Scotland's first minister recently announced controversial plans to hold a national referendum in 2014. The vote will decide whether the nation's five-million-plus residents will gain independence from Great Britain, but it will arrive two years after what the country's football officials believe to be the single biggest threat to Scottish national identity.
The distinct divisions between Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland will inevitably become blurred this summer if footballers from all four countries are included in the Team GB Olympics squad.
The argument Scotland Football Association (SFA) officials make is that Fifa will use the Olympic team as evidence to demand a British national side that amalgamates the quartet of home nations in all competitions. This is the primary reason why the football governing bodies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were unwilling to entertain the idea of a unified team.
That is not to say the individual players from each nation are not eligible, but simply that their FAs do not support their decision. Officials were understandably left unamused when it was revealed earlier this week that only seven of the 191 players contacted about their availability for Team GB declined an interest.
Stewart Regan, the chief executive of the SFA, warned his countrymen whom have stated an interest in representing the British Olympic Team - a growing pool that includes Celtic's James Forrest and Rangers' Steven Naismith - that they should expect a backlash from the Tartan Army.
"We are not going to say 'You cannot play' or 'If you do, you'll be dropped'," Regan was quoted as telling Scotland's Daily Record.
"As far as policy is concerned, they wouldn't be looked upon any differently from any other eligible player. You have to factor in the individual's right and perspective for their own career [and] we said all along we were not going to interfere. But it will be disappointing from a fan's perspective because there is an element of supporters who are really hoping we don't have players taking part and pulling on the Team GB shirt. [Players] would have to deal with the backlash from fans because I'm sure there will be some element within the support who would want to protect Scotland's independence."
Naismith, 25, will be vying for one of only three places allocated to players over age 22. However, Forrest, the exciting forward, is 20 and fits in the Under 23 make-up of the balance of the side.
Neil Lennon, Celtic's manager from Northern Ireland, has his reservations about his players joining up with the British squad. "I wouldn't want to stop my players from going … but I don't think it's a great idea."
Lennon and other managers of Scottish clubs will be even less enthusiastic if they find themselves missing key players for the start of the domestic and European seasons. The men's football at the Olympics is due to start on 26 July with the final scheduled for August 11. The Scottish Premier League starts on August 4 with Champions League qualifiers taking place a month before.
Naismith said Scottish participation at the Olympics is important. "We should be available for the Olympics, not so much for the political side of it, but more for the fact we can show we've got talent north of the border," he said. "To play in these kinds of tournaments and to be in the starting line-up for Team GB would be great. For that reason I'd definitely make myself available."
Italy: Juventus top is a 'novelty' for Buffon
Gianluigi Buffon, the Italy captain, said he enjoys sitting atop the Serie A table again and ascribes the improved showing by Juventus this season to a better work ethic.
“It’s a novelty now [to be top] but until a few years ago we were used to this situation and it’s nice to be back there,” he told the club’s TV channel. “We’re succeeding thanks to the desire to amaze, to sweat and to take revenge.”
The club stumbled to two seventh-place finishes and missed out on European qualification this season. However, under the former midfielder Antonio Conte they have turned a corner, they are unbeaten in 18 matches this season and one point clear of champions AC Milan. They travel to Atalanta tonight. Also, Milan said yesterday that the Brazilian Pato will be out for four weeks with a left thigh muscle injury.
Germany: Arjen Robben commits to Bayern Munich
Arjen Robben, the Bayern Munich winger, said yesterday that signing a contract extension with the Bundesliga leaders beyond 2013 when his current deal ends was a mere “formality”.
”If there were five or 10 clubs that were bigger than Bayern then you could say: ‘OK, I may still have another target.’ But Bayern are already at the top, among the best in the world,” he told Suddeutsche Zeitung.
The 27-year-old Dutch international, who joined the Bavarians in 2009 from Real Madrid, helped them to a domestic league and Cup double in 2010 as well as a Champions League final appearance that year.
Also, the clash today between Nurnberg and Hertha Berlin marks a special anniversary in the Bavarian club’s history. The match will be Nurnberg’s 1,000th fixture in the top flight, a non-permanent sequence which commenced with a match against the same opponents in 1963.
Spain: Rela Madrid turn focus back to the league
Bilbao, which has won three straight and is unbeaten in seven matches, is fifth in the league and in the chase for a European place, maybe even a Champions League spot, under the coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Levante are still hanging onto a Champions League berth despite losing 3-0 last weekend to Athletic Bilbao. They haven’t won in the league since early December but they will hope to end that run against the bottom side Zaragoza.
Barcelona travel to Malaga to close out the first half of the season. Real Betis and Sevilla clash in a passionate derby but the match has been overshadowed in recent years by crowd trouble.
Holland: AZ Alkmaar win it for the kids
AZ Alkmaar reached the Dutch Cup quarter-finals with a 3-2 win over Ajax on Thursday in a match watched exclusively by 20,000 children.
The original game between the two sides was abandoned on December 21 when a fan ran onto the pitch and attacked AZ’s Costa Rican goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado.
The Dutch football association ordered the match to be replayed but with only children allowed in to watch.
AZ Alkmaar will face the amateur side GVVV Veenendaal in the next round.
Pontus Wernbloom, the Swedish midfielder, this week left AZ to sign with CSKA Moscow ahead of their Champions League final-16 match with Real Madrid.
Wernbloom, 25, who has won 20 caps with Sweden’s national side, signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with Russia’s three-time champions. No financial details were disclosed.
France: PSG have respect for lowly cup competitors
Milan Bisevac, the Paris Saint-Germain defender, said his side would treat their Coupe de France last-32 opponents Sable with the utmost respect as they sought to avoid suffering an upset late last night.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side are at the top of the Ligue 1 standings, boasting a three-point lead over Montpellier, while Sable are plying their trade in the fifth tier.
“We’re taking it very seriously. This type of game is completely different from a normal league match,” Bisevac said on the club’s website.
Holders Lille, who beat PSG in last year’s final thanks to a last-gasp Ludovic Obraniak goal as part of a league and cup double, are in action in one of 10 cup matches today.
They take on the fourth-tier outfit Compiegne away from home and can take confidence from their performance in the last round earlier this month, when they thrashed Chantilly thanks in part to hat-trick from Joe Cole.
Gazelec Ajaccio’s reward for producing one of the shocks of the previous round, when they knocked out Toulouse, sees the third-tier Championnat National side host Troyes in one of four ties tomorrow.
In other matches, in-form Marseille host the second-division side Le Havre and Lyon take on Lucon.