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from Left field:

Can European soccer learn from NFL on team parity?

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NFL/
The NFL prides itself on ‘parity’, on the competitive balance between different clubs being close, ensuring that games are tightly-fought contests and that as many teams as possible start the season with some sort of chance of making the Super Bowl.

Looking at the start to this season, with surprise results and with unfancied teams such as Houston and Tampa making bright starts, the balance is very healthy.

There are a number of mechanisms in place in the NFL to ensure that an elite group of winners and a desperate group of losers do not form. The salary cap which makes sure that cash doesn’t talk too much and the draft, which gives the lowest ranked team the first pick of the best college talent, are the two most obvious means by which the NFL ensures that things stay interesting.

On the surface at least, it seems a remarkably socialist system for a profit-orientated American sports league to have in place. Money and talent is spread around equally to ensure that there is a healthy equality. It hardly seems appropriate for a society that prides itself, in theory at least, on being a free-market capitalist system, with choice and opportunity prioritized above fairness and equality.

Brilliant Berbatov finally arrives for United

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/Dimitar Berbatov chose the perfect moment to finally endear himself to the Old Trafford crowd on Sunday with a superb hat-trick that earned Manchester United a much-needed 3-2 victory over fierce rivals Liverpool.

The mercurial Bulgarian, whose Premier League career has been peppered with sporadic moments of brilliance at both United and former club Tottenham Hotspur, began the new season under pressure to find consistency and, most importantly, the back of the net.

Messi’s legacy assured in 10 years at Barcelona

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/

Ten years ago to the day, Lionel Messi stepped off a plane in Barcelona as a scrawny 13-year-old blessed with extraordinary gifts but in need of a big break.

The club’s decision to take a chance on the kid from Rosario and pay for costly treatment for a growth hormone deficiency turned out to be one of the best decisions they or any other club have taken. According to Barcelona legend, his first contract was signed on a paper napkin after Carles Rexach, then Barca’s youth team coach, was persuaded here was a player he could not afford to let slip away.

Dortmund’s yellow wall of sound

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SOCCER-GERMANY/

There are places where football is primarily business and then there are places where football is fun as well as business, with the former taking precedence. Dortmund is such a place.

When Borussia play in the massive 81,000-seater Westfalenstadion then the whole city lights up. Families, friends and couples pour into this strictly-for-football-only stadium, dressed in bright yellow to enjoy an afternoon of excitement. With the second highest average attendance in Europe behind Barcelona last season, Borussia is a club that caters primarily for fans. There could not be stronger proof of that than the South Tribune, nicknamed the Yellow Wall, a 25-thousand capacity standing-only tribune, the biggest of its kind in Europe.

Champions League live blog

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Real Madrid v Ajax Amsterdam is the highlight of Wednesday night’s Champions League action, with Arsenal, Chelsea and AC Milan among the other big teams in action. Join us here for updates.

Reuters Champions League podcast

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Join us for a look at the first round of matches in the 2010-11 Champions League. Paul Radford, Neil Maidment, Owen Wyatt and Mark Meadows chew the fat with host Kevin Fylan.

Listen!

Liverpool’s midfield not as much to shout about

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SOCCER-EUROPA/In the heady days of Istanbul and Athens when Liverpool fans considered anything less than a trip to the Champions League final a disappointing campaign, the Kop would regularly belt out: “We have the best midfield in the world.”

It was the formidable midfield combination of Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and later Javier Mascherano that spurred the Anfield faithful into song.

Ferguson spares Rooney but opens the door to more abuse

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Wayne Rooney has been taking, and largely ignoring, abuse from Everton supporters for six years but Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson decided on Saturday that a garnish of tabloid tittle-tattle on top the traditional “Judas” fare was too much.

“He gets terrible abuse here and I’m not going to subject him to that,” Ferguson said when explaining his decision to leave the England striker out of the remarkable 3-3 draw. 

Calling time on extra-time

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OLYMPICS/YOUTHFIFA president Sepp Blatter is well known for coming up with some odd ideas and this latest seems as strange as any.

Blatter has admitted that there was too much negative football at the World Cup and believes that one way of improving things would be to scrap extra-time after drawn knockout matches.

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