Football: Cruyff says Champions' League is overblown

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The Independent Online
JOHAN CRUYFF has criticised the quality of this year's expanded Champions' League, describing the competition as "decaffeinated".

The former Dutch international and Barcelona coach regards the new format for the competition, which has expanded by eight teams to 32, as an exercise in earning money. "This first stage of the competition doesn't interest me," Cruyff said yesterday. "This has changed just to make more money. It only really starts in March. What are teams like Molde and AIK going to achieve? It's all very nice but it doesn't count for anything."

Real Madrid supporters clearly agreed with Cruyff on Tuesday, staying away in their thousands as Norway's Molde were beaten 4-1. Crowd estimates at the 87,000-capacity Santiago Bernabeu ranged from 8,000 to 15,000.

Nicolas Anelka's Spanish misadventure took a turn for the worse when Real announced he had sprained his knee against Molde. The pounds 23m former Arsenal striker suffered the injury in the first half but continued to play before being substituted 10 minutes after the interval. Anelka, 20, arrived at the club's training ground yesterday limping and has been ruled out for 10 to 15 days, keeping him out of Saturday's League game against Malaga.

The injury is the latest setback for Anelka, and Real's Welsh coach, John Toshack, who convinced the club's directors to part with the massive transfer fee to bring the French international to Spain after the unhappy turn of events at Arsenal. He has yet to score a goal and on Tuesday Toshack admitted: "He does not look comfortable at the moment and after that performance he is probably lacking even more confidence. The last thing I wanted to do was substitute him. But I had to think of the team."

The Anelka saga has even brought the club under fire from the former Spanish national coach, Javier Clemente, who critcised Real for spending such a huge amount of money on the Frenchman.

"Anelka's price is an insult to national [Spanish] society. It is a modest country with many cultural, social, political and employment problems," Clemente said. "To pay that much money when it could be spent on many other things is a shame."

In Italy, Ibrahim Ba, Perugia's on-loan winger, has been handed a four- game ban following his attack on Cagliari's Fabio Macellari at the weekend.

Television evidence showed the 25-year-old head-butting the defender in an off-the-ball incident that was missed by the referee and his assistants. The former French international was making his debut for Perugia, whom he has joined from Milan until the end of the season after turning down a similar move to Middlesbrough.

Ba is the first footballer in Italy to be punished on the basis of video evidence alone. "They've picked on us to begin experimenting with a new rule," Perugia's president, Luciano Gaucci, said. "I didn't expect it, even though Ba did an absurd thing and deserved to be punished. But that should have come from the referee and not TV evidence. It's like awarding a penalty when the referee didn't see it."