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Italian players’ rep calls out establishment’s racism tolerance

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ROME (AP) It was the day after Christmas and the festive atmosphere was quickly ruined when a soccer fan died in clashes outside of the venerated San Siro stadium in Milan.

Inside the arena, the situation grew worse when Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who is black, was targeted with racist monkey noises by Inter Milan supporters for the full 90 minutes.

After Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti pleaded with the referee to no avail for the match to be suspended, Koulibaly sarcastically applauded the official and was sent off with his second yellow card.

Days later, an emergency summit of Italian soccer and government leaders called to address the problems of fan violence and racism resulted in little more than opposing opinions.

“The feeling I took home was that we don’t all view the problem in the same manner and we don’t all want to confront it the same way,” Damiano Tommasi, the president of the Italian players’ association, said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. “Not everyone was convinced that this is unacceptable.”

No surprise then that, nine months later, fan racism remains a serious problem for Serie A and there has been a complete lack of punishment after three cases of discriminatory chants during the opening five rounds of the Italian league.

Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku, AC Milan’s Franck Kessie, and Fiorentina’s Dalbert Henrique — who are all black — have been targeted by racist chants but no sanctions have been handed out by the Italian league, federation or police.

“There’s always someone who says, `Yes, but. Yes, but that’s not racism. Yes, but it’s only one person. Yes, but it’s not a racist insult. Yes, but we can’t prevent someone from saying these things inside a stadium. Too many `Yes, buts,'” Tommasi said. “That results in a level of tolerance that doesn’t come into line with other countries.”

With coaches like Ancelotti and Antonio Conte at Inter having recently returned home after experiences abroad, plus the arrival of more high-profile foreigners in the Italian league like Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus and Lukaku, who recently transferred from Manchester United, the racism in Serie A has taken on a new dimension.

“They notice the difference much more than other players and coaches. And they’re personalities who are known internationally. Their voices gain more attention,” Tommasi said.

As Conte said recently, “I’m back in Italy after three years and I’ve discovered that the situation has really worsened. In England whoever offends someone pays for it because they put them in jail right away and throw away the key. That’s why so many families go to the stadiums there.”

The racism isn’t just against black players. Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic was recently insulted as “a Gypsy.”

Then there are degrading territorial chants constantly aimed at Napoli in which supporters of other clubs associate Napoli with cholera or sing that the southern city should fall victim to an eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

During Napoli’s opening match of the season at Fiorentina, Ancelotti uncharacteristically lost his cool at the final whistle and confronted opposing fans behind his bench.

“After 90 minutes of insults, I turned to the crowd and suggested that they just go home,” Ancelotti said. “It’s certainly not pleasant to hear non-stop insults.”

Fiorentina fans, meanwhile, have been known to celebrate the Heysel Stadium disaster, when 39 people – mostly Juventus fans – were killed in a stampede at the start of the 1985 European Cup final.

“Insults have become an accepted part of the fan culture,” Tommasi said.

An extra complication was revealed by a recent police crackdown on Juventus “ultra” fans linked to alleged infiltration by the Calabrian `Ndrangheta crime mob: Militant-like supporters allegedly blackmailed their own team by threatening racist chants which would result in a costly stadium closure if the club did not provide them with extra tickets for resale.

Solutions for fighting racism and other offensive behavior have been established in the English and French leagues, where high-tech cameras and listening devices inside stadiums can help authorities identify offenders, who then face harsh punishments.

Gerardo Mastrandrea, the Italian league judge charged with deciding disciplinary measures, has few tools to work with besides the official referees’ report from each match. If the referee does not report racist chants, Mastandrea can’t rely on fan videos circulating on social media to hand out punishment.

There was progress, however, when Atalanta’s 2-2 draw with Fiorentina last weekend was suspended briefly during the first half due to chants aimed at Dalbert, following FIFA’s “three-step process” for handling racism inside stadiums.

The FIFA process requires the referee to briefly pause a match at the first hint of discriminatory chants and request an announcement asking fans to stop. If the chanting persists, the referee can suspend the match and order the teams into the locker rooms until it stops. If that doesn’t work, the referee can stop the match definitively.

“The rules are there, they just need to be applied,” Tommasi said. “We could sit here and talk about solutions for months. But in terms of the regulations there are only a few moves to be made, we just need to have the courage, strength and – above all – the desire to say these people can’t be inside the stadiums.”

After last season’s racism summit, then-Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced that he opposes suspending matches because racist chants are too difficult to identify.

Salvini lost his office in a political gamble this month but remains popular for his hard-line stance against migrants.

“Unfortunately,” Tommasi said, “athletes and sports in general have little to learn from society in general these days in terms of integration and inclusion.”

Berhalter made almost as much as Ellis in first few months

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NEW YORK (AP) American men’s soccer coach Gregg Berhalter earned nearly as much from the U.S. Soccer Federation in his first four months as women’s counterpart Jill Ellis took home in 12.

[ MORE: Messi says Barcelona is “home,” but he “sees weird things happening” ]

Berhalter, hired on Dec. 2, 2018, had compensation of $304,113 from the USSF in the year ending last March 31, according to the tax return released by the federation on Wednesday. That figure included a $200,000 signing bonus.

Ellis, who became women’s coach in May 2014, had compensation of $390,409 in the fiscal year. She went on to lead the Americans to their second straight World Cup title, was voted FIFA Women’s Coach of the Year, then left in October. Any bonus she earned as a result of the title likely will be listed on the next year’s tax return.

Her base salary was raised to $500,000 in late 2018, a person with knowledge of her contract told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the USSF has not announced that.

The USSF has said she was the highest-paid women’s coach in the world.

Tab Ramos, who was the men’s under-20 team coach before leaving in October to become coach of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, outearned Ellis with compensation of $460,772.

Ellis did earn more than Earnie Stewart ($291,667), hired as men’s general manager in June 2018, and Dave Sarachan ($241,869), interim men’s national team coach from October 2017 until Berhalter was hired.

[ MORE: Guardiola will not leave Man City: “Truth will prevail” ]

Jürgen Klinsmann, fired as men’s coach in November 2016, was paid $1,475,000 on Feb. 1, 2018. He received $3,354,167 in the year ending March 31, 2018.

Bruce Arena, who replaced Klinsmann and led the men’s team through its failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup , was not listed on the latest return. He received $1,249,348 in the year ending March 31, 2018, which included what was listed on that return as a $300,000 settlement.

Earnings were listed for several of the players on the U.S. women team, including Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd (both $313,390), Crystal Dunn ($312,142), Lindsey Horan ($304,142) and Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher and Megan Rapinoe (all $304,140).

Their salaries ranged from $164,642 to $171,140 and include $100,000 for time with the national team. The remainder is what the federation pays for the time with clubs in the National Women’s Soccer League.

Bonuses were from $133,000 to $146,000 and include per match fees and the payment for qualifying for the 2019 World Cup.

Women’s national team players have filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the USSF that is scheduled for trial starting May 5 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The top two salaries of the administrative staff were chief executive officer Dan Flynn ($899,440) and chief commercial and strategy officer Jay Berhalter ($779,765), the coach’s brother. Flynn retired in September and the federation said Jay Berhalter is leaving at the end of February.

Messi says Barcelona is ‘home,’ but he ‘sees weird things happening’

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Lionel Messi is not sure what to make of recent allegations that Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is responsible a social media campaign which set out to criticize the club’s top players while also aiming to rebuild his own reputation.

[ MORE: Pep’s not-so-subtle warning to Barcelona: “Don’t talk too loudly” ]

Messi once again called Barcelona his “home,” though he also admitted that he “sees weird things happening,” presumably referring to statements made in recent months and weeks by members of the Barca hierarchy, including Bartomeu and sporting director Eric Abidal.

For a club of Barcelona’s size and stature to be airing this much dirty laundry for the world to see is certainly weird, to say the least. Messi sounds like he’s desperate to remain at the club and finish his career there, though it’s beginning to sound as if certain individuals have other ideas — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was a little surprised because I was not present, I was traveling. When I arrived, I discovered it all bit by bit. The president told us the same things he said in public, the same things he said at a press conference — what was the situation, what had happened. And I cannot say more.

“The truth is that I see weird things happening. But, it was also said that there would be evidence. We will have to wait to see if it is true or not. We can’t say much and we have to wait and see what happens. Frankly, the subject seems strange to me.”

“I love Barcelona, although I miss Rosario very much.

“This is my home, I was here longer than in Argentina. I love Barcelona, the place where I live, Castelldefels, and I live a life that I like very much.”

Pep’s not-so-subtle warning to Barcelona: ‘Don’t talk too loudly’

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Manchester City and Pep Guardiola are currently neck-deep in legal troubles after UEFA handed the Premier League side a two-year European ban last week, leading a handful of clubs and figures from around the continent to delight over their current predicament.

[ MORE: Guardiola will not leave Man City: “Truth will prevail” ]

Guardiola’s message for those folks, including some longtime friends and former co-workers at Barcelona? Essentially, don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house.

Earlier this week, allegations were made that Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who voiced his full support of the punishment handed down by UEFA, was involved in a campaign to bash a number of key players and figures at the club while also attempting to boost his own reputation.

“I don’t know if they spy me, but they know me. It is not necessary to spy me. If they are happy we are suspended, I say to the president of Barcelona, give us two appeals. I ask right now the people trust what they have done. Don’t talk too [loudly], Barcelona. That is my advice because everybody is involved in situations. We are going to appeal and hopefully in the future we can play Champions League against Barcelona.”

Players ‘absolutely dead’: Mourinho finds no faults in Spurs’ performance

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Jose Mourinho can find few, if any, faults in Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-0 defeat to RB Leipzig in the UEFA Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday, as he is simply making do with the very limited and exhausted tools presently at his disposal.

[ MORE: Spurs fall under nonstop pressure from RB Leipzig (video) ]

“[Lucas] Moura was absolutely dead, [Steven] Bergwijn was absolutely dead, [Giovani] Lo Celso was absolutely dead,” Mourinho said as he ran through the list of players forced to play all 90 minutes despite desperately needing a reprieve.

Given his side’s current injury list — Harry Kane, Son-Heung Min, Moussa Sissoko and Juan Foyth are all out, while Lo Celso, Erik Lamela and Ben Davies have only just returned to the team in recent days — Mourinho was emphatic in stating his players “did everything they could do” — quotes from the BBC:

“What do you mean by ‘the real Spurs?’ Come on, let’s be loyal to the boys and tell them they did everything they could do.

“Lamela — you know how many training sessions with the team? Zero. Direct from injury to recovery with physios and then direct to 20 minutes in the Champions League.

“There are two perspectives — an amazing group and amazing guys, but another side you see how we are at the moment. It’s a situation like going to fight with a gun without bullets.

“You can say we had luck in some moments, but a great goalkeeper made two magnificent saves. I’m not worried with the 1-0. We can go there and win. What worries me is that these are our players for the next however many matches.

“Moura was absolutely dead, Bergwijn was absolutely dead, Lo Celso was absolutely dead. We are really in trouble. If it was just this game I’d say no problem but we have FA Cup and Premier League games.

“I know Lamela could only give us 20 minutes and I knew Ndombele could not play for 90 minutes. I tried to manage the pieces I had. Don’t tell me Lamela and Ndombele could have started the game, they couldn’t have started the game.

“Here we go, Chelsea [Spurs’ opponent at 7:30 a.m. ET on Saturday], drinking sparkling water with lemon. Saturday morning [looking at the interviewer — the game was moved for television coverage] — thank you very much for the choice.”

Tottenham’s recent “winter break” was reduce from 14 to 10 days when they were forced to face Southampton in a fourth-round FA Cup replay two weeks ago today.