Talking Football: FC Sion would be the fifth team in Celtic's group – a cup competition with an odd number of teams
When is it a good week for Uefa to bury Wayne Rooney? How about the same week the European governing body is led a merry dance by a small Swiss football club and their belligerent owner, who has made a mockery of Uefa's governance?
While this country was gripped by the three-game ban handed down to Rooney for Euro 2012 by Uefa, you can bet that at its headquarters in Nyon it was not that decision causing the greatest concern. Because when it comes to the case of FC Sion, the Swiss-based organisation that runs European football is akin to a chubby match-day steward trying to catch an opportunistic pitch invader.
When FC Sion had their appeal against expulsion from the Europa League rejected on 13 September, that should have been the end of it. Having eliminated Celtic in the qualifiers it was the Scottish Premier League club who had come back into the competition at FC Sion's expense.
But Christian Constantin, the owner of FC Sion and a man who does not seem to think that the rules apply to him, ignored the Uefa club agreement that disputes should be settled by Uefa tribunal. He went to the Swiss regional court of the canton of Vaud and won a judgment that his club should be reinstated and paid damages. Then he issued criminal proceedings against Michel Platini, the Uefa president.
If there is anything that is likely to make Uefa sit up and take notice then it is the possibility that one of its own might find himself the subject of Swiss justice. Having given Uefa a thorough runaround, what is most amusing is that it is FC Sion's use of Swiss civil law that has caused Uefa such problems. The precise reason that Uefa and Fifa are based in Switzerland is because the country has – how to put this delicately? – never been renowned for scrutinising the affairs of big multinational institutions particularly closely.
In the past its Swiss location has proved a convenient shield for Uefa. But, in the case of FC Sion, it has proved their biggest problem and, in Constantin, Uefa has met someone who is prepared to fight very dirty indeed.
The result? On Saturday afternoon, Uefa issued a pretty extraordinary statement. It said it would abide by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decision on FC Sion's case and that if CAS found in FC Sion's favour Uefa would "reintegrate" them into this season's Europa League group stage.
Yes, you heard it right. This season's Europa League group stage in which two rounds of matches have already been played. FC Sion would be introduced as the fifth team in Celtic's group along with Atletico Madrid, Udinese and Rennes, which the Spanish team currently lead. Uefa is expected to contact the four clubs in Group I this week to discuss how, in the event of CAS finding in favour of FC Sion, that might work.
Put aside for a moment the background to this case, which involves FC Sion breaking a Fifa-imposed transfer ban and fielding some of those new, ineligible players against Celtic in their qualifying tie. Instead, marvel at a governing body that has got itself into a position where it is even entertaining the possibility it may have to stage a cup competition with – and this is priceless – an odd number of teams.
In its statement on Saturday, Uefa used – by its standards – strong words to condemn FC Sion for delaying CAS proceedings. Uefa said FC Sion were "clearly unjustified" and acting in "bad faith". It accused the Swiss club of having "no apparent respect" for the other clubs in Group I. But this all masked the fact that this saga has dragged on to an embarrassing degree.
Uefa is banking on CAS to rule in its favour, which the smart money says CAS will. In taking their case to the Swiss courts FC Sion have abused the sporting principle behind Uefa's rules that all clubs should have recourse to the same legal system. It is not as if Celtic or Stoke City could appeal to a Swiss court.
Nonetheless, it says something about Uefa and its governance that it's been allowed to reach this point. And what happens if FC Sion are reinstated? It opens the door for more appeals from competing clubs.
Provided that CAS does rule in Uefa's favour and FC Sion finally accept their expulsion, what then? The Swiss club deserve to be pursued further for breaking with the agreement to settle disputes by tribunal. But, given that they have not been afraid of having recourse to Swiss civil law in the past, one wonders if Uefa will balk at pursuing them further.
With the pressure growing on Uefa from the European Club Association and the growing sense that plans are afoot for a breakaway from the biggest clubs across Europe, it is not a good time for Uefa to look weak.
For any governing body, from Uefa to Fifa, as well as the Football Association, the prospect of clubs settling football-related issues through civil courts is chilling. That scenario negates their very existence as governing bodies and is generally accepted as the route to chaos. But it is a route FC Sion have taken and, whether they win or lose at CAS this week, they have backed Uefa into a corner.
What a pity that Fabio Capello did not get resident status with that home of his in Lugano. He could have lodged papers at the regional court against Rooney's three-game ban and seen where that got the FA. It is not enough that Uefa simply wins its case in CAS, it has to have the courage to make sure that no Swiss club ever takes the FC Sion defence again.
Quarter-final place may not be enough for City fans
With one point from two games, Manchester City really need to beat Villarreal in the Champions League tomorrow to give themselves a chance of getting out of Group A. It begs the question, what constitutes a good debut campaign in the Champions League?
In their first season in 1993-1994, Manchester United went out in the second round under the original format, as Leeds had the previous year. Blackburn Rovers finished bottom of their group in 1995-1996. Newcastle went out at the group stage in 1997. Arsenal were eliminated in the group stages in 1998-1999 (finishing behind Dynamo Kiev and Lens). Everton did not even make it through the qualifiers in 2005.
On the other side of the coin Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham all made it to the quarter-finals at the first time of asking. Yet you get the impression that even if City make it that far, for many it will just not be enough.
Van Persie still waiting and whinging
Robin van Persie launched a full-on onslaught on "the media" in the Arsenal match-day programme yesterday for "making up stories". "I am committed to Arsenal, I am the captain and don't believe everything you read." He has moved house, he pointed out, but has found "a really nice" new place and "yes, it's in London".
Van Persie will have one year left on his Arsenal contract come next summer. Despite all this talk of "commitment", there was no mention of him signing a new deal. Even Arsène Wenger admitted he cannot guarantee Van Persie will do so. Like Theo Walcott, Thomas Vermaelen and Andrei Arshavin, he is waiting to see what happens over the next eight months.