Ben Lyttleton's world of football

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IT’S A familiar story. At the end of a torrid affair, a man buffeted by fate leaves the country of his birth to seek solace in a seemingly impossible challenge.

In the summer, Walter Zenga’s two-year relationship with model Hoara Borselli broke up, and amazingly the Italian moved to Romania to take charge of financially stricken National Bucharest.

National have reached second in the league, and things are also looking up romantically for 42-year-old Zenga, after he became involved with Raluca Sandu, 22, a tennis professional more noted for her relationship with Carlos Moya than for her on-court achievements. She is, coincidentally, the daughter of Romanian football federation president Mircea Sandu.

As in all the best love stories, their first meeting hardly suggested what lay ahead, Zenga breaking the ice by complaining about Raluca’s persistently ringing mobile phone.

Zenga - tabloids revealed she calls him ‘coach’ in intimate moments - is delighted: "Raluca always surprises me, and it seems I made the right choice in moving to Bucharest."

Not everyone is happy. "He’s too old," moaned dad Sandu. "But Raluca will have what she wants."

WORRYING news from Turkey, where the heroic World Cup nation are warming up for England in Euro 2004 qualifying - with fisticuffs.

Galatasaray midfielder Umit Davala faces court after a punch-up outside an Izmir restaurant. He objected to being snapped by paparazzi, and is alleged to have knocked down a TV cameraman, breaking his equipment. He is also accused of attacking two TV journalists and one from a daily paper who tried to separate them.

Though Umit at first denied any involvement, when the incident was aired on TV, he wrote on his website: "Think now. You go out for a meal with your family and you’re harassed by cameramen. When you argue with them as a result, you’re the guilty party. I can’t understand this logic.

"Yes, what I did was not right, but in the end I’m a human being, and I can get angry. Don’t we have any private life? The press are just like carrion crows who wait for an opportunity, and when it comes they use it to their own advantage."

Meanwhile, two Fenerbahce officials have been in prison since mid-September for allegedly assaulting a fan wearing the shirt of rivals Galatasaray after the UEFA Cup match against AIK Stockholm. Volcan Balli, 44, and Kasim Alnedag, 39, claim the victim made it up, but face court soon.

Elsewhere, a forward with amateur side Telekomspor, Mustafa Yazici, punched linesman Tarik Pambukcu after being sent off. He walked off, but later surrendered to police.

PIERLUIGI Collina caused a storm after Italy’s Player of the Year awards, where he was named best referee. The bald official threw his golden statue into a dustbin as he left the ceremony in disgust at a gag by compere and comedian Gene Gnocchi.

Alluding to whispers that Juventus’ final-day scudetto win last season was fixed - Juve beat Udinese to win the title by one point from Internazionale, who surprisingly lost to Lazio - Gnocchi asked: "Are there any Juventus guys in the audience here tonight? Apart from the referees, that is?"

Gnocchi then recited a fictional letter from a Turin brothel-keeper to Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi (alleged to be pulling the strings). Moggi led Juve’s players and officials in a mid-ceremony walk-out - leaving forward David Trezeguet, who had to stay because he had won the players’ player of the year and best foreign player awards.

FRANCE have hardly shone since their World Cup exit, but international comebacks for Laurent Blanc, Didier Deschamps and that long-time Liverpool reserve, Bernard Diomede, will still raise a few eyebrows next month - not least those of Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

Always worried about their players swanning off to play in unnecessary friendlies, the Premiership managers will be concerned to learn that Blanc has organised a charity match between France’s 1998 World Cup-winners and Marseille to aid flood victims in his home area of south-east France.

Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, and Robert Pires - plus Chelsea’s Emmanuel Petit and Marcel Desailly - will miss Worthington Cup matches which clash with the televised fixture on Tuesday, November 5.

Blanc said of the storms that killed 23 people: "It’s about showing your compassion, giving people a bit of hope. It’s important for the football world to show some solidarity."

Photos of Blanc and Desailly will feature on bottles of special-edition Cote du Rhone wine to help the cause. I don’t see Ferguson or Wenger rushing to their off-licences.

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