Pirri on his way in Real despair

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The Independent Football

The number was finally up last week for one of Real Madrid's greats, but fans seeking a souvenir can forget about surfing the European Cup-holders' website for the merchandise basket.

The number was finally up last week for one of Real Madrid's greats, but fans seeking a souvenir can forget about surfing the European Cup-holders' website for the merchandise basket.

While shirts bearing Raul's No 7 and Luis Figo's No 10 have apparently been walking out the door of the Bernabeu superstore quicker than you can say McManaman, Jose Pirri was walking out the back door of the famous stadium and the only number he was carrying was contained in a P45 (or its Spanish equivalent).

He too has a European Cup medal in his pocket, but his departure last week, after a lifetime given to the club, illustrates that it is only the curvaceous silver trophy that remains the same in this game. Everything else is just passing through.

Pirri spent 30 years working for Real, first as a player, once even as team doctor but latterly as technical director until he was usurped by Jorge Valdano, a friend of the new president, Florentino Perez.

"I am proud of what I achieved at Real," said Pirri, who was part of the side who won the European Cup in 1966 and played against Manchester United in that epic semi-final two years later.

"Leaving makes me very sad, but the appointment of Valdano means there are two people doing the same job and my dignity, in professional and personal terms, would not allow me to continue."

 

It's eyes down for a full house next Wednesday when Lazio play host to Sparta Prague in their first home game of the Champions' League, following a promise to their fans which has backfired on the Italian club. Lazio are being forced to let 50,000 fans into the Stadio Olimpico for free, which will squeeze out Rome's glitterati, who are desperate to see the opening night of Sven Goran Eriksson's side.

The freebie is a result of last season's quarter-final against Valencia when Lazio - keen to avoid playing in a graveyard after a 4-1 first-leg defeat - promised free entry to the first European game at home in 2000-01 to anyone who bought a ticket last March.

At the time, Lazio would have accepted the Uefa Cup as their destiny, but their dramatic Serie A title triumph has left just 32,000 spare seats on sale for the game with Sparta after the 50,000 freeloaders have been taken care of.

 

A top French football star was last week compared to a film star. David Ginola? Non. Eric Cantona? Non. Nicolas Anelka? Mais oui. But before the former Arsenal striker rings up his agent (sorry, brother) and asks him for Vinnie Jones' acting coach, it should be pointed that the celluloid legend in question is from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The "j'accuse" came from the Rosenborg defender Eric Hoftun, who said: "He is like Grumpy". Nasty Nic refused to shake Hoftun's hand after the Norwegians had inflicted a painful 3-1 defeat on Paris St Germain on Wednesday in Trondheim.

Hoftun kept the bald striker quiet on the pitch and Anelka reacted by storming off it in petulance. "The fact that they never shook hands says something about these guys. Anelka was not dangerous and he never ran around," said Hoftun. That's probably because it affected his Gameboy.

 

Cock-up of Champions' League week one has to go to Amstel, one of the sponsors, who sent dozens of boxes of gimmick top hats to all the stadiums last week for fans to wear. Staff at Ibrox had to hide the hats in case they started a riot; they were green, white and yellow, the colours of Celtic.

"You would have thought that Amstel, being Dutch, would know the score here since we've got a Dutchman as manager and six of their players," said one Rangers fan. Anyway, as everyone knows, the only time true Rangers fans wear hats is in July, and then it's a bowler.

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