mention of the players’ conduct when OFF-duty away from the limelight.

So I disagree that it’s Capello’s responsibility to make the call, not least of all because, when judged in purely football terms, Terry’s ability and leadership qualities make him a natural captain and inspiration to the England team, which is all Capello should care about.

Besides, if not Terry as captain, then who? Rio Ferdinand has a chronic back problem and may not be fit to play throughout the World Cup; Ashley Cole, one of the few certain starters like Terry, is not far removed from a run in with the police, so he’s blotted his moral copybook.

Steven Gerrard could do the job, but, given his erratic injury prone season with Liverpool, would he welcome the added responsibility? I wouldn’t want to put more baggage on Wayne Rooney, because he’s got enough already as England’s main hope for success; and then there’s David Beckham, who knows what it takes to be skipper, but won’t be a regular starter if he goes to South Africa at all. No, for the good of the team.

Terry’s clearly the man, and I wouldn’t want Capello to see it any other way.

On the other hand, if the English F.A is tacitly calling the shots, then I think Terry’s days of leading the team are over, because they have to consider the wider implications of being England captain, which still embodies an anachronistic image of the fine, upstanding, paragon of virtue steeped in the Corinthian spirit.

John Terry is clearly not that. Nor has he ever professed to be, as he was handed the armband as a reformed bad boy, not a career goody two-shoes. But if his relapse makes the men in gray see red, it would come as no surprise to anyone if he was ousted.

Personally, I think J.T has been reckless; stupid, dishonest to his partner; and disloyal to his friend. But, unlike Tiger, who was sold as a role model, I don’t think Terry ever portrayed himself as anything more than a committed footballer who leads the team by example. And that’s all I want from an England captain. I’ll mentor my kids myself.

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Filed under:  Football
February 3rd, 2010
05:08 PM ET

Rules are made to be broken…well, bent at least

If a professional golfer is going to publicly accuse another of cheating he’d want a rock solid argument, given the impact on the image of the player and the game.

Phil Mikelson plays out of the sand at the Dove Mountain course in Tucson, Arizona.(Getty Images)
Phil Mikelson plays out of the sand at the Dove Mountain course in Tucson, Arizona.(Getty Images)

Scott McCarron, an 18-year veteran on the tour, should have known better than to accuse the world number two Phil Mickelson of cheating because he managed to find an interpretation of the rules that allowed him to use a 20-year-old Ping wedge.

Golf’s governing bodies have introduced new rules this year to reduce the amount of control players have on the ball with the shape of the grooves on their irons and wedges. These are new rules and will no doubt be tweaked – as have all rules in golf over time.

Mickelson hasn’t cheated at all and McCarron has since apologized for his comments. A cheating scandal is never a welcome guest in any sport. Golf is reeling from the impact of Tiger Wood’s transgressions so to make such accusations, especially without foundation, was foolhardy.

Some time ago players managed to find a way of interpreting the rules that allowed the use of belly or long putters to help them improve their game. Some players have argued, and many still do, that the longer putters offer an unfair advantage and should be outlawed.

Tell me a sport where teams or individuals don’t look for ways to gain an edge by finding a loophole?

Mickelson might be guilty of bending the rules but the rules are bent in every tournament. Players gain questionable free drops because they convince on course marshals to work in their favor – they know the rules and they know how to work them.

I have watched Tiger look inside his opponent’s bag on the tee to work out what club he is using on a par three and then use the information to his advantage, however small.

The rules state that you aren’t allowed to ask or tell your opponent what club is being used but there is nothing to say you can’t look in the bag. It’s running close to the edge of the rules but not going over.

Mickelson is a fine example of a professional player who doesn’t need to cheat to win and that should be respected unless there is clear cut evidence.

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Filed under:  Golf
February 2nd, 2010
05:51 PM ET

Massa returns more driven than ever

There is still a scar above Felipe Massa’s left eye but it is hard to see under the peak of his cap – even up close. The light, red patch on his forehead is a mark left from surgery to insert a metal plate and is not from the crash itself.

Massa enjoys testing the new Ferrari F1 car at Valencia.
Massa enjoys testing the new Ferrari F1 car at Valencia.

If Massa's grid opponents are looking for signs of vulnerability, an indication the Brazilian has not recovered from last July’s horrific accident in Hungary quite as well as he claims, they will be sorely disappointed.

Prior to his first test drive of Ferrari’s new car for the 2010 Formula One season, it was hard to ignore the fierce determination that bubbled beneath his affable exterior as he spoke confidently and intelligently during interview.

Members of the Ferrari camp say Massa has changed from this time last year. He is more quiet and focused, leaving his new teammate Fernando Alonso to be the excitable one, jumping around the garage.

However, Massa’s circumspection should not be mistaken for timidity. In his first drive of Ferrari’s F10, he was faster than any of the Formula One drivers on the opening day of testing in Valencia.

Formula One's biggest comeback maybe that of the legendary Michael Schumacher, but Massa's return is odds-on to have more impact on who will be crowned world champion.

Massa certainly has the support needed to be successful if the scene in Valencia is anything to go by. Engineers buzzed around the garage, where everything is organized to maximize efficiency and, ultimately, the speed of the car.

Formula One has always been thought of as motorsport’s pinnacle, and despite the controversy and acrimony of last season, not mention the financially challenging times we live in, the sheer size and cost of the F1 "circus" is something to behold at close quarters.

For example, each team possesses at least half a dozen articulated lorries – designed to transport mechanics, engineers and support staff around the world during the course of a season. Like something from a Transporters movie, they then transform into semi-permanent buildings at each venue.

Testing in Valencia has whet the appetite for the start of the new season and while rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone is undoubtedly the ringleader, Massa will hope to be the main draw this season.

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Filed under:  Motorsport
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