Ben Lyttleton

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The last time a high-profile German player faced Bayern Munich in a final before joining the club was in 1984. Back then, Lothar Matthaus was 23 and playing for Borussia Moenchengladbach, but he had already agreed to join Bayern the next season. Who should Moenchengladbach face in the German Cup final at the end of the season? Bayern Munich.

The game finished 1-1 and it went to penalties. Matthaus stepped up first and smashed his shot over the bar. Moenchengladbach pulled it back when Klaus Augenthaler’s shot was saved, but Bayern went on to win 7-6 after the shoot-out. The memory of the game had been doing the rounds in Germany this week, at least until Bayern-bound Mario Goetze was ruled out on Wednesday through injury. If the game went to penalties, how would he feel, and would he take one?

Goetze may not be the only Dortmund star heading to Munich after the game, even if, as a German player who has spent his whole career at the club, his departure hurts the most. The reason the two clubs fell out earlier in the season was over the future of Robert Lewandowski, the Polish forward whose four goals in the semi-final first leg against Real Madrid marked one of the most complete individual performances in the competition’s history.

Lewandowski has always denied that any deal has been struck but it has been reported that he told Dortmund this week that Bayern will be his next club either this summer, when he has one year left to run on his contract, or next summer, when he is a free agent. “My future will be solved after the season,” is all he would say to Polish paper Przegląd Sportowy this week. “I will decide then and speak out. It’s not the time to discuss this, I’m fully focused on the final,” he said. “I’m a professional. Who I’m playing against makes no difference, the most important thing for me is the team I play for.”
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Chelsea midfielder Ramires grew up in a poor district of Sao Paulo called Boa Sorte, meaning Good Luck, but there was not much fortune in his life early on. He shared a cramped apartment, which had only one bedroom, with his mother, grandmother, and two brothers and when he wanted to play football, had to share a pitch with a local herd of cows.

As a teenager, he helped his uncles work as bricklayers, even though he didn’t enjoy the hard labour. “I remember working with the hot sun in my face, carrying stones, sand and bricks,” he once said. But the family needed money and Ramires was providing.

He would work for eight hours every day before his football training in the evenings. “I worked from 8am until 4pm. Training was at 430pm. I cycled home from work, got changed then took the bike out and would train and then go home.”

That same energy and spirit has helped his career blossom in Europe; and while the larger-than-life figure of David Luiz may dominate Chelsea’s Europa League final build-up against his former club Benfica next week, it’s worth remembering that Ramires also spent a year in Lisbon as well.
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If the ten-game ban that Luis Suarez received for biting Branislav Ivanovic last Sunday was badly received in Liverpool, imagine how it went down in Uruguay.

Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher had written in support of Suarez in the Daily Mail that he’d rather get bitten than have his leg broken (though his argument fell down when he accepted that rules are different when you are talking about Liverpool’s best player, citing Charles Itandje, Liverpool’s third-choice goalkeeper, who left soon after he was caught laughing and joking during a Hillsborough Memorial service).

On Thursday morning, Pepe Reina went one step further than Carragher and as good as accused the FA of xenophobia, saying: “They treat Suarez differently, because he’s Uruguayan. He knows what he did is wrong, but ten games is absurd, excessive and unfair.”

The written explanation of Suarez’s ban will be received on Thursday—the FA really do themselves no favours by allowing the story to gather momentum before explaining the reasons and Liverpool have until Friday to appeal. They run the risk of a longer ban if the appeal is deemed ‘frivolous’, and of damaging their ‘global brand’ (awful words) if the lessons of the previous Suarez saga look like they have not been learned. As for Suarez the individual, his last year of careful reputation-building has been wasted; he’s back to square one again (or behind it, in fact).

And yet in Uruguay, the reaction has been unequivocal. Suarez is a victim; the media and FA are out to get him; therefore it’s time he left England. “Surely he will leave Liverpool,” wrote El Pais on Thursday. “Suarez always wanted to stay in England despite the hostile climate and tempting offers but this time, the striker is willing to listen to his agent.” The paper added that Suarez is keeping a brave face on his latest problem, not wanting to upset his pregnant wife.
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It’s an easy way to win over Marseille fans—slagging off anyone or anything connected to Paris Saint-Germain—but the truth is, everyone connected to Marseille loved Joey Barton before he called Thiago Silva an “over-rated Brazilian” and “ladyboy” on Twitter last week.

Barton basked in the ovation he received when he came on as a substitute in Marseille’s 1-0 win over Bordeaux last weekend. It was his first game since his latest high-profile Twitter row with the Brazilian defender, who riled up the midfielder with an interview in L’Equipe in which he talked about Barton but refused to mention his name.

“There’s a Marseille player whose name I don’t recall, he’s English, who has been speaking badly about Neymar and about Brazilian football in general and even about Beckham and Ibra,” Silva said.

“The thing is, no-one speaks about him, so it must amuse him to perhaps spit on great players so that people know that he exists. What this guy should never forget is that there are more stars on the Brazil jersey than on any other football shirt. It makes me want to win [the World Cup] even more to shut that Englishman up. What does he know about Brazilian football? I don’t remember having played against him for the national team.”

At that stage, Barton would have been wise to keep quiet, as he had clearly got under Silva’s skin. But that is not the Barton way. As he put it in a rare interview with Sport & Style magazine last week: “Being on Twitter is like giving a box of matches to an arsonist but at the same time, it’s done me a lot of good because without having a journalist in front of you who already has an idea of what he wants to write, you’re able to control the message: and that’s me.
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Nice played Saint-Etienne on Saturday March 2, in a Ligue 1 game between two sides chasing the Champions League places but who would probably both settle for a Europa League spot. After 24 minutes, Nice’s Valentin Eysseric lunged late and dangerously into Saint-Etienne’s experienced midfielder Jeremy Clement, and the result was horrific.

As Clement fell to the ground in agony, his ankle fractured, TV pictures captured the bone at a right-angle as he struck the turf. It was horrendous, and Eysseric was quite rightly sent off. What happened next, though, was interesting and—given the ongoing saga following the challenge by Wigan’s Callum McManaman on Newcastle’s Masadio Haidara—instructive.

First of all, Clement was rushed to hospital and ruled out for six to eight months. Eysseric, 21 years old, sat in the dressing-room and felt sick. As soon as the game finished, he phoned Clement’s father and passed on his apologies. He took full blame for the injury, and told L’Equipe that he expected a long ban for his recklessness. That’s the thing about red cards in France; all carry one-match bans (the next match) and then get assessed and potentially extended depending on the severity of the incident.

Eysseric was eventually banned for 11 games (unlike most players, he turned up for his hearing), but by the time it was handed him, he had already formed an unlikely relationship with Clement. “I still feel guilty and the image of the ankle still haunts me,” Eysseric told L’Equipe. “But I felt better after speaking to Clement; he told me that the operation on the ankle had gone well, and he will be back playing football. Ultimately, he was the one who reassured me. I thought it was very classy of him. He must be mad at me, and this is normal, but he showed no sign if that.”

He also gave Eysseric a generous prognosis: the surgeon who operated on the ankle, Remi Philippot, had broken off his holidays to attend to the stricken player, but was not so confident. “It’s a serious injury, very serious, and his future [as a player] will depend on his ability to recuperate and other factors besides,” he told France Football. “We need to be honest, it’s serious and we can’t say for sure if he will be back or not. We will know more in three or four months.”

Eysseric visited Clement three days after the tackle; they spent an hour together in Saint-Etienne’s North Hospital, Room 329, and the Nice player brought in a box of cakes. “We are all human, dammit. The day we stop feeling for other people, we might as well all give up,” said Saint-Etienne’s emotional co-president Roland Romeyer during a teary interview with France Football the next Wednesday.

Now compare the reaction following the McManaman-Haidara challenge in England a fortnight ago. First of all, the resulting injury was nowhere near as serious as Clement’s, but the aftermath focused on whether McManaman would be banned or not. Surely not, boomed Wigan owner Dave Whelan: “The ball was there and McManaman got the ball as clean as a whistle, then followed through and they collided,” he said. “That’s an accident. There is not one ounce of malice.”

Coach Roberto Martinez said McManaman wanted to apologise to the player, but not before clearing his name. “It’s nothing malicious, he’s not that sort of boy. It’s the normal enthusiasm that you get in your debut… If Callum hasn’t apologised yet then he definitely will do that because we’re a football club where those values are very important.”

Haidara has since said he thought his career might have ended, and was surprised that there was no retrospective action taken. "You must protect players. This type of tackle cannot be condoned. The authorities must take action,” he told Le Parisien. “He could have ended my career and ruined my whole life and he will play again before me—ridiculous!”

No action was taken because referee Mark Halsey had seen the incident. Halsey, you may remember, was also in charge when Marouane Fellaini got away with head-butting his marker Ryan Shawcross during a game against Stoke, and subsequently elbowed and slapped the same player on two separate occasions. Halsey missed it, so that time Fellaini was given a retrospective three-match ban.

The FA has been roundly criticised for its stance on this issue, but for once, I have some sympathy with the governing body. I think that the FA would be open to a new red-card regulation, whereby every red card carried a one-match ban and was then subject to further punishment depending on the severity of the incident. If one player were to be shown a second yellow for slapping someone’s cheek, that might just be one game out; if someone else broke a player’s leg and ruled him out for the season, that could be eight games out. The Premier League clubs, whose players have more to lose, are the ones more likely to reject the proposal. And as new FA chairman Greg Dyke is soon to find out, the Premier League wags the tail of the FA more often than the other way around.

Looking at the sensible manner in which the Eysseric-Clement situation played out, it’s hard not to think that a similar system would make sense in England.

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Rafa Benitez perfectly summed up the bind Chelsea fans find themselves in with his so-called ‘rant’ after last week’s FA Cup win against Middlesbrough. He asked the fans to stop booing and concentrate on supporting the team, and assured them he would be leaving the club whatever happened in the summer.

The problem for Chelsea fans—at least that vocal minority who have made clear their feelings on the subject—is that they want Benitez to do badly so he doesn’t get the job full-time; but not so badly that Chelsea drop out of the top four and miss out on the Champions League next season.

The dilemma is also one that has to be considered by a 19-year-old striker who watched Chelsea’s Premier League win over West Brom with some interest: Romelu Lukaku is a Chelsea player, currently on loan at WBA, and has scored 12 goals for the side this season. His future, at least for next season, depends on if Chelsea qualifies for the Champions League.

Chelsea have made Radamel Falcao their top target for next summer, but without the Champions League, would not stand a chance of getting him, especially as his current team, Atletico Madrid, look poised to be in the competition next season anyway. It was a similar situation with Eden Hazard last year: he waited until after the Champions League final to commit to Chelsea, otherwise he would have joined Spurs to play in the elite tournament this year.
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There is a new reality in Champions League football, and that’s the best chance of qualifying for the Champions League might come from actually being knocked out of the Champions League. That seems to be the case for Arsenal, as their likely elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich—following Tuesday’s 3-1 home defeat in the first leg—might allow them to focus on finishing in the Champions League qualification places for the rest of the season.

Arsenal has four points to gain on Spurs in the race for fourth position, a spot that, if achieved, will surely keep Wenger at the Emirates for at least one more year. I happen to think he should stay, at least until his contract expires; and not just because finding a new coach after a World Cup could be easier than one year earlier.

The fans who booed the team (or was it the coach?) after Arsenal’s FA Cup defeat at the hands of Blackburn last weekend may only be a vocal minority, but they are being heard. It’s all very well, if a little tasteless, for them to chant ‘Wenger Out’ in minute eight of Saturday’s match against Aston Villa to denote eight years without a trophy, but without an obvious candidate to replace the Frenchman, their argument is weakened.

Thursday’s press reported that ‘Silent’ Stan Kroenke and his board will back Wenger with more funds this summer. That only delays the inevitable, so where will they look when it eventually comes to replacing Wenger? Here are some options they might consider:

From the Premier League: Wenger may be the only French coach still in the top-flight but there is no shortage of talented pretenders who have proved themselves in the division. No, I don’t mean Harry Redknapp: Roberto Martinez and Michael Laudrup both have the potential to move to bigger clubs, while David Moyes has been linked to posts at Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City but Arsenal woud actually be a more suitable fit for the Everton boss, whose ten years at Goodison Park can be characterised by classy behaviour, spending within tight budgets, and falling short when trophies/big prizes are up for grabs. Sounds like the ideal fit.

From France: As soon as he took the job as Lyon coach 18 months ago, Garde, the first French player Wenger signed for Arsenal, has been billed as a potential successor to the job at the Emirates. French publication Chrono Foot suggested Garde is ‘the spiritual son of Pep Guardiola’ (former Lyon player, captain, and youth coach) but Garde claimed Wenger is his mentor. “He is the one who has marked me the most,” said Garde. “His personality, his vision of football deeply affected me and really influences me in my work today.” Garde is not the only Ligue 1 coach who could be considered: Christian Gourcuff, of Lorient, often takes Arsenal youngsters on loan. “I have no privieleged relationship with Arsene Wenger but for sure, we have the same football philosophy and that brings us together,” he told France Football. Rudi Garcia seems to be coming to the end of his cycle at Lille while Daniel Sanchez has impressed with his smart management and attractive style of play at Valenciennes.

From Europe’s Top Table: Every summer is billed as a potential managerial merry-go-round but this year it could really happen: Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti might be having a job-swap (claims Le Parisien) though the Portuguese has said his heart is set on a return to England. Piers Morgan has backed Jupp Heynckes to manage Arsenal next season—which would appear to kill off his chances while earlier this week, ex-Monaco chief executive Tor-Kristian Karlsen backed Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti to succeed at any club. “Spalletti easily the best coach (in the real sense of the word) I’ve ever come across,” he wrote on Twitter. “The way he sets up his teams, the way he works on the training ground, the movement and cohesion of his teams, improvement of players… He would be a great fit for most European top clubs. I wouldn’t think twice about it if I were in charge of any top club.” After the World Cup, you could probably add Jogi Loew and Louis van Gaal to that list too.

From the ‘Arsenal Family’: While appointing someone with a rich history at Arsenal might appease the fans, there is a strange anomaly you notice with Wenger’s former players. Very few have actually gone into management. Unlike Sir Alex Ferguson’s former charges at Manchester United (and yes, he has been in charge there for longer) Wenger’s ex-players rarely make the transition to the dug-out. David Platt tried, and seems happier as a number two (to Roberto Mancini); Paul Merson and Tony Adams were flops; Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp are part of coaching set-ups, and at the beginning of their journeys, as is Oleg Luzhny, in his first season in charge of Tavriya Simferopol.

From Left-Field: This one always seemed more likely when David Dein was around, as you imagine he would be happier to back his instinct even if it flies in the face of the majority. Back in February 2011, Wenger admitted that he would like the current coach of Grampus Eight, Dragan ‘Piksi’ Stojkovic, to replace him at the Emirates Stadium. “I’d love Piksi to be my successor,” he told Vecernje Novosti newspaper. “There are a hundred reasons for that. His football philosophy is almost identical to mine. Our ideas are the same and we both strive for perfect football. I knew he was going to have his teams playing attacking football with many passes. He has done that, showing he will be a great coach. I told him that if he could transmit his football imagination to his players he would fly high.” If that move does happen, then Wenger’s successor will have followed the same unlikely path that he did.