Friday, April 1, 2011

Portugal 'sells' Ronaldo to Spain in €160m deal on national debt.

Weighed down by debt, and reeling from the latest downgrading of their country's credit status, Portugal's finance ministry has secured the co-operation of football's highest-paid player in an audacious bid to draw the nation back from the brink of economic collapse.

In a move which some observers claimed "will lead to the destruction of the World Cup", Cristiano Ronaldo has agreed to "act like a patriot" and be sold to neighbouring Spain for €160m.

Last week, Prime Minister José Sócrates resigned after his government's latest austerity package was rejected by parliament. His move followed the downgrading of his country's credit rating to the category above "junk". While Ronaldo's fee, though double the current record (paid by Real Madrid to Manchester United for Ronaldo's club affiliation in 2009) barely dents the €12bn Portugal owes, Mr Socrates, now caretaker premier, believes that the international bond markets will take it as a symbol of Portugal's determination to tackle the crisis, and respond accordingly.

Although no footballer has ever previously been "transferred" between countries, there is extensive precedent for changing nationality, especially in Spain. Two of the greats, Alfredo di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás, played for the Spanish national team after representing other countries and then taking Spanish citizenship. Di Stéfano – who is still involved at Real Madrid and is thought to have influenced Ronaldo's decision – had played for Argentina and Colombia. Puskás even played in the 1954 World Cup final for Hungary but went into exile after the crushing of the 1956 revolution. As recently as Spain's 2008 European Championship triumph, Marcos Senna, Brazilian by birth and parentage, was a key player.

Senna, however, had not played for Brazil. Since Puskás' day, Fifa, the world governing body, has tightened its rules. Once a player has played a competitive international for one country – at any age group – he cannot switch allegiance unless he had dual nationality at the time, and was educated in the second country. Mikael Arteta, Everton's Spanish midfielder, abandoned an attempt to play for England because he had played competitively for Spain under-21s. But Fifa's secretive executive committee is expected to meet today, in extraordinary session, to adapt its statutes to permit such moves in circumstances where both governments agree.

"It's insane," said a spokesman for the Bruges-based Keep Football Pure organisation. "Those idiot administrators have not thought it through, as usual. There's now nothing to stop Qatar buying a World XI. It'll destroy the World Cup, it will turn it into another Champions League – only worse."

Opinion is divided in Portugal. While many see Ronaldo's agreement to the move as the "ultimate patriotic gesture" others regard the transfer as a "surrender". Paolo Fril, professor of political economics at Lisbon University, told The Independent: "We were ruled by a Spanish king for 60 years [1580-1640] and had to go to war to win back our independence. This is not about Spain saving us –they are restoring the Iberian Union by the back door."

There are doubts in Spain, too. The issue is not naturalising Ronaldo, but whether he is needed. Spain are the current world and European champions, with a style of play that relies more on passing than the soloist skills for which Ronaldo is known. "If we are going to buy foreigners we should buy Lionel Messi [Barcelona's Argentinian star]," said one fan.

But if Ronaldo is unappreciated in Spain, his skills may be in demand elsewhere. Late last night, reports suggested that David Cameron was preparing a counter-offer, of £200m, to persuade Ronaldo to play for England. "The Premier League is where Ronaldo became a star," said the Prime Minister, "so it is only right and proper he should play for England." He added that Vince Cable had proposed a "Ferrari tax" to pay for it, though Ronaldo himself would be given exemption.


Torres to enact ancient Spanish ceremony today to end Chelsea goal 'curse'

Fernando Torres is resorting to desperate measures in order to break his Chelsea duck - and he wants Blues fans to help him achieve his goal.

The Spanish hitman has fired blanks in each of the six games he's appeared in since Chelsea paid Liverpool a record-breaking £50m for his services back in January.

And with the once-prolific forward's form and character now being called into question, Torres is turning to the traditions of his homeland in order to solve the crisis.

At precisely one minute to midday today, he will carry out an ancient Iberian curse-breaking rite called the 'Dia de los Inocentes' at Stamford Bridge.

The procedure will start off with Torres leading a goat - taken from a herd in his hometown of Fuenlabrada and flown to the UK specially earlier this week - around the pitch.

The well-fed animal will then be encouraged to defecate in each of the goal-mouths so as to ward off any malicious spirits that might be blocking Torres' shots.

After a brief visit to the Chelsea trophy room for luck, Torres will then 'run' the goat through the Chelsea Village complex before closing the ceremony by ritually launching the animal from the roof of St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Cadogan Street, SW3.

As per Spanish tradition, the 'Dia de los Inocentes' may only be performed on the first day of the fourth month of the year.

It also demands that at least 12 people take part in the 'running of the goat', which is why Torres has appealed to Chelsea's fan-base for help.

The first dozen to turn up at Stamford Bridge on Friday April 1 before midday will not only be able to take part in this historic event, but will also be able to take home choice cuts of goat meat afterwards.

A spokesman for the striker said that Torres was confident the goals will start flowing following the ceremony:

"He first performed it in 2001, shortly before his Atletico Madrid career took off, and he's hoping for similarly spectacular results this time round," he said.


Prem clubs set for battle over FEMALE Brazil star

A host of top Premier League clubs are ready to battle each other - and FIFA - in a bid to sign top WOMAN Brazilian footballer Marta Vieira da Silva.

MirrorFootball can reveal that Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea are locked in a six-way fight with Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona for the 25-year-old, who is a five-time winner of the FIFA Player of the Year award and is known as "Pele in a skirt" in Brazil.

But whichever club wins the race will then have to persuade FIFA to allow her to compete in men's competition, in what would be an astonishing first for top flight professional football.

Scouts from a raft of clubs have been watching Marta, 25, play in the Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league in the USA and are convinced that not only could she cut it in the men's game in England, but that she could be a top star.

An insider from one of the clubs chasing her said: "She is a really exciting player with some typically-Brazilian tricks and flicks - but above all she's a goalscorer and we think she could make a big impact once she gets used to the pace and physicality of the Premier League."

Marta moved to Western New York Flash earlier this year but Albertin Montoya, her coach at previous club FC Gold Pride, is full of praise for his former charge.

“Not only is she the most talented player in the world, she’s the hardest worker,” he said. “I’ve never seen a competitor like her. She’s so creative with the ball, and that’s what draws attention, but underneath that talent, she simply has the will to be the best.”

Marta herself, who has scored 56 goals in just 55 games for Brazil and was the first ever winner of the women's Ballon d'Or, said she doesn't think she would have a problem cutting it in the men's game.

She said: "I play all the time with my male friends who are also professionals. We have the ability, we have the technique, we have the tactics.

"A lot of people say my style is patterned after Ronaldinho's," she added.

But FIFA are blocking any move and insisting the gender-separation principle in football must be maintained.

The rule was tested in 2004 when Mexican club Celaya tried to sign female player Maribel Dominguez.

FIFA's executive committee banned the move, insisting "there must be a clear separation between men's and women's football".

But representatives from the club's chasing Marta are lobbying FIFA in a bid to get them to reverse their position.

The insider said: "Our stance is, if she's good enough, why not let her play?"

In 2003, Italian team Perugia tried to sign German World Cup winner Birgit Prinz, which would have made her the first female player in Serie A, but once again they were thwarted by the governing body.

If any of the Premier League clubs are successful in signing da Silva then they have to register her by midday on April 1, 2011.

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