Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Murray Mania

On the 30th June 2008 Andy Murray was showing off his bicep to the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon. The Scot had just won an enthralling five-set match against the French player Richard Gasquet having found himself two sets down. This match was perhaps the defining moment in the British number ones career as it saw his transformation from a young hopeful to a real contender.

Yesterday afternoon in Paris the two twenty-three year-olds did battle once again with a repeat result. Murray had been broken while serving to stay in the first set and then Gasquet took the tie-break in the second to take a two set lead. I will admit that at this point I turned off the match as despite there being some excellent tennis on display I could not stand to see Murray, the player upon which all our tennis hopes rest, crash out in the first round of one of the Grand Slams.

Murray, however, showed far greater resolve than myself and fought back to win the next three sets and complete a superb comeback. It was a testament to the fitness of the Scot and who far he has come in the last few years. Nevertheless, the question remains, can Murray take the final step and claim a Grand Slam trophy?

I am not, of course, suggesting he will now go on to win the French Open, far from it. This is certainly the least likely of all the Slams for him to win. But with Wimbledon only a month away we can expect Murray Mania to begin once again. The World Number 4 has been given odds of 5/1 to win the tournament next month. This is, perhaps, British optimism but also is evidence that has more than merely an outside chance.

Murray's best chance of winning a Grand Slam will probably be on the hard courts which suit his tenacious baseline play far better. He has reached the final at the US Open and the Australian Open, both hard court tournaments, and each time was defeated by Roger Federer.

At only 23 many are already asking if he will ever go on to win one of the big four tournaments. His naturally defensive tactics work well against opposition who are prone to making mistakes or who do not have the quality to hit winners past him. When they can and do, however, as Gasquet did for two sets yesterday and as the likes of Nadal and Federer certainly do, his game can falter.

It must be acknowledged that Murray has the displeasure of playing the game in the same era as the greatest player to ever pick up a racquet in Roger Federer and he is the man that Murray will most likely have to find a way to beat if he is to be the first male Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry back in 1936. This being said, Murray does in fact boast a record of six wins to only five defeats against Federer which shows that he does have the ability and game to beat the best. Now he must produce it over five sets and on the biggest stages of all.

His win yesterday was a reminder of the improvements he has made both technically and physically as he proved himself able to not only adapt his play but also to outlast his opponent. I still do not believe that Wimbledon, at least this year, will be where he breaks his Grand Slam duck but we can dream and dream we will!

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Bright Future for the Oranges

Yesterday we saw two cup finals take place. The matches may have been on different scales but, nevertheless, the victories were equally important. Ian Holloway and Jose Mourinho led their respective sides to cup glory as Blackpool and Milan celebrated historic climaxes to their seasons.

Inter Milan completed the treble as they added the Champions League to the Serie A and Italian Cup trophies they had already won. The Italian side played their trademark football as despite only having only 40% of the possession they still overcame Bayern Munich to win 2-0. A Milito double combined with Inter's characteristically resolute defence left the German champions, who were going for a treble of their own, with little response.

Mourinho admitted that the style of play was not pretty but stated that you play to your team's strengths. With an experienced squad of older players that lacked pace and flare Mourinho has managed to create tactics to suit them perfectly. He and his side's ethos has come under criticism but the results it has achieved speak for themselves.

I said a month or so ago that I would not be surprised if Mourinho brought silverware to the San Siro and then left and this seems to be almost certainly the case. After the match the Portuguese manager made little effort to conceal the fact he will be most likely making the Santiago Bernabeu, the scene for his win last night, his new home. He has won all there is to win in Italy and is now going to attempt to restore Real Madrid's position at the top of world football. His character and personality should be suited to the big names at the club but he will have to reinvent his approach to the game. Real is not a club built on defensive football and so this will mark an end to Mourinho's defence minded tactics in favour of open, free-flowing, total football.

Meanwhile, another flamboyant manager, Ian Holloway, secured what will be seen as many to be an even greater feat as he propelled Blackpool into the top tier of English football. The outspoken manager made his return to football at Blackpool having been sacked as manager of Leicester City and has delivered the unthinkable. The Seasiders were one of the bookies favourites for the drop at the start of the season and yet 10 months later and they are lifting the Championship Play-off Cup. The club only just sneaked into the play-offs with their 6th place finish before then knocking out Nottingham Forest to reach the final. Their 3-2 win over Cardiff City at Wembley yesterday ended a 39 year wait for a return to the top flight and is estimated to be worth £90 million for the club.

Away from his lad-like comments and jovial nature Ian Holloway has done a superb job at Bloomfield Road. He, unlike Mourinho, has favoured attacking football and the tactics he has used, the confidence he has instilled in the squad and the consequent success he has now achieved have been nothing short of remarkable. Their promotion is already being hailed as a fairytale season and although Holloway may not look like a Prince Charming he has, nonetheless, robeen the he story.

Mourinho may be moving on it seems but Holloway will not be going anywhere. His work at Blackpool is far from finished as he will have to strengthen the squad and advance the whole club if he is to achieve what will be perhaps an even more remarkable feat of keeping the Tangerines in the Premiership.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Friday, 21 May 2010

London 2012 Mascots

Earlier this week the London 2012 team presented us with the two characters that are going to be our Olympic mascots. Wenlock and Mandeville are their names and they are the latest in the line of attempts to modernise the games. Personally, I do not understood the perpetual need to try and turn our Olympic stadium into an arena for modern art.

The two mascots look like Flubber has procreated with Wall-e. According to one their designers Grant Hunter, they are supposed to represent all aspects of the Olympics and of Britain. The three lines coming from their heads represent the three podium places and the they each have the trademark taxi light on their foreheads, as if I even needed to point that out for you. Wenlock and Mandeville are going to be interactive characters so you can expect to be seeing a lot of them on the TV or the internet over the next two years.

Ultimately, Olympic mascots tend to be obscure and soon forgotten so these latest little figures provide no great shock or disappointment. The mascots themselves I do not really care about. The problem for me is that they represent what has come to be an annoying trend. This is the insistence of trying to portray the London 2012 games as being on the cutting edge of modern technology and art. The logo, the monstrosity that will be outside the stadium and now the mascots have all sacrificed our tradition and culture in favour of a poor attempt to create a look into the future of the games.

These things will most likely become quickly outdated and stand only as a monument to the failed attempt to put Britain at the forefront of the modernising 21st Century. The lesson from the failure of the Millennium Dome has clearly not been learnt. Perhaps this whole post has more to do with my dislike of modern art than the merits of these Olympics symbols and contraptions. I just do not feel they represent our country very well or are aesthetically pleasing.

There is not too much more I can really comment on the matter, I think my disapproval has been made quite clear. I would like to hear what others think of Wenlock and Mandeville and of the attempt to make the Olympic village into an extension of the Tate Modern.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Transfer Rumours

It is that time of year again. The time of year when websites and back-pages are dominated by transfer rumours. When the on-the-field action stops it is inevitable that writers will have to fill the blank pages with stories of which players are going where.

Attempting to decipher fact from the vast amount of fiction becomes near impossible. Each newspaper, journalist or website reports different stories about the same player or club. It is clear at times that the writers are clutching at straws to make their quota. If Fernando Torres is seen wearing a blue t-shirt people will say he is destined to join Chelsea.

It seems that the perennial list of players go on a regular cycle of being linked with any club with cash to spend. Ribery, Fabregas, Gerrard, Torres, Angel Di Maria, Rooney and others will be connected with a new team every day of the week over the coming months. Thankfully David Villa can be taken of this list as it seems that his move to Barcelona is close to being completed for £34 million. When Ronaldo cost £80 million and Ibrahimovic set the Catalan club back around £40 million and Samuel Eto'o this deal taking Villa away from Valencia seems a steal, especially considering the number of clubs who were interesting in the Spanish striker.

At least every other year we have a major summer tournament that replaces the need to churn out the tenuous transfer rumours, if only for a few weeks. It seems that Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and now Manchester City are ready to bid for any player who comes with a high enough reputation. The majority of the stories that are printed will be proved to be nothing more than gossip-mongering but with the money that is flying around these days you never know. I thought nothing of rumours that Ronaldo was going to Madrid last summer as the story had been reprinted for the previous three years but the record breaking transfer fee proved me wrong.

Alex Ferguson has tried to separate his side from these stories as he has come out and said that Manchester United will not be active in the transfer window this summer. He insists that he will make do with the squad that he has even though this season seemed to make it clear that the team lacks sufficient quality and depth to challenge in all competitions. Rooney's 34 goals helped to paper over the cracks created by the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez and the ageing legs of Neville, Scholes and Giggs. With £700 million of debt the decision to stay out of the market will have certainly been somewhat forced upon Fergie but if the team fails to bring in some new faces then I would expect to see them struggle to get their hands on any silverware next season.

With no Champions League football for Liverpool next year the rumours surrounding Torres and Gerrard will be more regular than ever. According to the papers there are clubs lining up to tempt either of Liverpool's star duo away from Anfield. Carlton Cole is set to leave West Ham. Buffon wants a move to a Premiership club. Joe Cole is out of contract this summer. Ribery is on his way out of Germany and Fabregas looks destined to go to the Nou Camp. The list goes on and on. Papers print stories that managers and clubs deny. I often wonder if the writers pick the stories out of thin air or if they actually have any basis in reality.

We are only in the middle of May and the transfer window does not even open for another 42 days and yet it is already impossible to escape the endless reel of factually void transfer stories. It is a part of the game that wont go away but nevertheless it is tedious to see the back-pages and websites become the sporting version of Heat Magazine.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Monday, 17 May 2010

A Successful Weekend for England

My time as a university student has come to an end with my final exam today and I thought that I would just write a brief reflection on the dramatic events from the past couple of days. I have been writing mainly previews or reviews recently due to a lack of time but I will be looking to write some more interesting pieces and more general 'comments' in the near future now I have more time.

On Saturday I commented on the exciting weekend of sports that lay ahead. Two days on and the dust has settled on what was a successful 48 hours for our English sport-stars overseas.

Amir Kahn successfully defended his WBA light-welterweight title with a comfortable victory over Paulie Malignaggi. Kahn never looked in danger of being beaten and eventually, in the 11th round, the referee stepped in to put an end to what had developed into a very one-sided fight. The win, however, should not be considered as great a feat as many are claiming. Malignaggi is well-known for his distinct lack of punching power and with Kahn's vulnerable chin still a doubt the match-up proved to be a very safe option. It was an important step in his fledging boxing career but, ultimately, it was a win that will look far more impressive on paper than it was in reality.

The same cannot be said of England's cricketers, however. They beat Australia yesterday evening to claim their first ever ICC tournament and did so with the same swagger and style that has characterized their play throughout the competition. Their bowling attack was disciplined and consistent. When they reduced the Aussies to 8-3 they put England at a great advantage but Australia did recover to post a respectable target of 148. This target was achieved with balls to spare thanks to a classy and composed partnership of 111 between Kieswetter and Pietersen. Despite Kieswetter and KP hitting out on 63 and 47 respectively the target was already within reach and England strolled over the line with 3 overs to spare.

England's performances in the Caribbean over the last fortnight have been, compared to their usual form in the ICC tournaments, quite simply staggering. The team has played with a simplicity and confidence that is unrecognisable from the over-thought and mechanical approach they have traditionally adopted in the shorter formats of the game. The likes of Luke Wright, Kieswetter, Lumb and Yardy integrated perfectly with the familiar faces that made up the core of the squad. Then there is, of course, the sensational batting of Kevin Pietersen. He has been back to his best of late and has been a controlling and confident figure at the crease and his form seems to have catalysed the rest of the team. Twenty20 cricket can sometimes be labelled merely as 'a bit of fun' but this ought not to belittle England's achievement as not only are they now World Champions, but they did it dominantly and with admirable style.

Elsewhere, at Wembley on Saturday afternoon Chelsea beat Portsmouth. The scoreline was not as comprehensive as many, including myself, expected but the result was predictable. Boateng may have missed the penalty but that was their only shot on target in the 90 minutes. Chelsea missed a penalty of their own and struck the woodwork numerous times on their way to a 1-0 win. Chelsea have been celebrating their domestic double but one player who will not have been in jubilant mood is Michael Ballack. In a predictable and rather dull match this injury news was probably the biggest news to come out of the game. He injured his ankle under a poorly timed challenge by Boateng and now the German midfielder, who has 98 appearances for his country, will miss the World Cup next month.

Ballack has not been at anything like his best form this season but his importance to his national team should not be underestimated. He is a superb big tournament player and has been a stand-out performer in each of the last two World Cups. The German captain is at his best on the big stage and will have been central to Germany's chance of progressing deep into the competition. The Germans have a good squad so it is far from being the case that all hope is lost. It is a big loss though and will leave a very large hole in their World Cup plans.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

An Action-Packed Weekend To Look Forward To

There has been no shortage of sporting stories and events to cover recently and this weekend is certainly no exception. It ought to be an exciting couple of days so I thought I would write about a few of the promising events coming up.

The first of these is the Twenty20 World Cup final between England and Australia. I have already spoken up events in the Caribbean so I do not intend to focus on this too much. It would, however, be criminal to not give it some attention as an England side playing as well as the current one is and then reaching an ICC World Cup final is very rare. Their opponents, Australia, just beat Pakistan in the other semi-final courtesy of a superb innings from 'Mr. Cricket' Mike Hussey. The Aussies chased down Pakistan's total of 191 with just one ball remaining with Hussey hitting a staggering 60 (not-out) off just 24 balls. Any time England meet Australia is an exciting prospect but with a Twenty20 trophy up for grabs this match has all the ingredients to be a thriller. Both sides are on great form and it is very tough to pick a winner but let's just hope England can finally break their ICC tournament duck!

Later this afternoon Chelsea meet Portsmouth in the FA Cup final. It is unfortunate that this match looks almost certain to be an extremely one-sided affair. Portsmouth, all things considered, have done very well to get to Wembley this season but it is hard to see Chelsea, with the goalscoring form they are on, not strolling past Pompey. A Portsmouth win in full-time is at odds of 12/1, you get shorter odds on Chelsea winning 4-0 at 17/2. It would be great to see the FA Cup deliver another magical moment and for Portsmouth to somehow beat the Londoners but this has demolition job written all over it.

In New York's Madison Square Garden tonight Amir Kahn defends his WBA light-welterweight title against Paulie Malignaggi. Tempers flared in the weigh-in for the fight and this could prove to be a very entertaining bout. Kahn is looking to establish himself State-side and a win tonight would certainly help in that goal. Since having Freddie Roach, trainer of Manny Pacquiao, in his corner following his embarrassing defeat in the first round at the hands of Breidis Prescott the Bolton boxer has made great improvements. This fight should be close and have plenty of action so if you are awake at 2.40am it is on ITV and is worth a watch.

Tomorrow is a big day for any F1 fans as it is the one day of the year that the sport becomes remotely interesting. That's right, it is the glitz and glamour of the Monaco Grand Prix. Most people watch the sport for the crashes and therefore this is the race to watch. Putting extremely expensive cars on narrow winding streets with metal barriers and making them race each other at around 200 mph is an truly inspired idea. They should put some oil, banana skins and ice on the track just in case things get a bit dull. Nevertheless, it always makes for a great spectacle and is usually a good way to spend a couple of hours.

Back to the US. Tomorrow sees the first game of the NBA Eastern Conference finals which is basically the Playoff semi-finals. In the East the Orlando Magic will take on the Boston Celtics. I mention this mainly because the Celtics are coming off the back of a sensational 4-2 series win over the number one seeded Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics had struggled all season while the Cavs, with MVP LeBron James, were beating teams with ease. The Boston side showed their playoff pedigree, however, and have come alive over the past few weeks. This has largely been due to the superb form that their point-guard Rondo has been on. Credit should not be taken away from the Celtics but it must be acknowledged that they did not beat a Cleveland team, or rather LeBron James, at anything like their best. LeBron was lacklustre for large parts of the series. He is out of contract in the summer and his performances in the post-season would suggest he will not be playing his basketball with the Cavaliers next season. In the Western Conference the L.A Lakers face the Phoenix Suns in what may any are expecting to be a one-sided series with Kobe Bryant's Lakers, the reigning NBA Champs, expected to make the finals once again.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

From Heartbreak in Hamburg to Classy Cricket in the Caribbean

Last night Fulham's dreams were abruptly ended by a 116th minute Diego Forlan goal. Meanwhile, England's cricket team, in stark contrast, have just booked their place in the Twenty20 World Cup final on Sunday afternoon.

Less than 24 hours ago in Hamburg, Fulham were holding Athletico Madrid to a 1-1 draw and an almost certain penalty shoot-out. The Spanish side had taken the lead after 32 minutes thanks to a Forlan's first game. Roy Hodgson's men replied just five minutes later, however, through Simon Davies. As penalties loomed the Londoners were denied Cup glory as a deflected shot found the net and Forlan was, dubiously, awarded his brace.

Fulham's run in the Europa League has been hailed as a fairytale story and was certainly the determining factor in Hodgson being awarded the Manager of the Year Award despite Fulham finishing in a modest 12th position in the Premiership. Athletico Madrid were, ultimately, the better side and deserved their win, as bitter a blow as it was.

The England Cricketers, though, now have their own cup final to look forward to after they continued their superb form and by beating Sri Lanka in the Twenty20 World Cup Semi-Finals. The England bowlers held the opposition to an easily achievable 128-6 in their innings and the batters duly delivered as they chased down Sri Lanka's target with 4 overs to spare.

Openers Lumb and Kieswetter reached 68 in the opening 8 overs to leave the side able to cruise home to victory. New dad Kevin Pietersen was back in the team having missed the match against New Zealand and got of a score of 42 (not-out) from only 26 balls. Pietersen's form has illustrated just how beneficial the Twenty20 game can be for a player struggling to find runs in the longer formats of the game. He has been quite simply outstanding in this year's competition. Despite making an 8,000-mile-round trip in five days and witnessing the birth of his first child KP returned in time to play another dominant innings. The success of the squad as a whole, meanwhile, has showed the importance of picking players from domestic cricket who have experience in the Twenty20 game such as the new opening pairing of Lumb and Kieswetter.

England will learn who they are to face in Sunday's final tomorrow evening as Australia take on Pakistan. If, if, they can win this weekend it will be England's first ever victory in a ICC tournament.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Capello's Cup Selection

Fabio Capello has announced his provisional 30-man World Cup squad and despite the BBC calling it a 'surprise' the selection seems relatively safe. There are, inevitably, some notable omissions and unexpected inclusions but with all the stories that the rumour mills had been churning out over the last few days Capello's decision has strayed away from any great controversy.

If you have not seen the selection then here is the 30-man provisional squad:

Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, David James, Robert Green.

: Leighton Baines, Jamie Carragher, Ashley Cole, Michael Dawson, Rio Ferdinand, Glen Johnson, Ledley King, John Terry, Matthew Upson, Stephen Warnock.

: Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Frank Lampard, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, Scott Parker, Theo Walcott, Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Forwards: Darren Bent, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Emile Heskey, Wayne Rooney.

On balance I think it is a good choice of players. The choice of goalkeepers has provided no shocks but in defence there are a few surprises. The most obvious of these is the inclusion of Jamie Carragher as the Liverpool defender came out of International retirement. Was this really necessary? Carragher has not been in such form that would warrant him to be called out of the International wilderness. It also means that in his choice of 10 defenders there are three left-backs, seven centre-backs and only one recognised right-back in Glen Johnson which I find concerning.

The midfield is less surprising. There had been whispers that the Manchester United pairing Scholes and Hargreaves would make the squad but they were not included. Barry, despite injury concerns, gets a place and there are well deserved call-ups for Scott Parker, Adam Johnson and Tom Huddlestone. Villa wingers Downing and Ashley Young miss out on a place while Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole both take a spot.

The main surprise with the strikers is that only five have been chosen. The five were predictable but there was no room for Zamora or Carlton Cole despite them having impressive seasons for their respective clubs.

There will now be a seven day wait until we will discover Capello's final 23-man squad as seven players will be cut. I thought that I would offer the squad that I would like to go from these 30 players, although this is not necessarily who I think Capello will pick.

Goalkeepers: Hart, James, Green.

Defenders: Baines, Cole, Dawson, Ferdinand, G. Johnson, King, Terry.

Midfielders: Barry, Carrick, Gerrard, A. Johnson, Lampard, Lennon, Milner, Parker, Walcott.

: Bent, Crouch, Defoe, Rooney.

This means that the seven cuts would be: Carragher, Upson, Warnock, Wright-Phillips, Huddlestone, J. Cole and Heskey. I have favoured an extra midfielder over an eighth defender as without a second right-back there would be no need to take five centre-backs. Johnson or Joe Cole was a tough decision but I went for the Manchester City winger as I think he can make more of an impact coming off the bench. No doubt people's thoughts on Capello's 30-man squad and my 23-man squad will differ greatly so feel free to say who you would like to have seen in the selection and which seven players you would cut.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

KP and The Mighty Whites

At 4pm this afternoon the final set of fixtures in this year's Premiership campaign will kick-off. Unfortunately, after all the promise, there seems to be little to play for. With the relegated teams already having their fate confirmed, the Champions League and Europa League spots decided and the title, barring the most unlikely of slip-ups, seems to be on its way back to Stamford Bridge. Instead, I thought I would reflect on a couple of the more eye-catching stories of the last few days.

The first of these is the return of The Mighty Whites to the dizzying heights of the Coca-Cola Championship. Leeds made typically hard work of their challenge though before eventually beating Bristol Rovers and then celebrating their great triumph with a pitch invasion at the final whistle.

Needing a win to seal automatic promotion they seemed to be relapsing into the poor form that had plagued their season ever since their historic win at Old Trafford. In the 34th minute Max Gradel was shown a red card for violent conduct and then to confound their problems Leeds conceded shortly after the break.

Leeds did, however, overcome this adversity to make their promotion to the second tier of English football all the more emphatic. First Howson scored a lovely goal from just outside the box before the comeback was completed just four minutes later as Jermaine Beckford slotted home his 31st goal of the season. Beckford was the captain for the day and left the pitch to a standing ovation as, although it is very unlikely he will play in Leeds shirt again, the Elland Road faithful showed their appreciation for his goals that have earned them promotion out of League 1. The victory was made all the sweeter for the Leeds fans as it doomed their lower league rivals Millwall to the lottery of the play-offs. Personally, although not a Leeds fan, I am happy to see Leeds get promoted, as I was when the Toon won the Championship. These are the clubs with the fans and the stadiums which belong in the top flight.

Meanwhile, about 4,000 miles away, Kevin Pietersen continued his immense form as his score of 53, in just 33 balls, helped England to a great win over South Africa in the Twenty20 World Cup in Barbados. England only just scraped into the Super Eights though. Having lost a farcical match to the West Indies courtesy of the Duckward/Lewis method their second match against Ireland was called off, again thanks to the weather. They got through with a better net run-rate. Since entering the next phase of the competition, however, England have hit their stride thanks in large to the supreme talents of Kevin Pietersen.

Pietersen has continued the form he captured during the IPL into the Twenty20 tournament and his two innings in the Super Eights stage have put England all but into the semi-finals of the competition. Against Pakistan he led the run chase with 73 runs (not out) and got another half ton against the country of his birth, South Africa, yesterday. He has now gone home to be with his wife Jessica for the birth of their first child and will miss England's match against New Zealand tomorrow. He has stated that he plans on returning for the semi-finals which are scheduled for Thursday/Friday of this week. England must be hoping that Jessica sticks to her due date so that KP can return to the tournament because on the form he his he could carry the team to the final and perhaps to our first Twenty20 trophy.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Friday, 7 May 2010

Why Tottenham's Win Was Good News For English Football

On Wednesday night Tottenham sealed their place in next season's Champions League competition with a 1-0 win over Manchester City. Many were disappointed that Spurs' pipped the Sky Blues to the fourth spot but, for me at least, this was the right result for English football. I do not want to go on a rant about foreign players in the Premiership, I actually think it is a great strength of the league, but with their core of English players, a chance to compete in the biggest club competition in the world can only be a good thing for the London club.

Instead of having a foreign manager leading his team of foreign players out to represent England we will have an English man in charge of some of the countries brightest talents. Seven English players played a part for Tottenham in their win at Eastlands. For Manchester City there were four English players, one of which, Wayne Bridge, has retired from international football. Manchester City, like any club, are welcome to buy any players and it is in their interests to buy the best players they can, in terms of quality and value. When young British talent carries such a hefty price tag it is no surprise that clubs look abroad.

The fact remains, however, that Tottenham's capturing of the final Champions League spot bodes well for some of this countries elite players. The likes of King, Dawson, Lennon, Bentley, Huddlestone, Crouch, Defoe and even the forgotten Jermaine Jenas or the promising prospects such as Danny Rose will all now gain the vital experience of playing on the biggest stage of all against the best opposition.

There has, for a long time now, been the acceptance that our national team relies heavily on just a handful or key players. This may well be because the jump from playing for a middle-table Premiership club to playing international football is too big for many. The more players that we can have in our national team who have featured in Europe's premier footballing competition the better. Look at the big footballing countries. They have a majority of their players featuring at the highest level available which is something we ought to aim for.

You can only develop world-class players in the top clubs. These bigger clubs do more than simply assemble the best players. The coaches and managers improve players not only technically but mentally allowing them to reach higher levels. Being able to play in big matches on a regular basis, to test yourself against the best the game has to offer and to be successful is how you achieve the status of being 'a world-class player'. With the squad they have, which Redknapp will certainly be building on, there is nothing to say that the club will not do well in next year's competition and thus the players will be able to further their talents and reputation.

Redknapp clearly values English talent. This is clear by the players who came through during his time at West Ham, the likes of Glen Johnson, Sol Campbell, David James, Defoe and Crouch he brought in at Portsmouth and the similar pattern we can see in his short time at White Hart Lane. We can only hope that he sticks by this policy this summer now that Champions League football has been confirmed.

Champions League football will, of course, come too late for the Tottenham players that will feature in Capello's squad in South Africa. But it is good news for our national team looking forward. The experience that this Tottenham squad, consisting of many of England's best footballing talent, will gain in the competition will help certainly enhance the Three Lions for future tournaments. Our English talent, whether it be the managers, coaches or players, need the chance to perform at the upper echelons of the sport and Tottenham's win over City has helped this cause.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Big Stories - From the Caribbean to Kiev

Due to a looming dissertation deadline I have not been able to write about all the events and stories that I have wanted to of late but I thought I would briefly reflect on a couple of the bigger ones that I have neglected. This first is the start of Twenty20 World Cup in the West Indies and the second is the dramatic climax of the Snooker World Championship, both on and off the table.

On Friday the Twenty20 tournament got underway with England playing their first game last night against the hosts, West Indies. In a match plagued by rain it was the home side who took a somewhat farcical win. England posted a very respectful 191-5 from their 20 overs as Lumb, Pietersen and Kieswetter all hit quick fire 20s while Morgan and Wright got impressive scores of 55 and 45 respectively. West Indies were 60-2 from their 5.5 overs before rain stopped-play. With the game unable to restart Windies were awarded the win by the eight wickets thanks to the Duckward/Lewis method. In the unpredictable world of T20 cricket England have every right to feel aggrieved with the result. When one good over or a couple of wickets completely change the complexion of the game a target of 191 was still an extremely difficult target that England would have been confident of defending.

Nevertheless, the result is decided and now the England team faces a win or go home match when they face Ireland this evening. They would, of course, be expected to win this game comfortably but their defeat at the hands of the Netherlands in last year’s competition will act as a stark reminder of just how easily upsets can happen in this format of the game.

With the ever increasing popularity of the shortened version of the game there will be increasing pressure on the longer one-day games. With none of the boring middle overs or the time consumption involved in the 50 over matches T20 cricket offers a far more entertaining spectacle. The reckless abandonment of the batters is exhilarating while every dot ball in cheered like a wicket. The success of the IPL and the full houses these tournaments bring in is great for the game. I would, however, say that the format of the competition could be addressed. There are four groups of three with the top two then going into the super-eights is a drawn out structure that does not work for me. A simpler group phase into a knock-out stage would seem more attractive but the super-eights does at least allow for more cricket. For now this is all I will say on the T20 World Cup but I will probably look at it again when it nears its conclusion on 16th May.

The snooker World Championships have come and past and they had threatened to merely offer their usual mild and forgettable entertainment. There were, however, two noteworthy exceptions this year that I am sure everyone has heard or read about. The first of these is that last night Neil Robertson won the event. This means there has been a break from Britain’s stranglehold on snooker which is a refreshing change and people are claiming that this can only be a good thing for the game in the long run. There is though no reason to get too excited though. Ninety percent of the players will still be British and they will continue to dominate the tournaments but, for now, it is nice to see a new character win something, even if he is an Aussie.

His achievement will unfortunately be overshadowed by a much bigger story that has consumed the snooker world this week and that is the accusation of John Higgins’ plans to throw frames. The situation is still far from clear cut. Higgins has not been involved with frame or match fixing in past tournaments. The News of the World have claimed that he was involved in a deal for him, in future matches, to purposefully lose frames in return for 300,000 Euros courtesy of an undercover reporter in Kiev. Although Higgins is fighting these claims it is still a big blow to the sport to have a former World Champion embroiled in such affairs. Snooker has been attempting to reinvent itself of late but damning stories like this will only help to bring the whole sport into disrepute. Barry Hearn, the WPBSA Chairman, has stated that they will deal with the situation as professionally, fairly and quickly as possible and we can only hope that it is dealt with and moved past as soon as possible.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please…

Sunday, 2 May 2010

A Joy To Behold

In the early hours of the morning a star-studded crowd of celebrity A-Listers and boxing legends filled the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to witnessing Floyd 'Money' Mayweather deliver a boxing master-class. Having watched the fight, although not having intentionally stayed up to do so, I thought it made sense to write something about the contest.

Mayweather, 33, entered his 41st fight against 'Sugar' Shane Mosley, 38. Although Mayweather was inevitably the heavy favourite for the bout there had been many who were tipping the experienced Mosley, himself a three-weight world champion, to cause an upset.

The first round was tentative by both fighters but the fight soon exploded into life with an enthralling second round. Mosley not once but twice had the former five-weight world champion stumbling with a couple of big right-hands which had the whole building rocking. Mayweather looked like he could be visiting the canvas for the first time in his career but somehow managed to cling on to Mosley and find a way to get to the bell.

Hopes of an upset, however, were short-lived as the fight fell into a somewhat predictable trend. Mayweather regained his composure and started to find his rhythm. In the next few rounds Mayweather showed his supreme class and took the fight away from Mosley and even though the fight became one-sided it was still extremely entertaining to watch a master at work.

Mayweather was landing lightning fast combinations at will throughout the fight which Mosley looked helpless to avoid. As the bout wore on Mosley cut a frustrated and confused figure. He simply could not land a punch on Mayweather who showed why he had never even been knocked down. The speed and accuracy of Mayweather's punches combined with his evasive defence work were quite simply outstanding, a joy to behold.

By the second half of the fight the result was in little question. Although Mosley had shown that he had the power to hurt Mayweather he began to look like a beaten man as early as the 8th. His legs were tired, his punches were weak and his corner were threatening to stop the contest if he continued to take so much punishment. Mosley was allowed to fight on but nothing changed. As the bell sounded for the final round the image of Mayweather clinging on for deer life in the 2nd round already seemed like a distant memory. Mayweather glided around the ring landing punches with frightening regularity while Mosley offered little, even in the final exchanges.

At the end of the fight Mosley looked ready to collapse while Mayweather had hardly broken a sweat and looked like he could fight another 12 rounds. He had made a far from ordinary boxer look little more than average in a stunning boxing display. Despite being rocked in the 2nd he regained his composure and came back to win the fight with consummate ease. His defensive and offensive work was breath-taking and reiterated his supreme class for all of the boxing world. Such was the quality of Mayweather's display that even though the fight was far from even after the 3rd round it still made staying up till 6am worth it.

The loss is likely to bring an end to Mosley's glittering 52 fight career and leave boxing fans once again praying that a match-up between Mayweather and Pacquiao will go ahead. They are the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and in all honestly it seems a waste of time for them to fight anyone else, they are in a league of their own. This fight needs to happen, it needs to happen for both of their careers but more importantly to restore some credibility to the boxing world. Let's just hope they can get past the issue of blood testing and make the fight happen because if it went ahead it would promise to be the greatest showdown of this generation.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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