ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s core of 2006 World Cup-winning players might have struggled for form and fitness all season but coach Marcello Lippi is not fretting with two months to go to his aging side’s title defense.
Italian media are especially concerned about the big contingent of players from his former club Juventus, who are enduring a poor season and risk not qualifying for next term’s Champions League.
ROME (Reuters) – BMC Racing acted prematurely in suspending former world cycling champion Alessandro Ballan for his implication in a doping investigation, Italy’s Professional Cyclists’ Association (ACCPI) said on Monday.
The American team withdrew Ballan, 30, from competition on Friday after it was revealed that he was among dozens of people involved in a criminal investigation in northern Italy
Cassano’s supporters have been silenced by his recent form and injury problems, along with the frosty relations with club coach Luigi Del Neri that suggest he may not have subdued the temperament issues that dogged him in the past — the apparent reason Lippi consistently overlooked him.
The coaches of the three biggest Serie A clubs recently indulged in what has always been one of the favourite pastimes of the older and wiser — picking fault with today’s youngsters.Inter Milan boss Jose Mourinho kicked things off when he criticised 19-year-old forward Mario Balotelli’s approach in training and suggested that footballers of his age were more interested in Ferraris and Bentleys than getting on with the job.”It’s probably a generational problem,” Mourinho said. “At the moment it’s very difficult to find a player who’s 19 or 20 and thinks like a man.”Reporters asked Juventus coach Ciro Ferrara what he thought, but if they hoped to stir up another Mourinho-versus-the-rest-of-Italy row, they were disappointed.”I agree. It’s a problem of values,” Ferrara said. “Things have changed a lot and the purely sporting side often drops down to a secondary level.”A young player becomes a star after just a few matches in Serie A. Million-euro contracts arrive and thoughts immediately go to the national team. It’s difficult for them to keep their feet on the ground.”AC Milan boss Leonardo agreed too.”I understand what Mourinho is saying. It’s difficult to teach certain values to youngsters,” he told reporters, adding that he believed it was a problem for society as a whole, not just soccer.Maybe the managers have a point and all the money pouring into football has corrupted the game’s budding talent.I’m not so sure. Football has always had its share of prima donnas and players who, let’s say, gave great importance to the economic side of the profession.Moreover, those wondering why young players find it harder to get a chance to shine in Serie A than in other top flights, might have be given a clue to the riddle.PHOTO: Inter Milan’s coach Jose Mourinho (L) argues with his player Mario Balotelli during their Serie A match against Siena at San Siro, May 17, 2009. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito
Rugby union seems to be eternally engaged in a forlorn struggle to make itself more entertaining without losing its soul.For all the rule changes the game has undergone, many matches still turn into battles of attrition decided by penalties rather than slick hands and sidesteps.Lots of the proposed or attempted changes seem to seek to take the sport in the direction of rugby league, where the contest for possession ends with the tackle. The abandoned ELVs, for example, effectively stopped mauling while they were in force by allowing defending teams to collapse in the hope that this would lead to more open play.Modifications like this miss the point because, while rucks, mauls and scrums might not be much fun to watch, they are part of the physical challenge that make union so enjoyable to play.But the one thing union could copy from league is the number of players on the park. With 15 it is too easy for teams to cover the field, especially when top-class defences are in action, which may be why the World Cup final is often a dull affair with few or no tries.Dumping two positions, a winger and a flanker say, would create more space for runners and help make the sport more entertaining without undermining the characteristics that render it unique.I don’t know if there would be less use of the boot, but having more gaps to aim for should make the kicking more intelligent than the ping-pong we frequently have now, where the ball is hoofed with little hope of creating a scoring opportunity to players at the other end who are under no pressure.It’s an unorthodox idea, but that does not necessarily make it a bad one.Former England centre Jeremy Guscott said it was a “ludicrous” when someone put it to him on the BBC’s website recently. But he didn’t say why, he just told the reader to “go and watch rugby league if you don’t like the 15-man game”. FIFA vice president Jack Warner suggested this month that it might be a good idea to reduce the number of players in soccer to 10 to stop defensive teams “parking the bus”. His boss, Sepp Blatter, laughed off the idea.It might be eccentric, but a similar move in rugby union might just work.PHOTOS: France hooker Raphael Ibanez tries to escape from Ireland winger Gordon D’Arcy (bottom) and flanker Simon Easterby during the Rugby World Cup Group D match at the Stade de France, Sept 21, 2007. REUTERS/Patrick Kovarik
After putting Leonardo in charge of AC Milan, owner Silvio Berlusconi has been trying to help the novice coach get to grips with the job with advice on how to tease the best from Ronaldinho.The Italian premier, who has again denied he is considering selling a stake in the club, thinks Ronaldinho can be Milan’s “Usain Bolt” and fill the gap left by his Brazilian compatriot Kaka if he is used as a second striker rather than an playmaker.Although Berlusconi has been careful with his transfer spending, and Milan could struggle again this term judging by the 4-0 derby hammering by Inter, he knows a thing or two about soccer and might have a point about Ronaldinho.Leonardo is using his fellow Brazilian in the hole behind two strikers, probably his best position if he were in peak condition as it exploits his ability to conjure up chances for others and gives him room for his individual charges towards goal.But he has not looked 100 percent fit for some time, so those wonderful runs are thin on the ground and the midfielders are having to do overtime because he does not chase back.Using Ronaldinho as a striker might restore the team’s balance and lower the physical demands on him, simply because he would be nearer to goal and have less galloping to do. Being closer to the danger zone could lead to more goals too, which would bolster his fragile confidence.Leonardo could pair him with powerful centre forward Marco Borriello or a goal poacher such as Filippo Inzaghi or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Alternatively he could make up a front line with in-form Alexandre Pato — a partnership that would be potentially unmarkable.The advice might be good but if Leonardo takes it, he risks looking like the owner’s puppet. So next time Berlusconi has some tips, he might be better whispering into his coach’s ear instead of yelling them via the media.PHOTO: AC Milan’s coach Leonardo (R) walks with Ronaldinho at a practice session before their World Football Challenge match against Inter Milan on Sunday in Foxborough, Massachusetts July 25, 2009. REUTERS/Adam Hunger
Jose Mourinho is no stranger to run-ins with rival club managers, but this week the Portuguese raised his aim and had a swipe at Italian national team boss Marcello Lippi.The Inter Milan coach had taken exception to Lippi tipping Juventus for this year’s Serie A title.He accused him of lacking respect, arguing a national team coach should be seen to be impartial even if deep down he wants Juve to win (Lippi had two glorious stints at the Turin club split by a dismal, short one at Inter).Mourinho even added mysteriously that “this makes me think a great deal”.Lippi responded by saying it was just a prediction: “Mourinho seemed an intelligent person to me, I’m sorry he’s interpreted things differently. You can’t say half a word”.The Inter boss’s reaction struck me as a little thin skinned too. It’s not as if Lippi said he was rooting for Juve or would be lending a hand to their new boss Ciro Ferrara, his former assistant in the Italy backroom staff.But I was surprised to see in a survey on La Gazzetta dello Sport’s website that, while most people were on Lippi’s side, a sizeable minority of around 40 percent believed Mourinho had grounds to grumble.What do you think? Is Mourinho overreacting, possibly in an attempt to instil a siege mentality into his players for the upcoming campaign? Or should Lippi keep his predictions to himself in future?PHOTO: Inter Milan’s coach Jose Mourinho (L) gestures during their Italian Super Cup soccer match against Lazio at the National Olympic Stadium in Beijing August 8, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray
While everyone at AS Roma would probably do the Birdie song standing on their heads if Francesco Totti asked, the Italian capital’s golden boy learned his charms have limits this week.The striker has been hinting for some time he’d like to come out of international retirement, having quit Italy after being part of Lippi’s 2006 World Cup-winning team.The most recent come-get-me call was last month, when he said he would “think twice” about returning if Marcello Lippi picked up the phone.But Lippi is either not getting the signals or he’s turning a deaf ear.”Francesco is an extraordinary lad and player, but he’s made his decision and I’m not going back on it,” Lippi told reporters at the Azzurri’s training camp for Wednesday’s friendly in Switzerland.There are two ways the Roma captain can interpret this. Either Lippi wants him back but would like the player to explicitly say he has made a U-turn, so it doesn’t seem like the boss is coming cap in hand for help after Italy’s dreadful Confederations Cup showing.Or Lippi has no place in his plans for a gifted-yet-injury prone 32-year-old and Totti’s retirement is a good way to sidestep the issue. After all, Lippi already has plenty of people on the wrong side of their prime — what he needs are more players whose best days are in front of them.I suspect it’s the second option. In which case, Totti would be wise to stop dropping the hints, take Paolo Maldini’s lead and devote his exception talents exclusively to his club in the twilight of his career.PHOTO: AS Roma’s Francesco Totti celebrates after scoring against Ghent during their UEFA Europa League qualifier at the Otten stadium in Ghent Aug 6, 2009. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
The 2009 claycourt season ended in style last Sunday with Roger Federer completing a career grand slam by winning the French Open, but I for one am glad the tour has moved on to grass.It’s so frustrating the way umpires run over to point at random marks in the clay when a player contests a decision.I’m sure they do this in good faith. But it seems a bit of a farce (one that’s exclusive to clay as the balls do not leave an impression on other surfaces) because sometimes they end up pointing to a mark from another shot all together.Women’s world number one Dinara Safina slammed a ball to the ground in anger when the umpire pointed at a mark to justify an in call in her Roland Garros semi-final against Dominika Cibulkova, while TV viewers could see it was well out on replays.Belarussian Victoria Azarenka got truly rattled when she was on the receiving end of a similar incident in the last four of the Italian Open last month.”When you don’t play your best and then you finally have a chance… and the umpire comes and just shows you to a spot where there is nothing at all and tells you that this is the mark, I think that’s pretty bad,” she told a news conference.If they use the Hawk-Eye system at Wimbledon, why not on clay?No one expects the umpires to be flawless but sometimes it might be better for them to stay on their perches and say: ‘It looked in (or out) to me’.PHOTO: A line judge and the umpire discuss a call during the semi-final match between Fernando Gonzalez of Chile and Robin Soderling of Sweden at the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris June 5, 2009. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler