Archive for June, 2010

What now for England?

June 28, 2010 11 comments

It seems that just about everybody from an irate Chris Waddle to a distraught Alan Shearer has had their say on England’s disastrous World Cup campaign with accusations of laziness, of a lack of desire, of an absence of skill, of tactical ineptitude, of… well the list goes on and on. One could write a thesis on England’s failings and the potential reasons for them, but that is an article for the Phil McNultys of the world to write. Instead, let’s look at what is next for the England team.

In the aftermath of the 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany, seething fans and pundits alike speculated on the future of Fabio Capello as England manager. The issue divided opinion with some saying that £6 million a year should buy you better, and others saying that he is still the man for the job. It is always easy to blame the manager when things go wrong, especially in England where we love to be able to point the finger at one man. Indeed, it would be reasonable to argue that it is actually part of a manager’s job nowadays. Capello refused, rightly, to enter in to discussion regarding his future after the game simply saying that he would speak to Club England Chairman Sir Dave Richards the next morning to see if he had the unequivocal backing of the FA.

That meeting came and went this morning and Capello did not get the backing he had hoped for. Instead, the FA opted for a two week cooling off period during which they will take stock of the situation and make a decision from there. This is a much better idea than simply making a snap decision in the heat of the moment and the FA are to be commended for this. One just hopes that they make the right decision. So, the question is: what is the right decision?

Capello must certainly shoulder some of the blame for England’s poor performance at the World Cup. When he took over as England Manager in December 2007, he made a point of assuring us that players would be picked on form and that if you were injured or recently had been, you would not be selected, even if you were better than Maradona. He also promised not to select players who had not been playing at club level. The Italian backed away from this admirable stance, opting to bring Jamie Carragher out of international retirement, taking Shaun Wright Phillips over Adam Johnson and leaving Michael Dawson and Darren Bent at home. This was mistake number one. Once in South Africa, pride and stubbornness seemed to get in the way of common sense and tactical nous on more than one occasion. The introduction of Emile Heskey for Jermain Defoe with England 4-1 down against Germany may never be matched in terms of ability to bewilder fans. Capello has failed to solve the puzzle that is Gerrard/Lampard and Wayne Rooney looked disgruntled to the point where he may as well have still been on the plane judging by his performances. Joe Cole was given next to no time on the pitch despite his ability to unlock defences and Peter Crouch has probably forgotten what grass even looks like. Capello looked clueless against Algeria and came across as deluded yesterday when he claimed his side had played well. A man in denial, yes. A man worried about his job, most definitely.

Is it the end of the England road for Gerrard and Capello? (This image is the property of The Guardian)

It is however, incorrect to lay the blame solely at Capello’s door. England’s so-called Golden Generation has now failed to deliver at three consecutive World Cups, one European Championships and even failed to qualify for Euro 2008. In that time, England has had three managers. The only common denominator is the players. Players such as Lampard, Gerrard, Ferdinand and Ashley Cole amongst others look top class week in, week out at club level and perform admirably in the Champions League, which is a much higher standard of football than the World Cup. This time round, there appears to have been a lack of desire and fight and the players look unhappy with something. It may be Capello’s authoritarian approach? It may be something else and no doubt we will get to find out when someone releases an auto-biography. Perhaps the Premiership is not as great as we are all led to believe and so the players are not either? Perhaps our expectations are overly lofty? Whatever the case, no player can come out of this with his head held high and as John Terry stated in his post-match interview after the dismal display against Germany, the players need to take a long, hard look at themselves. JT would do well to look in the mirror himself. No one seems to be able to put their finger on exactly what the problem is with England, if they could they would be earning £6 million a year.

So what now? Removing Capello and his staff would cost the FA north of £10 million following their astonishing decision to remove the break clause in the Italian’s contract two weeks before the squad departed for South Africa. They may therefore be forced to stick with him for financial reasons. This would, however, be a blessing in disguise. If one takes a look at the situation and asks the question: who would England get to replace Capello?, it quickly becomes apparent that there is no outstanding candidate and Capello is not suddenly a bad manager after four games. Such a suggestion would be melodramatic even for us English. The real issue lies in the squad. There is simply too much deadwood in there and too many players who are not bothered about playing for England (anybody remember Carragher’s I’d rather miss for England than Liverpool comment?). Now is the time to start to bring through the next generation of England stars ready for the next World Cup; the Walcotts, Dawsons, Harts and Huddlestones. This needs to be done now so the players can gain invaluable experience before the tournament takes place. If England has to sacrifice the Euros as a result, then so be it. Many of you may not like this next statement but the fact of the matter is that if Capello and the FA want an example of how to do this, they could do worse than cast admiring glances at Jogi Löw and the DFB.

Categories: Football

Les Bleus: Qu’est-ce qui s’est passé?

June 23, 2010 2 comments

There has been much criticism of the World Cup so far with many saying that it has been, well, a bit boring. Such critics point to a lack of goals, annoying vuvuzelas and overly negative tactics, so who would provide some entertainment? Enter France.

Raymond Domenech’s team was not one of the pre-tournament favourites, but a side that contained the likes of Patrice Evra, Florent Malouda, Franck Ribéry and Hugo Lloris was certainly expected to progress past the group stage. If truth be told, their World Cup campaign was a disaster from day one. The opening day of the tournament saw them turn in a lacklustre performance in a drab 0-0 draw with Oscar Tabarez’s Uruguay and that was the high point of France’s tournament.

Raymond Domenech has always straddled the line between enigma and laughing stock, mainly due to his open admission that he uses astrology during team selection (he apparently mistrusts Scorpios) and he was heavily criticised before he had even boarded the plane to South Africa. His decision to leave the likes of Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Kevin Gameiro at home was viewed with bemusement and the abject performances of Sidney Govou and Yoann Gourcuff in the opening game did little to ease the pressure on the manager. If Les Bleus were poor against Uruguay, then they were truly abject against Javier Aguirre’s Mexico. It became clear as that game went on that something was not quite right in the French camp. Quality players who give their all week in week out at club level were clearly not trying and at no point was this better illustrated than when Patrice Evra seemingly let Pablo Barrera ghost past him and surge in to the box where a lazy tackle from Eric Abidal conceded a penalty. Mexico deservedly won the game 2-0 and it was clear that a story was unfolding.

The next day, we found out what that story was. Nicolas Anelka had been sent home following a row with Domenench with French sports magazine L’Equipe claiming that the Chelsea striker had called the manager ‘a stupid son of a bitch.’ Whether the decision to expel Anelka from the squad was the decision of Domenech or whether the French Football Federation (FFF) went above his head and did it, seems to be unclear and a matter of much debate. The consequences of this action however, were undoubtedly disastrous. The following day, the players ‘downed tools’ and refused to train. France’s World Cup had gone from poor to catastrophic. Patrice Evra almost came to blows with a fitness coach, a member of the FFF resigned there and then and Domenech looked like a rabbit in headlights. Chaos reigned. Domenech attempted to calm the situation by releasing a statement, although again, it seemed more like the action of the FFF.

A much-changed France team went through the motions against the host nation yesterday, eventually losing 2-1 and they are already back in France, where the finger-pointing has begun in earnest.

The captain of the sunken ship, Patrice Evra, has said that he was dropped for the South Africa match ‘for no valid reason’ and he has vowed to lift the lid on the whole World Cup debacle. The issue has been deemed so serious that the French government is having its say with Nicolas Sarkozy due to meet Thierry Henry in Paris tomorrow.

Domemech is of course the outgoing French manager with the FFF having announced the appointment of Laurent Blanc prior to the World Cup. Perhaps this was a major mistake, but whatever the case, the behaviour of the French players cannot be condoned. They had the honour of representing a great nation in the world’s biggest sporting event and they disgraced that nation as well as themselves. Florent Malouda, obviously looking at the situation in the cold light of day, seems to have realised this, stating that ‘our behaviour was not exemplary and I would like to apologise to the fans.’ Other countries have teetered on the edge of such a disaster before, most notably the Netherlands, but nobody has imploded on such a monumental scale as France has this time (at least not that I recall). For the likes of Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Patrice Evra and Florent Malouda, that may well have been their last shot at winning a World Cup and one cannot help but feel that when they look back on South Africa 2010 in years to come, they may just think that they cut off their noses to spite their own faces.

Categories: Football

The Vuvuzela: Like Marmite

June 14, 2010 1 comment

Since the World Cup kicked off last Friday (11th June), only two things have elicited more discussion than the football itself: Adidas’s new Jabulani football and the seemingly ubiquitous vuvuzela.

The old Marmite adverts used to end with the slogan “You either love it or you hate it,” and the vuvuzela seems to have a similar ability to polarise opinion. Some argue that it is part of South African football culture and so brings local colour and atmosphere to proceedings. Mick McCarthy, commentating for the BBC said “How can they (ban them) ? This is a great atmosphere. Others are of a very different opinion, describing them as “annoying” and even, somewhat melodramatically, “satanic.” ITV’s Peter Drury likened the sound to the world’s “loudest, angriest traffic jam.”

The authorities know that the metre-long plastic horn is commonplace in South African football stadia and if they did not know beforehand, they should have following last summer’s Confederations Cup, when Spain’s Xabi Alonso called for them to be banned. World Cup organising chief Danny Jordaan has now gone on record saying that if there is a case for banning them, they will. One must ask, if there is such a case, why was it not considered before?

In fact, a more pertinent question may be, “what is the case for banning them?” For many people it is simply the annoyance factor. They cannot stand the constant drone emitted by the vuvuzela and claim that it reduces their viewing pleasure. For players, like Xabi Alonso, it is that they hamper players’ attempts to communicate with each other. More importantly however, there are health-related arguments. The sound level produced by the instrument has been measured at a whopping 127 decibels and they have been linked to noise-induced hearing loss. By way of comparison, a chainsaw produces a sound of around 100 decibels. If you are stood in the middle of a group of people blowing relentlessly on a vuvuzela, it cannot be good for the ears, particularly without ear plugs.

South African fan with a vuvuzela

There is some dispute of the origin of the vuvuzela. Famous Kaizer Chiefs fan Freddie Maake claims to have invented the instrument in the 1960s and that it was originally made out of aluminium. The story goes that he was often refused entry to stadia as security felt it could be used as a weapon and so he looked to find a company that would manufacture them out of plastic. He succeeded and they have become a firm fixture at football matches in South Africa, particularly since the early 1990s. In short, they are now part of South African football culture regardless of how they came in to being. There is also the small matter of money. The vuvuzela trade is expected to be worth around £2 million during the World Cup. Banning them were put a stop to this lucrative trade.

So do you love it or hate it? Do they bring unique, local colour to the tournament in much the same way as ticker tape did in Argentina 32 years ago? Or, are they nothing more than a highly annoying health risk? You decide.

Categories: Football

LT at the Jets: blast off or crash landing?

June 9, 2010 2 comments

Few stars in the NFL galaxy shine brighter than that of LaDainian Tomlinson. The 30 year old Texan is one of the greatest half-backs to ever grace the league. In his nine year career, Tomlinson has notched up 12,490 yards on 4.3 yards per carry (YPC) to put himself 8th on the all-time list of rushers by yards and second only to the great Emmitt Smith for career rushing touchdowns. In addition to this, the famous number 21 has started his own record book: NFL record for single season touchdowns (31), single season rushing touchdowns (28), most points in an NFL season (186), most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (18), most consecutive games with more than one touchdown (8), most consecutive games with three touchdowns (3)… One could go on but you get the picture.

The number five pick in the 2001 draft has achieved all of these feats in San Diego with the Chargers, the team which took him out of Texas Christian University. LT will forever be a legend for his achievements on the West Coast, even if he did fail to deliver the Vince Lombardi Trophy. However, all good things must come to an end (or so Nelly Furtado tells us) and on February 22nd 2010, the Chargers decided to release Tomlinson.

There is no doubt that Tomlinson’s output has diminished in recent years following a series of ankle problems. The 2009 season saw him fail to rack up 1000 yards in a season for the first time in his career as he posted 730 and his YPC of 3.3 was also a career low. He did, however, still plough his way in to the end zone an impressive 12 times.

Following his release, there was a media frenzy as the press speculated on where the affable running back would end up. Many franchises expressed an interest in taking Tomlinson, but the press got their answer on March 14th when he signed with Rex Ryan’s New York Jets. Tomlinson’s stock has fallen somewhat in recent years following injury problems and the comparatively ‘meagre’ $2.6 million a year guaranteed salary is a fine illustration of the point, but make no mistake, LT is still capable and raring to go for his new team. But is New York a good fit for him?

The Jets were the surprise package of last season’s NFL as they reached the AFC Championship game where they lost to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets played a run heavy offense all year as Ryan looked to ease in rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Thomas Jones carried the bulk of the load, clocking up a career-high 1402 yards in the process. Shonn Greene emerged in the postseason and proved that he is a more than capable running back. Jones has now departed for pastures new (Kansas) and this leaves room for Tomlinson in a run-first offense.

On the face of it, people may see a move to the Jets as a step down for the 2006 NFL MVP. Sure, the Jets beat the Chargers in the playoffs last season, but the men from California have been perennial contenders for a good few years now. Under Head Coach Norv Turner however, they have become a pass-first team. One of the reasons LT was so prolific in his early years in San Diego was the fact that he WAS the Chargers’ offense. The emergence of Philip Rivers as an elite quarterback has changed that and with top calibre receivers like Vince Jackson and Antonio Gates at your disposal, why not pass the football?

LaDainain Tomlinson was therefore forced to seek a fresh challenge. He is no longer capable of being an every down back (an opinion shared by NFL great Deon ‘Primetime’ Sanders) as his body simply will not allow it, but he still brings plenty to the party. He has an uncanny knack for finding the end zone and can spot gaps in a defence like no other back in the league. As Ryan and his coaching staff look to continue to bring Sanchez along slowly but surely, the Jets will continue to run the ball more than any other team in the league. Sharing the load with the emerging Greene should allow Ryan to get the most of LT and if he can, it may just prove to be one of the shrewdest acquisitions in NFL history.

LT in action for the San Diego Chargers (This image is the property of Sports Illustrated)

LaDainian Tomlinson

Name: LaDainian Tramayne Tomlinson

Place of Birth: Rosebud, Texas

Date of Birth: June 23rd 1979

Height: 5”10 (1.78m)

Weight: 221 lbs (100 kg)

College: Texas Christian University

NFL Draft: 2001 Number 5: San Diego Chargers

Career Rushing Yards: 12,490

Career Receiving Yards: 3955

Career Rushing TDs: 138

Career Receiving TDs: 15

Awards: AP NFL MVP (2006), PFWA NFL MVP (2006), Walter Payton Man of the Year (2006), Best NFL Player ESPY Award (2007), Best Record-Breaking ESPY Award (2007), Best Male Athlete ESPY (2007), NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, 5 time Pro Bowl selection (2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), 4 time First Team All-Pro (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007)

Categories: American Football

Who will win the World Cup?

June 6, 2010 6 comments

The World Cup is now less than one week away! The question on everybody’s lips is ‘Who will win it?’ Will the effervescent Diego Maradona lift the trophy as a manager just as he did as a player in 1986? Will Brazil’s new-found blend of efficiency and flair net them their sixth title? Can England finally deliver? Can France go one better than last time out and win the trophy? Will the Germans prove everybody wrong yet again? Can Marcelo Lippi’s men become the first nation to successfully defend the trophy since Brazil in 1962? Can the Netherlands finally shake the tag of perennial underachievers? Can Cristiano Ronaldo help deliver Portugal’s first major trophy or will Spain justify their place as pre-tournamnet favourites? Maybe you think another country will win, somebody unexpected. At Sport Report, we want your opinion so get voting!

Categories: Football

Boxing in Mexico: A curious tradition

June 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I was recently talking to a couple of friends about Mexican boxing and I realised that it is worthy of an article. After all, boxing in Mexico really is something of a phenomenon.

No country has a more storied tradition in the sport. Only the United States has produced more world champions than Mexico, which boasts 109 and among these 109 are some of the greatest fighters to ever grace a ring. I use the term fighter as in Mexico, you do not box, you fight. There is a certain macho pride attached to being a fighter and if you do not show a fighter’s heart, you will struggle to get the respect and adoration of the public (ask Oscar de la Hoya). Mexico is a country that describes Barrera vs. Morales as simply una gran pelea (a big fight). In the United States, it is a ‘fight for the ages.’ So what is it that makes Mexico such a force in boxing when they fail to make much of an impression in other sports? In all honesty, it is something of a mystery. Many argue that the fighting instincts can be traced back to the Incas and Mayans, and that certain ethnic groups such as the Tarahumara show a particular prowess. Others claim that growing up in severe poverty engenders a mental toughness and fighting spirit that a comfortable lifestyle does not. Neither theory is satisfactory. The former is virtually impossible to prove and whilst the latter may be proved by the likes of Erik Morales, it is just as emphatically disproved by Marco Antonio Barrera and his law degree. Whatever the reason for the country’s success in the sport, we should be thankful. With so many great fighters, it is difficult to pick out individuals. Nonetheless, I am going to try to provide a list of the greatest ever Mexican fighters… here we go!

1) Julio César Chávez 107(86) – 6(4) – 2

Number one on the list is the only place that is not up for debate really. The word legend is much overused in sport nowadays, but when talking about Chávez, feel free to use it liberally. El César del Boxeo was a three weight world champion who enjoyed demigod status in his homeland. How many boxers could pack 132,247 spectators into the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City? That is what Chávez did in February 1993 when he fought Greg Haugen. Chávez was a remarkably tough fighter without an ounce of quit in him and in many ways embodies what people associate with boxing when they think of Mexico. In a long and illustrious career, Chávez racked up a string of wins over top fighters including: Edwin Rosario, Ruben Castillo, Greg Haugen, Hector Camacho and, who can forget, Meldrick Taylor in Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year for 1990 as he snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a 12th round KO of the American when trailing of the two of the three judges scorecards. Unfortunately, the greatest Mexican boxer of all time was a shell of his former self when he fought Oscar de la Hoya and it was sad to see the death of a legend as another was born. Nevertheless, in a 115 fight career Chávez reeled off 107 victories and in the process left us with years of memories to cherish. Unarguably the greatest fighter Mexico has ever produced.

2) Erik Morales 49(34) – 6(2) *

The decision to place Morales at 2 may spark much debate as people cite the fact that he lost twice to Barrera, but in my opinion Morales beat a higher level of opposition in general and often won in convincing fashion. The man known as El Terrible began his professional career at the tender age of 16 in poverty stricken surroundings in Tijuana. For Morales it was the ring or the narcotics trade and fortunately, he loved to fight. Like Chávez, Morales is a three weight world champion and will forever be remembered for his barnstorming trilogy with arch nemesis Barrera. Morales lost the series 2-1, but most observers felt it could have gone either way. Morales is still active after a two and a half year hiatus, but if truth be told, his best days are behind him. In his prime, Morales scored wins over Barrera, Manny Pacquiao, Paulie Ayala, Wayne McCullough, Junior Jones, Daniel Zaragoza and Kevin Kelley. Morales was again a typical Mexican fighter who preferred a fight in a phone booth to a tactical tussle. That said, his boxing skills were always underrated and he could use them if needed. It is primarily for this reason that he is at number 2.

3) Juan Manuel Marquez 50(37) – 5(0) *

Marquez is perhaps the most underrated of the fighters being discussed here and has suffered from living in the shadow of Barrera and Morales. Dinamita became a star in his own right after a thrilling draw with Manny Pacquiao in May 2004. Marquez was floored 3 times in the opening round before dominating all night on the counter, rocking Pacquiao on several occasions. He was unlucky not to get the decision. He too has gone on to become a three weight world champion and holds impressive wins over Juan Diaz, Joel Casamayor, Marco Antonio Barrera and Rocky Juarez, as well as the draw with Pacquiao. Marquez is still going      strong and could yet add to his legacy.

4) Ricardo López 51(38) – 0

This may come as a surprise to many but López was genuine elite class and had he boxed in a more glamorous weight division, (he was a minimumweight) he might get the credit he deserves. Finito, as he was known, is one of very few fighters to retire with his 0 still in tact. He went to Japan and knocked out Hideyuki Ohashi in his own backyard to capture the WBC Minimumweight strap, a title which he defended 20 times. Later moved up to Light-Flyweight and won the IBF world title, which he went on to defend twice before retiring. López was a tremendously skilled boxer with a solid punch and is more than worthy of his place on the list.

5) Marco Antonio Barrera 65(43) – 7(1) *

The Baby Faced Assassin started boxing for pay at 15 and defies the stereotype that boxers come from deprived backgrounds. Barrera was raised in a middle-class family and had aspirations to become a lawyer (he holds a law degree from La Salle University in Mexico City). He instead chose to fight for a living and he has done well out of it with millions of dollars in the bank and a legacy that very few can match. Another three weight world champion, Barrera shows a great chin, good punch and a lust for blood (all traits loved by Mexican fight fans), but he is also capable of utilising boxing skills if the occasion calls for it. He is shoe-in for Canastota (boxing’s hall of fame), but is now coming to the end of a career that has seen wins over Morales (twice), Naseem Hamed, Kevin Kelley, Johnny Tapia, Kennedy McKinney and Paulie Ayala.

Honourable mentions

Salvador Sanchez 44(32) – 1(0)

Best known for beating the previously unstoppable power puncher Wilfredo Gomez by 8th round TKO, as well as a win over Azumah Nelson (TKO15). His life and career were cut tragically short by a car crash at the age of 23. Sadly, we will never know how good he could have been.

Israel Vazquez 44(32) – 5(4) *

Will always be remembered for four fight series with Rafael Marquez. Held the IBF and WBC Super-Bantamweight world titles and boasts wins over Rafael Marquez (twice), Jhonny Gonzalez, Oscar Larios, Jorge Julio, José Luis Valbuena and Ivan Hernandez. Typical blood and guts warrior from Mexico City, but his career looks to be over now as scar tissue has reduced his face to something like a blood-filled balloon ready to pop at any given moment.

Carlos Zaraté 66(63) – 4(2)

One of the sport’s greatest ever punchers with 63 KOs in 66 victories. Former WBC Bantamweight champion but failed to add the Super-Bantamweight version after losing to Jeff Fenech and Daniel Zaragoza. Best remembered for 15 round Split Decision loss to Lupé Pintor in which the scorecards varied wildly from 143-142 in favour of Pintor, to 145-133 for Zaraté. Lost his biggest fight against Wilfredo Gomez after taking four trips to the scales to make weight. Does however, boast wins over Paul Ferreri and Alfonso Zamora.

Rafael Marquez 39(35) – 5(4) *

Has lived in his brother’s (Juan Manuel) shadow for a long time, but he is a top class fighter in his own right. Another who typifies all that is good about Mexican boxing and who packs a punch capable of turning a fight, something he did against Tim Austin in the 8th round to win the IBF Bantamweight title. Possesses excellent boxing skills, particularly the jab (ask Israel Vazquez), but prefers a fight (again, ask Vazquez). Will always be remembered for epic fights with Vazquez (won 2 and lost 2) but also holds wins over the likes of Tim Austin, Mark ‘Too Sharp’ Johnson, Silence Mabuza (twice) and Heriberto Ruiz.

José Angel Napoles 81(55) – 7(4)

Old school Mexican fighter and former WBC Welterweight champion. Lost his biggest fights against John H Stracey and the great Carlos Monzon. Nonetheless, 81 wins and a four year reign as world champion mean that the man known as Mantequilla (butter) is worthy of a mention.

So there you have it, my list of Mexico’s greatest fighters. I am sure there is much to debate here, so if you do not agree, all comments are welcome!

* still active

Categories: Boxing

Are you happy with Fabio Capello’s squad for the World Cup?

June 1, 2010 3 comments
Categories: Football