Saturday, April 30, 2011

What Shall We Do With The Drunken Wenger?

Possibly a little harsh but having seen yet more delusional comments from everyone's favourite Frenchman this week one could be excused for thinking he has been sipping too much of his country's Vin Rouge.

It should also be dangerous to write an article one would think ahead of his team playing ManYoo at home as victory would have this blog reaching for a large slice of humble pie. However the reality is that even if Arsenal somehow were to beat United tomorrow, it is only Chelsea that the door would be left ajar for, Arsenal are simply not good enough to win the league.

Wenger is clearly a very clever man and incredibly well versed in footballing matters, he has not enjoyed the success that he has previously without that being true. For that reason it is so frustrating for so many that he cannot see what is obvious to everyone else, it is also difficult to believe that he cannot see it too. Therefore the only conclusion that can be reached is that it is arrogance and sheer bloody mindedness that is to blame.

Wenger these days, seems to think he exists in some moral bubble floating in the clouds above everyone else, the only person in the world committed to playing beautiful football. The subject has become incredibly boring and there is nothing to say that spending money and attaining a solid defence means you cannot still play good football. As this blog has stated before, spending a transfer budget wisely is a huge part of the modern manager's duties and an entire skill set in itself. It is not Wenger's job to set transfer budgets and to worry himself with the club's finances, that is for the board and the Chairman. It is possible that again this is Wenger's arrogance - that he knows best - coming to the fore again. The likes of Sam Kroenke are big boys and if they say the money is there then it is the manager's duty to spend it. Wenger is not some lower league manager who needs to do the accounts after training whilst wheeling and dealing in the evenings, he is in charge of football matters, plain and simple and he has a football team that needs an injection of quality, experience and character, his duty is to the fans, not the bank manager.

In Wenger's earlier days at Arsenal he had no problems spending money, Overmars, Henry, Reyes, Wiltord and many others were all signed for big money. In these early days he also had a team with real character. He inherited one of the best defensive units in club football history and had leaders all over the pitch. When Arsenal went out to meet a ManYoo led by Keane, Neville, Schmeichel, Stam et all they had the players and the character to stand upto them, the memory of Martin Keown jumping all over Van Nistelrooy after he missed a last minute penalty at Old Trafford will live long in the memory.

This is not to say that Arsenal do not spend money anymore, they just spend it incredibly poorly. Laurent Koscielny was signed for a reported 8.5 million pounds. Wenger's judgement in this signing is also shown to be poor as for that money, you should be getting a decent player. Nemanja Vidic was signed for 7 million, Gary Cahill for around 5 million and for 4 million, all are infinitely better players. Sebastien Squillaci is another prime example, 4 million pounds utterly wasted on yet another player not good enough for Arsenal's trophy winning aspirations. Rather and spending 12-13 million pounds on two substandard players, should that money not have been spent on one quality player? Selling Matthew Upson to Birmingham for around a million pounds is probably not the best decision he has ever taken either. He is merely cluttering his squad with journeymen defenders.

The goalkeeping situation has also been written about ad tedium but it is an issue that Wenger simply refuses to do anything about. Fabianski, Almunia, Szczesny and an already retired once Jens Lehmann, not one of them is good enough for the Premiership let alone a team with designs on winning it. If he does not make an attempt to sign at least a cut price Shay Given belatedly this Summer then there is something beyond repair with the Frenchman.

Arsenal are not nearly the complete footballing side that Old Arsene believes they are. They are one dimensional with an incredibly soft centre, unable to change tactics mid game or to stand up to any physical play. They are shambolic and weak at the back and lacking options in the forward line to support the singularly impressive Robin Van Persie. The fact that they can play keep ball better than most will make them a strong favourite for any five a side leagues that spring up but somehow one would doubt that will be enough to satisfy the increasingly restless natives at the Emirates - No Nonsense.

Far From 'El Classico'

It was to be expected really, it's almost impossible for such fierce rivals to play each other so often in such a short space of time and for such high stakes without it degenerating into a war of attrition. It is not to defend the actions of either team, merely to understand it is the nature of the beast and it is that tribalism and mutual hatred that stokes the fires so hugely in the first place making it the compelling spectacle it is.

Barcelona will take what plaudits are left on offer as first and foremost they won the game, they kept eleven players on the pitch and because they have Lionel Messi. His 52 goals this season (so far) whilst plying his trade for the best footballing team in the world make him a shoe in for this year's ballon d'or, it will be well deserved.

This blog is a huge fan of Jose Mourinho and has made no secret of that in the past, in his own way he is equally as entertaining as Lionel Messi and football would be a lesser place without him, that being said there are times when he - like the man he wishes to emulate, Sir Alex Ferguson - does overstep the mark and this time it is to a very large degree.

Much of what Mourinho does is calculated, even after being sent off on Wednesday night, he chose to sat behind bars, passing written notes to his staff, a man in purgatory, it is pure theatre and nothing less. His post match rant was equally enthralling, his way of getting around the rules by stating 'what he cannot say for fear of sanction' will no doubt be challenged by UEFA this time. Barcelona have threatened legal action and whilst Mourinho can probably feel a little hard done by with Pepe's sending off, his questioning of the legitimacy of this current Barcelona sides' achievements is a step too far, he should learn to lose far more graciously.

Barcelona are not without blame in this episode. This blog has written before about their talents in the dark arts and again they have shown themselves to be incredibly adept at landing their opponents in trouble. We would add however that is not to Barcelona's detriment, quite the opposite as it makes them a more complete team, football is about winning after all. Dani Alves seems in particular a rather disagreeable individual but that does not make him a less effective player. The British media in particular takes a very dim view of 'simulation' whilst at the same time seemingly thinking it fine to potentially end someones carer with a bad tackle, it's deemed a more honest way to cheat. Regardless of this, Barcelona are incredibly good at winning free kicks and conning officials in all manner of ways whilst claiming the moral high ground with their brand of fantasy football. For every Messi, Iniesta and Xavi however there is a Busquets, an Alves and a Puyol, it is a very well balanced side and an incredibly effective team, Monsieur Wenger could learn a lot, the key word being 'effective'.

So however should Senor Mourinho take some instruction, to whinge and complain at the tactics employed by Barcelona is nonsensical. Mourinho is the ultimate pragmatist when it comes to football tactics, he does whatever is required to win. Gamemanship is not something he is averse to and professionalism for want of a better term is part of nearly all professional sport be it sledging in cricket or doping in cycling. Nowadays sporstmen and women do whatever is required to win at all costs and people, as regrettable as it may sound need to accept this. Mourinho in this instance should be spending more time instilling to his own players the need to stay in control and not to be sucked into making the mistakes made by this provocation that lead to the red cards they continually suffer.

It is doubtful that Mourinho believes half the things he says, most is done for effect and to remove the pressure from his players. By stating the tie is dead and that the dark forces of UEFA will not allow Barcelona to be beaten he already has the Madrid based press banging his drum for him, repeating his soundbite 'Why?' which he repeated over and over at the post match press conference. It has effectively removed or at least attempted to do so all blame from himself and his players rendering the match at the Nou Camp meaningless in their eyes. He would argue that at 0-0 and with eleven players on the pitch they were in good shape and it was a result consumerate with the tactics that he was employing. All this however falls flat by what did happen rather than what might have happened. Mourinho, seen as the master of mind games and the media saw his comments on Barcelona, Guardiola and officialdom this week backfire on him quite spectacularly with the tie now all but over before the return at the Nou Camp has even kicked off.

It would seem that even for Mourinho overturning this deficit will be several bridges too far but the reality is that in this instance he has outmaneuvered himself. Whilst the current Barcelona team is a staggeringly good one, the sight of such an expensively assembled (and good) Real team, with players available such as Ronaldo, Ozil, Benzema, Kaka, Higuain, Di Maria - the list goes on - playing so defensively at home should also be called into question. It is a team that has huge attacking talent so to balance the team so much to the contrary could well be a rare tactical mistake from the Portugeezer. It would appear for every team that plays Barcelona, doing so with open tactics is suicidal but Real are more equipped to play Barca than almost anyone else, they are no talentless paupers. To have the talent that he had kicking their heels on the bench seems peculiar. These matches draw obvious comparisons between Ronaldo and Messi but at this juncture that is simply unfair on Ronaldo, asked to plough a furrow as a lone centre forward starved of any opportunity or possession. Barcelona ensure Messi sees the ball regularly and in good positions, it seems an obvious tactic to employ, two goals thank you very much. The prospects of either of these Portuguese enjoying their evening ahead in Catalonia are remote - No Nonsense

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Relegation Dogfight

Four games to go, five for Wolves and Blackburn and the battle for survival is well and truly on. In reality, everyone up or around the forty point mark is still in danger but the picture is looking clearer with each result and the trap door beckons in earnest for several now.

West Ham sit marooned at the foot of the table after yet another capitulation, this time an expected one at the hands of a Chelsea side making a late but probably futile title challenge. West Ham's tale is a familiar one, a talented side 'too good to go down' but the reality is they look ill equipped to navigate the next few weeks and Avram Grant seems to be lacking the motivational skills required to rouse the team from the general malaise it has suffered from this season. For all the endearing qualities of the Hammers as a club, no one will shed a tear for Sullivan, Gold and Brady, three of the more acquired tastes in footballing circles. They are next up at Champions League chasing Manchester City and then come the proverbial six pointers against Blackburn and Wigan, it could all be over by the time they play Sunderland on the final day although this season gives the impression that all matters at both ends could go to the final day.

Of the next two candidates, Wigan look the most brittle whereas Wolves seem ready for the scrap, built in the image of their manager Mick McCarthy. For all the bullish rhetoric from the adopted Irishman however, his record at Premiership level is extremely poor and both sides look in extreme danger of dropping to the Championship. Both have tricky but winnable fixtures to come and the margin for error will be perilously thin.

Blackpool are for everyone not involved in the scrap their biggest hope to stay up. Like Wigan, Blackpool have tried to play their way through the season. Holloway is to be admired to a large degree for his outlook and tactics as well the sense of fun he brings to matters, that being said however he knows the squad he has is not good enough to shut up shop during games either. So being the intelligent man that he is - certainly more calculating this season than many realise - he knows that if he is going to lose a large percentage of games then he may as well do it playing positively as that will bring far more plaudits. Other than a final day trip to Old Trafford, Blackpool also have winnable fixtures and one must hope that they can find a way to stay up although it is potentially a bridge too far.

If the neutrals are in Blackpool's corner, then they are certainly not in Blackburns'. Their new owners came in mid season with little or no idea how to run a football club with much trumpeted nonsense about signing Ronaldinho. Sacking Sam Allardyce - the perfect man to keep a poor team in the division - without any real cause or without any forward thinking was entirely foolish and whilst it is not the fault of the fans, the owners' stupidity and arrogance is deserving of relegation. Football clubs, especially ones with such strong community links should not be rich mans' play things. Blackburn also have two 'six pointers' and a game against ManYoo, it will be a tough ask of their squad and their inexperienced manager but it is not impossible.

Birmingham, Stoke and Fulham should be good enough to get the one last win that will probably ensure their safety for another season, Those on forty points or above would need the Gods to conspire against them seriously to see themselves sucked back into trouble. That being the case we are looking at the current bottom five to provide the final bottom three.

Blackburn have a point or so head start and McCarthy has hopefully finally gained enough Premiership experience to lift Wolves out of the mire, that being the case this blog picks West Ham so seemingly unequipped for the battle, Wigan so lacking any backbone and Blackpool who have lost all momentum as the unfortunate three. We would however hope that Blackpool can somehow pip Blackburn to 17th place, it would be a great end to a highly exciting season - No Nonsense.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Formula One - The Season So Far.

The current F1 season has got itself off to a pretty impressive start so far with a genuine four way battle for the Championship which could easily become five way if the men at the Prancing Horse can give Fernando Alonso a car worthy of his talents.

Sebastien Vettel, building on his World Title won in the last race of the previous season was at his young but imperious best in the first two races leaving all trailing in his wake and asking serious questions about the pace of his rivals. Whilst race strategy played a large part, McLaren and Lewis Hamilton answered those questions emphatically in Shanghai taking a superb and well earned chequered flag.

Vettel has clearly drawn huge confidence from his maiden drivers' title and at the tender age of just twenty four will surely have more ahead of him although Hamilton and Alonso in particular may have something to say about that. There were times last season when Vettel looked particularly rattled and was guilty of poor judgement and in many respects Ferrari handed the title to him in the last race with their appalling race strategy for Alonso. Nevertheless the young German got over the finishing line and he will no doubt be much wiser for it, his talent and speed are not in question. This season again he looks the man to beat.

Alonso is a man who's career appears to be in limbo since his early double title winning exploits. His ill fated move to McLaren and subsequent return to Renault looked to have stymied his progress and after an initially bright start with the Scuderia he is now finding himself off the pace with machinery that is unable to challenge the Red Bull. There is reason to suggest that he remains the most complete driver on the starting grid - not many got the better of Schumacher at his peak - and it is now for the Ferrari engineers to do their part.

Whilst Vettel has clearly flourished after his Championship win, Mark Webber has seemingly lost traction. Much of his wonderful last season was tangled up with in fighting and politics within Red Bull and with Christian Horner in particular with Webber (justifiably it would appear) openly accusing his team of favouring Vettel. This season seemed to have reached a nadir when he failed to come through the first qualifying cut in Shanghai whilst Vettel punched out yet another pole position. Webber however is nothing if not a scrapper - and a mighty quick one at that - and he produced probably the drive of the season so far to take the final place on the podium after starting from 18th position on the grid. It may just be the drive to kick start his season although the suspicion must be that his advancing years mean the pressure to earn his own maiden Drivers' Championship may be a step too far.

Both drivers at McLaren have previously won the title meaning that there are four World Champions fighting for the title this year - we unfortunately can no longer include Schumacher as a credible contender - with Hamilton earning his superb victory in Shanghai. Button typically struggles in a car that is not perfectly set up so his consistent but unspectacular start to the season indicates McLaren have a pretty decent car which just requires a little more pace to genuinely challenge the Red Bull on a regular basis. Hamilton remains the ultimate competitor and whilst his aggressive style can be hard on his tyres there is little doubt that he is a master at getting the best out of a car that is not necessarily the best. Both drivers seem to have the full support of their team and with little apparent friction between the two, McLaren must have high hopes of securing yet another constructors' title this season.

Of the rest of the field, it is possibly a little harsh not to include Felipe Massa amongst the front runners but the hugely likeable Brazilian appears to have lost his edge since the horrendous head injury he previously sustained and it could be very possible that Ferrari will soon be lining up a replacement as No2 to Alonso.

Mercedes continue to struggle for genuine pace. Michael Schumacher has proved to be a classic case of 'you should never go back' and whilst his previous exploits leave him arguably as the greatest driver of the modern age - the debate versus Senna will forever rage - he is in real danger of tainting his legacy as he continues to drive around in the midfield, it is not how he should be remembered. Nico Rosberg however does look a real talent and a man in need of proper machinery. If Mercedes are unable to present him with that then a seat at either Red Bull or Ferrari next season might become an appealing option.

Vitaly Petrov continues to look genuinely quick in his Renault and one must hope that Nick Heidfeld  - a welcome returner to the starting grid - will find his feet again and push for more points. Paul Di Resta has made a decent start to his F1 career and we'll keep our fingers crossed that Lotus - one of the most famous names on the grid - can find a way to put a competitive package together for their drivers Truli and Kovalainen who are both capable of scoring points given the right car. This blog also wishes Robert Kubica a swift and full recovery from his appalling injuries.

The season itself as a spectacle has been pretty impressive so far with the combination of the new Pirelli tyres and the DRS wing system meaning that there has been a large - certainly by F1 standards - amount of overtaking so far this season and certainly no shortage of action. The FIA is constantly tinkering with the rules and regulations of F1 and by no means are all to the benefit of the spectacle. This season however the 'formula' appears to be working and for that reason it is very disappointing to hear plans to move to 1.6 litre four cylinder turbo units for 2013.

Whatever the reasons are for the proposed engine change, it smacks of change for changes' sake. The current V8s are providing great racing and just as importantly they sound fantastic. Whilst there was no doubt that F1 needed a serious round of cost cutting, this proposed engine change looks likely to increase cost and lets face it, for all the KERS technology and positive rhetoric, F1 is not a green sport, it is the antithesis of green and that is exactly why so many people love it. It is the pinnacle of motorsport and motorsport technology, ridiculously loud, expensive, fast and glamorous and that is unquestionably what it should remain - No Nonsense.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Same Old Arsenal, Same Old Rio Ferdinand

Some things never change do they? Arsenal can't hold onto a lead - no matter how late they obtain it - and Rio Ferdinand can't stop talking rubbish on Twitter.

Lets start in reverse order with Ferdinand banging on about Balotelli being disrespectful towards the ManYoo fans at the end of the game. This is the same Ferdinand who no doubt revelled in Gary Neville's celebrations at Old Trafford in front of the Liverpool fans in 2006 after a last minute winner by said Ferdinand, pots and black kettles? Whether it's critiscising referees or other players, the red half of Manchester really does take the biscuit for double standards. In fairness to Ferdinand, it's only since he got a twitter account that he's been so effective at such communique as Twitter invariably allows short combinations of letters and numbers to make up words which then make sentences, until then he'd found getting his point of view across much more arduous.

With regard to Arsenal, no one should really be surprised, time and time again they have failed to put sides away when they should have. Watching their standard of play last night, it is clear that they are a million miles away from the Barcelona team they so aspire to be. With regard to Cesc Fabregas, it may be that we have found yet another flat track bully who is seen as 'world class' simply because of his background and because Arsene Wenger says so. His effectiveness in the big games seems to be very limited and like the rest of his team, is a long way from the benchmark that he covets in the shape of Iniesta and Xavi, it is no wonder Barcelona have baulked at the large transfer fee involved and that he cannot get a starting berth for Spain - No Nonsense

Friday, April 15, 2011

Glasgow Rangers - Guilty as Charged?

So UEFA have decided to charge Rangers with allegations of sectarian singing for both legs of their recent European tie against PSV Eindehoven and they now face the very real prospect of having to play games behind closed doors next season, a sanction that the club will find especially difficult to bear considering their reliance on their substantial gate receipts and their perilous financial state.

Martin Bain's defence seems to centre around the fact that UEFA is unfairly targetting Rangers and that 'everybody else does it too'. Whilst there can be some sympathy for Rangers in those respects, it does not excuse them for the actions of their fans.

I have been to neither Ibrox nor Parkhead (Celtic Park as you may wish to call it) for many years now and am also not from the West of Scotland originally so for that reason it is hard to comment specifically on what goes on in the grounds these days with any accuracy, that being said it is hard to believe that the reality is much different from what UEFA are reporting.

It is certainly true that there are distasteful chants and instances of sheer hatred at football grounds the world over, it is a sport that attracts a tribal following that encourages abuse of the opponent as much as it does support of one's own team. Having been a long term attendee at Stamford Bridge I have heard just about everything there is to hear one would think, the most bizarre (but certainly not the worst) being many years ago. Every time that Ruel Fox (of Norwich, Newcastle and Spurs fame) the opposition right winger received the ball, a nameless punter nearby shouted 'GREASY' over and over until play had moved on, we would also point out that Ruel Fox had a very close crop at the time.

Rangers and Celtic have forever been associated on religious grounds, Rangers have the Sash and No Pope of Rome, Celtic the Soldier Song and whilst not along sectarian grounds oft sing fondly of the Ibrox disaster being magic. Spurs fans receive endless chants about 'the Yids' and whilst not on religious or racial grounds either, Liverpool fans sing in fond memory of the tragedy that befell Sir Matt Busby's team in Munich many years ago. Whilst all highly distasteful it is also accepted to a large degree, part and parcel of the 'rivalry' between teams.

Many of the people who would find the above as par for the course will at the same time vociferously denounce (quite rightly) racist chanting at grounds. Everyone shakes their heads in disbelief at the behaviour of many of the fans in Eastern Europe towards almost anyone who isn't sheet white with blond hair. There are concentrated campaigns to eradicate racism from sport as a whole and everyone wishes those the utmost success. Where there is a discrepancy is that society in terms of sports crowds has accepted that is is unacceptable to abuse someone on the grounds of race yet is ok to do so on the grounds of religion or nationality. I'm quite sure at the World Cup, had the England fans abused say Jerome Boateng on the grounds of his colour there would have been International uproar yet I'm sure many fans sang 'Two World Wars and One World Cup' (the joviality of the tune is irrelevant) for the duration of the match and no one batted an eyelid.

The reality is that crowd hostility is what often makes football such a compelling spectacle. Rangers and Celtic games are broadcast the world over and I would suspect very few neutral observers watch the games for their flowing football, they are hoping for red cards, for spats like the recent one between the managers and for all the associated anarchy that comes with the fixture. Everyone remembers the pigs' head that was thrown at Luis Figo on his return to Camp Nou, it is required viewing. It is like watching Formula One in the secret hope of seeing horrific crashes, it is what the masses want.

On the basis of the above, the majority of clubs or countries could be sanctioned by UEFA almost at will and in that respect Rangers have a right to feel aggrieved. Stating however that you are not guilty on the basis that everyone else does it doesn't really hold up legally and the reality is that few clubs in the World can claim to have an identity so associated with a religious and political view point as do Rangers.

Whilst it has been a long time changed there was a day when Rangers (tacitly if not necessarily stated) would not even sign Catholic players. One can remember only too well the chaos that ensued when Graeme Souness - more for his own amusement at winding up Celtic than for any noble reason - signed Maurice Johnston all those years ago. Rangers as a club has done much to change (in tandem with Celtic) but the fans it seems are far less keen to move on. Having said all that, Real Sociedad's practise of signing only Basque players (rescinded in 1989) received far less attention or outcry, there are many double standards it would appear.

Michel Platini is waging many wars in football right now and in many of them he can be applauded. Whilst Rangers are certainly not alone in their situation, they are certainly as guilty, if not more so than most. If it requires an example to be made of them and for their fans to realise once and for all that their behaviour is directly affecting their club - in this case the financial livelihood of the club - then it will be a price worth paying - No Nonsense

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When the Owners Buy the Players......... Fernando Torres

This article is not meant as a judgement on Fernando Torres, quite the opposite in fact. Whilst it's clear that Torres doesn't look the same player that initially took the Premiership by storm, his movement and energy recently does indicate that he is slowly reclaiming some of his previous vigour. The simple fact however is that he has barely fashioned a chance nevermind acutally hitting the onion bag. Comparisons are now starting to obviously be drawn with Andrei Schevchenko who was an unquestionable flop in his time at Chelsea.

There are several parallels that can be drawn between the two. Physically they look similar, both skilfull players with devastating finishing prowess. Both are deceptively strong despite not looking particularly physically imposing like a Didier Drogba is for instance. There are other similarities in that Chelsea paid record fees for both when the heights of their powers were seemingly behind them. Shevenko should be seen as much the higher risk taking like for like however as he was much older and with no Premiership previous when he was signed. The key element that they both share however is they were both signed unquestionably above the heads of their managers, step forward Mr Roman Abramovich.

Mourinho made no secret that he had nothing but disdain for the Shevchenko signing and if Ancelotti was at all involved in signing Torres then surely he would have far more idea on how to use him. Quite simply neither player would have been bought by the manager in question as neither fits in with the system of play that they use. Both managers however seem to have their hands tied in playing them regardless.

Shevchenko was lost at Chelsea, used to a measured build up through midfield at Milan, he suddenly found the Mourinho steamroller firing balls at him head high in a very un-Italian manner. Mourinho's system of Drogba up top with two wide players had to be sacrificed for a 4-4-2 and Drogba it seems wishes to share the limelight with no one. It was an unmitigated disaster and Chelsea duly relinquished the Premiership.

Torres has a similar problem. Whilst at Liverpool he was used to longer angled balls from Gerrard and Xavi Alonso which allowed him space to run into using his pace and his considerable finishing power. At Chelsea the ball is much slower to come to him depriving him of that space behind the defenders that players such as he or a young Michael Owen would exploit so wonderfully. The irony is Torres would have possibly succeeded in Mourinho's team with more direct balls with Shevchenko obviously more suited to his old managers' style of play. Neither however has been able to gel with Drogba and it may well be that he is moved on this Summer as the years are advancing in any respect.

On a separate note, a word must be saved for Sir Alex Ferguson. For all the cantankerousness, the moaning and the sulking he at nearly 70 years old is still proving to be the master. By their own standards under his stewardship, this is a poor ManYoo team yet their ability to get the job done remains incredible. This blog has always seen Ferguson as a great leader and manager but not necessarily a great tactician, games such as last night would suggest otherwise and it's possible that even at this age he is still improving. Assuming they can earn at least a draw at Old Trafford, only a probable tie with Schalke will stand in the way of an appearance in the final at Wembley. Manchester City fans will no doubt think otherwise ahead of their FA Cup semi final but it's just possible that if Mourinho could conjure up an El Classico semi final victory over Barca ala Inter of last season then the door might just be open for Ferguson to win another treble - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Masters and a Wounded Tiger

Golf is not a sport this blog has ventured into writing on yet but with the imminent start of the only tournament to rival The Open for history and stature in the Augusta Masters and with the continuing trials and tribulations of golf and even sport's most famous son, it is time to break that duck.

Woods' staggering fall from grace has been well documented and no further comment on those issues is required. What is however incredibly pertinent is just where all this has left a man who was previously so untouchable at the pinnacle of his sport for over a decade. In a sport where you can do nothing directly to affect your opponent (in tennis for instance your opponent can do nothing if you simply serve ace after ace), his domination over all others - and there have been many great opposing talents over this period - has bordered on the absurd. As much as Woods has done so much to change the physical aspect of golf with so much more focus on fitness and conditioning, Woods' dominance over these other seemingly mere mortals was nothing to do with the strength of his limbs but with the strength of his mind (Morpheus of The Matrix fame would certainly have approved). Ernie, Phil and co were already beaten before they stepped on the first tee box.

Tiger didn't hit the ball as far as some surprisingly enough and his driving could be wayward at best but on a Sunday when we needed to produce a magical long iron or drill a fourteen footer for par he would invariably get the job done. At the same time his playing partner would usually be staring down the barrel of seventy-five. It was this incredible ability to produce the goods when it mattered that set him apart and as a front runner he had no peers. Until the USPGA of 2009, Tiger had won fourteen from fourteen in Majors leading into the final day, it was at this point that his life also began to unravel probably without the slightest hint of coincidence. And here is the issue, the aura has gone.

It didn't really make any difference to his peers what Tiger did off the course or at least it shouldn't and knowing the way that most 'circles' are, it is difficult to believe that a large number of the PGA members had not heard of his indiscretions, so numerous and blatant were they. Despite all of this his image was fully intact with not a crack in his armour, after all in 2008 he had even won the US Open playing on one leg, the man was untouchable. Since the scandal, nothing has been the same.

It is possible that the above is being overplayed, he did after all play very well at the Masters last year with practically zero competitive golf under his belt. Tiger - much like Nick Faldo who was also derided for the same trait - is at least in golfing terms a perfectionist and always strives to improve and for that reason he has changed his swing yet again. Everyone knows that when you are half way through trying to fix something in your golf game, the last place you should be is on the course and that is universal at all levels. That being the case it is very hard to see Tiger being consistent enough to challenge seriously this week especially as the magic with the putter (his most incredible weapon to this blog's mind) does not seem to be present at the moment either.

It is easy to write Tiger off, many have before and many are now. It is unlikely he will ever dominate like he did before but he has still has it in him to win majors, the issue is whether the focus and desire is still burning at the level it was previously. Even for such a single minded competitor, the emotional toil of the past two years must have been immense.

And so to the tournament, one of the truly great sporting events of the year. Golf seems to be going through a transitional phase right now, a changing of the guard so to speak. The great players of recent years, Woods, Els, Goosen and Furyk amongst others are all seemingly in steady decline. Mickelson remains a great player but his youth is now firmly behind him. Others such as Adam Scott, Camilo Villegas and Luke Donald have not really risen to the top as they probably would have wished to. Huge paychecks for merely showing up and too many Titleist and Rolex adverts may be to blame.

All of this leaves a very open tournament with a host of hopefuls such as Dustin Johson, Hunter Mahan and the dual Irish threat of McIlroy and McDowell. Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood will join Phil Mickelson as the tournament favourites based on the current World rankings. It's a refreshingly open field but we'll plump for one of the old timers in Mickelson to win the Green Jacket one more time now that the shadow his nemesis Tiger Woods casts is so much smaller - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

PFA Player of the Year

Firstly it should be pointed out that with the voting done so early in the season it makes the whole thing a bit idiotic but that's the powers that be for you. Surely in the computerized age the vote could be staged at the end of the season, after all we can stage a general election in 24 hours.

Nevertheless we come to the candidates in question. Bale and Nasri should be discounted as much of Bale's popularity has been based on one night in the San Siro, fine player that he undoubtedly is. He hasn't done a great deal particularly in the Premiership and has been injured a fair amount also. Nasri has gone off the boil hugely since earlier in the piece and it is a season long vote after all.

Both Parker and Adam have had fine seasons for their respective clubs but the simple reality is neither would be good enough to hold down a place for the top 6 clubs and on that basis, neither are qualified to win the award as they are simply not the best player in their position in the country. That possibly sounds a little harsh but it's the simple truth and it is not to say they haven't performed admirably at their particular level.

That leaves us with Tevez and Vidic. Tevez has been prolific despite his assorted problems and Vidic has proved over the seasons to be as worthy a leader of the ManYoo backline as Jaap Stam was. On balance we'd go for Tevez although to be honest it's a pretty uninspiring bunch this year which is symptomatic of the quality in the league right now. A fit Van Der Vaart could have cruised to victory - No Nonsense

Monday, April 4, 2011

Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid

The Special One, the Portugeezer, whatever you wish to call him has never been anything but controversial. For that reason many will take delight in Real's defeat at the Bernebau on Saturday night by the less than glamorous Sporting Gijon. It was significant in two respects, firstly it brought to an end a run that may never be repeated, 150 (count them) home league games spread out over 9 years with 4 different clubs. It is a record that is hard to comprehend and a measure of the man. The second point is that any faint hopes (and they were indeed faint) of overtaking Barcelona in La Liga would now appear over. Stories regarding Mourinho's impending future at Real are now circulating with the issue of his fractious relationship with Jorge Valdano also coming to the fore.

For all the bluster and bravado, one thing has been constant in Mourinho's managerial career and that is success. What is also clear is that he is not and does not see himself ever as a long term appointment (for that reason he may be more suited to City than United), he is a hired gun plain and simple. Given Real Madrid's sustained short term policy towards managerial appointments, surely they should be a match made in heaven, so where has it all gone wrong?

The answer is that in reality it hasn't. After 30 rounds of La Liga, Real have amassed 73 points and lost only 3 matches. That is 7 points more than Sir Alex Ferguson has delivered so far this season at ManYoo whilst in the process playing a game more than Real. Their form has under any normal circumstances been that of champions, the problem is things aren't normal due to the brilliance of the current Barcelona team.

Mourinho cannot be held responsible for how fantastic Barcelona are. Yes he must shoulder the blame for Real's woeful 5-0 capitulation in the Nou Camp but I do not remember many people saying how terrible Madrid were that evening, they merely spoke about how incredible Barca were.

This blog is a fan of Mourinho and will make no bones about that but with a fantastic league record and Real into the quarter finals of the Champions League - the first time in many years, other than that 5-0 drubbing what has Mourinho really done wrong?

Real knew what they were getting with Mourinho. He is not always the easiest of people to deal with, he is confrontational bordering on rude or incredibly engaging when the situation dictates. His behaviour this year is entirely in line with everything we have seen before and Real's results are not poor, they are just not as good as Barcelona's. That regrettably is probably sufficient crime for the Madrid hierarchy to pull the trigger.

Whilst coming second best to Barcelona is not good enough for Real, it is no different in any major rivalry, AC and Inter, Spurs and Arsenal, ManYoo and Liverpool, Rangers and Celtic, Ajax and Feyenoord. Whilst Madrid would argue their stakes are much higher, to the protagonists in each instant they are not and the pressure is no less. If Real are going to fire Jose then who in all honesty do they think is going to make a better fist of beating Barcelona? If Wenger, Ferguson or Ottmar Hitzfeld had coached Real this season and not beaten Barca, would this have rendered them poor coaches suddenly? If Madrid had exercised more prudent and less reactionary policies in previous seasons, maybe they wouldn't have found themselves so far behind the Catalans that even an unprecedented outlay two summers ago - signing Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema and Xavi Alonso - couldn't fix - No Nonsense.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


So Richard Scudamore and the Premier League have spoken. There is going to be a crackdown on the 'unnacceptable' behaviour of both players and managers toward referees, all we can say is about time. This years' respect campaign is in tatters with Ferguson in particular utterly unrepentant. The question however will be whether the administrators are willing to actually show any teeth - we on this blog shan't hold our breath. Campaigns are also not really the solution.

Referees have always been targets in football, if not from a Fergie or a John Terry then from the stands, they have been seen as fair game and the introduction several years back of the fourth official has only given everyone even more incentive to do so.

Referees are not perfect and nor can they be expected to be - in any sport . Where football referees differ in terms of what they must endure comes from the traditional more tribal roots of the sport, hatred and abuse from the stands being the norm. The second difference is that modern football enjoys more television coverage than ever with cameras from almost every conceivable angle showing every instant in minute detail, judging those referees whilst simultaneously not giving them any access to that same technology when making their on pitch calls.

The behaviour of players toward the referees has been a problem for sometime but what is beginning to become more and more an issue is the behaviour of managers toward the officials. What cannot be ignored is the link between this behaviour and the increased intrusion of the media. Referees are now subject to the most incredible scrutiny with replays available instantly showing any incorrect decisions yet against this they are offered no protection from FIFA.

Coverage of modern football allows, in fact demands instant interviews with the protagonists, both players and managers. Players do not typically get fired because of results but managers certainly do and therefore any contentious decisions which are seen as result changers will be met with both barrels by aggrieved managers having a live microphone thrust in their faces five minutes after the final whistle.

FIFA and the national associations get rich from television rights, football produces great drama and the reactions of the managers pitch side contributes much to that. However, whilst providing this entertainment these same people open themselves up to all manner of disciplinary action in most cases by simply stating how they feel and how they saw a particular incident. For the matter to be remedied to any satisfaction, the issue needs to become infinitely more balanced. Several steps would solve the issue both quickly and completely.

Firstly, video technology can no longer be ignored. It has been integrated successfully into all manner of sports including rugby, tennis, cricket and American Football. Coincidentally all of these sports generally treat the officials with a large amount of respect.

FIFA should at the same time introduce a simple rule where the only player on the pitch who can approach the referee or the linesman be the the team captain. This is an idea also mooted by the legendary BBC broadcaster John Motson. A month or two of chaos in terms of yellow and red cards would be a small price to pay for long term behaviour on the football pitch more akin to what we see on the rugby pitch, the players would quickly learn to respect the rules.

The third piece to what is not a complicated puzzle is the accountability of referees. It is almost as if FIFA do not wish to potentially embarrass their officials by making them accountable for their decisions to the media. If video technology were available then there should be little need for match officials to be subject to such vilification as they are now. That being the case, officials could be made available for post match interviews in the same way that the players and managers are. Giving referees the chance to explain their reasoning and decision process would do much to defuse the anger and mistrust that is arising on a weekly basis.

There can be no defence for the likes of Ferguson recently and Mourino many years back at half time in Chelsea's game at the Nou Camp questioning the integrity of referees. Now whilst they should be sanctioned accordingly for that, it seems that the solution for many of the problems actually lie with the administrators. Campaigns are all very nice and they make for good sound bites but the use of technology and access to referees after matches would alleviate the problems with the minimum of fuss - no nonsense.