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Sports

Pezzoni affair: German hooligans sink to new low

Do German soccer clubs pander to hooligans? A debate on how to combat fan violence is raging - fueled by events in Cologne, where defender Kevin Pezzoni quit in response to fierce threats from fans.

FC Cologne officials are rejecting criticism of their handling of the "Pezzoni affair."

Colognegranted the 23-year-old's request to cancel his contract on Friday after he had been confronted outside his flat by a group of angry fans, who threatened to beat him up.

"A group of people were waiting for him in front of his apartment. They abused him and it is a situation which has been building up for a long time," said Coach Holger Stanislawski, explaining that the contract had been cancelled solely to protect the player.

Kevin Pezzoni

Pezzoni can still join another team this season

Club officials said they had discussed all options with the midfielder, who had already been attacked in February, when his nose was broken.

They say he rejected suggestions to stay and rally a show of support, revealing that he had also been insulted on Facebook and had found abusive notes stuck on his car.

The situation had deteriorated over the last two weeks, with Cologne supporters blaming Pezzoni for the poor performance of the team, which had been relegated to the second division at the end of the last season.

"If a player has to be scared when he walks on the road, unacceptable levels have been reached," said coach Stanislawski claiming there had been no alternative to the move.

The events in Cologne were commented on across Germany.

Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes demanded a united front against hooliganism across the Bundesliga, and called on all the clubs not to "capitulate in the face of violence."

"It is the job of the clubs and the security personnel to be ruthless in excluding such people from entering the stadiums," he said.

Christoph Bertling, lecturer at the German Sport University Cologne, argued that football professionals need to be taught strategies for how to deal with exaggerated expectations. He suggested introducing psychological coaching to help them cope with situations off the pitch, too.

Pezzoni has declined to comment, but has expressed gratitude for the widespread support on his Facebook page.

The swift termination of his contract before the closure of the transfer window on Friday evening meant that Pezzoni can still play for a different team in the Bundesliga this season.

The defender has been playing for Cologne since he came from Blackburn Rovers in 2008 and had played 80 Bundesliga matches for the club.

rg/mz (SID, dpa)