Scottish football chiefs "look ready to shake hands" on the Scottish Premier League's new three-league set up of 12-12-18, according to Mark Guidi of the Scotland DAILY RECORD. Three governing bodies and 15 clubs will attend a meeting at Hampden this week, and "several items on the agenda are close to being agreed." The changes would see the game "governed by one body" as early as Aug. '14. And there will be just three leagues in a 12-12-18 set-up -- as proposed by the SPL in its recent blueprint. Scottish Football League clubs voted unanimously for a 16-10-16 structure, but SFL CEO David Longmuir now admits that the SPL’s plan "appears to be the only way forward." Longmuir: "That appears to be the only way we can all agree and move forward. There is no perfect solution, but we are trying" (DAILY RECORD, 1/6). The HERALD SCOTLAND reported details of the agreement "have still to be sealed, but it will also lead to the two league bodies merging into one, which is likely to be called the Scottish Professional Football League." The plans are "thought to involve reconstructing the leagues in time for next season." An agreement is "likely to be reached next month." Longmuir said, "We're agreed on a lot of things, and it will be in the best interests of all of the 42 clubs. We are on the right road to achieving something positive" (HERALD SCOTLAND, 1/6).
SPEAKING A NEW LANGUAGE: In Glasgow, Gordon Waddell reported the latest candidates for the Scottish FA's UEFA Pro License gathered at Hampden Sunday to "kick off the two-year course they now need to boss at the elite level of European football." For the first time since the course began in '99, however, candidates "must learn a second language as part of their studies." SFA Head of Football Development Jim Fleeting said, "At first they resisted, saying fewer foreigners were coming here so why the need. But then I asked 'What? Do none of you ever want to go and work abroad?' We’re not asking them to be fluent but it will be useful if they have enough to be courteous and get through a conversation" (DAILY RECORD, 1/6).
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has given his support to AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng, who on Friday walked off the pitch during an exhibition match after being racially abused by spectators, but added that "such actions do not represent a solution and the only way to deal with racism in football is harsher sanctions by governing bodies," according to Gary Meenaghan of THE NATIONAL. Blatter said that FIFA operates a zero tolerance policy when it comes to racism and Boateng's actions "perfectly illustrate that fans cannot act in such a way." Blatter emphasized, however, that player action "is not the answer and added stronger punishments must be administered." Blatter: "Walk off? No. I don't think that is the solution. The only solution is to be very harsh with the sanctions -- and the sanctions must be a deduction of points or something similar" (THE NATIONAL, 1/6). The SUNDAY TIMES wrote in an interview with CNN, Boateng "expressed his frustration with a perceived lack of support" from FIFA. Boateng said, "So many people in FIFA can do something, and they should wake up and do it. They should not tolerate it. They should ban people forever from the stadiums. That's the first thing you can do" (SUNDAY TIMES, 1/6).
RESPONSES TO THE RACISM: In London, Neil Rowlands reported the Italian Football Federation has responded to the incident "by announcing it will conduct an investigation." FA General Secretary Alex Horne believes that players "do have the right to walk off, but only if previous attempts to draw the abuse to the referee have been ignored." Horne: "If the players feel the referee isn't dealing with it, then I can understand why they walk off the pitch. Why should you have to tolerate that in this day and age?" (DAILY MIRROR, 1/6). Worldwide players' union FIFPro spokesperson Tony Higgins said, "The players of Milan sent a clear message: if racism does not stop, then football will. One solution would be to give referees more power to suspend or abandon games if they consider the racist abuse to be excessive" (RIA NOVOSTI, 1/4). The BBC reported AC Milan's players carried anti-racism messages on their shirts prior to Sunday's match against Siena (BBC, 1/6).
ManU Manager Alex Ferguson "has accused Tottenham Hotspur of manipulating the transfer market" to avoid paying ManU compensation for its former 20-year-old left-back Zeki Fryers, according to Tim Rich of the London INDEPENDENT. Ferguson suspects that Tottenham "deliberately encouraged Fryers to move from ManU to Standard Liège in the summer," so it could buy him back from the Belgian club in January and save itself anything up to £6M ($9.75M) in compensation. Ferguson said, "I am disappointed in Tottenham, I really am. I think it has been a blatant manipulation of the system" (INDEPENDENT, 1/4). In London, Jamie Jackson reported Ferguson "wants the Premier League to examine Tottenham Hotspur's signing." Ferguson claims there "will be a mobile phone trail." Had Tottenham pushed ahead with a move for Fryers at that time, a fee "would have been set by a Premier League tribunal, which might have been expected to award United compensation of £5M-6M ($8.13M-9.75M)." The Belgian club paid ManU £250,000 ($406,000) for the Manchester-born Fryers last summer, a fraction of United's target fee because the player "was moving abroad rather than between Premier League clubs." Ferguson namechecked Tottenham Chair Daniel Levy on MUTV: "It's a Daniel Levy deal. You know, it's his fingerprints all over it. It's the kind of thing we expected he was going to do." Spurs deny any impropriety. A spokesperson said: "Zeki was out of contract [with United] in the summer, we had looked into the possibility of signing the player but were unable to agree a deal on the terms Manchester United were asking" (GUARDIAN, 1/4). Standard Liège said on its website Fryers "felt homesick and had difficulty acclimatising to life away from home and family. So when the London club became interested we understood the situation and were not opposed to the return of the player to England" (GOAL, 1/5).
MAGPIES APPOLOGY: Meanwhile, the MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS reported Ferguson "has attempted to smooth things over with the Newcastle fans by telling them they are 'up there with the best supporters in the game.'" Ferguson caused outrage among the Toon Army when he described Newcastle as a "wee club in the North East" during his recent spat with Magpies Manager Alan Pardew. Ferguson said, "I want to clear up any misunderstanding that may have arisen over what I said. I have nothing but the highest regard for Newcastle fans and I always have had" (MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, 1/6).
Saudi Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz Nasser bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced Saturday that "he is abandoning plans to buy out financially-troubled" Superleague Greece club Panathinaikos, according to the AFP. Faisal said he made the move after the Athens team's shareholders rejected "a very comprehensive and totally guaranteed buyout proposal." Faisal: "We tried until the very last day with a barrage of sincere attempts from our part to accomplish the deal, unfortunately the club, revealing its real mood, rejected this request." The prince had claimed that he was "ready to immediately invest €28M ($36.6M) into Panathinaikos if allowed to gain a minimum 67.5% of the team's shares and to replace the current board of directors of the club." His plans "later called for a further investment into constructing a new stadium at a cost of €150M ($196M) and pledging another €40M ($52.3) in player signings" (AFP, 1/6).
The South African FA has reinstated CEO Dennis Mumble and four other leading officials suspended over a match-fixing scandal involving the national team, saying that they were "improperly removed from office," according to Jon Herskovitz of REUTERS. SAFA "did not exonerate the group," which included Mumble, President Kirsten Nematandani and its top refereeing officials. SAFA added the committee that put them on "special leave" did not have the authority to do so. The move comes less than two weeks before South Africa hosts the African Cup of Nations finals (REUTERS, 1/6).
PUBLIC PERCEPTION: The BBC reported the exec committee also felt the officials "had been portrayed as guilty despite the fact the inquiries into match-fixing had not been completed." In a statement, SAFA said, "Given the significance of the findings of the FIFA investigators, the investigation process that follows must be procedurally fair and sound to ensure firm outcomes" (BBC, 1/4). In Johannesburg, SAFA spokesperson Dominic Chimhavi said that SAFA "is not hiding from the public" in the wake of the match-fixing scandal. Chimhavi said, "We want to allay the fears of the public. We are not sweeping this issue under the carpet" (MAIL & GUARDIAN, 1/5).
A survey by football magazine Four Four Two revealed that depression "affects large numbers of footballers in the English professional game." The survey found that 78% of 100 professionals surveyed "agreed depression is a problem for footballers." The survey also found 43% believe that there are "too many foreign players in the English game, and three-quarters said match tickets are too expensive" (REUTERS, 1/3). ... FIFA President Sepp Blatter said that if the biennial Gulf Cup has any long-term plans of becoming an official FIFA event, "it must be more rigidly organised and work in cooperation with the African Cup of Nations." The region's "most-prestigious int'l football tournament" kicked off in Bahrain on Saturday. Blatter had "nothing but praise" for the event, however, it still does not "have a position on the governing body's int'l calendar." Blatter said its status could change if the tournament organisers can "find a formula to play the cup always at the same time when the African Cup of Nations is played" (THE NATIONAL, 1/6).