Archive for October, 2017

The Britton, The Iceman and The Spanish Armada

Friday, October 20th, 2017

Swansea City have begun another season in unconvincing fashion. Manager/Head Coach Paul Clement (whatever title he deems to call himself) blames the late activity in the summer transfer window for their inept start. Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Icelandic international was the one truly class player in a team that narrowly avoided relegation last season. Clearly Sigurdsson had expressed a desire to play for a top six club in the Premiership which he deserved, for he alone, with a vital contribution from Llorente was instrumental in keeping them in the Premiership.

In the summer, Leicester City made a derisory offer to acquire his services which the Swans quite rightly rejected. However, Everton pursued their man and by increasing their offer  eventually matched the transfer fee of 45 million pounds that the Swans were demanding for their best player. Sigurdsson had earlier refused to go on the preseason tour of the USA which prompted the Swans to accept Everton’s offer. Quite why Sigurdsson agreed to join them is a matter of conjecture because they are not a top six club, and are currently languishing  in the bottom third of the table along with the Swans.

Meanwhile Everton signed Wayne Rooney on a free transfer and the prodigal son has returned home creating a dilemma for Sigurdsson and their respected manager Ronald Koemann. Both players prefer to play in the “No 10” slot, and Sigurdsson currently resembles a fish out of water with Everton hovering over the relegation zone.

Clement signed three midfield players, Clucas, Mesa and wonder kid Sanchez to replace Sigurdsson, none of whom have set the Premiership on fire. They overpaid for Clucas who admittedly was quite effective for relegated Hull City. But 15 million pounds for an average player? Do me a favor!!! Mesa was the first to be signed in the summer for 11 million pounds designed most probably to replace the aging but very effective Leon Britton. Let’s not forget, Clement was pressured into recalling Britton for the relegation battle, and he duly delivered adding calmness, solidity and direction to a struggling team.

Unaccountably Britton was omitted from the starting line up in the opening matches of the new season. Mesa didn’t replace him because in Clement’s opinion the little Spaniard was not ready to play at the pace of the Premiership having starred in La Liga  last season. However, it is more than a coincidence that the Swans recorded their first victory in over a month against Huddersfield when Britton was restored to the team.

I don’t quite know why the Club’s scouts could not have prepared a better assessment of Mesa’s talents commensurate with the Premier League. They can’t use the feeble excuse of not knowing what a Spanish player is capable of  in the Premiership when Mesa is the twelfth Spanish player signed by the Club or has featured in the team since they won promotion to the Premiership.

Angel Rangel was the first Spanish player signed way back in 2007 by ironically a Spanish manager, Roberto Martinez. The other Spaniards to follow in his foot steps are Jordi Armat, Michu, Andrea Orlandi, Pablo Hernandez, Chico Flores, Jose Canas, Alvaro Vazquez, Alejandro Pozuelo, Borja Baston, and Fernando Llorente.

The impact of the Spanish Armada on the Club has met with mixed fortunes. Rangel has proved to be one of the stalwarts of the team costing next to nothing. Chico Flores formed a formidable defensive partnership with Ashley Williams and his transfer fee didn’t break the bank. Michu proved to be one of the bargain buys in Premierhip  history. He cost 2 million pounds and in his first season scored 22 goals from midfield. Unfortunately he was plagued by injury and didn’t complete another full season before returning to Spain.

On the negative side, the Swans paid 15.5 million for Borja Baston in 2016 on the basis that he scored 18 goals in his last season in La Liga. Unfortunately he failed to replicate his prowess as a goal scorer in the Premiership, achieving one solitary goal in 20 appearances. During the summer, he was packed off on loan to a Spanish club the name of which escapes me. However Llorente, a striker with World Cup pedigree and 3 Serie A titles  on his resume was snapped up for 5 million pounds around the same time as Baston was travelling in the opposite direction, and repaid the Club by scoring 15 precious goals to help secure another season in the Premiership.

Nevertheless, 26.5 million has been wastefully spent on Baston and Mesa with little return for the money. A Club of Swansea’s size can ill afford to spend that amount of money and receive precious little in return. I have no idea who is in charge of scouting for new players, but he deserves a kick up the backside. Better still, it’s time he received his P45.


In Dreams I Walk with You

Friday, October 13th, 2017

I had a recurring dream the other night where somebody kept asking me in which year Lester Piggott won the Derby on Affirmed. Lester Piggott was one of the greatest flat race jockeys in the world, arguably the greatest. He won the Derby an unprecedented nine times, and I kept repeating that Piggott never rode Affirmed. Affirmed was an American horse ridden by an American jockey, Steve Cauthen, who won the triple crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes) on Affirmed in 1977.

My tormenter then challenged me to name the horses that Piggott rode to win the Derby nine times. For the record Steve Cauthen won the Derby twice with Slip Anchor and Reference Point, making him the only jockey to win the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby. I could only remember two of the horses that Piggott rode to victory; Nijinsky and Sir Ivor. I tossed and turned for the remainder of the night trying to recall the names of the other horses to no avail.

Mercifully, morning arrived and Google, aided and abetted by Wikipedia, came to my rescue I was able to look up an article  which listed the maestro’s winners and  Lester Piggott commented on his nine wins in the Derby:

1. NEVER SAY DIE (1954, 33-1)
He was a left-handed horse and not nearly so good when he raced right.

2. CREPELLO (1957, 6-4 fav)
One of the two best horses I won the Derby on. He took the 2,000 Guineas but had bad legs and was hard for Sir Noel Murless to keep sound. He broke down when training for the St Leger and never ran again.

3. ST PADDY (1960, 7-1)
He was good and we knew that before he ran at York first time out as a two-year-old. But he ran away with me on the way to the post and had a race before he started. Next time out they put a gag on him and he won the Royal Lodge by five lengths. He was fourth in the Guineas, won the Dante and took the Derby by three lengths.

4. SIR IVOR (1968, 4-5 fav)
He had spent the winter in Italy before winning the Guineas and Derby. He then got beat in his next four races, but ended up winning the Champion Stakes and Washington International. I know he got beaten a few times, but of all my Derby winners he had the most brilliance about him.

5. NIJINSKY (1970, 11-8 fav)
He was the last horse to win the Triple Crown with the Irish Derby and King George thrown in for good measure, but I never thought it was a great year.

6. ROBERTO (1972 3-1 fav)
His win was overshadowed by controversy. Bill Williamson won the Guineas on him but was injured and I got on him. I couldn’t see him being beaten in the Irish Derby next time, but he only beat two home.

7. EMPERY (1976, 10-1)
Probably just a middle-class Derby winner in an average Classic crop.

8. THE MINSTREL (1977, 5-1)
He was pretty good and went on to win the Irish Derby – but it was only a so-so year for three-year-olds.

9. TEENOSO (1983, 9-2)
He was a bit better than people gave him credit for. It rained all day at Epsom, which turned the ground soft. He won very easily and, as my last winner, is one of my best recollections of the race.

I never had much interest in horse racing save for a flutter on the Grand National and the Derby. My late Dad however enjoyed a daily bet. Once he retired, his routine for the day was to study the racing form in the Daily Mirror, select his horses, and walk up to the “bookies” and place his bet which was usually “a Yankee.” He would then return home and watch the races on television in the afternoon.  He never used to bet much, so gambler’s anonymous were never troubled.  My ex father-in-law roughly followed the same ritual as my dad.

His little hobby once embarrassed my ex-wife who I was dating at the time. She was staying the night at a friend’s house on the posh side of Swansea, the Mayals. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet)  in the sitcom “Keeping Up Appearances” could have been based on her friend’s mother. Anyway, during a conversation the mother asks my ex-wife: “Does your father have any hobbies, dear?” She replied: “Yes, horse racing.” “Oh really, how many does he own and where does he stable them?” The mortified girl replied: “He doesn’t own any horses, he bets on them!”