Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Ricky Ponting

Ricky Ponting has today announced that he is stepping down as the Australian Cricket Captain for both OD and Test Internationals whilst remaining available for selection is the ACB should see fit. It is highly ironic that the most successful captain in test cricket history (measured in terms of wins, Steve Waugh had a superior record on a ratio basis) will not be remembered however as a particularly good captain. That being said, he should also be remembered as one of the truly great batsmen of his generation.

Ponting's career has never been entirely plain sailing with a stop/start beginning to his international career and brushes with controversy both on the field and off it. His supreme talent however was never in doubt.

It did however take Ponting some time to cement his place in the Australian team as he had come into a side already reigning supreme at the summit of world cricket. It was a team that would develop into possibly the greatest test team of all time. Many would argue the great West Indies' team of yesteryear or earlier incarnations of the Australian side were better but the phenomenal option of Shane Warne possibly gives this side the edge over all others.

Ponting was appointed as captain of the one day team only initially in 2002 with the venerable Steve Waugh no longer deemed worthy of a place. Australia's one day fortunes blossomed under Punter and his form in Tests started to flourish also. It was clear that the appointment was having a positive effect on all concerned.

Ponting went on to perform well in the 2002/03 Ashes series and then despite much upheaval in the Australian dressing room and bans to key players he led Australia to an eleven match unbeaten run in the 2003 World Cup. Ponting then went on to be named man of the series on their tour of the Caribbean in 2003 as well as being instated as vice captain. Things were on an upswing.

Ponting's inevitable appointment as test captain came in 2004 when Steve Waugh called time on his illustrious Australian career. They were big shoes to fill and Ponting looked more than capable of doing so. Success in terms of both results and runs continued for Ponting until the famous Ashes series of 2005.

In one of the highest quality and most competitive series in living memory, England came from behind to beat Australia 2-1, Ponting being the first Australian captain to lose the Ashes for nearly twenty years. Whilst much of the reason for this defeat could be placed at the feet of Glenn McGrath accidentally standing on a ball and injuring his ankle  - the inclusion of the world's best seam bowler would surely have tipped such a closely contested series in Australia's favour - there is little doubt that some of Ponting's captaincy was less than impressive when the team was under pressure. This was a team that could almost manage itself such was the array of talent and strength of character. The subsequent whitewash of England in the 2006/07 Ashes series back in Australia being a case in point.

With the end of that series came the break up of that fabulous side. Now captaining mere mortals, Ponting's captaincy would come under much closer scrutiny and whilst he cannot be blamed for the retirement of such incredible personnel, it has looked clear to most observers that when the pressure is on some of Ponting's captaincy can be found wanting. Back to back series defeats against England for the first time in an age - meaning Ponting has lost three Ashes series out of four as captain - are a case in point. One can only wonder how Australia would have fared in 2005 had Shane Warne been the captain. He has proved - to this blog at least - what a wonderful thinker and tactician of cricket he is with many of his enlightening observations in the commentary box since his retirement.

Ponting's worsening on field demeanour and bouts of petulance have belied a man struggling to cope with the pressures of managing a team that was no longer all conquering. As mentioned earlier it is not his fault that so many greats retired at once and that the Cricket Australia conveyor belt has dried up. Issues however such as the selection of their spin option for the recent Ashes series can to some degree be placed at the door of the captain and again it would appear that he has come up short (no pun intended).

Judging Ponting as a batsman however gives a very different summation of his talents. Of his generation, to this blogs' mind there were four truly outstanding top/middle order batsmen - we are not including Matthew Hayden as he was a pure opener and it's maybe a little tough on Jaques Kallis but nevertheless - which are Tendulkar, Lara, Dravid and Ponting.

All four were prolific run scorers, Tendulkar probably the greatest, Lara the most flamboyant and easiest on the eye, Dravid the most dogged, but with a test average of over fifty, Ponting stood shoulder to shoulder with these three. It's true that Tendulkar is probably a cut above but Ponting would rate higher than Lara as he has played with less selfishness and also above Dravid as he played so much less on entirely flat pitches. You can argue the toss of the order they should be rated but one cannot question the quality of the company Ponting keeps.

Ponting will hope to continue in the test team, possibly dropping down the order to No5 and it is true he probably still has much to offer, especially to an Australian team very much in transition (that's the polite term these days for sports teams who used to be very good but now aren't). Regardless of what happens next, Ponting should be remembered as unfortunately a pretty average captain but one hell of a No3 batsman, one of the best ever  - No Nonsense.

Monday, March 28, 2011

International Friendlies

If ever there was an exercise in pointlessness then it is the International Friendly Match. There is nothing that will change with regard to these frivolous occasions in terms of their frequency due to the Football Associations wishing to pay for their bills, but it something that fans should learn to boycott.

Unlike test matches in rugby which appear to hold some signficance such as the Bledisloe Cup between Australia and New Zealand, these arbitrary fixtures serve no purpose other than to tire and injure footballers, congest an already cluttered calendar further and stuff the pockets of the National Associations by ripping off eager fans thinking they are watching a competitive event.

Scotland's friendly yesterday at the Emirates is a case in point. Most of Brazil's big guns were not there, Scotland practised against a team which will help them in no way in preparation of any of the European opponents they will play against in qualifying and what did we learn, That Brazil are better than Scotland? Surely we don't need a friendly to tell us that and not one that charges upto 65 pounds per ticket for the privilege. It is also interesting to see that Scotland is now hosting its' friendly matches in England although I'm sure they will argue it was Brazil that chose the venue even though Hampden, Ibrox, Celtic Park and Murrayfield are all 45 minutes away on a plane. Surely they could have been persuaded to play in Scotland?

Fabio Cappello has already stated that he is going to make eleven changes for England's 'glamour friendly' against Ghana on Wednesday evening. One would presume he played his strongest team against Wales so he is effectively sending out an England 'B Team' whilst the FA I am quite sure will still be charging fans top dollar to go to the match.

Whilst not wishing to be naive about the finances and reality of football, quite simply if the Football Associations are going to insist on these events should they not either inform their managers to take the matches as seriously as possible and to field their strongest side or reduce the price of the tickets accordingly? It is not unusual to see almost the entire team substituted at half time in these games, they are practice matches and nothing more.

The build up to the Brazil game (why on earth does a friendly require a build up?) was a nonsense - and there should be NO nonsense - as can anyone really say the game mattered in any shape for form? The clubs also lose out, Liverpool lost Steven Gerrard at a critical time earlier this season when he was injured in a friendly against France. We had the World Cup last year end on the 11th of July yet there was another round of friendly internationals in August only four weeks later before the start of the European league season. There is only down side for fans and clubs with these rip off fixtures with the only the coffers of the Football Associations gaining in any tangible way - No Nonsense.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

England on the Way Home

So England are on their way home from the Cricket World Cup having finally been put out of their misery by a rampant ten wicket Sri Lankan win. It's been a rollercoaster tournament for the team with more downs than ups unfortunately. Whilst it's tough to be too hard on a team that won an Ashes series downunder for the first time in over twenty years there is little question that the England team and management need to take a hard look at themselves.

There does appear to be something endemic to British support that any form of substantial triumph leads to a sharp and quick decline. All the talk of mental and physical exhaustion simply doesn't wash. It would have probably been a step too far to expect England to have won the World Cup given its' hosting on the sub continent with their particular brand of pitches and given that there is a currently excellent Indian national team unit and no shortage of talent from their vanquishers last night in the form of Sri Lanka.

Having said all that, losses to Ireland and Bangladesh and a hugely sub standard performance against the Netherlands were inexcusable. Every team has the odd poor performance but three poor performances in a row against lesser nations were a sign of a team that had mentally shut down. Given the loyalty of the travelling England support and the generous nature of the central contracts, that is simply wrong.

There is no doubt that touring from Mid November onwards is a grind and a tough schedule. It has been recognised that it less than ideal with the next Ashes series in Australia being moved forward a year so that the cycle no longer contains the two events in the same year. Realistically however, Winter tours happen every year and the World Cup has always been every four years so nothing has really changed which as Al Gore would put it, is an inconvenient truth.

Of the players who played in the Ashes, the one day series that followed and then the World Cup, only Strauss, Bell, Trott, Prior, Pietersen, Swann and Anderson and Collingwood were involved from start to finish. Pietersen went home injured granted , whereas the latter two were simply dropped for loss of form. Anderson will cite fatigue as the reason for his demise but Colly certainly can't as he was never in the middle long enough to work up even a sweat. Stuard Broad unfortunately succumbed to injury at two stages of the long grind. Others such as Bresnan who admittedly came into the Ashes side late showed that strength of mind could ensure strength of body.

When faced with the carrot of chasing a huge total against an Indian team and a partisan crowd, England did not look remotely jaded with Strauss in particular producing a magnificent innings. Against South Africa, the bowling attack did not look jaded either as they superbly defended a sub par total. Jonathan Trott played a fine innings last night yet again whilst others fell around him and he has spent more time in the middle than anyone since the middle of last November. Simply playing well seemingly renders you less tired than the others around you it would appear.

It should be added that prior to his appointment as captain, Strauss was not usually selected for one day cricket. It was presumably on his insistence that he was and he is now citing tiredness due to too much cricket, is it only I finds this ludicrous? Strauss is now also stating that he is unsure whether he will carry on playing one day cricket.

This smacks of gross selfishness. Strauss undoubtedly pushed for his own inclusion on the basis of the captaincy. Now that the World Cup has been blown for another four years he now seems to be of the opinion that maybe he wasn't up to both appointments, it's a shame he couldn't have come to this conclusion earlier.

The administrators must also take much of the blame for this debacle. Had the one day internationals either been held prior to the Ashes series or simply reduced from the utterly pointless number of seven, England could have flown home for a break and to recharge these seemingly lowlife batteries.

The selection of the team also has to be looked at with some degree of scrutiny. There is little doubt that England has a settled test team and is probably coaxing a bit extra out of that team even beyond that. The continued chopping and changing of the one day team however beggars belief. Players such as Bopara or Yardy are simply not good enough for a team with supposed designs on winning the trophy. It doesn't matter how you dress up their role as 'pinch hitter' or an extra spin option who can bat a bit, the team should simply be your best bowlers and batsmen.

England have lacked an opening partner for Strauss all tournament and it is obvious to anyone that spin has played a crucial low in this World Cup which is hardly a shock on the sub continent. I have a feeling that Monty Panesar and Alastair Cook have both been sat at home the past few weeks feeling somewhat less than jaded - no nonsense.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Greatest Ever European Club Side

Several loyal followers - for whom this blog is most grateful - have requested an article on who would be the greatest ever European Club side of all time. The prompting for the debate has clearly been the current excellence of the current Barcelona team which has been enthralling football fans across Europe for the last couple of years with football that has as much substance as it does style.

It's a debate which has no right nor wrong answer as it is mainly subjective. It is also very difficult to compare teams from different eras, especially without having much real experience of watching these teams prior to the early eighties. One other factor is during this debate, this blog will put a weighting bias on European Cup or Champions League success with even a distinction drawn there as it is an entirely different competition from what it was prior to the nineties.

To try to make the debate more concise, we will start by establishing a list of potential candidates from what is going to be a very select group. When we are picking the side, it does not just refer to the team but which incarnation of it, what we are looking for is a sustained period of domestic and continental success. The lines between 'teams' and periods however will obviously be blurred and open to individual interpretation.

The first one up will be the Real Madrid team of the mid to late fifties who set the ball rolling. The next contender will be the Ajax team of the early seventies which was supplanted by the third team on the list, Bayern Munchen of the mid seventies.

After that came a period of English dominance which was led by Liverpool, this blog however will split that great team into two so for clarification we are looking more at the team of post Hughes, Smith and Keegan and focusing on the Dalglish, Souness, Hansen team which incidentally spent two years behind the Nottingham Forest of Brian Clough who marvelous side that they were, will not make this list.

The next one the list is the fabulous Dutch inspired AC Milan team that enjoyed such a glorious period in the  late eighties and early nineties.The final name on the list is the current Barcelona team.

Where this list is so hard and the criteria is so subjective is in terms that whilst teams can be pretty on the eye, true success is measured in silverware - just ask any Arsenal fan right now. There will unquestionably be ManYoo fans asking how on earth their trophy laden team of the late nineties and early turn of the century did not make the list, a team of Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Keane - and Andy Cole - who swept all before them domestically and won the European Cup so thrillingly in the Nou Camp, the problem is they underachieved in Europe during that period and only won the trophy or even came close to winning it once. The team that won again in Moscow was a very different one.

Real Madrid fans will ask how their team could win the European Cup three times between 1998 and 2002 and not be included on the list and again, they would have a valid point. For some reason however a team that at different stages included Raul, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos and Zidane and then later on Ronaldo (the real one) and enjoyed such great success somehow left people flat, maybe the collecting of the great players like wall hanging trophies somehow stuck in the throat, it was a team that was bought, not built although they would argue AC Milan did much the same in the eighties.

The mid nineties saw a fabulous Juventus team of Vialli and Baggio that won one Champions League and lost the next two finals but again somehow failed to spark the imagination. One team that did inspire and was a particular favourite of this blog was the Ajax side of the same period that went on to feed so many teams around Europe for years to come, a side that included Van Der Sar, Reizeger, the De Boer twins, Seedorf, Davids, Overmars, Litmanen, Kanu and a young Patrick Kluivert, quite an incredible collection. Neither team however had enough sustained European success to make the final cut. These teams added to that wonderful Nottingham Forest side mentioned earlier make up the list of honourable mentions although others will feel many have been harshly missed out.

So to the final list. The Real Madrid team of the fifties was undoubtedly a very fine side with Di Stefano and Puskas the stand out names that everyone recalls. Five European Cups on the spin coupled with domestic success also should put this team to the forefront of the debate. It is hard however as mentioned to compare eras and there has to be a suspicion that the level of competition they faced at European level in those days was not of the same calibre.

Both the Ajax and Bayern Munchen teams of the seventies enjoyed wonderful returns of silverware. Both won the European Cup three times in a row and enjoyed success on the domestic front also. Ajax boasted the sublime talents of the likes of Rudi Kroll and one of the all time greats in Johan Cruyff with Rinus Michels at the helm.

Bayern Munchen were no lesser of a team with the peerless Franz Beckenbauer marshaling the team at the back and Gerd Muller banging in the goals at the front. Both these teams contributed hugely in terms of players to their national teams with Holland enduring the heartbreak of back to back World Cup Final losses in '74 and '78, being pipped by West Germany in the former.

Next we move on to the great Liverpool team of the seventies and eighties and one which I had the personal pleasure of seeing once at Pittodrie in the European Cup. It was a team that was maybe not as aesthetically pleasing as some of the great sides but it was nothing if not effective and ruthlessly efficient. There was talent throughout the team from Clemence in goal to the elegant Hansen, the steel and quality of Souness and the brilliance of Dalglish upfront - amazing that three of these stand out players were Scottish. European and domestic success followed at time when true European competition and strength in depth had really begun to grip the continent. It was a phenomenal period of success especially when you consider that the European Cup was a true non seeded knock out competition still. Liverpool although banned from Europe after 1984 continued their domestic dominance for many years adding the likes of Barnes, Beardsley and Whelan before the break up of the side in the nineties.

The Heysel tragedy brought the period of English pre-eminence to an end and the Italian clubs which had already begun an upswing - the likes of Juventus buying players like Michel Platini and Zbigniew Boniek - took over at the helm of European football. For that reason many may feel that the feats of AC Milan winning back to back European Cups in the late eighties (the last time the Cup was successfully defended) are tainted slightly. What cannot be doubted however is the sheer quality of the team that Arrigo Sacchi built and then Fabio Cappello took on. The team had an incredible list of players and none more so than Franco Baresi, twenty years as a player with fifteen as captain. If ever there was a footballing centre back to rival Beckenbauer then it was him. He was joined in defence by a young Paolo Maldini who would go on to be a Milan marvel also and the no less impressive Alessandro Costacurta. This defensive wall formed the base for a team that was then crowned by the Dutch triumvirate of Rijkaard, Gullitt and Van Basten. It was an irresistible team that combined Italian efficiency and defensive soundness with breathtaking attacking prowess. Domestic success followed also with titles in '88, '92, '93 and '94 at a time when Serie A was highly competitive. Pierre Papin, Savicevic and Boban were then added in 1992 to an already glittering array of talent, it had no peer at that stage. This great side's grande finale came in the Champions League final of 1994 when they systematically dismantled the much vaunted Barcelona 'dream team' of Koeman, Guardiola, Stoichkov and Romario amongst others in a savage 4-0 thrashing.

The last of the sides in contention is the current incarnation of the Barcelona team and what a fine side it is. The midfield mastery of Xavi and Iniesta, both so effortless on the eye and backed up by Busquets with the ever reliable Puyol marshalling the defence behind them. Alves at right back is in the Cafu mould and further forward there is the pure sorcery of Lionel Messi whom, if he can put a World Cup win in his locker with performances to match can join the elite list that is Pele and Maradona. Goals come from everywhere but David Villa is as formidable a striker as there can be found in World football today. This is the team that is currently being lauded as the greatest ever. There are arguements both for and against.

The team plays football in an almost unique way that maybe only the great Ajax sides could match for purity. They are no slouches either when it comes to the dark arts, surrounding referees in turn, falling on the ball to claim free kicks but these do not make them a lesser team, quite the reverse, they make it more complete. They have also contributed heavily to the phenomonal success of the Spanish national side and the style of play that the national side currently employs would not be possible were it not for the way that the current Barcelona team plays. Many will also point to the current number of players that came through the youth system and the breathtaking 5-0 win over a Jose Mourinho coached Real Madrid team that was a footballing masterpiece.

On the flip side there are several factors that go against Barca. The first is the reality of their youth system is a club that had to take out a 150 million euro loan last season to pay their players. Barcelona have never been shy to spend money and in that regard they are no different to anybody else. Defensively they cannot claim to be in the same class as either of the great AC Milan and Liverpool sides. It is true that they need to care little however as they usually have the ball and Europe lacks another outstanding team right now to really stretch them at the back. Inter last season however did prove that even if they rode their luck to a large degree, Barcelona has no plan B - granted they don't usually need one - and they do seem predisposed as do many pure footballing teams to walking the ball into the net. This blog would add however that we are being extremely picky here, they are a wonderful side. Possibly the biggest factor going against the current Barcelona team is that they are just that - 'current'. It will only be possible to judge this side in another 3-5 years time when they do or do not have another couple of European Cups in their cabinet, right now this incarnation only has one (the 2006 win is not being included under this current team as only Puyol and Valdes of the current squad started the final with Xavi and Iniesta on the bench).

And so to the conclusion, the winner as far as this blog is concerned is the AC Milan team of the late 80s and early 90s with the great Liverpool team a close runner up. The Milan team of that period was the most complete with an iron clad defence, a fantastic midfield and no shortage of flair upfront. The great Liverpool team was more machine like, relentless in the way it simply bulldozed teams for year upon year but was also an exceptional team. This current great Barcelona team has the capacity to move to the top of this list but to do so it needs a couple more Champions League trophies in the cabinet - No Nonsense

The England Captaincy

It really is quite bizarre, a nation that puts such a premium on the importance of captaincy, that spends more time discussing it and analysing it than anybody else finds itself so unable to appoint one properly.

Since the standing down of Alan Shearer, the England captaincy has been one large mess. Whilst David Beckham was undoubtedly a good player and a fine servant to England, his captaincy unfortunately co-incided with the era of Erikkson who simply allowed England to turn into a pals' club punctuated with barbeques attended by Elton John prior to everyone heading off to Germany and the coining of the phrase 'Wags'. This period of the untouchables and the ability for players such as Beckham and Owen to do almost as they wished will be the legacy of Beckham's tenure and not great moments such as his magnificent performance and last gasp goal against Greece. Too often instead were there tears and missed penalties, symptomatic of a possibly excellent team far too far immersed in its' own comfort zone.

McLaren whilst obviously out of his depth at International level, did try to shake England out of its' self inflicted malaise of mediocrity. Whilst dropping Beckham proved to be a step too far, his trying to kick start the team should be applauded and his choice of John Terry as captain was a sound one.

For all Terry's lack of judgement off the field, on the field he has never been anything but a fine leader and an exceptional captain. At the time of his appointment in 2006, Terry was also probably at the peak of his playing powers. Under Mourinho he had found a new level and an extra yard of pace which lifted him into the world class bracket for a couple of seasons. Since then, off field distractions and a lifestyle that one can only assume isn't entirely condusive to top level football have brought Terry's level of performance back down to earth. That being said Terry remains a consummate reader of the game and a fierce physical presence on the pitch with a knack of scoring goals. In Terry's defence also, much of his decline may also be down to the assortment of injuries he carries and endures - for all his faults a lack of bravery and commitment are not amongst them.

The problems with Beckham were of Sven's own doing by indulging him to such a huge degree. Capello's problems are also of his own doing by doing the opposite. Sacking Terry as captain was a pointless smack on the wrist. If he believed Terry's behaviour merited proper sanction then simply he should have stopped selecting him and allowed Wayne Bridge to have gone to the World Cup. Capello knew that dropping a first choice (and fit) centre back for a second rate left back stuck behind the very capable Ashley Cole would have been imprudent. However, feeling the need to satisfy the British tabloids he stripped JT of the captaincy and appointed Rio Ferdinand who has been about as fit in the last two years as Kerry Catona. The captaincy then passed to another person of dubious fitness in the shape of Steven Gerrard prompting the pass the parcel exercise during the last international match.

Capello now seemingly believes that Ferdinand will miss more matches than he will play. He also decided that the only other true candidate in Gerrard is either too risky fitness wise nowadays or isn't quite up to the job  - this blog would point out that they see Gerrard as an excellent captain however. Either way in dropping Terry and re-instating him, Capello has managed to upset Ferdinand, probably Gerrard and robbed England of their best captaincy candidate for the World Cup before arriving back at square one.

Far too much is made of the need for captains to set an example by the sanctimonious tabloids, the same ones that pay so handsomely for the stories and photos and even entrapment to dish up dirt on the same people for profit. The job of the captain is to set an example on the pitch and there it ends as long as the rest of their behaviour off the pitch remains within the boundaries of the law and does not impede their ability to play the game to the best of their ability. It is clear that Terry has crossed several lines but ultimately he is paid to play football and he has continued to do that and this season has done it quite well. Players such as Eric Cantona, Diego Maradona, Dennis Wise and Roy Keane have had their shares of problems off the pitch, Bryan Robson was an enormous drinker yet all of them would be held up as fine examples of inspirational captains on the pitch.

It also remains unclear how long the re-instated Terry will have the job for. Capello it seems is on borrowed time and having the long and fat contract that he now has he seems little to care. His treatment of Ferdinand in the past week or so has been shabby at best but again he seems not to care. Terry fast approaching the age of 31 and with a body wearied from battle - of various kinds - cannot be assured of his England place indefinitely and when the new coach is appointed, be it 'Arry or whomever else is flavour of the month, the debate over the England captaincy will no doubt rage again - No Nonsense. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Short Changing of English Cricket Fans

After winning the Ashes down under it seems harsh to write such a bristling piece but on the basis of what has happened since it is unfortunately the stark reality.

This blog has read with incredulity some other pieces about the England players ‘having had enough’. What utter rubbish and what an insult to the thousands of fans who follow the team all over the world. If England were not going to bother making a fist of the one day internationals in Australia due to emotional and physical exhaustion from their Ashes exertions, would it not have been polite to have told their fans beforehand so they need not waste their money? Many Bangladeshi people may have also spent a relatively large amount of money to attend the match last night, to see some of the ‘global superstars’ only to be hideously short changed also. It is not good enough.

Listening to the Test Match Special podcast – usually a centre for excellence in terms of views there was more nonsense about James Anderson being physically spent, that there was nothing left in the well, what rubbish. He is a fit and extremely well paid professional sportsman. Millions of other people feel tired at work but they are not remotely as well rewarded nor do they receive the regular adulation that he does. Being ‘tired’ is not an excuse and it is an insult to suggest that it is. These same players that were too tired to play Bangladesh or Ireland were seemingly well enough rested to play well against India and South Africa.

Winning in English sport on in the international stage seems to be hugely problematic. The 2005 Ashes win sent English cricket into a tailspin that only a further home Ashes series could seemingly motivate the players sufficiently to snap themselves out of. The English rugby team is only now starting to rebuild after winning the World Cup in Australia in 2003, many players happy to readily accept their medals, knighthoods, book contracts and ride off into the sunset. England’s latest Ashes heroics look to do have done nothing for a team that was for so long greater than the sum of its parts.

It is true that a grueling schedule and long periods on the road will take its’ toll and injuries and loss of form to key players such as Stuart Broad, Kevin Pietersen and in the latter instance Paul Collingwood cannot be ignored but the simple truth is that the England effort is simply not good enough. They have embarrassingly lost to both Ireland and Bangladesh and came very close to a hat trick (the only one they look close to taking in this tournament) by only narrowly beating the Netherlands. Despite that, they chased now a mammoth 338 under the lights against the hosts India and fought tooth and nail to dramatically beat South Africa proving there is definitely gas in the tank if the players feel the occasion is worthy of their attention.

What is without question is that the team is short changing the fans dreadfully whether they be the ones who traveled to the games or the ones setting their alarms back home in the early hours of the morning. Watching James Anderson bowl seven wides in the 46th over of a must win game against opponents – who with all respect to Bangladesh – whom England should beat comfortably belies someone who simply does not want to be there. This is the man who tormented the Aussies all winter on pitches that supposedly did not suit him. If he does not want to be playing at the World Cup (once every FOUR years) then what on earth is he doing in an England shirt? He should be upfront and honest beforehand he does not want to play and have his substantial central contract reduced accordingly.

Graeme Swann’s petulant reaction to the dewy conditions also showed him up as the type of spoiled professional sportsman that so many have come to loathe. Tough conditions of any kind at different venues are part of any outdoor pursuit be it wind and rain at Murrayfield or bone hard football pitches in Moscow. It is part of sport and to blame the night time weather in Bangladesh for his inadequate performance in the match should be simply beneath him. The ECB put on a West Indies Test Match at Durham in June in 2007, it was grey and very cold, hardly conditions conducive to good cricket from the visitors from the Caribbean yet I don't recall the same level of bleating.

England's’ selection policy for one day cricket must also once more come under scrutiny. Sir Ian Botham years ago stated many times his disdain for England’s preoccupation with ‘bits and pieces’ players, cricketers being picked despite neither their bowling nor batting being good enough for the team in either discipline.

The experiment with Matt Prior opening failed in Australia. Yet when they needed to win a World Cup match last night they reverted to it, his idiotic and lazy stumping summing up the mindset of the team. Prior is not Adam Gilchrist, opening batsmen should open the batting. Alastair Cook scored a hatful of runs down under and if Strauss can be considered a valid one day opener I see no reason why he can’t be too. Pietersen’s selfishness means he does not want to bat up the order in any form of the game except maybe 20/20 for fear of not getting a bat.

Michael Yardy is another example, a spin bowler who seems to be picked more for the fact that he can hold a bat than for any talent with the ball. Monty Panesar is shocking with the bat but surely spin bowlers should be picked for their ability to bowl spin. It seems to this blog that in Cook and Panesar, we have a world class opening batsmen and a very capable spinner both sitting at home watching the shambles unfold on the sub continent.

This blog always attempts to write balanced pieces rather than simply ‘rants’. England may well beat the West Indies and go on to reach the final and then lift the trophy and put humble pie on the menu for the rest of the year but we somehow doubt it. The attitude of the players and the ineptitude of the selectors so soon after such a glorious Test Winter in Australia has sold the many England cricket fans ridiculously short and they should all be thoroughly ashamed of their efforts since the final day of the Sydney Test.

On a final note, congratulations to Bangladesh on a great effort and for holding their nerve for a famous victory – No Nonsense.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Kenny Dalglish - A Report Card So Far

So King Kenny has been back in the chair for just over two months since the ill fated tenure of Roy Hodgson was terminated. This blog and many other 'informed' observers felt the move was a mistake, possibly akin to Mike Ashley bringing back 'Wor Kev'. Two fallen clubs entering a time warp in a desperate attempt to fast track themselves back to former glories in the case of Liverpool and former perceived glories in the case of the Toon. Whilst it was easy to draw the two parallels, the actuality of the situations has so far been vastly different.

Both clubs draw on a fierce sense of identity. Liverpool's famous This is Anfield sign above the tunnel could be mocked as foolishly arrogant for a club so steeped in the mire. The history and stature however of Liverpool endures much in the way that ManYoo's did in the 70s and 80s despite their chronic woes. Dalglish and Keegan are also different people. Both enjoyed phenomenal success as players but only Dalglish in his previous incarnations at Liverpool and Blackburn has enjoyed managerial success at the highest level even with the advantages he held of inheriting one of Europe's greatest ever club sides and then Jack Walker's gold plated chequebook. It is interesting to note that Dalglish also failed at Newcastle where the level of disfunction seems to be the greatest of almost any club imaginable.

Liverpool's fall from grace is also very different from Newcastle's who simply aren't the big club they think they are. Liverpool through the nineties and early turn of the century were not a bad team and they still won trophies. Where they failed was they simply weren't as good as ManYoo and they suffered by comparison. Arsenal then entered the golden age of Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira and then there was the rise of Chelsea. The problem accelerated and came to a head with the internal strife associated with Hicks, Gillett and Benitez leading them to briefly stare at the abyss in the Autumn of last year.

Liverpool are a long way behind in many respects with a stadium of inadequate size and a poor squad. They do however have several things on their side not least an unswervingly loyal support, the irony being that they kept turning up in their droves despite all the Hicks and Gillett protests. Also, even at this low point in their history there is an unending desire by players to play for the Reds. Those European Cups have not been forgotten.

Dalglish so far has played things very smart and no one should be surprised at this as the man has always been nothing if not shrewd. Dalglish understands Liverpool like almost no other and his constant references and soundbites about 'respect for the club' has galvanised both the fans and the players  - and that is the difference between he and Keegan who simply manages to get the supporters excited.

Liverpool are not going to pull up any trees this season, they simply aren't good enough and results like last night against Braga show the lack of depth palpably. What Dalglish has managed to do however is motivate the team and in many instances get the best out of them. Wins against Chelsea and ManYoo have been the stand out performances. Dalglish at the moment (like Hodgson) sets his team out to get a result, he knows he isn't managing the Liverpool of the 80s and he cannot set out to dominate matches. Unlike Hodgson however he encourages a cool air of expectation whilst tempering expectation at the same time. He does not get beat 2-0 by Everton and call it the best performance of the season, nor would he not defend his star striker for fear of upsetting Alex Ferguson. As mentioned above, Dalglish understands the club, he knows that Liverpool cannot win every game right now but he tells the fans and the players that is where they should be aiming, that Liverpool should not settle for second best - and they love him for it.

It is clear that Dalglish wants the job on a permanent basis and whilst that long term solution is a very different situation to his part time appointment, there can be little doubt that Dalglish has done nothing but enhance his credentials so far. There can also be little doubt that a poll right now amongst Liverpool fans would have an approval rating for him that only George Dubbya Bush at a Texas gun owners club could top.

If Dalglish is given the job, then two things will shape his chances of success, those are the financial backing that the 'new and improved' American owners give the club and his working relationship with Damien Comolli. This blog still remains highly sceptical of Dalglish's ability to accept transfer policy being dictated by a 38 year old bespectacled Frenchman who has never played football at the highest level (call me controversial and we would also add we have nothing against people with glasses).

Whilst the Liverpool front line for next season of Suarez and Carroll gives genuine hope the reality is that there is little else to cling to. Pep Reina remains possibly the best goalkeeper in the country but has been agitating for a move. The back line needs revamped even with the emergence of the exciting Kelly at fullback. The midfield once Gerrard is taken out looks decidedly average and the reality for the England captain now is that injuries and age now suggest that his best days are behind him and that forty plus games a season may now be to big an ask. Liverpool would be well served by his international retirement if he wishes to prolong his career in the same way that Shearer or Scholes did, there does seem little chance of that however and it also seems unlikely that Liverpool would wish to cash in finally on their talisman and leader even if Mourinho and Real do come calling.

Manchester City definitely and Chelsea possibly will spend again this summer, Tottenham also will be flush with cash from their Champions League run. ManYoo have many problems but are a long way ahead still, as are Arsenal. Two decades after his first stint, it is funds and transfer policy which will dictate whether Dalglish can be a success again and not his understanding of the club - no nonsense.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sir Alex Ferguson - Not Above The Law

It is without question that the very top football managers manipulate and manoeuvre the media to their advantage whenever possible. This blog has written in the past about the mastery of the likes of Ferguson and Mourinho with seemingly wild and ill considered rants actually being calculated behaviour designed to have a specific reaction and effect. These are men of extreme intelligence and guile, masters of their professions. Arsene Wenger also does much to deflect the blame from his team (and himself) through the media and whilst often annoying, also does it often with great aplomb. As an example, many have not looked past the Van Persie sending off as the reason for Arsenal losing to Barca on Tuesday night. The match stats tell you the real reason but Wenger was quick to push the attention to the red card (which we actually have a lot of sympathy for Arsenal over as it was indeed ludicrous).

Others such as Kevin Keegan are simply victims, their mass popularity and limitless naive eagerness for football leaving them wide open to attacks from a media primed by the likes of Ferguson, Keegan's famous 'I would love it' rant being the culmination of Ferguson's subtle but sustained attack on Keegan during their title run in which Newcastle duly blew. There are also wildcards like Brian Clough who simply say whatever they think but provide such good copy it doesn't matter who they upset or why.

There are other managers who foster popularity in the media by be-friending journalists to receive favourable coverage. Harry Redknapp and Terry Venables are prime examples of this, both with poorer management records than the newspapers would ever have you believe. Ian Holloway has turned himself into a self caricature meaning little negative is ever written about him. This jokey light hearted approach to his job in the public domain has probably excluded himself from any of the bigger jobs he may actually be otherwise qualified to do. This does not mean however that we on this blog wish him anything but the best, he's great to have around.

The last group are those that seem to only ever wish to antagonise the media with bristling answers and put downs. Gordon Strachan went from being witty and entertaining whilst at Southampton to one of the most hateful and spiteful people in football during his time at Celtic. Whilst the goldfish bowl of Glasgow and the Scottish media can certainly bring out the worst in people, Strachan's put downs and ludicrous reactions to reasonable questions belied a man uncomfortable in such an elevated position. It is no coincidence that Strachan is not remember fondly in the poor half of Glasgow in comparison to Martin O'Neil despite having an arguably superior record, few mourned his leaving.

All of this being said, there is clearly a line that can and is crossed. Joe Kinnear's X rated rant during his time at Newcastle was designed to shock and grab attention. Whilst getting him attention for a short period it also reinforced what many thought that he was simply a foul mouthed dinosaur of little intelligence. Ferguson now appears to have crossed a line also. Previously it was a calculated ire that served to protect his players whilst manipulating the media and in turn hopefully the referees and the authorities. Instead the Old Trafford media blackout looks like one almighty temper tantrum and possibly betrays the current lack of faith that Ferguson may be feeling in his current team. Ferguson and ManYoo need to be reminded that it is the the paying public (in many different countries), the global media and press and the sponsors that pay his and every single person's wages in the Premiership. His petulant blanking of all of those contributors in the recent week (not the first offence either) borders on the pathetic and is entirely unacceptable. Whilst Ferguson at nearly seventy years old undoubtedly feels he is above such petty laws and obligations, the simple fact remains that he is and must be subject to the same rules (and sanctions) that everybody else is. His achievements in the game bear no relevance to the rules of the Premiership. If this latest episode does not invoke appropriate sanction from the authorities - especially as he is effectively on probation in the first place - then they are making a mockery of their own system and feeding the belief that ManYoo and Ferguson are treated differently to everybody else. Throw the book at him with a lengthy touchline ban, financial sanction has no meaning to clubs - no nonsense.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Owl Tragedy

We on the no nonsense blog would just like to pass on our condolences and thoughts to the family of the poor barn owl so tragically and senselessly murdered on the pitch by Deportivo Pereira defender Luis Morales.

We understand that Sr Morales has been fined and suspended. Whilst we applaud that sanctions have been applied to this most despicable of human beings, it falls a long way short of the public lynching that this man deserves.

No Nonsense.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Trio of Distinction

Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, three names that will always be synonymous with Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson and rampant success. It is unlikely that ever again in club football with the current environment that we will see three such long and durable overlapping careers all in the colours of one club.

Two of the three have had very a very different few weeks with Gary Neville realising that his body was no longer able even if his mind was announcing his immediate retirement. Giggs, still performing at the highest level has decided to sign for one more year and will probably ride off into the sunset at the same time as his manager and mentor Sir Alex. There is no sign as yet from the publicity shy Scholes whether he will look to carry on after this season.

Gary Neville has unified opinion throughout his career by becoming one of the most despised opposition players of his era. His shop steward attitude and penchant for winding up opposition fans and constant arguing with referees has made him a universal target. Neville however has not cared a jot and instead has simply made a career of being one of the most consistently excellent fullbacks this country has ever produced. Whilst his brother Phillip was still at ManYoo and being picked for England, the Nevilles developed a reputation for being error and gaff prone but the reality was that the elder brother has always remained a player of the highest calibre. Indeed Phil has also go on to forge a successful and well respected career as captain of Everton, admittedly at a notch down the Premiership ladder.

There is a suspicion that had Gary Neville been a modicum less hateful then further success could have followed. Seeing him as a young right sided defender blossoming at Euro '96 made me think he was the future England captain in waiting so assured were his performances. He was also underrated as an attacking force forging a devastating overlapping partnership with David Beckham for many years. No one outside of the Red half of Manchester or Surrey will mourn his retirement but he should be remembered as an extremely fine defender.

Ryan Giggs has been one of the most celebrated and recognised players since he burst onto the scene as a precociously talented seventeen year old with an awful barnet. Ongoing hamstring problems and a frustrating lack of end product made Giggs one of the most exciting, enigmatic and frustrating talents that the the British game has seen. After the initial early brilliance there was also a suspicion that he never quite hit the heights again after that memorable goal in 1999 against Arsenal in the FA Cup replay but that may be due to his playing within himself slightly due to those dodgy hamstrings.

In the past few years, Giggs has reinvented himself as a more thoughtful and influential midfielder and whilst Player of the Year and BBC Sports Personality awards were probably more for sentimental reasons than anything else, it is without question that Giggs deserves recognition for his long and medal laden service. Whatever the debate on where Giggs truly stands against the greats, one cannot dispute his record and medal haul and the simply reality is a team with that amount of success would not carry a player for so long were he not integral to that success. England fans will also rue the day he chose Wales as Giggs' career has coincided with an inexplicable period where England have not been able to produce a single decent naturally left footed midfielder since John Barnes. Giggs may well have produced the balance to take England from having been an occasional quarter final team to a real force. Giggs last night equaled Bobby Charlton's appearances record for ManYoo, an incredible feat and done with considerably more hair.

Paul Scholes, despite being the quietest of the three might just be the best. Whilst it helps that he plays in a team that usually has the bulk of the possession, the simple efficiency of Scholes' play has ensured he is still able to contribute fully even in his elder years. Gerrard may be more dynamic, Lampard scores more goals but of the three, Scholes is the only one who can dictate the rhythm of a game in the way that a Xavi or a Zidane or possibly even a Fabregas in a few more years can. That, allied to his ability to time runs into the box, a poachers eye for goal and prodigious shooting means that Scholes can lay claim to being one of the great - and most strangely underrated - English midfielders of all time. This blog would certainly have him ahead of Robson, Wilkins or Gerrard. Hoddle had infinitely more skill but he was unfortunately a luxury player. Scholes is probably just behind Charlton because of fewer goals and the young Gascgoine who was simply a level above anything else that England has ever produced.

Scholes has played out his career with the minimum of fuss accumulating a huge cabinet of medals along the way. His partnership with Roy Keane in it's heyday was one of the most formidable ever formed in club football and it is hard to judge how many of his teammates have been made to look much better than they actually were by his well balanced and timed passing. To have such talent whilst remaining ginger throughout his career is a truly staggering achievement. One suspects that were Ferguson able to turn the clock back ten years on of these three, for all the public proclamations about Giggs, it would actually be Paul Scholes who would get the nod. Couple the riding of these three into the sunset with the surely impending retirement of Ferguson at the end of next season and you start to sense that the cycle of success for ManYoo might be coming to an end sooner rather than later - no nonsense.