Archive for August, 2011

Tiresome Tottenham toppled by Title Holders

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

I have been a Tottenham Hotspur fan for over 50 years and having watched their match against Manchester United, I am ready to dissolve my relationship with the Spurs. The pre-match comments didn’t really help my blood pressure. Spurs spiv, nee manager, Harry Redknapp was asked why Spurs have such a wretched record at Old Trafford. They have not won there since 2001, and his response was to say nobody does well there.

He also claimed that Spurs would be competing to finish fourth in the premiership which would be a great result for the club if achieved. Are you kidding me? He is telling fans not to expect anything better than 4th. It’s time to get rid of the barrow boy mentality that Redknapp has introduced to White Hart Lane, and the same goes for his cronies. What exactly are Clive Allen, Tim Sherwood, and Les Ferdinand doing to justify their positions on the pay roll?

Okay, Spurs lost away to Manchester United 0-3. Predictably (if you are a Spurs supporter,) they more or less held their own for the first half, but the writing was on the wall. In the second half it was only a matter of time before United scored which they did, and the only question remaining was how many goals would they score against hapless Tottenham who ran out of steam well before the finish?

Two of the goals were scored from headers by Wellbeck and Rooney who are not the tallest strikers in the league. They were completely unmarked by the central defenders Dawson and Kabul who proved they are not good enough to lace the much missed Ledley King’s boots. Playing two attacking full backs who couldn’t mark a one legged man with a walking stick was also disastrous.

Redknapp’s attacking formation had as much threat as the “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Using Defoe as the main striker doesn’t cut it. He is happier playing off the shoulder of a big striker. Bale had a few moments but Lennon’s final ball predictably was atrocious. Due to injuries, United played a young back four: Smalling, Evans, Jones and the experienced Evra in front of a jittery young goalkeeper David de Gea, but were never under pressure from a powder puff Spurs attack.

I knew Spurs’ fans were in for a long evening when they announced the line up. Modric, subject of much transfer speculation, was left out because “he was not in the right frame of mind to play.” Forgive me, but I don’t believe his replacement, Livermore, touched the ball during the game before being substituted by the pedestrian Huddlestone late into the second half.

Redknapp assured fans recently that there would be as many as 10 players moving in and out of the club before the 31st August transfer deadline. The 2011-12 season is under way and now he decides it’s time to make moves in the transfer market. Surely it makes sense to conduct transactions in early summer to afford a team time to gel before the season begins.

In an earlier post I addressed the weaknesses of this squad, and I felt a new goalkeeper was a priority. Redknapp apparently agreed with me and signed Brad Friedl on a free transfer from Aston Villa. Friedl is a solid performer at this level and earned the man of the match award against United, but he is 40 years of age for goodness sake!

Spurs usually have a plethora of midfielders to choose from, but Palacios and Sandro are injured while Jenas and Huddlestone are not fully fit as demonstrated by the latter’s indifferent late appearance to the game. Why are there so many players unfit or unready to play in what was Spurs’ opening game of a new premiership season?

Decisions have to be made with regard to the two best players in the squad: Modric and King. Clearly Modric wants to leave for richer pastures in West London and there is little point in retaining an unhappy player. King remains the club’s best defender but his chronic injuries cannot help the team in the long term. The squad is also carrying a lot of dead weight, but these are issues which needed to be addressed in the off-season.

Some protagonists would argue that even Manchester United was forced to sell their best player, Ronaldo, a couple of seasons ago, and as a consequence, now have a stronger squad. However, Spurs continually sell their best players: Berbatov, Carrick and eventually Gareth Bale only to be replaced by inferior players.  By the end of the game Tottenham’s players were consigned to chasing shadows, and the final whistle was music to their ears.

Hunting for Tiger in Hotlanta

Monday, August 15th, 2011

My friend purchased tickets for us to attend Tuesday’s practice round of the 93rd PGA Championship being held at the Atlanta Athletic Club in John’s Creek, Georgia. I have never experienced a golf course set up for a major championship before and I had no preconceptions what to expect.

 The practice round suited us just fine. There is more interaction with the players with more of an informal and relaxed atmosphere and a greater opportunity to explore the course layout. Entrance fee for the practice round was $25 which was a better proposition than $75 charged for rounds 1&2 rising to $85 for the weekend. Anyway I would much prefer to watch the drama unfold from the comfort of my man’s cave, and live action does not provide the spectator with replays. Yes, I do suffer from couch potato syndrome.

Walking through the front entrance we were immediately confronted by Corporate America represented by interactive booths set up by American Express, Mercedes Benz and the PGA golf shop comprising 22000 square feet of merchandise and apparel. I managed a quick fire video analysis of my golf swing and a putting tip from a PGA golf professional on the simulated green.

We had successfully negotiated Corporate Alley without spending a penny and made our way to the course. Someone informed us that Phil Mickelson was approaching the 9th green which was in stone’s throw of where we were standing. Mickelson’s foursome included rising star Dustin Johnson and we agreed to follow the group on their back nine.

We positioned ourselves between the ninth green and tenth tee and watched as Mickelson’s entourage meandered up the fairway. Butch Harmon, his diminutive hitting coach, was struggling to keep up and the rotund Dave Pelz, his putting guru, was struggling to bring up his, sorry, the rear. Mr. Mickelson was also accompanied by a petite dark haired lady who we later discovered was his “mental coach”. I can’t make this stuff up folks. Maybe I need to hire a psychologist to elevate my game since it can’t get any lower.

I’ve always admired Mickelson in the way he interacts with the galleries. So I was a little surprised and disappointed that he refused to sign autographs for the kids clamoring for his signature during his walk from green to tee; patronizingly advising them he would sign autographs at the end of his round where they could join the conger line around the 19th hole.

Moving on, I was overwhelmed by the distance and trajectory of the drives hit from the tees by the professional golfers. It was nothing short of phenomenal to witness power hitting first hand. Their approach shots were almost as impressive, but what surprised me was their somewhat average putting which bordered on mediocrity. The old adage driving for show, putting for dough is not to be disrespected.

The fairways are immaculate and there is very little rough in the conventional sense. However this course has more sand than the combined beaches on the South Coast of England and more water than Lake Tahoe. Thirteen of the eighteen holes have water hazards.  The last four holes are a brutal test of golf and not for the faint hearted. The 15th is a 260 yard par 3 guarded by a water hazard and sand traps which would prove pivotal in the outcome of this major; the 16th   is a difficult uphill par 4 leading to an elevated green, the 17th is a 207 yard par 3 with water guarding the green, and the 18th  is a par 4 “dog leg” comprising 505 yards, with water again fronting the green.

Oh, we must not forget the 95 degree heat and humidity which will not help the two lilywhite Englishmen Westwood and Donald, currently ranked number 1&2 in the world but without a major between them. We parted company with Team Mickelson at the 16th green and turned our attention to some other notable players; Ricky Fowler looking resplendent in Irish green, the dapper Graham McDowell foolishly wearing a black shirt in Hotlanta, and the Spanish trio, including the cigar smoking Miguel Jiminez and the brooding  Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain.

By 3.00pm my friend and I were wilting in the steamy heat, and we took our leave of the PGA circus; admittedly a little downcast that we didn’t spot our prey. Apparently Eldrick arrived later in the evening and hit a few shots on the driving range before retreating to his own man cave. This isn’t April at the Masters when the temperature is spring like and on that basis I’m taking an American to win the tournament.

Postscript: Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship in a playoff with Jason Dufner. The 15th hole did make a huge impression on the leaders and determined the winner. Bradley made a triple bogey on the hole to trail Dufner by 5 shots with four holes to play, but miraculously tied with him following birdies at 16 and 17 in contrast to Dufner’s bogeys. Please don’t call him Duffer as one insensitive tabloid headline chose to. Bradley becomes the first player to win a major at his first attempt. What happened to Tiger? He missed the cut with rounds of 73 and 77. Mickelson never threatened the leaders and finished even par for the tournament.

The Vorm has Turned

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Swansea City begin their first campaign in the cauldron of the English Premiership in a few days away to recent FA Cup winners Manchester City, reputedly the richest football club in the world. Clearly the name of the game for the Swans is survival and it would be a wonderful achievement if they finished in 17th place at season’s end.

Avoiding relegation was considerably enhanced with the recent signing of Michael Vorm, the No 2 goalkeeper in Holland and a current member of their national squad. The late great Brian Clough regularly extolled the virtues of building a team from the back and having a good goalkeeper is the rock on which the house is built. The signing was a little tardy for my taste but better late than never. Creating an understanding between the goalkeeper and his back four is essential and can only be achieved over time which is in short supply in this instance.

The back four is another element of the team where perhaps manager Brendan Rodgers has allowed sentiment to rule his head. Gary Monk and Alan Tate have proved to be fine servants to the Swans’ cause over the past few seasons, but I don’t seriously believe they are premiership defenders. Gary Monk is 32 years old and hasn’t recovered from a foot injury sustained at the end of last season. Yet Rodgers extended his contract for another 3 years.

The lower echelons of the Premiership are littered with the debris of small clubs with limited resources having failed to secure a foothold in the top flight of English football. Blackpool, Hull City, Leicester City, Burnley and Portsmouth spring to mind. The Swansea ownership is patently aware of these statistics and its only eight years ago that the club almost slipped out of the league into oblivion.

Consequently the club’s owners are not attempting to compete with the big boys in the shape of Manchester Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool all of whom have foreign owners pouring their ill gotten gains into the premiership pot. Brendan Rodgers, Swansea’s astute young manager has made six signings to his squad this summer: Michael Vorm (1.5 million,) Jose Moreira (fee undisclosed,) Steven Caulker (on loan,) Danny Graham (3.5 million,) Wayne Routledge (2 million) and Leroy Lita (1.75.)

 The chasm that exists between the Swans and Manchester City in terms of spending power is exemplified by the acquisition of the teams’ respective strikers. Leroy Lita was acquired from Middlesbrough for 1.75 million pounds and Manchester City paid Atletico Madrid 38 million pounds for Sergio Aguero. Nasri is soon to arrive from Arsenal for the princely sum of 22 million pounds bringing their summer spending to 76 million on four players; astonishing.

Buying a team of so called all stars is not always a recipe for success. Indeed Manchester City’s coach Roberto Mancini is under great pressure from the club’s owners to translate their huge financial investment into trophies with the Champions League the ultimate prize. Time is not on his side as impatient owners demand instant gratification.

Consequently Brendan Rodgers does not have the same pressures providing he concentrates on molding his squad into a tight tactical unit ready to play to their strengths. In recent seasons Swansea City have gained a reputation for playing entertaining football devoid of using the route 1 or long ball approach, and with a little bit of luck they could win over the skeptics who make them favorites for relegation.