Saturday, 27 February 2010
England's backs have certainly not been firing on all cylinders but the blame does not have to lie with Wilkinson. He is a superb all-round player and although he is not on the top of his form his quality is such that he warrants plenty of time to correct that. He may not be getting any younger but he has regularly been England's saviour and when he is at his best he gives the team a world-class quality that no one else in the squad can.
The backs that he is playing with are all new to International rugby and are not a set of players that have played together often. A fortnight ago was the first time that Jonny and Flutey had played together. This lack of playing time explains why they have failed to act as a dangerous or cohesive unit. Wilkinson has always had big names playing outside of him that currently aren't there as Matt Dawson has been quick to point out. This lack of experience or quality amongst the other backs should be deflected in criticism of Wilkinson. Jonny has not relied on these people but to say he has been more successful when playing with better players is a self-explanatory argument.
I would personally point to Martin Johnson as being responsible for the poor performances of the side. His managerial inexperience is reflected in a team that seems to lack direction and to take Wilkinson out of the team would only exacerbate these problems. Problems with backs standing too deep or not running the right lines are things that are fixed or changed on the training ground. The finger should not be pointed at Jonny. Fortunately, I have little doubt that Wilkinson will continue as fly-half, barring injury or a truly horrific performance.
Claims that he should be dropped are rubbish. They come from the same people who enjoy, and make a career out of, building up and then dragging back down England's sporting heroes. Even if his kicking and attacking play has not been up to his usual impeccably high standards Wilkinson is definitely the player I would trust to wear England's number 10 shirt, for the near future at least.
Needless to say that I have far less faith in Martin Johnson's ability to lead England away from their current unimaginative and somewhat ineffective style of rugby.
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Surely the idea of a knock-out system is that each game should be a one off, winner takes it all contest. Having the safety net of a playing for a draw to secure a replay takes away from the excitement of this. Teams settling in the final twenty minutes of a game because neither sides wants to risk their place in the cup by going for the win ruins the spectacle of the whole FA Cup, Man City's match against Stoke highlighted this point perfectly.
People watch these competitions for the giant killing moments and the end to end open football that cup matches, unlike league games, can regularly provide. The prospect of extra-time and penalties are what provide the memorable moments of the FA Cup and removing replays would create more of such moments. Don't let teams play conservatively to take a game back to their stadium, make sure that the winner is decided on the day and the more matches that therefore go to extra-time and penalties the better, that is what the FA Cup is all about!
The other part of the FA Cup that I believe should be changed is how the semi-finals are also played at Wembley. This again ruins the spectacle of the competition. Getting to walk out to play at Wembley should be a privelidge reserved for the two sides that make the final only so as to keep it as special and unique as possible. Playing the semi-finals at Wembley, like replays, may help generate more income for the competition but it jeopardises the things that people love about knock-out cup competition.
Likewise the League Cup could do with a change to it's format. The two-legged semi-finals help to counter-act the excitement that the competition can potentially offer. No one, the teams included, would want for these matches to be drawn out over two legs. They do not carry the importance or spectacle of European competitions nor is the home advantage as important. Just keep them over one match, in a neutral stadium (not Wembley). Why bother changing the rules for the semi-finals over??
By introducing such changes the appeal of the competitions would surely be enhanced. Although the traditionalists may dislike the idea of tampering with such formats, I feel as though they help the FA and League Cups to become more of an entertaining spectacle and would almost certainly help produce more magic cup moments.
Your comments and opinions are welcomed and encouraged as ever...
Saturday, 20 February 2010
I personally find the majority of the sports in the Winter Olympics very dull. I think a large reason why I, like most of Britain, fail to care about the events that are currently taking place in Vancouver is that these are sports that we have never ourselves taken part in. As I do not ski/snowboard and having never been bob-sleighing it is difficult to enjoy watching such things. If you cannot appreciate the excitement or the technical difficulty of a sport then the spectating of them becomes far less enjoyable.
Compare this with the Summer Olympics. Everyone can appreciate the difficulty and sheer super-human athleticism of what your are witnessing. Watching someone like Usain Bolt run the 100m in 9.6 seconds, Jonathan Edwards jump over 18m or Phelps win 8 gold medals at one games is far more entertaining. This is because you understand just how difficult the things that these individuals are achieving are. Everyone did these events at sports day or in PE and so can better connect to these sports. This is why I believe people just don't care nearly as much about the Winter Olympics because there is no personal connection to, or little experience in. such sports.
No doubt the fact that Britain fails to win medals at the Winter Olympics has also contributed to the fact that the games as a whole in such a negative or nondescript manner. Sports which Britain has no history or success in has generally resulted in their being an inevitable lack of interest in that sport. It also means that the media pays little attention to such sports and so the hype around them is minimal.
Now there are exceptions to this. I find curling very exciting in a bizarre way but I know that I am somewhat unique in that. Now if Britain learnt something from some successful Hollywood films and recruited some Jamaican-British men for our bob-sleigh team, or entered two men into the paired figure skating competition then things may become more interesting. These are, however, the only ways that such events can be exciting, if they are dramatised by comical Hollywood scripts.
Either way in a couple of weeks these sports will be banished back to the shadows of Eurosport and few will complain. Ultimately the Winter Olympics fail to capture the imagination and interest of the nation because the majority of the events are so alien to British people. I think that the fact that the clip of the bob-sleigher's wardrobe malfunction on Youtube is gaining more viewers than the games themselves says it all... it is pretty funny though.
Comments on your feelings towards the Winter Olympics please...
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
GK – Shay Given. Given just beat off competition from Freidal and Van Der Sar as my keeper. Although he may not have the usual height of a standard goalkeeper he is nevertheless an incredible shot stopper. For both Newcastle and now Man City he has been a consistent performer and has very rarely made mistakes.
DR – Jamie Carragher. Now this was certainly the hardest position to choose and am sure many will disagree with my choice, Gary Neville has been the standard choice but for me he has been so poor/hasn't played in the second half of the decade that he does not deserve to make the team. There are few other quality right backs around in the league and even though I would have loved to put Mario Melchiot in the team he is just not good enough.. Carragher's place in the team is probably more a reflection of the weakness in this position than of his strength. He is, however, a very good defender. He has been a solid performer for Liverpool week in and week out for over 420 games and has been capped 34 times. Although not an ideal choice I have no qualms with putting him in the side.
DC – Rio Ferdinand. Playing for Leeds and then Man United Rio has been a solid force in the heart of the defence. Except for his recent dip in form he has been extremely consistent for club and country. He makes the art of defending look easy and his leadership and coolness under pressure saw him rise to become one of the best centre backs in the world during the decade. He also has broken the record for the youngest defender ever to play for England and was the most expensive transfer of all-time when he went to Man United for £30 million.
DC – John Terry. A tough call for the second centre back spot but Terry took it just ahead of Sol Campbell because Sol has not been playing at the top of his game for the last few season. Terry established himself for Chelsea in 2001 and has survived the buying frenzy at the club to become the heart of the team. He has played just shy of 300 times for the club and has been a throwback to the no nonsense, body-on-the-line defending which has made him so successful. A great player in a great team means he has made his way into the side.
DL – Ashley Cole. Love him or hate him (as the majority of people do) Cole has made this left back position his own. This was certainly the easiest decision for me to make. He is excellent going forward and in defence and has performed superbly in the big games for Arsenal and Chelsea.
MR – Cristiano Ronaldo. A player that may have only featured in 7 of the 10 years of the decade but his achievements at his time at Man United meant he could not be overlooked. There were few others ultimately who could have claimed the wide right spot in my mind. The World and European footballer of the year in 2008 took some time to settle in when arriving but once he grew into his new league he went on to dominate it. Scoring 84 goals in his 196 United games is an incredible record for a player playing predominately on the wing. He terrorized defenders and could score in so many ways. He, in only 6 seasons in the league, will always be one of the greatest to play in it.
MC – Steven Gerrard (captain). Emerging for Liverpool in 1998 Gerrard has developed into one of the finest players the premiership has ever seen. He is, and has been for a long time, the go to guy for his club and has carried Liverpool through many-a-match. He has played over 350 times for his club scoring 76 goals, and he has scored those goals at the most important moments.
MC – Frank Lampard. Along side Gerrard I have decided to go with Lampard. The likes of Fabregas and Scholes (and others) were in the running but in terms of influence, consistency and all-round level of performance Frank just took it. Since his move to Chelsea in 2001 Lampard has been at the centre of their progress in the league and European competition alike. He has played over 300 times for Chelsea scoring 93 goals. That record of nearly one goal in every three games speaks for itself. He seldom misses a game and rarely fails to meet his high standards. In 2005 he won FIFA World Player of the Year and has maintained that high level throughout the naughties.
ML – Ryan Giggs. As with Ashley Cole this decision was a straight forward one. Whether or not people feel he deserved his BBC Sports Personality of the Year award or his PFA Player of the Year award last year I don't feel his place in this team can be in question. Quite possibly the best servant to the league the evergreen Ryan Giggs has been an outstanding player for nearly 20 years now. His game may have changed yet his ability to make an impact on a match with a pass, dribble or shot has not.
ST – Thierry Henry. Now I am aware that he stopped playing in 2007 and so missed the final three years of the period but to find a world class striker who has played throughout the decade is not possible to find. Henry was one of, if not the most exciting player the premiership has seen. His ability to score amazing goals, run past defenders with ease and his all-round team play made for great viewing. Bot to forget that he was central to Arsenal's unbeaten 2003-2004 season. Twice PFA Player of the Year and 3rd on the Premiership all-time scorers list with 174 goals in only 254 games for Arsenal means he had to make the team.
ST – Wayne Rooney. The likes of Drogba, Anelka and even Defoe and Keane were all options but Rooney just edged it. When he emerged in 2002 Rooney made an immediate impact scoring a screamer on debut against Arsenal to end their 30 game unbeaten run. He won the 2002 BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year and has continued to grow into a world class player. His game consists of much more than goals, his creative flair and teamwork add a completely different dimension to his game. Now he has added goals to his repertoire he has become close to the complete striker. Scoring some wonder goals on the way to nearly 250 club appearances Rooney, in my opinion, deserved the final place in my Premiership team of the noughties.
No doubt many of your opinions will differ greatly from mine so please comment on who you agree/disagree with and what your side would look like...
Saturday, 13 February 2010
It was only two weeks ago that the Terry saga dominated the sporting world. The underlying point was often made that Terry and Bridge would never have to play together for England because Cole's place in the starting 11 was a certainty. But here we are with the distinct possibility that the two will have to play along side each other in the friendly against Egypt on 3rd March and in South Africa this June. This is such a funny twist for this on going story to have taken, I bet John Terry could not believe that his luck could have got any worse!
Of course ultimately this story is not a comical one for any follower of the Three Lions as Ashley Cole's importance to the team is massive. When you look for world class players in the England team there may appear to be many on the face of it, however in terms of players who would rank in the top 3 or 4 in the world in their position there are few. Along with Rooney and perhaps Gerrard or Lampard (although I would not personally say so) I don't believe any other of our players could claim such an accolade. Cole is the one exception who certainly could.
Ashley Cole, despite being a massive prick and very unpopular with most football fans across the country because of his whiny nature and his off the field antics, is of great importance to the team. He is probably, on form at least, our best defender. This season he has come into the best form of his career dominating players defensively (just ask Theo) and looking more menacing than ever going forward. Carlo Ancelotti, and perhaps the competition of having Yury Zhirkov in the squad, has brought the best out of Ashley Cole and he was no doubt pivotal to England's World Cup hopes. He has been a solid performer for the national team and makes the side stronger in attack as well as defence.
This injury just echoes the problems experienced by previous managers in the build up to past World Cups. Rooney, Owen and Beckham are just three names of key players to suffer broken bones in the months going into the biggest tournament in the footballing world. From now till 12th June every time an England player suffers a hard tackle or falls awkwardly the nation will hold it's breath. It highlights the fragility of our World Cup dreams as the hopes of so many rest in so few. This sort of bad luck is almost unavoidable, will there be any teams in South Africa with their first choice 23 players fit and ready? This is something that all managers, club and national, have to deal with and Capello's decision for Cole's replacement is another test he will have to face and I am confident that he will not fail us.
In terms of replacements the three that are in contention must be Wayne Bridge, Stephen Warnock and Leighton Baines. Bridge, himself just returning from a lengthy injury may be the logical and preferred choice of many but he is not mine. Warnock and Baines are both risks, good premiership players who are in good form for their respective clubs but they, unlike Bridge, lack experience on the international stage. Nevertheless I would rather one of these two were given a go in the side while we await Cole's return from injury. They are both promising talents who are playing better football than Bridge and deserve their chance. I suspect that looking to a replacement will prove unnecessary beyond the friendly against Egypt however.
The chances are that Cole will probably be fit in time for the last few weeks of the premiership season and thus be in Capello's squad and he will most probably start against the USA in England's opening game. The situation is likely to exaggerated to build the story into a bigger deal than it may in fact be. The fact that Chelsea back room staff are already stating that he is likely to be fit in time for the World Cup indicates this. It is always hard to see how injury comebacks will go as they can be so easily aggravated if rushed back. Cole will have limited time to re-find his form and fitness before South Africa though so he is no way a dead cert to start come 12th June. Because of his importance to the team and the lack of an experienced quality replacement I and the rest of the nation's football fans will be keeping a keen eye on his progress.
The injury to Cole may also raise the usual questions about the strength in depth of English football as we rely so heavily on a core of quality players and lack quality beyond it, but as this post has already gone on far longer than I intended I will save that issue for another day.
As ever thoughts, comments and opinions are very welcome...
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
I am tired of stories of these non-sports taking up space on the back pages or on the BBC sport website. Phil Taylor can compare himself to the likes of Roger Federer because he dominates his chosen field but the two are incomparable. The difference is that Roger Federer has not become the all-time greatest Tennis player by sitting down, downing pints while hitting a tennis ball against the pub wall. As far as I am concerned to claim that darts, golf, snooker and the likes are sports would be to discredit actual sports.
You can call them what you like; hobbies, past-times, leisure activities, just not sports. I would give the following criteria for why these things should not be constituted as sports:
1. If you can remain at the top of the respective field over the age of 40.
2. If you can play it in a pub.
3. If you do not need to change your shoes or trousers to play it.
If a hobby meets all of these criteria then I don’t believe that it should be classified as a sport.
Sports-stars are at the pinnacle of their profession. They are the technical and physical elite who can make who are highly trained athletes. To group Lionel Messi, Brian Habana, Usain Bolt or Floyd Mayweather Jr with someone like Raymond van Barneveld or John Daly, who probably have a BMI that would see them considered medically obese, is disrespectful to the former.
I am aware that this view may well be controversial and I, as ever, welcome any opinions or thoughts that people have on the issue. But do not expect me to talk about any of these past-times as part of my blog. They may be difficult to play and I do enjoy watching these games but they are not sports.
Sunday, 7 February 2010
The nachos are ready, the Bud’s are in the fridge and the bets are on. The world is set for Super Bowl XLIV. The Indianapolis Colts meet the New Orleans Saints in Miami tonight for what the Americans like to call the greatest show on earth...just wait until they witness Carlisle v Leeds in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Area Final Second Leg on Tuesday night (7pm Sky Sports 3 and HD). Do you really think Smithson could write anything without mentioning the Mighty Whites?
The Colts will be looking for a repeat of 2007 when they beat the Chicago Bears 29-17 in the same stadium in dreadful conditions. The previous experience that Peyton Manning and the Colts have could prove invaluable against a relatively young Saint’s team. This game is a mouth watering prospect, with both teams dominating their respective conferences and almost recording perfect seasons until they rested their big names once their play off positions had been confirmed.
The fairytale would of course be for the Saints to record their first franchise Super Bowl for a city which has had little to celebrate since the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. However, they have a huge task ahead if they are to stop the rampant Peyton Manning. The Saints defence has been very successful in the play off campaign, putting in several huge hits on NFL greats Kurt Warner and Brett Favre and they will have to be on top form to do the same with Manning.
The main issue of concern for the Colts is the possible absence of defensive end Dwight Freeney due to an ankle ligament injury sustained in the AFC championship game. Although he has not been ruled out by the Colts definitively, the consensus amongst the pundits is that he will only play a cameo role, joining the fray for the big plays. With Freeney being the defensive lynchpin throughout the Colts season, the Saints and Drew Brees have a massive weakness to exploit. Freeney’s speed from the line has helped him to a massive 13.5 sacks this season and without that threat, players will be freed up to provide a more offensive threat for the Saints.
If you’re not an NFL fan, I would still suggest you watch this awesome spectacle. Yes, it is complicated at first and yes, it is a lengthy game, but I got into this sport by watching my first Super Bowl in 2003. And if you’re not impressed with the sport, you will always have The Who to watch at half time!
Comments and predictions NFL fans...
Saturday, 6 February 2010
This target places even greater importance on this opening game. With two harder games to follow against the bookies two favourites, last year’s Grand Slam winners Ireland and a difficult trip to across the channel to play the French. England will enter these matches as underdogs which means a loss to Wales this evening would leave England and Johnson with an uphill battle to reach his supposed target.
The bottom line is that Martin Johnson has given the nation no reason to believe that he is capable of leading our country’s rugby team to success in this year’s Six Nations or in the looming World Cup next year in New Zealand. He may well have been one of the greatest captains to wear the Red Rose but unfortunately this does not guarantee his ability to make the transition into being a great coach.
How much responsibility lies with the coach is hard to say. The truth is England’s current crop of elite players is not in the same league as years gone by. You look through the team expected to start today and how many world class players are there? Johnny is the stand out performer but beyond him the team lacks the star quality and so the expectations placed on Johnson must be more realistic. To constantly use the team of the 2003 World Cup winners as a comparison or a bench mark would be to set the bar too high.
Nevertheless, having won only 6 of his 14 test, Martin Johnson’s position must be under review. How long do you let him ‘build’ a squad or develop a team ethos? The problem is that he has made no real progress since his appointment in 2008 and offered few signs of promise for the future. His refusal to make wholesale changes may ensure continuity but has ultimately resulted in players keeping their places in the side even despite poor series of performances – the likes of Ugo Monye and captain Borthwick spring to mind.
Johnson took the role of head coach with no previous coaching experience and it appears that now England are paying the price of their romantic decision to give him the position. Johnson was a great player, and will probably go on to make a great coach, but at the moment he just isn’t. His tactics don’t seem to be understood by the players, his squad selections are overly conservative and he is unwilling to introduce some more radical changes to try and lift England from their steady demise.
I hope that the rumours of an ultimatum being placed on Johnson for this year’s Six Nations are true. Do we allow him until after next year’s world cup? Surely two years with a losing record and no change is enough to condemn Johnson to the fate of going to New Zealand only as a spectator. If he is unable to win three of England’s five games then I believe that top down changes must be implemented. With an easy victory surely coming against the Italians and a game against Scotland, they really ought to win. If he cannot muster a victory against the French, Irish or injury plagued Welsh then that must be all the evidence that we need that Johnson is not the man for the job?!
Thoughts, comments or predictions please... except on grammar, I was far too hung-over to care!
Wednesday, 3 February 2010
For the first instalment of my sports blog it seems hard to look past the story that has been dominating news, sports and otherwise, and that is of course the ongoing John Terry affair. It is impossible to look at any news or sport website or newspaper and avoid this story. Nevertheless it did seem a convenient starting point for my new blog and thus I will be offering my view on the situation and asking the question of the extent to which his off-the-field activities ought to impact upon events on the field.
Ultimately, John Terry will not be able to escape the abuse of away fans across the country, in the short-term at least, and nor does he deserve to. Burnley supporters made this point abundantly clear with their chant of ‘same old Terry, always cheating’ in this week’s premiership clash with Chelsea which was as inevitable as it was original and witty. However, is it fair that such reactions towards him ought to result in Terry surrendering, or be removed of, the England captaincy?
Unfortunately, although it may not be fair, such seedy personal affairs will unavoidably impact upon his role within the football world. As our national captain Terry has to represent English football whether it is on or off the field. His affair with Wayne Bridge’s ex Vanessa Perroncel brings negative and unneeded attention to the England football team.
Terry is obviously not the only player in the English national set-up to have received negative media attention. Beckham underwent a similar experience after his supposed affair with Rebecca Loos while we should not forget how Ashley Cole cheated on Cheryl Cole only last year * prick*. As well as this it was not too long ago that Stephen Gerrard was caught on CCTV delivering a series of upper-cuts to a barman in a Liverpool nightclub. The key difference here is that Terry’s affair has the added dimensions that it involved the ex-girlfriend of another player that you would assume will be in the world cup squad travelling to South Africa this summer and that Terry is of course the captain of the national team.
‘Team Bridge’ t-shirts have already been displayed by Wayne Bridge’s fellow Man City teammates which illustrates the division that Terry’s actions have caused. Yet the division is not an even one, John Terry finds himself heavily out-numbered by the public and footballers alike. Ultimately, footballers are no longer just sports-stars but are now celebrities which means that their actions off-the-pitch are scrutinised as much as their performances on-the-pitch.
John Terry has cheated on his wife and childhood sweetheart, with whom he has twin children, with the ex-girlfriends of a former club, and current national team, teammate. This is pure gold dust to the media world and will boost sales of trashy women’s magazines and newspapers alike.
A part of me feels sympathy for Terry who has done something that hundreds of thousands of other married people will do this year but his dirty laundry is aired to the nation. This sympathy does not last long however. He has been given the honour that is the boyhood dream of millions of children and he is currently on wages of over £100,000 a week. If he chooses to have an affair then he ought to live with consequences.
A footballer lives their life under the scrutiny of the media’s and the public’s prying glaze, even if people think that this ought not to be the case. In the coming days it will be decided if Terry will take a break from football to escape the media attention and, after a pending meeting with no nonsense England coach Fabio Capello, whether or not he will retain the captaincy of the national team.
I would say he certainly needs to be on the plane to South Africa, whether he will be wearing the armband in this summer’s world cup is hard to say. When the whistle blows in England’s first game of the 2010 World Cup against the USA on the 12th June I doubt anyone will care who wears the armband, this story will inevitably blow over and as long as Terry does not lose the complete support of his national teammates there is no reason why he cannot, or will not, continue his captaincy. What is for certain is that the coming month is going to be an extremely painful one for John Terry and frustratingly repetitive for those people whose day heavily involves the reading of the BBC sport website or the watching of Sky Sports News.