Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mancini's Priorities.

Manchester City suffered a possibly terminal reverse in Naples last night meaning that their Champions League progress is now out of their hands even if they were to beat Bayern at home next month.

Much is being made of the negative approach that Mancini took again whilst travelling in Europe as he had in Munchen. City have swept all before them in the Premiership this season by playing a brand of attacking football that has been fantastic to watch. Against Napoli last night, much as against Bayern they were defensive and ponderous.

One must initally again question Mancini's tactics and selection again last night. For a team looking to play on the counter attack, the sight of the pacey Aguero, Nasri and even Adam Johnson sitting on the bench looks odd to say the least. Dzeko and Balotelli so far has been a fairly untried partnership, it seemed a strange occasion to try it out for size.

What one must question however is how motivated Mancini is to to progress in the CL. No one is suggesting he wants to be knocked out but one gets the sense that his priority is the Premiership without question, especially as that would directly supplant their neighbours. It is also a far more realistic prospect.

Focusing on the Champions League is usually foolhardy, Chelsea have endured a (false) obsession with the CL which in apart from possibly a couple of seasons where they were decent outside bets they simply weren't good enough to win it. That focus had been removed from the league where they have won only one Premiership of the last five. In the previous decade, Arsenal competed in the CL every year and Chelsea in nearly all yet neither of them won it once, the league remains the bread and butter.

Mancini knows the strength of the CL this season having seen Bayern up close and knowing that the likes of Real and Barca remain in wait. A huge dose of luck is required to win it whereas the consistency they are showing in the Premiership could already be enough to clinch the trophy they so desire.

Juggling Europe and domestic matches is a tough ask. The likes of Ferguson at ManYoo have becomes masters of it other than the occasional blip. Mancini knows that his players in many instances lack that know how yet of raising themselves twice a week and it is for that reason that the likes of Aguero were on the bench last night. Spurs suffered to a degree last season with their CL participation and at their own level, Stoke are having a tough time balancing the Premiership and the Europa League.

It is often both a cliche and a lie that teams are happy to go out of cup competitions and often it can cause a loss of momentum in the league. This blog is quite sure that Mancini would love a quarter final against Real Madrid next March but nevertheless it is not his priority, it is simply nice if it comes along. Should City win the league this season, no one will remember this night in Naples, the Champions League can wait for a season or two but the Premiership cannot - No Nonsense.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Premiership Strikes Back

There's nothing like a week of International friendlies to make fans truly appreciate their domestic leagues and this week was no different.

Normal service is resumed on Saturday lunchtime when Arsenal are the visitors to Carrow Road in a potentially entertaining fixture that will do much to tell us how real the Gunners' recent revival is.

Everton and Wolves should play out a fairly mundane fixture at Goodison whilst Manchester City will attempt to extend their unbeaten run against the even bigger upstarts from St James Park. Stoke and QPR both occupy slots in mid table but both will covet a win that would move them away from the lower end of the table.

The next three fixtures are all potential relegation 'six pointers' with Sunderland and their visitors Fulham enjoying less than auspicious starts to the season. West Brom host a rejuvenated Bolton whilst the grim reaper will almost certainly be attending DW Stadium where the Latics host chicken mad Blackburn.

The late kick off sees the champions travelling to Wales to take on newly promoted Swansea in a fixture which undoubtedly crowns their return to the big time. ManYoo will be keen not to lose further ground to their increasingly noisy neighbours and Wayne Rooney should be raring to go after his week in the international sin bin.

The game of the weekend sees two sides with lofty ambitions who are both under mounting pressure. AVB's silent revolution at Chelsea has come off the rails in recent week and the lack of discipline within the camp must be addressed. The team will hope that the encouraging signs from Fernando Torres in the past month will not prove to be a false dawn especially now that Didier Drogba is now in turn suspended.

Since the arrival of first Abramovich's cheque book and then Mourinho, Chelsea have always been associated with steel and a miserly defence. That steel has turned into combustible magnesium of late and the displays have instead been simply miserable.

For Liverpool, Dalglish has proved a master of the media so far and whilst Arsenal so far this season have been put through the ringer by the media, it is worth noting they have the same amount of points as Liverpool and both trail Spurs in the all or nothing chase for fourth place - we do not class Newcastle as anything more than a passing fad.

The problem with Dalglish's side is that other than the excellent Suarez and the potential of a fit Gerrard they look a fairly ordinary team. Stewart Downing has plied his trade at Middlesborough and Aston Villa previously for good reason - he is not good enough. The money spent on Jordan Henderson also looks increasingly suspect and something must be done to get Andy Carroll fully fit because he looks entirely lumbering and predictable upfront so far this season.

Spurs will again fancy their chances at home on Monday night against an Aston Villa side that again  hardly fires the imagination. Spurs look genuine contenders for fourth place and another home win could see them move into third place if results go their way. For Villa who currently occupy eighth place that is more or less where they will end the season, if ever there was a club it is pointless to support it is them.

This blog will stick its' head up and predict home wins for Everton, City, Stoke, West Brom, Chelsea and Spurs. Arsenal will enjoy an away victory at Norwich and ManYoo will win at Swansea. This just leaves the Sunderland versus Fulham and Wigan versus Blackburn fixtures, both of which will be draws that suit nobody.

Some early team news is that Rio Ferdinand will not be available for ManYoo due to being too busy on Twitter ranting about Sepp Blatter - No Nonsense.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Suffistikation of the Modern Day Soccer Media

There is little doubt that Sky Sports has revolutionised football coverage from top to bottom. What was once a thirty minutes a week highlight reel is now a 24 hour wall to wall media blast with glitzy presentation with graphics and cameras and microphones that pick up everything apart from John Terry's on pitch soundbites.

Despite all this and despite much attempts to the contrary, there is still one part of football and in particular the coverage that refuses to update itself and join the media revolution that is the 21st Century. That is the players who are interviewed and the plethora of ex players and failed managers forging careers as pundits that litter the global coverage to saturation point.

Cliche has almost always been exclusively owned by the professional footballing world. From the heady days of Ron Atkinson's weekly reference to it as 'being a game of two halves' (thanks for pointing that out Ron) to Frank Lampard's seemingly constant 'holding up of his hands' (is he a French soldier in disguise we ask?) and his constant awards of 'fair play' to the opposition for 'setting their stall out', it is ingrained in the psyche of all footballing men it seems.

The BBC was the first to attempt to update matters with first of all the ever slick and debonair Des Lynam who would try and coax intelligent utterances from the mouths of the punditry. The baton was then passed on to Gary Lineker who despite an initially smug outlook, forged a decent back line partnership with Alan Hansen who has attempted to cross the border to the thinking man's point of view. Most of this was unfortunately offset by Mark Lawrensen's camp and high pitched screeching. As for Garth Crooks, well there is little to say as he's already said it twenty times over.

The likes of Ruud Gullit were added to the mix and talk of sexy football set the news wires buzzing, could pundits actually be clever and cool? Further continental and cultured guests such as Clarence Seedorf were added for the last world cup, the BBC has always at least tried.

It is regrettable however for the BBC that with the exception of the World Cup they have declined to actually show any live football and so we have predominantly been left with what is served up by Sky Sports. The writer of this blog has not resided in the UK for nearly ten years now so we apologise for any 'historical' references.

One of the most popular shows that Sky Sports put out was Soccer Saturday which in broad terms revolved around the excellent Jeff Stelling (now of Countdown fame no less) coaxing grunts out of the likes of George Best, Charlie Nicholas, Phil Thompson and Rodney Marsh. It was to put it mildly 'cliche heaven' and when the likes of Paul Merson were invited on to the team it simply got worse. It remained however strangely compelling viewing.

It would however be 'offside' to suggest that football suffers exclusively from dullness or repetition in its' programming. Rugby coverage as an example suffers from many ex players working as pundits that you could mistake for robotic orangutans whose batteries have run down, it is tough viewing indeed. Martin Brundle's constant references to 'new boots' in Formula 1 is an example of great tedium at work from an otherwise excellent broadcaster.

Cricket however offers an example of how commentary and opinion can be delivered in a modern, well paced and intelligent manner. It may be that the relative pedestrian pace of a cricket match forces the commentators to do their jobs in an entertaining manner and it is no coincidence that going back to the days of Jonners on BBC4's Test Match Special that many of the most memorable commentating moments have come from this one sport.

The epitome of the modern day pundit would have to be Jamie Redknapp. Relatively young, good looking, likeable and inoffensive to both sexes. Young Jamie however has become the subject of the 'literally' campaign so championed by the excellent journalists at Guardian Football.

Poor Jamie whilst wishing to appear articulate and cultured is actually belying a complete incomprehension for the English language as shown up by the 'Jamie Literally Watch' that has emerged. Some brief but excellent samples are shown here.

'These balls now - they literally explode of your feet'.

'He's literally left Ben Haim for dead there'.

'David Silva literally floats around the pitch'.

In the first two instances we would ask if anyone either saw an ambulance or a police car and in the case of David Silva, did anyone call NASA?

Now whilst it's a shame to pick on Redknapp Jr for these harmless gaffes, it is unfortunately a fantastic example of the stereotype that is the British footballer and especially one that is trying to appear in the broadest of terms 'not fick'.

To say that there are no decent pundits would be unfair, the likes of Graeme Souness, Graeme Le Saux and Ruud Gullit mentioned earlier speak eloquently and with purpose. Some of the shows on Radio Five Live with the likes of the excellent Pat Nevin show thoughtful purpose and provide excellent considered comment.

For every Pat Nevin however there are a multiple of the likes that we are treated to here in Asia. There is a phrase in the financial markets which is called 'filth' which stands for 'Failed in London, try Hong Kong'. Whilst not wishing to disparage this region (not the point at all) it does seem that anyone who cannot get a gig on Sky Sports uses Asia's unquenchable thirst for all things Premiership to set themselves up with pundits' jobs in Asia. We truly get the dregs out here.

The likes of John Beresford, John Burridge, the entirely dreadful Carlton Palmer (he's as bad a pundit as he was a player) and the likes of the likeable but awful Bryan Robson and Lee Sharpe are prime examples of pundits with a cliche dictionary stuck on loop.

There is almost nothing intelligent that can be derived from their commentary. The likes of Burridge and Palmer attempt to set themselves up as some kind of football punditry 'shock jocks' when the reality is they merely appear as idiots as they spew forth cliche after cliche in loud suits with shoulder pads. It is like 80's soap Dynasty being re-set in the Isle of Man with megaphones.

Football coverage will no doubt continue to go from strength to strength with the new HD format, 3D being introduced, multiple angle views and super slo mo. It is oft said that human beings do not like change however, especially those of a certain age. Fortunately for those of that ilk, the professional footballer who has evolved so quickly physically is resisting all evolution mentally and some things in football programming will always remain the same - No Nonsense.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Banged to Rights

Sport in general and cricket in particular was given a shot in the arm yesterday when Mr Justice Cook handed down custodial sentences to the three cricketers and the agent (we use the term loosely) involved in the no ball betting scandal that has done so much to taint the name of cricket even further.

Pakistan it seems has so often been at the centre of these controversies but it would be churlish to suggest that it is restricted only to this one nation. South Africa had its' own crisis years ago with the Hanse Cronje affair and there have also been incidents including Herschelle Gibbs. Even the mighty Australian duo of Mark Waugh and Shane Warne becoming embroiled in scandal over information they supposedly passed to an Indian bookmaker.

As with most matters such as this - whether it be doping or any other form of systemic cheating - what we see is the tip of the iceberg and one sadly has to assume that the practise is much more ingrained than we would like to believe. Only a select few in cricket earn large sums of money which leaves a lot of extremely vulnerable sporstmen for the fixers to prey on.

What is refreshing this time - whilst not suggesting we take pleasure at the imprisonment of others - is that instead of simply handing down sporting bans, the full force of the law has been used. It is fraud pure and simple and the culprits must go to jail.

The press has done much to trumpet the need for 'white collar criminals' to go to jail for various heinous offences committed ranging from insider trading to sub prime mortgage selling. The fall out from the 2008 financial crisis has been huge and crimes that have a financial impact rather than say physical theft or violence now have a very high profile.

The impact of the actions of these four is no different. Huge sums of money are bet on cricket and by pre fixing the results you are defrauding those participants as well as those paying to watch the game live or those who have paid for Sports Channel subscriptions.

The write of this blog used to be an avid watcher of the Tour De France but no longer bothers as the credibility of the results cannot remotely be trusted. Every time now a freak cricket result occurs be it a batting collapse or simply a few too many wides, eyebrows will be raised and questions will be asked.

Sport is no longer just that, it is in many cases a mutli million dollar international business and therefore those that commit fraud must be subject to the same criminal sanctions that the rest of the world is subject to - No Nonsense.