I’m Not A Racist. I Just Think There Are Too Many Blacks.

Italian football used to be synonymous with catenaccio, the sophisticated defensive game Juventus - Arrigo Sacchi incontra il settore giovanile Juventus Center - Vinovoplan that Inter Milan pioneered in the 1960s. These days, however, Serie A is no longer an incubator for tactical innovations; it is the epicenter of European football’s racism problem.

In October, the president of the Italian Football Federation, Carlo Tavecchio, received a six-month UEFA ban for describing black players as “banana eaters.” And Mario Balotelli, who is often jeered when he appears for the Italian national team, left AC Milan in August partly to escape the racist chanting endemic to Serie A.

The latest culprit is Champions League-winning manager Arrigo Sacchi. At last weekend’s prestigious Viareggio youth tournament, Sacchi, who coached Italy at the 1994 World Cup, reportedly complained that “in our youth sector, there are too many blacks.”

On Monday, a hastily backtracking Sacchi tried to frame his remarks as the poorly worded lamentations of a true Italian patriot: “I just wanted to underline the fact that we’re losing our national pride and identity.”

Then he deployed what can only be described as the footballing equivalent of “some of my best friends are black.”

“Do you really think I’m a racist?” Sacchi said. “My history speaks for itself. I’ve always trained teams with diverse colored players, and they won a lot.”

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Saying Goodbye To English Soccer’s Long-Serving Scotsmen

On Wednesday evening, when Aston Villa finally sacked manager Paul Lambert, the Paul Lambert Aston VillaPremier League lost its one remaining Scottish coach. Since the 1950s, gruff Scottish geniuses have been a fixture in English soccer, engineering memorable league campaigns and delivering pithy sound bites. Lambert, a mediocre coach with all the charisma of a wrinkled warm-up bib, has little in common with Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson. But his sacking, the inevitable result of one of the longest goalless streaks in Villa’s history, carries symbolic weight. Over the last few years, as long-serving coaches like Shankly and Ferguson have become increasingly rare, what might be termed the “Scottish model” of sustained team-building, in which a visionary manager molds a squad over the course of several seasons, has given way to a new reality: a cutthroat league in which players and coaches never stay at one club for very long.

The Premier League’s growing volatility is especially pronounced at Manchester United, once a bastion of stability in the rapidly changing landscape of English soccer. In 2013, after 25 years in the Old Trafford dugout, Ferguson retired from coaching, and his final act as United manager was to anoint fellow Scotsman David Moyes as his successor. Ferguson, who saw traces of his own Glaswegian toughness in Moyes’ no-nonsense coaching philosophy, naively assumed that fans and journalists would wait patiently for the ex-Everton manager to blossom into Sir Alex 2.0. They didn’t, and less than a year later, Moyes was fired.

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Richard C. Scudamore: Man of the Year

Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore calls the league’s gargantuan new TV deal “a scudamoresuccess story” that will ensure football continues to be one of Britain’s most popular cultural exports: “The Premier League, the BBC, the Queen – they are things that people feel are good about the UK,” Scudamore said.

But it remains maddeningly unclear whether the deal, which also promises to enrich club owners and attract foreign investment, will help resolve any of English football’s long-term structural problems: skyrocketing ticket prices, decrepit grassroots infrastructure, the embarrassing income gap between celebrity players and “nonessential” club employees.

For his part, Scudamore, who came under fire last year after the Sunday Mirror published sexist emails he’d sent to a lawyer friend, has made it pretty clear that he couldn’t care less about the plight of the working class. According to the Guardian, “Asked whether it made him uncomfortable to see clubs paying some players ‘half-a-million pounds a week’ while other members of staff earned below the living wage, Scudamore said: ‘No, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable.’”

What a guy.

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Breaking: Costa Admits He’s Not An Angel

Despite all evidence to the contrary – numerous camera angles, an FA investigation, the laws of physics – Chelsea striker diego costaDiego Costa insists he did not intentionally stamp on Emre Can in Tuesday’s League Cup semi-final. “When I get home, I can go to sleep knowing that I’ve not done anything wrong,” Costa told the Daily Mail.

Pundits love to say that Costa, who is currently serving a three-match suspension for violent conduct, enjoys “the physical side of the game,” a euphemism for the fine art of starting fights with Jordan Henderson.

“I’m not saying I’m an angel,” Costa added. “But every time I play, I will play the same way. That’s what I need to do in order to support my family.”

Yup, Costa, who makes a cool 150,000 pounds a week, just played the “feed my family” card. Personally, I’m unconcerned about the welfare of Costa’s as-yet-unborn children, even if the FA’s crackdown on dangerous play promises to stifle their dad’s talent for pissing defenders off. Once he retires, Costa will have plenty of time to cultivate, and eventually monetize, his true passion: His massive collection of postage stamps.

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How Angry is Philippe Mexes?

Last weekend – while Chelsea and Manchester City lost to lower-league opposition, mexes red cardpossibly in a coordinated attempt to restore the Magic of the FA Cup – Milan’s Philippe Mexes received the 16th red card of his professional career after trying to strangle Lazio midfielder Stefano Mauri. Mexes, who once scored this ridiculously cool bicycle kick, is now just three dismissals shy of Sergio Ramos. “Has there been an angrier footballer anywhere in Europe this season?” BBC Sport recently wondered.

I’m hoping Mexes eventually surpasses Ramos, because the Magic of a Mexes Red Card makes the FA Cup seem like waste of time. But is he really the angriest player in Europe? I’m not convinced. For me, the title belongs to City captain Vincent Kompany, who looks angry even when he’s happy.

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Today in Narcissistic Goal Celebrations

It was a good day for the noble art of the narcissistic goal celebration.totti selfie

First, in the Premier League, Southampton’s Dusan Tadic flexed his abdominals – I think the medical term is “the Balotelli muscles” – after scoring in a crucial game at Old Trafford.

Then Francesco Totti took a quick selfie in front of the Curva Sud to celebrate his equalizer against Lazio. “I thought about it during the week,” Totti told Sky Sports after the game. “There is this fashion for selfies now.”

There is this fashion for selfies now. I’m torn between admiration for Totti’s ballsiness and despair at his apparently sincere embrace of selfie culture. At least he kept his shirt on.

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Mourinho And The Media, Friends Forever

Jose Mourinho has always had a way with words. “It is unfair, really,” former Manchester mourinho presserUnited coach Sir Alex Ferguson, himself a skillful communicator, once said. “He’s good looking. He’s got that sort of George Clooney bit in his hair…. [And] he can speak five languages.” Mourinho – who started his career as an interpreter for English manager Bobby Robson and has coached teams in Portugal, Italy, Spain and England – actually knows six languages. “I think I am a special one,” he famously said at his first Premier League press conference.

The nickname has stuck, and so has Mourinho’s penchant for outrageous one-liners. But his press conferences are more than just an amusing weekly performance. Mourinho’s ability to manufacture headline-worthy sound bites, in whatever language he happens to be speaking at the time, has consistently allowed him to manipulate media coverage. In Mourinho, the English tabloids have found a perfect accomplice: A sly operator as adept at twisting words, and as unapologetic about his real intentions, as the grizzled cynics on Fleet Street.

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Gus Poyet Hates The Winter Schedule

On Saturday, Sunderland coach Gus Poyet sounded off about the crowded winter newcastle fansschedule. “Playing on [December] 28th is a disgrace,” Poyet said. “If you want to see the best players performing well, you need to make sure you are not playing every two days.”

Poyet has a pretty good point. All the other major European leagues shut down during the holidays. A saner Premier League schedule would prevent injuries, improve morale, and help the England team compete against better-rested rivals at the World Cup.

But the Christmas fixtures aren’t going away anytime soon. Premier League teams play through the end of December for the same reason Newcastle fans take off their shirts during snowstorms: It’s stupid but entertaining, and, crucially, it makes for good TV.

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Why Isn’t Wayne Rooney Considered A Great Player?

Wayne Rooney recently earned his 100th England cap in a European Championship Manchester United v Manchester Cityqualifier at Wembley Stadium. He scored in that game, and then netted another two goals in a friendly against Scotland, putting him within reach of Bobby Charlton’s England goal-scoring record. At club level, Rooney has won five Premier League titles, a Champions League, several domestic cups, and a handful of individual awards. And yet many pundits insist that, despite his prodigious talent, he will never join the pantheon of footballing greats.

Rooney’s detractors emphasize a few key criticisms. He has repeatedly underperformed at the World Cup. He has endured long goal-scoring droughts. He can’t control his temper. He smokes cigarettes and eats unhealthy food. But the real reason Rooney hasn’t achieved greatness – or, at least, the kind of greatness pundits recognize – is the same reason he continues to be one of the most interesting players in world football.

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I’m Roy Keane. Who The Hell Are You?

This morning, Roy Keane announced he’s leaving his coaching role at Aston Villa to keane beardconcentrate on the Republic of Ireland’s campaign to qualify for the European Championships. “My roles with Villa and Ireland and combining my commitment to these have become too much,” Keane said.

It’s easy to understand why Keane feels overcommitted. Since August, he has juggled managerial jobs in two different countries, promoted a best-selling autobiography laden with gratuitous sniping, and cultivated what I do not hesitate to call the scariest beard in football (sorry, Tim Howard). But earlier this month, when an Irish journalist asked Keane whether his book tour, which recently led to a fistfight with an autograph-seeker, and his Premier League job had become “distracting,” Keane responded with a polite, reasoned objection: “You think I’ve got to justify all that to you? Who the hell do you think you are?”

So today’s announcement marks an unusual moment in football history. Believe it or not, Roy Keane just admitted he was wrong.

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