England have been usurped at the top of the UEFA coefficients by Spain, while Germany are not far behind. That's fine, says Philip Cornwall, as long as TV money is spent wisely...
If we were Alan Pardew, we'd feel a whole lot better if Rafa Benitez took a job far away from the Premier League. He looks the most vulnerable to a Spanish coup...
Lance Armstrong's limited confession to sustained drug taking is both horrific and a relief for the sport of cycling: on the one hand it is an indictment of an entire era, whilst on the other it is an opportunity to reinforce the importance of the rebirth that is already well under way. Cycling cannot afford to fail again so reprehensibly in its duty to ensure that the "level playing field" of which Armstrong talked is one for clean competitors; the good news is that many necessary steps have been taken. The former seven-time Tour de France winner - now a mere loser - highlighted the lack of out-of-competition testing as key to his success; now such measures are in place.
The interview with Oprah Winfrey, carefully stage-managed and the result not of repentance but of being caught, is just the latest incident in a sport littered with drug convictions and deaths. The problem for cycling and its adherents is that the confession is so limited that it is certain there is more still hidden, which may or may not become public. An independent commission set up by the UCI this week expressed its frustration at the governing body; no one yet knows all that was going on behind the bike sheds.
Armstrong's manner of premeditated, organised, sustained and above all successful cheating puts into context some other sporting dramas. What's the odd Luis Suarez dive or handball, after all, compared to a widespread conspiracy to own a sport's supreme prize, which involved suing anyone who tried to break ranks or to expose from without the chicanery going on. Like a lot of people I had mixed feelings about ESPN censuring John Champion for his remarks about Suarez during Liverpool's Mansfield FA Cup tie, but on the other hand the Uruguayan does not deserve to be lumped in with America's latest fallen sporting icon.
However, if Armstrong and his US Postal team cohorts were willing to go that far in cycling, while others engaged in blood doping that led ultimately to their deaths, what limits would you place on the capacity to cheat for the far greater rewards available in football?
There have only ever been isolated accusations of drug-taking in football and most of the players who have been caught were on performance-harmers rather than enhancers. Eyebrows have been raised about the speed of some recoveries from injury but nothing has been proved. The damage Armstrong has done is not about the method of cheating though, it's about the aim. In Italy we have seen successive scandals, most famously the Calciopoli affair that relegated Juventus, but also repeated lower level skulduggery involving clubs struggling against the drop.
The question for the English game is whether anyone has attempted something similar. The gambling coups players staged in the 1990s were not on the scale of the Italian scandals: bet-fixing rather than match-fixing was the offence. John Fashanu, Hans Segers and Bruce Grobbelaar were accused of much more serious crimes but were acquitted. Allegations about gambling levelled at a few individuals are serious enough but strike at the integrity of the sport much less than organised influencing of the destination of titles, as France had to face up to in the Marseille case of 1993.
There were allegations made against Don Revie at Leeds United and around Coventry avoiding relegation in the same era. But not since the mid 60s, and the Swan-Lane-Kay case, has anything been proved and that, again, was match-fixing for gamblers.
However, we cannot be complacent. Scandals have afflicted cricket, F1, athletics, baseball, horse racing ... The odds are that somewhere along the line someone is trying to influence football, one way or another. Everyone looking at cycling's shame should remember the universality of corruption.