Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

From Cavaliers to Roundheads

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

I watched Wales playing France on Saturday, and was completely depressed by their performance. To be honest, I am not a great fan of modern rugby. It reminds me so much of rugby league which to me has always been a second cousin to rugby union. That is, when rugby union was played with flair and verve. I know rugby union went through a barren period during the sixties embodied by a match between Wales and Scotland. The Welsh captain on that day was Clive Rowlands. Playing at scrum half, he received the ball  from  the lineout for the umpteenth time, and proceeded to kick for touch approximately 96 times. It was a  diabolical spectacle. His gifted half back partner, David Watkins, never received a pass.

Rowlands’ performance led to a change in the laws. It was decreed that kicking directly into touch would only be permitted from within your own twenty five. Otherwise, the ensuing lineout would be taken back from where the kick was taken.

Fifty plus years on kicking from the hand still played a huge role in Saturday’s match. But this was much worse. Wales’s Biggar and Halfpenny continued to punt the ball aimlessly up the field invariably straight into the hands of their French opponents who to their credit showed far more imagination than their Welsh opponents. Why opt to kick and give possession of the ball to your opponents allowing them to counter attack?

I guess I romanticize over the golden era of Welsh Rugby in the seventies and eighties, but with justification. They claimed that Wales had an outside half (fly half) factory churning out the next super star. Believe me, the team revolved around the outside half until the great Gareth Edwards came along and stamped his own authority on a match from scrum half. But that’s another story. Let’s concentrate on the line of fly halves that adorned the Welsh jersey in the Golden era.

David Watkins started the ball (pardon the pun) rolling when freed from the shackles of Clive Rowlands. He was replaced by a legend  called “The King”, Barry John. He received the mantel “King” from New Zealand journalists following his exploits in New Zealand in 1971 when he guided the British Lions to their first and only series win over the All Blacks.

My dad and I had endless arguments about Barry John having the talent to play for Wales let alone being regarded as the best fly half of his generation. My dad was used to fly halves making side steps to elude opponents while John  would invariably swivel his hips and glide through the opposition. Unaccountably, John retired at the premature age of 27 when he was at the peak of his career. Fortunately, Phil Bennett was waiting in the wings to take his place.

Now Bennett played a pivotal role in one of the greatest games of rugby. In 1973, the All Blacks toured Britain and Ireland and finished undefeated until the last game against the Barbarians. The Barbarians were an invitational XV, but on this occasion it comprised the majority of the British Lions squad which was so successful in 1971. This match will explain the difference in rugby style between the golden age and the ponderous modern game. Running and passing the ball, beating an opponent with deft of movement, using magical skills of fleet of foot, and slick handling. It was poetry in motion.

Instead, Wales had a great opportunity to score a try to bring them back into contention just before half time, and France had been reduced to 14 men with one player sent to the sin bin. Time and time again they attempted to bludgeon their way over the try line which was only 5 yards away when the situation cried out for a pass to their backs lined up in anticipation. Needless to say, they failed miserably and France went on to win the match despite a couple of late tries by Wales. I was angry watching their abject failure to create any kind of magic. Worse still, I was saddened by the state of Welsh rugby, and the state of the modern game in general.

Before I sign off I must mention another fly half, Jonathan Davies, who  played with a swagger and managed to stamp his own personality and range of mercurial skills on the game. He was lost to the union game far too early when he decided to take the money and go north to play rugby league as did David Watkins. Both players were highly successful in Rugby League, which in the case of Jonathan Davies left a chasm in the Welsh team. Davies was probably the last of the artisans to wear the number 10 jersey for Wales which led to an inevitable decline in Welsh rugby.

Yes, Wales have won Grand Slams in the 21st Century, but the current attitude in the game was sadly summed up by the current captain, multi-capped Alan Wyn-Jones: “Test rugby is about winning matches and throwing the ball around can be very pretty, but it is not winning.” In response I would conclude by asking: why can’t we win with flair?

The Tale of Two Coaches

Sunday, January 26th, 2020

 

Please excuse me people, but I have been attempting to write this post for a few weeks now and it maybe a little out of date. Nevertheless I will write my thoughts. When Mauricio Pocchetino was sacked by Tottenham Hotspur in November, Falcons Head Coach Dan Quinn’s head was also on the chopping block. Ironically their tenure and statistics at their respective clubs/teams almost ran parallel with each other, give or take some poetic license.

Pocchetino was hired by Spurs in 2014. He guided them to three top three  finishes in his first four seasons, culminating in a place in the Champions League Final in June 2019. However, they gave their fans very little to cheer by succumbing very meekly to Liverpool 0-2. The score doesn’t tell the tale of Liverpool’s dominance.

Pocchetino’s team selection was not without controversy. Lucas Mora scored a hatrick in the second leg of their semi-final with Ajax to secure their place in the final. Their star striker Harry Kane had missed a couple of months with an ankle injury, but demanded to play in the final to the exclusion of Lucas Mora. Pocchetino meekly succumbed to player pressure and  the rest is history.

Pocchetino claimed that he would have walked away if Spurs had won the Champions League because he felt he couldn’t take the club any further. In his defence,  he was hampered in developing the team by  lack of new signings in recent seasons caused in part by the construction of a new stadium which had drained their financial resources. Furthermore, the construction took much longer than anticipated and Spurs were forced to play their home games at Wembley for almost two seasons.

At the beginning of 2019-2020 season, Pocchettino resembled a man who didn’t want to be there, and several of the first team were looking for moves elsewhere none of which materialized. Consequently, the manager and team looked stale and devoid of new ideas. By November of last year, Spurs were languishing in 14th place in the Premiership and were humiliated at home by Bayern Munich losing 1-7 in a Champions League group game. Pocchettino was  summarily sacked. Not long before he had been touted as the next head coach/manager of Real Madrid or Manchester United, and perhaps of the Argentinian national team.  He is currently back in his homeland, Argentina, where he is a color analyst for one of the TV stations covering Argentinian league games.

On the other side of the pond, Dan Quinn was hired as Head Coach of the Atlanta Falcons approximately around the same time as Pocchettino was appointed at Spurs. In his first season, The Falcons went 8-8 and missed the playoffs. In 2016, they finished 11-5 and clinched a placed in the Super Bowl only to lose to the New England Patriots. The loss decimated Atlanta fans because the Falcons were leading 28-3 entering the fourth quarter, but eventually lost in overtime due to what can only be construed as mismanagement by the coaching staff, not least by Dan Quinn.

Roughly the same time Pocchetino was sacked by Spurs, the Falcons finished the first half the NFL season 1-7, and Falcon fans and the local media were calling for Quinn’s head. The Falcons had finished 10-6 the season following the Super Bowl debacle but lost in the playoffs to the eventual champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2018 they were decimated by injuries and they failed to make the playoffs finishing 7-9.

Subsequent to the 2019 season, Quinn announced he was taking over the defensive coordinating duties which proved to be catastrophic. The Falcons conceded 40 points in at least three of their losses culminating in their 1-7 record entering the bye week. Falcons owner Arthur Blank claimed he would take the off week to review Quinn’s position as Head Coach. Meanwhile, Quinn decided to relinquish his defensive duties handing over to two of his assistant coaches, The Falcons faired better in the second half with a 6-2 record, but 7-9 overall, missing the playoffs in successive seasons.

Unaccountably, Arthur Blank announced before the final game of the season that Quinn and the hapless general Manager, Thomas Dimitroff would be returning next season. Blank explained that “it takes a big man to admit he was wrong,” meaning Quinn realized  he had made a dog’s dinner of supervising his team’s defense. But why should it take Quinn eight games to realize the error of his ways?

In contrast it was patently obvious to any Spurs fan that Pocchetino’s days were numbered, and the club needed a fresh start. Similarly, Dan Quinn and his cohort Dimitroff should have been shown the exit door. Quinn placed the blame of the previous season’s failure to make the playoffs by firing his defensive and offensive coordinators. He followed this up by placing his neck in the defensive coordinator’s noose, and was left hanging. He should have been put out of his and our misery. I was tired of his sound bites during  the first half of the season, and I actually felt he should have been fired after losing the Super Bowl in such a pathetic fashion.

Well what can I glean from this? Professional sport in the 21st Century is success oriented. Spurs’s Chairman Daniel Levy is a shrewd operator on some levels and he realized that Pocchetino was done and dusted. In contrast Arthur Blank appears to run a” good old boys club” by admitting that he likes Quinn and Dimitroff. But I wonder how many executives he fired when he was co-owner of Home Depot for not producing the goods.

 

 

 

My Sporting Heroes

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

The title of this post is a contradiction really. Regular readers of my blog (if there are any) will know that the sporting teams I support include Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur on the football front, the Atlanta Falcons from the NFL, the Atlanta Braves from major league baseball and the Wales rugby team.

Why the contradiction? Well I have had more than my share of disappointments supporting these teams over the last few years. Swansea City were relegated from the Premiership about 18 months ago, but did survive seven seasons in the top flight whilst winning the League Cup (or whatever it was called) in 2013. Paying millions for over rated players, changing managers through a revolving  door eventually put paid to their elite status. Currently, they sit at the top of the Championship table after 10 games, but it’s a long season, so don’t hold your breath.

Where do I begin with Tottenham Hotspur? They overachieved last season by reaching the final of the Champions League, but played so flat that the late Donald Campbell could have broken the land speed record across their backs. The summer almost brought a wind of change through the management and squad. Manager Pochettino cast envious eyes towards Real Madrid, Christian Ericksen, Toby Alderwald, Danny Rose, and Jan vethongen wanted to leave. However, Real Madrid rehired Zidane as head coach, and Manchester United, another possible destination for Pocchetino, made Solksjaer their permanent manager. Meanwhile no suitable offers came in for the want away players, and they all remain members of the squad.

Rumors on the internet claimed that Vethongen had an affair with Eriksen’s girl friend, and several of the squad are not speaking to each other. I don’t know whether there’s any truth in the rumor, but Spurs suffered the worst home defeat in their history by losing 2-7 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League Group Stage last Tuesday. They looked like a team falling apart at the seams, and perhaps Pochettino has them as far as possible. Rumors are also rife that Real Madrid intend hiring him next season, and he will take Harry Kane and Eriksen with him. Speaking of Kane, he looks to have lost a yard or two in pace, and he wasn’t the fastest greyhound in the first place.

This is painful to recall, but the Falcons were leading the New England Patriots 28-3 entering the final quarter in the 2017 Super Bowl only to concede 31 unanswered points and lose the game in overtime. Following an unsinspiring 2018 season when they went 7-9 Dan Quinn decided to part with his defensive and offensive co-ordinators, and too over defensive duties. A quarter of the 2019 regular season has been played and we are currently 1-3. the not so mighty Quinn claims the team lacks consistency and they can find the solutions to a season  which is rapidly sinking like the Titanic. I put their malaise down to the three Ts: tackling, timing and turnovers. They are simply an ordinary team that has an over inflated opinion of themselves.

The Atlanta Braves last won the World Series in 1995. They should have repeated in 1996, but shot themselves in the foot. In my opinion the franchise has never fully recovered from that damaging loss to the Yankees. Yes, they managed to return to the playoffs on a few occasions since, but couldn’t add another World Series. They won 97 games this season and comfortably made the playoffs. However they never learn from previous mistakes. They rested players during the last week and half of the season, and proceeded to be swept 0-3 by the New York Mets in the last series of the season.

Once again they are playing an opponent, St Louis Cardinals, who surged into the Playoffs while the Braves appeared to take their foot of the gas and have last their momentum. There are injury worries concerning Freeman and Acuna and they have two or three inexperienced pitchers in their rotation. Game 1 and 2 are being played tonight and tomorrow in Atlanta, so watch this space.

Wales are currently involved in the Rugby World Cup, and produced a superb display last Saturday to narrowly defeat Australia. If they can win their remaining matches in the group  against Fiji and Uruguay they will top their table and avoid New Zealand and England in the quarter finals. Wales have not done particularly well in the World Cup, apart from achieving 3rd place in the inaugural event in 1987. They have found the proverbial banana skin in previous World Cups having lost to Fiji once before, so I am not counting chickens just yet.

Menage a Trois

Friday, December 28th, 2018

Thanks to the overwhelming response to my previous post “Partnerships,” (I received one comment which was from my son) I am continuing a similar theme. Only this time I’m concentrating on trios that were linked in some macabre way. Let’s begin with a comedy act from America, “The Three Stooges,” Moe, Curly and Larry. They didn’t appeal to British audiences, but were very successful in America.

Shell Petrol sponsored “World of Golf” featuring Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and they became to be known as “The Big Three.” I mentioned in my previous post that Best, Law and Charlton dominated the stage at Manchester United in the 1960s. There’s a  statue of the three of them forever linked in bronze to commemorate their achievements. I also can’t leave out the midfield trio from Tottenham Hotspur: Blanchflower, Mackay and White, who were instrumental in Spurs being the first club to achieve the Double (Championship and FA Cup) in the 20th Century. John White was tragically killed by lightning sheltering under a tree on a golf course in 1965, and was never really replaced.

Turning to politics, Hugh Gaitskell, leader of the Labour Party died suddenly in 1963, and there were three contenders to replace him: Harold Wilson, George Brown, and James Callaghan. Wilson eventually won the leadership contest and became Prime Minister in 1964. Brown served as Foreign Secretary while Callaghan lived next door to 10 Downing Street as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Brown gained notoriety by appearing on television several times in an intoxicated state, and arguably made more sense when he was drunk.

Show business inevitably is littered with trios: The Bachelors, The Beverly Sisters, The Andrew Sisters, The Supremes, The Crystals, The Springfields. Dusty Springfield achieved  greater fame as a solo artist. Eric Clapton comprised for a short time one third of the rock band Cream, but he too achieved greater success as a solo artist. Emerson, Lake and Palmer deserve a mention as one of the first super groups. I could have included Crosby, Stills and Nash but Neil Young made them into a quartet.

Rugby has natural trios in the form of front rows, none more famous than Faulkner, Windsor and Price, They were Wales’s first ever one-club front row, and immortalized in a song by Max Boyce as the Viet Gwent. Comments on a postcard please if you believe I have misconstrued that phrase. Wales had a tremendous back row in the seventies in the shape of Merv the Swerve, Basil Brush Taylor, and Dai Morris, The Shadow.

Finally it would be remiss of me not to mention the “Three Tenors,” Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras. The 1990 World Cup brought them into prominence with the general public when the BBC used “Nessa Dorme,” beautifully sung by Pavarotti, as their theme song for televising the month long tournament. The Three Tenors gave a memorable concert towards the end of the tournament which propelled their careers to greater heights.

I could write a sequel on quartets where rock bands like the Beatles, Stones and The Who would be rich pickings. But I’m becoming rather bored with this theme, so goodness knows what it’s doing to my reader. So there you are. It only remains for me to wish y’all a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Partnerships

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Partnerhips in sports have always intrigued me. When I ask myself which famous partnership immediately springs to mind it’s always Hobbs and Sutcliffe who opened the batting for England in the 1920s. Naturally I never saw them play, but by reading countless cricket books they left an undelible impression on me. Consequently the following paragraphs will recall many sports partnerships that I remember during the year I have followed sports.

In the sixties, football in England was dominated by two teams, Liverpool and Man Utd. But as we neared the end of the decade another force emerged in the shape of Man City. An unlikely managerial partnership, Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison, had taken over the reigns at Manchester City. Genial Joe was old school but a perfect foil for the mercurial Allison who introduced some revolutionary coaching methods. In three eventful seasons they won the Championship, followed by the FA Cup and finally the European Cup Winners Cup. However,they fizzled and subsequently faded like a Catherine wheel.

In the seventies. another managerial partnership grabbed the headlines. Brian Clough and Peter Taylor won the Championship with unfancied Derby County. Their tenure at the Club ended acrimoniously, but they transferred their undoubted talents to another unfashionable club, Nottingham Forest. Following promotion, they won the Championship, and subsequently two European Cups.

Leeds United were a formidable team in the sixties and early seventies managed by the paranoid and superstitious Don Revie, but they were overtly cynical and gave the impression they would do anything to win at all costs. Ironically the team comprised several partnerships: Jack Charlton and Norman Hunter in the heart of the defence, Giles and Bremner in midfield, and two formidable strikers in Clarke and Jones. Nevertheless I disliked them intensely and I’m not wasting any more space on them.

These days, team formations don’t lend themselves to twin strikers playing in tandem as was the case in the sixties and seventies. Ipswich Town had a formidable duo in Ray Crawford and Ted Phillips. Jimmy Greaves had two different partners at Spurs over a period of time, firstly with the battering ram Bobby Smith and subsequently with the sublime Alan Gilzean. The very successful Liverpool team relied on the goal scoring combination of Ian St John and Roger Hunt. Liverpool continued their striking partnerships with Toshack and Keegan, followed by Rush and Dalglish. In the eighties, Liverpool featured Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen at the heart of their defence both of whom were comfortable on the ball in addition to being excellent defenders.

Manchester United didn’t lend themselves very much to partnerships. Best, Charlton and Law were the creative and goal scoring force in the sixties for the Club, but not necessarily a partnership in the biblical sense. However, Alex Ferguson’s great success as manager was built on a strong defence. Bruce and Pallister formed a solid barrier for several seasons who were eventually replaced by another outstanding duo, Ferdinand and Vidic.

Rugby had its fair share of partnerships. Gareth Edwards partnered Barry John to Grand Slams and a British Lions victory in New Zealand. Legend has is that when Edwards and John met for the first time for an international, Edwards asked John how he wanted the ball. John replied: ” Just pass it and I’ll catch it!” When Barry John prematurely retired at the tender age of 27, Phil Bennett took his place without missing a beat and teamed up with Edwards to win another series for the Lions, this time in South Africa.

I have to give the forwards a mention. Brian Price and Brian Thomas formed an intimidating second row partnership for Wales in the sixties, and in the seventies an unlikely pairing, Martin and Wheel, were in the engine room. Willie John McBride teamed up with Gordon Brown (Broon from Troon) in the Lions second row to win two unprecdented successive series. However,  it was another half back pairing that first caught my eye as a partnership, and surprisingly it was England’s Dickie Jeeps and Richard Sharp. Surprising in the sense that they were English and not Welsh.

Cricket is another sport that has produced many partnerships. When I was a boy, Pullar and Subba Row opened the innings for England, quickly followed by Boycott and Edrich and more recently Trescothick and Strauss. Bowlers were often mentioned in pairs: Trueman and Statham, Laker and Lock, Hall and Griffith, Lillee and Thomson.

Golf and tennis are normally regarded as singular sports, but tennis has produced several double partnerships, notably at Wimbledon. Emerson and Stolle won several doubles Championships closely followed by Hewitt and McMillan, Newcombe and Roche. Golf’s Ryder Cup romanticizes about Ballesteros/Olazabal’s wonderful record as a pairing against USA, but Nicklaus and Palmer were even more intimidating opponents.

There are many partnerships that I have omitted, but my remit was to identify those that made an indelible impression on me. Torvill and Dean deserve a mention as twice Olympic Champions in the Ice Dance competition, but that is where I draw the line. I know I rarely receive sensible comments on my posts, but feel free to give me your sporting partnerships that deserve a mention.

 

Tottenham Hotspur-An Enigma Wrapped Up in The Old Onion Bag

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

The “Glory Glory Hallelujah” days  when Spurs won the Double in 1961 and rampaged through Europe are confined to history now. That was the last time Spurs won the Title (which became the Premiership in 1992.) Spurs have won nothing since 2008. They have enjoyed impressive moments over the past few seasons, but sadly they flatter to deceive.

Mauricio Pochettino was appointed head coach on May 27 2014, becoming their tenth manager over a 12 year span. In his first season they reached the final of the League Cup only to be beaten by Chelsea. Tottenham were in contention to win the league in 2015-2016, but in the penultimate game of the season they drew 2-2 with Chelsea, handing the title to Leicester City.

The 2016-2017 season  began with a series of 12 unbeaten  league matches that ended with a defeat away to nemesis Chelsea in late November. Spurs only won three of their 13 matches between October and mid-December, and went out of both the Champions League and League Cup. Results improved later in the season, but their earlier inconsistencies meant they fell some way behind eventual Champions, Chelsea, and had to settle for second place.

In 2018, Pocchettino signed a new five-year contract to keep him at White Hart Lane until 2023, at least in theory. In July 2017, White Hart Lane was demolished to be replaced by a new stadium. Construction began in 2016 and the new stadium is scheduled to open during the 2018-19 season. However, here lies the rub. Spurs were earmarked to play their opening fixture at the new stadium in October, but it appears that this will not happen until at least the new year.

There is no doubt that uncertainty over the new stadium has affected the manager and the players. But that would be naïve to lay the blame on their nomadic existence rather than their inconsistent performances on the playing fields. Some days the team resembles a well oiled machine while at other times they perform like a spluttering spark plug.

When they have their first choice eleven on the field firing on all cylinders they are a match for anyone in the Premier League, even in Europe. However, they haven’t learned the art of grinding out results when they are not on the top of their game. The squad has no depth compared to Manchester City or Liverpool. Indeed City could field two teams in the Premiership and hold their own.

Apparently, Pocchetino wanted to sign new players in the summer to strengthen the squad, but was told by ownership that would not happen until the Club was settled in their new stadium. It would therefore appear that the January transfer window will not be available to Pocchetino, and he will have to twiddle his thumbs until next summer before he can sign new players. But will he? Clearly Pocchetino is very unsettled by recent turn of events which is exacerbated by the fact that Real Madrid  recently sacked their manager. Pocchetino has always been on Real’s radar, and he has expressed a wish to manage them one day.

On the playing side, the problem lies with the formation of the team. It is too reliant on three players: Harry Kane, Dele Ali, and Christian Eriksen. The team doesn’t function half as well if any of these players do not bring their ‘A’ game. Take for example the recent match against Manchester City. Ali and Eriksen were on the bench recovering from injuries. The midfield comprised Sissoko, Dier, Dembele and Lamela; none of whom possess a creative bone in their body. Harry Kane was clearly out of sorts without the aid of his two amigos, and resorted to drifting out wide in search of the ball.

Clearly, several of the squad are not Champions League material: Davies, Aurier, Rose, Dimbele, Sissoko, Winks, Lamela, LLorente, Lucas, and Wanyama are reasonable players who would find a home at mid-table teams, but they will not win you any titles. Pocchetino is not blameless either because he was instrumental in assembling this squad. I get a sense that he doesn’t have a “Plan B” when a match is not going according to plan. The style of play is sometimes too predictable and occasionally fragile.

They are probably exiting the group stage of the Champions League very shortly, and could be outside the top four of the Premiership by Christmas. Maybe Pocchetino has taken the team as far as he can, and it may prove mutually  beneficial to  the flawed genius and the club if he was hooked by Real Madrid.

 

Thoughts from Afar on the Ryder Cup

Monday, October 29th, 2018

I love the Ryder Cup, one corrupt empire battling another corrupt empire. But enough about politics. I’ve lived in America for over 22 years and became a US Citizen in 2008. However, my heart remains in Wales and my economic head resides in the USA. Therefore I always want Europe to defeat America, not just beat them by a couple of points but annihilate them. There’s no question that the US PGA Tour is far richer than the European  Tour, and naturally the best players in the world, including the top Europeans, gravitate towards America.

The American media, public and players expect to win the Ryder Cup. Most of the public don’t know half the players in the European Cup Team. Brooks Koepka won the US Open and PGA Championship this year while Patrick (liar, liar, pants on fire) Reed won the Masters. Europe’s only Major winner this year was Franco Molinari who won The OPEN in July. There’s an arrogance around the US Ryder Cup Team which really grates on my senses. The US PGA knew several years ago that the 2018 Ryder Cup was to be played  in France, but the only American to play the course prior to the competition was Justin Thomas who ironically went 4-1. The others were too busy polishing their egos and making millions playing target golf on the American PGA  Tour.

I am not so naïve to assume that European players don’t have egos. Golf is an individual sport with millions of prize money at stake, and you have to be self absorbed to be successful. But the Europeans have the ability to put away their egos and come together as a team. One for all and all for one etc.

Take for example the rumor that best of friends Dustin Johnson (ranked No1 in the world ) and three times major winner Brooks Koepka almost came to blows on the flight over; allegedly caused by Johnson’s fiancée Pauline Gretsky who appears to wear as little as possible.

Then there was the controversy of Spieth opting to pair with his pal Justin Thomas when he had been so successful in previous Ryder Cups paired with Patrick (liar, liar, pants on fire)Reed. Reed said in the press conference that Spieth didn’t want to play with him, but in reality Reed pleaded  with Captain Furyk to be paired with Tiger Woods.

There’s another story: Tiger Woods and Phil “The Cheat” Mickelson were picked as wild cards. Tiger justified his selection having had a stellar season culminating in winning The Tour Championship at East Lake. However, nobody knew, least of all Tiger, that he was exhausted and in no shape to play the Ryder Cup. Mickelson was also a shadow of his former self and should have been put out to pasture.

Statistics can sometimes tell only half a story, but the results of the corresponding wild cards makes for interesting reading. Europe’s wild cards (Poulter, Casey, Garcia and Stenson) accumulated 9-4-1 points. In comparison USA’s wild cards (Woods, Mickelson, De Chambreau and Finu)  mustered a measly 2-10-0 points. Future hall of famers, Woods and Mickelson didn’t score a single point between them. Woods had no excuses, but Mickelson claimed he doesn’t like narrow fairways and extreme rough. Bite me!!!

Every European player secured at least a point while Francesco Molinari became the first European player to register a maximum 5 points. In contrast, three of the Americans did not score a point which included Tiger and Phil “the cheat” Mickelson.

On paper there should have been only team in the contest, but golf is not played on paper. Neither is it played on reputations. It is played on tees, fairways and greens with a little “hwyl” thrown in the mix. Britain may be leaving the European Union, but the European Ryder Cup will go from strength to strength providing there’s an evil empire waiting to be beaten into submission.

 

 

Heroes or Legends?

Monday, July 9th, 2018

The 2018 FIFA World Cup was made memorable partly due to some of the giants of the game exiting the tournament so early. The holders, Germany didn’t make it out of the group stage while former winners Spain and Argentina lost in the round of 16. Spain vs Portugal set the tempo  on the second day of the tournament with a thrilling 3-3 draw. That was swiftly followed by Mexico beating defending champions Germany and Argentina crashing to a heavy defeat against Croatia. All this excitement and drama occurred in the group stage!!!

England did not arrive in Russia with high expectations, and they confirmed that assessment by struggling to dispatch Tunisia in their opening match. Harry Kane scored the match winner in injury time. This was followed by an emphatic 6-1 over a dirty, cynical Panama who wasted so much energy

continually berating the referee. England qualified with those two victories, and played to lose against Belgium to avoid the stronger left side of the draw which they duly accomplished. One couldn’t help wondering though if they had sacrificed some momentum entering the knockout stage of the competition.

Germany were given a lifeline when Tony Kirus scored a late winner against Sweden only to surprisingly lose 0-2 to South Korea, and were duly eliminated. After the dust had settled, the line up for the last sixteen had taken shape:

Uruguay 2 vs Portugal 1                        Spain 1 vs Russia 1

(Russia won on penalties.)

France 4 vs Argentina 3                        Croatia 1 vs Denmark 1

(Croatia won on penalties.)

Brazil 2 vs Mexico 0                               Sweden 1 vs Switzerland 0

Belgium 3 vs Japan 2                            Colombia 1 vs England 1

(England won on penalties.)

The shocks, drama and excitement continued during the round of 16. Uruguay knocked out European Champions Portugal, but unfortunately lost their star striker, Cavanni, to injury. France’s 4-3 win over Argentina was the match of the tournament for me. France are very good when they bring their Gallic flair and suppress their Latin temperament. Of course, having three world class attackers, Pogba, Mbappe and Greizmann, can tilt the scales in their favor.

The most impressive comeback of the tournament was Belgium gifting Japan a two goal lead, but then replying with three late goals after manager Martinez changed the course of the game with some critical substitutions. The hosts Russia were the lowest ranked team left in the tournament, but had just enough fuel in the tank to knock out much fancied Spain. England overcame a very feisty Columbia, and made history by winning their first penalty shoot out in World Cup competition.

Significantly, the sport’s two super stars, Ronaldo and Messi, were on their way home having failed to lift their teams to greater heights. The tournament had arrived at the elite eight and more shocks and awe were in store:

Uruguay 0 vs France 2                     Russia 2 vs Croatia 2 (Croatia won on penalties.)

 

Brazil 1 vs Belgium 2                         Sweden 0 vs England 2

Uruguay didn’t have the fire power without Cavanni, and France won comfortably. Belgium provided further heroics by defeating Neymar’s Brazil, and England earned a credible  victory over Sweden. Meanwhile Croatia continued to grind out results with another win via the format of a penalty shoot out.

English fans stoked up by their fickle media were daring to dream that the Cup could be returning home for the first time since 1966. The mood of the nation had dismissed their semi-final opponents, Croatia, and speculation was rife on who they would prefer England to play in the final: Belgium or France?

SEMI-FINALS

France   1                          vs                           Belgium 0

Croatia  2                          vs                            England 1 (aet)

Belgium’s stunning victory over Brazil had taken its toll, and they were unable to reproduce their “A” game in such a relatively short time to match France’s savoir faire. There was only one goal separating the teams, but France controlled the match from start to finish with stout defending and counter attacking.

England couldn’t have enjoyed a better start to their semi-final  scoring after five minutes through a spectacular free kick by Kevin Trippier. Some talking heads claimed they scored too early, but that’s a silly notion. It’s never too early to score, but the secret is to score one or two more so you have your boot firmly on the opponent’s jugular. Harry Kane had a great chance to make it 2-0 midway through the first half but failed to take it. Normally it was a chance he would make with his eyes shut.

England came out for the second half seemingly with the mindset that they would defend their lead for the ensuing 45 minutes. Big mistake!!!! Croatia, orchestrated by Luco Modric ,dominated the midfield and placed relentless pressure on England’s defence which eventually crumbled. Why oh why did England revert to the long ball? They  finished the tournament in fourth place losing again to Belgium for the bronze medal. Harry kane won the golden boot with 6 goals, but didn’t score in the quarters or semis. Remarkably, Croatia’s last three games went into extra time and each time they prevailed which spoke volumes for their character.

The final between France and Croatia proved to be an entertaining but somewhat controversial affair. France’s opening goal derived from a Griezmann dive which led to a free kick and subsequent own goal by Croatia’s striker whose name I can’t spell. Croatia equalized through a sublime goal by Petrovic who then blotted his copybook by handling the ball at the other end giving away a penalty from which France regained the lead. The referee reverted to AVR (assisted video referee) to make a decision on the handball which was unjust in my opinion.

France came out for the second half with all guns blazing and quickly scored two additional goals via Pogba and Mbappe to take an unassailable 4-2 lead. France’s captain and goalkeeper Lloris made a horrendous error to gift Croatia a goal and a glimmer of hope. Needless to say, sanity was restored and cruised to the finishing line as worthy winners of the World Cup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Games from Oblivion

Friday, May 4th, 2018

I may be repeating some of my thoughts from my previous post, but I have no editor to wrap my knuckles for flogging a dead horse to death. Last December, Swansea City were at the bottom of the Premiership table, five points adrift from safety. Following the dismissal of Paul Clement, Carvahal, who had recently been sacked by Sheffield Wednesday, was given the poison chalice of trying to preserve Premiership status. Against all the odds, he achieved a minor miracle and turned fortunes around. So much so, that a couple of weeks ago, the Swans were  five points clear of the relegation zone.

Unfortunately, they have not won a game since March 3rd, and have only picked up three points from their last six games scoring only two goals in the process. At the time of writing, they lie one precarious point above the relegation zone with three games remaining. They play Bournemouth away tomorrow, Southampton at home on Tuesday and Stoke at home on Sunday week in the final game of the season.

If I was to ignore the results from the month of April, I would be very optimistic of picking up four points from the remaining three games to secure another season in the Premiership. Regrettably, the last two losses against Manchester City and Chelsea fill me with foreboding. We failed to score a goal in those two games, didn’t appear likely to score, and conceded six.

Should they succumb to the inevitable or go down in a blaze of glory? Playing five at the back, as they have been doing recently, reduces your chances of scoring goals. A 0-0 draw gives you a point, but to win you have to score at least one goal which they appear incapable of achieving right now.

There are certain players who have been selected recently for the starting eleven  have no business pulling on a Swansea shirt.  Kyle Naughton, Nathan Dyer, Tom Carroll, and Sanchez should be given plane tickets and told to begin their summer holiday sooner rather than later. Ki is out of contract at the end of the season and a couple of suitors have shown interest in him. His play of later resembles a man whose his mind is elsewhere, possibly in Russia, where he will playing for South Korea in the World Cup.

I would select a team for Saturday in a 4-3-3 that at least as the possibility of scoring a goal or two. Assuming these players are fit, my starting eleven for tomorrow’s game would be: Fabianski, Roberts, Mawson, Fernandez, Olsson, King, Britton, Clucas, Andre Ayew, Abraham and Jordan Ayew. Ki would replace Britton if he’s not fit enough to play.

May the force be with them. I will be biting my nails down to the quick.

 

 

Capitulation in Transition

Friday, April 27th, 2018

I know that Manchester City are deservedly Premiership Champions, and Swansea City are in 17th place, four points above the relegation zone. But that is no excuse for the abject embarrassing performance they produced last Sunday. From the moment they formed a guard of honour  for the newly crowned Champions, they resembled Welsh lambs going to the slaughter.

Their body language revealed to me that they were resigned to defeat and their goal (one measly shot from a defender in ninety minutes) was damage limitation. Well, how did that work out for you fellas, 0-5 which could have been double that score if wasn’t for Fabianski in goal.

Carvahal has done a great job since he was appointed on December 28th. They were bottom and five points adrift from safety when he replaced Paul Clement, and currently they are four points above the relegation zone. But to claim it was a good performance when you have laid down and died is delusional.

Didn’t it escape his notice that Liverpool have beaten Manchester City three times this season by defending from the front?In contrast we allowed them to bring the ball up to the halfway line before attempting a challenge. Sheer lunacy!!! What’s the point in playing a back five when none of whom can tackle properly? City have some great playmakers, but they utilize a holding midfield player in the shape of Fernadhino. None of the Swans midfield trio know how to tackle or mark an opposing player.

There’s a reason why City appeared to have 15 players on the pitch compared to the Swans’ pathetic outfield players. They pass the ball accurately, they control the ball instantly, they don’t give the ball away needlessly, they are constantly on the move finding space, they defend in numbers when the opposition occasionally has possession of the ball. It is embarrassing to reveal that City enjoyed 83% possession of the ball.

Neither do I understand a system where the Swans utilized three center backs to mark one player, Jesus, when the main danger was emerging from the flanks. Speaking of which, the full backs Naughton and Olsson, were completely outclassed by their opponents. The Swans’ three midfield players, Ki, Carroll and King were overrun by the ingenuity and skill of De Bruyne and Silva, but what has happened to basic man marking? Ki looked disinterested and was mercifully substituted in the second half. The diminutive Tom Carroll looks totally out of his depth. On the rare occasions he had possession, he continually passed the ball to the opposition.

Now for my pet peeve this  season. Americans commentating on football overuse the phrase “in transition.” Definition of transition: ” the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another. Isn’t that what football is all about? Moving the ball from defence to attack is the primary concept of football. The late great Danny Blanchflower once said that football is a simple game where it only takes a second to score a goal. In contrast, American commentators are determined to treat the game as almost a science. What on earth does playing between the lines mean?

I was quite optimistic  a month ago that the Swans could preserve their Premiership status, but recent results have cast a grave doubt in my mind. They have not won a game since March 3rd although three draws have yielded 3 points keeping their heads above water.

There are four games remaining to save their season. Chelsea come to town on Saturday, and based on last week’s performance I don’t expect any return. Bournemouth away will follow. They are a good mid table team capable of playing the Swans off the park. Then comes the crunch. The final two games of the season are at home against Southampton and Stoke, both of whom are languishing in the bottom three who will be fighting tooth and nail to take maximum points from the Swans.

It is fairly obvious to anyone who has followed the Swans that the squad is in need of a major overhaul irrespective of whether they are playing in the Premiership or Championship next season. Whoever has been responsible for transfers over the last few seasons should be shown the door before rebuilding is contemplated.