In which Uefa and Manchester United attempt to untangle themselves | Soccer


THE ROUBLE BEGINS TO DROP

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Uefa’s Road to St Petersburg has reached an inevitable impasse. Big Cup final, which had been due to be staged at the Gazprom-O-Dome, has now been moved to Paris, what with European football’s governing body deciding that it would be prudent to delegate some unfortunate minion to sit in the basement of Uefa Towers and forlornly burst all their “white nights” of St Petersburg knockout stage official Big Cup match balls, boasting high-grade butyl bladders, out of existence. The final will now be held at the Stade de France on 28 May and Uefa has thanked Emmanuel Macron for his role in helping them make the change.

“Together with the French government, Uefa will fully support multi-stakeholder efforts to ensure the provision of rescue for football players and their families in Ukraine who face dire human suffering, destruction and displacement,” droned a statement, which made no mention whatsoever of the fact that the Russian stadium it had just denied the right to host the final takes its name from a preposterously rich Russian state-owned energy corporation that also pays Uefa £34m per season in sponsorship. A follow-up statement, issued in the wake of public disquiet at its original policy of hoping nobody would notice it hadn’t mentioned its cosy relationship with Gazprom, declared “there” would be meetings of their executive committee soon, when “additional”, unspecified, “matters will be addressed”.

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While Uefa has stopped short of turfing Russian clubs and the country’s national team out of all their competitions, former Zenit St Petersburg chairman and Uefa board member Alexander Dyukov was still displeased. “We believe that the decision to move the venue of the final was dictated by political reasons,” he harrumphed. “The [Russian Football Union] has always adhered to the principle of ‘sport is out of politics’, and thus cannot support this decision.” A native of a country whose president has been mixing sport and politics in the interests of promoting soft power for more decades than The Fiver cares to remember, it has not gone unnoticed that Dyukov is the head of the RFU and also a high-ranking executive of – Fiver checks notes – Gazprom.

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Closer to home, it seemed that it was with a heavy heart that Manchester United eventually cancelled their £40m sponsorship deal with Russian airline Aeroflot in the face of much public opprobrium, announcing that “we share the concerns of our fans around the world and extend our sympathies to those affected”. The right thing to do? Undoubtedly, even if it did take a while for the rouble to drop. Following Thursday’s undignified silence on the matter, it was a far cry from the correspondence they sent one concerned season-ticket holder who had enquired about the relationship earlier on Friday. “In relation to the specific situation referred to in your email, we hope you can understand that, as a football club with fans from many different countries and cultures, Manchester United does not take positions on geopolitical issues,” it read. By “geopolitical issues”, we think they meant a heinous act of war.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

Join Barry Glendenning from 8pm GMT for hot Premier League MBM coverage of Southampton 0-0 Norwich City.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I believe there are girls that may still be afraid to come out. When we show our lives to people, we can also inspire a family member to think differently, and that they can accept their children the way they are. What we really hope and wish for is to have 100% respect. That we can go anywhere without prejudice, that we can be seen with good eyes, because like it or not, we’re doing good for each other” – legendary Brazil midfielder Formiga gets her chat on with Júlia Belas Trindade about finding her voice off the pitch and what must be done to fight racism and sexism in the game.

Tell ‘em, Formiga.
Tell ‘em, Formiga. Photograph: Naomi Baker/Fifa/Getty Images

FIVER LETTERS

“If Antonio Conte is really open and wants to help at Spurs (yesterday’s Fiver), can he use his platform as the London (N17) troupe’s ringmaster and politely ask Dan Levy to perform his clown show somewhere else?” – Chris Brown.

“Regarding The Fiver’s cunning use of Roman numerals in referring to the number of recorded episodes of Spursiness (yesterday’s Fiver), I along with MLVI others congratulate you” – Ian Copestake (and, er …).

“Joe Pearson’s ‘always coming to The Fiver for the jokes’ (yesterday’s Fiver letters) just goes to prove that people from USA! USA!! USA!!! don’t possess a sense of humour” – Gerry Rickard.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Ian Copestake.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Brazilian second division side Bahia say three of their players were injured when a bomb exploded on the team bus. “Goalkeeper Danilo Fernandes was hit by shrapnel in the face and taken to a hospital,” said the club. Many other clubs tweeted in support of Bahia, including Internacional, who wrote: “We are together, and we express our indignation with yet another violent attack on Brazilian football.”

It will be a big day for jámon when Sevilla host West Ham in the last 16 of Big Vase. In other ties from the tombola, the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers have been pitted against Red Star, while Barcelona face a welcome to hell from Galatasaray.

Some night for O’Rangers after dumping out Dortmund.
Some night for O’Rangers after dumping out Dortmund. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

In Tin Pot last 16, Leicester were drawn against Rennes, while José Mourinho will take Roma to Vitesse.

Christian Eriksen could make his long-awaited return with Brentford against Newcastle and, like many, Eddie Howe will be delighted to see the Dane return. “I was watching the game where he collapsed and my thoughts and prayers were with him and his family,” he said. “It would be great to see him back on a football pitch … fit and healthy and enjoying his football again.”

Like many Leeds fans, Marcelo Bielsa is concerned that his side just keep on walking on to punches, but El Loco ain’t for ducking. “I daily try to resolve it,” his translator yelped. “If I stop doing what I believe in … the situation instead of improving is going to be even worse.”

And drop grit, get banged: Dorset Council have been trying to explain how one of their lorries damaged three parked cars outside Weymouth’s 2-2 National League draw with Bromley in midweek. “Due to the football match on at the time, there were cars double-parked all through there, making it too tight for large vehicles to pass,” honked a spokesman.

STILL WANT MORE?

Ten things to look out for in the Premier League and Rumbelows Cup final this weekend, including sneaky drinks breaks. Yeah, we’re on to you Ralph!

Here we go.
Here we go. Composite: IPS/Shutterstock; Action Images via Reuters; Getty Images

Here’s a big chat with Jürgen Klopp!

Kai Havertz must be more than Chelsea’s sometimes man, reckons Jacob Steinberg.

Caoimhín Kelleher: from childhood striker to Liverpool’s Worthington Cup final keeper. By Andy Hunter.

Remember when Liverpool won the Milk Cup four years in a row? Steven Pye does.

And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!



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