Jersey swap was Pepe's idea, not Mario Balotelli's; more insider notes
Some insider news and notes from the world of soccer:
• The last time Liverpool played Real Madrid, Mario Balotelli came in for heavy criticism in England when he traded jerseys at halftime with Pepe even though Liverpool was down big. But Pepe told my contact in Madrid that he was the one who asked Balotelli to trade, not the other way around.
In fact, Pepe apologized for what happened, which means this might be the first case in recorded history when Pepe is truly sorry for luring an opponent into doing something foolish.
• The big failure in MLS this season was Toronto, which missed the playoffs again after committing more than $80 million to Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley. I’m told Defoe is continuing to push for an exit from Toronto and hoping to move to Queens Park Rangers in January.
Toronto took a risk going after Defoe, who’s very much tied to London and to his family, including his mother, and now he and they want desperately to go back.
• The FIFA clubs committee is meeting this week in Zurich to discuss which time of the year 2022 the Qatar World Cup will take place. The European Clubs Association is proposing an April-May tournament, but one ECA executive tells me that is unlikely considering that would take place during Ramadan.
The most likely scenario is having the World Cup in November-December of 2022, which is when FIFA wants it. Don’t look for the World Cup to be moved from Qatar—I’m told the Garcia Report investigating the bids for World Cup 2018 and 2022 does not have any smoking guns that could cause Qatar to lose the tournament.
• The new president of CONMEBOL, Juan Ángel Napout, said recently he’d love to have MLS teams join the Copa Libertadores, the premier international club tournament in the Americas.
When I asked MLS commissioner Don Garber about it, he said MLS is indeed interested in joining the tournament, and that would be a step toward his goal of making MLS one of the world’s top leagues by 2022. But he added there has not yet been an official invitation from CONMEBOL. For now, Garber says, MLS is focused on succeeding in the CONCACAF Champions League and getting an MLS team to the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time.