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Feb 27, 2009

Benzema auction begins, Gattuso attacks Amauri

This was the week in which Lyon president Jean Michel Aulas started to tout striker Karim Benzema around Europe, Middlesbrough told their fans to keep quiet, Jose Mourinho didn't say anything controversial and Gennaro Gattuso attacked Amauri.

Aulas begins Benzema auction - Friday, February 20

"My departure is not topical," Lyon striker Karim Benzema said on Friday, but when club president Jean Michel Aulas revealed that Manchester City had failed with a huge bid in January and that "Barcelona, Madrid and Manchester United are also attracted" then the future of one of Europe's hottest strikers became particularly newsworthy.

Following Aulas' flagrant flouting of his striker, and admission that there is always a "right time" to sell, Europe's top clubs were also quick to take up the topic of the future of the French international.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta described him as "an extremely efficient striker" while Spanish midfielder Xavi hailed the 21-year-old as "world class" and good enough to play at the Camp Nou.

French daily L'Equipe claimed Benzema would choose Real Madrid over Barca if Florentino Perez is elected president in the summer and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson admitted he had been "keeping an eye" on the forward.

But the wily United boss was also quick to point out that he could see straight through Aulas' marketing strategy. Ferguson said: "When we played Lyon last season, chairman Jean-Michel Aulas told me: 'Chelsea have made a €50m offer for Benzema.' I told him: 'For such a fee, I will let Chelsea have him'."

La Liga title race gets interesting - Saturday, February 21

The world slipped off its axis on Saturday night when Spanish champions-elect Barcelona lost, yes lost, a Primera Division match against cross-town rivals Espanyol - the Catalan's first defeat since Numancia shocked them on the opening day of the season back in August.

Barca old boy Iván De la Peña did the damage, scoring both goals for Espanyol after full-back Seydou Keita had been sent off, and such has been Barca's superb form this year that last week's 2-2 draw at Real Betis followed by this defeat resulted in a bout of nervous twitching in Catalonia.

The local press were quick to point to Keita's dismissal as the reason, or excuse, for Barcelona's shock defeat but manager Pep Guardiola was far more matter of fact. "If we lose, then it's our fault," he simply said.

The culés' (Barca fans) fidgeting was further fuelled when arch-rivals Real Madrid walloped Betis 6-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu to cut the Catalan club's previously unassailable lead to seven points. Real face Barca vanquishers Espanyol at the weekend while the Liga leaders travel to Madrid to face Atletico - anything can happen.

Pipe down by The Riverside - Saturday, February 22

At a time when many clubs are slashing ticket prices in an attempt to fill their empty stadiums and create a raucous atmosphere Middlesbrough are telling some of their loudest fans to shut up.

In a letter to a group of supporters who call themselves 'Red Faction' club officials demanded that they cut down the "constant banging and noise from the back of the stand" and limit their support to celebrating goals. An incredible request, not least because Boro have only scored 10 home goals all season, the worst in the Premier League.

The issue arose when a large number of fans moved from the North Stand to Block 53a to create a loud atmosphere in another area of the Riverside Stadium. This upset some ticket holders and the club's safety officer Sue Watson, who sent the letter.

Luckily the supporters showed what they thought of the noise ban with a series of chants that included the ironic "we are not allowed to sing" and satirical "it's just like watching a film".

It is not the first odd move by Boro, who in 2003 brought about the arrest of a fan who had the audacity to fall asleep in the stadium while his team was thrashed 4-0. A Cleveland court described the charge as "ludicrous".

League want compo from double-booked Wembley - Monday, February 23

There are only six events on the Wembley pitch each May and despite those being on the same day every year the Stadium's blundering officials have managed to double-book the Champions League final and the play-off finals in 2011.

The European final, scheduled for Saturday May 28, clashes with the first day of the Football League's play-off weekend, that would normally be the League Two play-off final, and now the Football League are demanding compensation.

The Football League are one of Wembley's most important customers - they have a 100-match contract with the stadium and a booking for the May bank holiday weekend stretching over 20 years - and it is understood league chiefs are demanding compensation if they have to move to another venue such as Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

Mourinho disappoints the press - Tuesday, February 24

Despite the best attempts of the media to stir things up between outspoken Inter Milan boss Jose Mourinho and Manchester United's mind games master Sir Alex Ferguson the duo had nothing but respect for each other ahead of their Champions League clash at the San Siro.

Which, quite frankly, was hugely disappointing. So here are some of Mourinho's best manager-bating moments instead:

After Juventus coach Claudio Ranieri criticized his coaching methods at Inter Mourinho said: "I studied Italian five hours a day for many months to ensure I could communicate with the players, media and fans. Ranieri had been in England for five years and still struggled to say 'good morning' and 'good afternoon'."

Following Chelsea's ill-tempered win over Barcelona in the Champions League in 2005 Mourinho blasted: "My history as a manager cannot be compared with Frank Rijkaard's history. He has zero trophies and I have a lot of them."

But Jose's best put down came when, as Chelsea manager, he put Arsenal's Arsene Wenger in his place: "I think he is one of these people who is a voyeur. He likes to watch other people. There are some guys who, when they are at home, have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea."

Rafa at odds with bookies - Wednesday, February 25

It seems a week can't pass without some development regarding Rafa Benitez's future as Liverpool manager and this time it was the turn of the bookmakers to generate the headlines.

On Wednesday morning some of the UK's leading bookies were forced to stop taking bets on Benitez to be the next Premier League manager to lose his job as huge amounts of cash flooded the market amid speculation the Spaniard would either walk out or be sacked after that evening's Champions League match with Real Madrid.

Prior to the match the Liverpool board, with whom Rafa is yet to agree a new contract and has an increasingly fractious relationship, issued a statement saying the rumours were "ridiculous" and following a 1-0 win at the Santiago Bernabeu a bullish Benitez also dismissed the exit talk as nonsense.

"It needs to be clear that I was not thinking of resigning," Benitez said. "My aim is to keep working and winning and to tell the owners that on the pitch."

Gattuso attacks Amauri - Thursday, February 26

Gennaro Gattuso's knee might be out of action due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament but the Italy midfielder's tongue was in full working order when he told Juventus striker Carvalho De Oliveira Amauri, who is awaiting Italian citizenship, to sod off and play for Brazil.

The São Paulo-born striker was called up by Brazil coach Dunga for a friendly with Italy earlier this month but was blocked from playing by Juventus, who said the call came too late, and the delay in committing to either Italy or Brazil has riled Gattuso.

"We've won four World Cups and our football is as good as anyone's. I think Amauri should play for Brazil," Gattuso told Gazzetta dello Sport.

Amauri, who obviously quite likes the idea of playing for his country of residence, responded: "I don't care at all what Gattuso says."

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