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Archive for September, 2010

Who is the best player in the NBA?

September 20, 2010 1 comment

Kevin Durant has had a dream year. He won the NBA scoring Championship, gained plaudits galore, recently led the USA to the FIBA World Championship title and won the championship MVP in the process.

Many people have had their say on KD’s skills, with some claiming he may even go on to be the greatest scorer in NBA history, but is he even the best player in the NBA at the moment? Is the praise hyperbolic and premature or is Durant the real deal?

Categories: Basketball

Paul Scholes: Football’s Quiet Man

September 17, 2010 2 comments

In an era in which football seems to be as much about celebrity as it is scoring goals, Paul Scholes is a breath of fresh air. He does not have huge endorsement contracts with the likes of Nike or Adidas, nor does he model Armani underwear. Unlike former Manchester United teammates David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, Scholes is not a darling of the media and has preferred to keep himself on the back pages of the newspapers by eschewing the trappings of a career as a Premiership footballer. Nor has he courted controversy in the way fellow greats such as Zinedine Zidane and Diego Maradona did during their much celebrated careers. He simply plays football at a level of which most others can only dream.

The Manchester United midfielder made his debut in a League Cup match against Port Vale back in September 1994 (a game in which he found the net twice) and his longevity at the top level of world football is testament to both his quality and his professionalism. In a career spanning 16 years (and counting), Scholes has evolved from a goal-scoring, attacking midfielder to one who sits deep and controls games through pin point passing and vision. The reason Scholes has been able to make such a transition seamlessly is his technical footballing ability. Passing; shooting; heading; Scholes can do it all; well, except maybe tackle, as 100 plus yellow cards testify.

Scholes may not have received the hype that the likes of Beckham; Ronaldo; Rooney; Kaka; Messi and Zidane have from the media, but the opinions of those best placed to make an assessment speak volumes about Paul Scholes’s quality.

Zinedine Zidane, widely regarded as the best player of his generation, has said that one of his greatest regrets was not having had the opportunity to play alongside Scholes. He described the Salford native as the best player he ever played against and lauded him as: “undoubtedly the best player of his generation.” Zidane is not the only footballing great to lavish praise on the Manchester United midfield maestro. World Cup- and Champions League-winning coach Marcelo Lippi stated: “Paul Scholes would have been one of my first choices for putting together a great team,” and Edgar Davids candidly admitted: “Every one of us (midfielders) is just trying to become as good as him.” Closer to home Sam Allardyce called him the “best midfielder in the world.”

Only a few seasons ago, Scholes suffered a serious eye injury which kept him out of action for several months and upon his return, many questioned whether his performance level had dipped. Sir Alex Ferguson kept faith with his man and it paid dividends. Once Scholes returned to full match fitness, he was an integral part of the Manchester United side that regained its Premiership crown in 2007 and then added the Champions League the following season, thus giving Scholes the opportunity to play in a final he had missed through suspension nine years earlier. He has continued to go from strength to strength and currently seems indispensable. Whilst the days of double digit scoring seasons are now gone, he has started to find the net again after a lean couple of seasons and his ability to control a game from midfield is matched only by Barcelona’s Xavi. In fact, Scholes’s resurgence has been so impressive that it caught the eye of England manager Fabio Capello.

Paul Scholes has started the season in sensational form (This image is the property of AP)

Prior to the World Cup, Scholes was given the opportunity to come out of international retirement and represent his country for the first time in six years. Unfortunately for England, Scholes declined and how The Three Lions could have used him in a tournament in which they looked incapable of passing the salt let alone a football. Scholes has since said that he regrets his decision and that he wishes he had played in South Africa. He is not the only one to have this wish. The midfielder added that he was given less than a day to make his decision and that Capello did not call him personally. This may be the greatest error of the Italian’s long and illustrious managerial career.

Scholes’s England career is one of the great tragedies of the modern game. This may seem a strange thing to say given that he won 66 caps and scored 14 goals, including three at major tournaments, but he retired from international football at the age of just 29. Despite being a key player for England, Scholes was increasingly deployed on the left side of a four man midfield under Sven Göran Eriksson as the Swede looked to accommodate the pairing of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the centre of the field. It was not a position that suited the Manchester United man and this, coupled with a desire to prolong his club career, led to Scholes making himself unavailable for international duty in August 2004.

Sir Alex Ferguson believes it is a decision from which Scholes has benefitted as he has been able to rest and remain fresh during international breaks, and given his recent form for the Red Devils, it is difficult to argue. Scholes’s form at the beginning of the season has been nothing short of sensational as he has showcased a marvellous range of passing, unrivalled vision and he is even off the mark in terms of goals. His performances have earned him the Premiership Player of the Month award for August and if he continues in this vein, you can bet he will be offered another one year extension by the club he has served so well for so long.

Paul Scholes is one of the greatest players not only of his generation, but to ever pull on a Manchester United shirt. However, due to his quiet, media-shy and grounded personality, he may not be given the credit he deserves in years to come. However, those inside the game appreciate and admire his skill on the pitch and his humility off it and by them; he will always be remembered as a class act. In this way, Scholes can be described as a footballer’s footballer. Perhaps Premiership legend Thierry Henry summed it up best: “I can’t understand why Scholes has never won the Player of the Year award. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t seek the limelight like some of the other ‘stars’.” Only when Scholes eventually hangs up his boots will we all realise just how much he has contributed to football and that we were all extremely fortunate to witness the career of one of the all-time greats as it unfolded.

Categories: Football

Collective punishment for individual indiscretions?

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Since The News of the World (NOTW) broke the story last Sunday (29th August), ‘deliberately’ bowled no-balls have dominated the back pages. For those who are not aware (there cannot be many of you) the NOTW filmed a meeting between one of its undercover reporters and a man they claimed is a ‘fixer’, Mazhar Majeed. During the meeting, the so-called ‘fixer’ gave the reporter details of exactly when in the match no-balls would be bowled. According to the story, these details matched up exactly with three no-balls bowled by Mohammed Aamer and Mohammed Asif in the Lords test versus England. The tabloid claimed to have paid Majeed £150,000 for the information.

Just to clarify, it has not yet been proven that those implicated in the scandal (Majeed, Pakistan captain Salman Butt, Mohammed Aamer and Mohammed Asif) have in any way acted illegally. The allegations remain just that; allegations. Butt, Aamer and Asif all had their mobile phones seized by police last weekend whilst they investigated claims of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers.

It should also be made clear at this juncture that what has supposedly happened here is very different to match-fixing. Both are wrong, but there is one key difference. Match-fixing affects the overall outcome of a match whereas spot-fixing relates to specific incidents within a match. Both can be used to make a lot of money.

The story has rocked the sport to its core with everybody having their say. Nasser Hussein said he was devastated that Aamer was involved as it could spell the end of an extremely promising career before it has even really started. One legend of the sport, Kapil Dev, has claimed that another, Imran Khan, should step in and take charge of the Pakistani set-up. The unanimous verdict however, is that anybody found guilty of such a disgraceful action should be dealt with in a very uncompromising manner.

Mohammed Aamer (left), Salman Butt (centre) and Mohammed Asif (right) have all been implicated in the scandal. (This image is the property of BBC Sport)

Before any potential punishment can be handed out, several issues need to be fully explored. Firstly, it must be established why this may have happened. Is this just an example of pure greed where people have thought about nothing more than lining their pockets? Secondly, have the families of those reputedly involved been threatened with violence in the case of non-compliance? Thirdly, and most importantly, is anybody actually involved in any wrongdoing?

Butt, Aamer and Asif all protest their innocence and have voluntarily pulled out of the rest of the tour of England whilst the whole issue is investigated and today (2nd September) Pakistan’s High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan has claimed that the players may have been set up by a tape filmed after the balls were bowled. Whatever the case, it will ‘all come out in the wash’ as they say. If anyone is found to have knowingly engaged in spot-fixing they need to be punished.

Life bans have been discussed as one potential punishment. This will be a huge loss in the case of 18 year old Aamer. He has just become the quickest bowler to reach 50 test wickets and looks like Wasim Akram mark 2. Such a loss would only impoverish cricket.

There is a precedent for a life ban. In 2000, South Africa’s Hansie Cronje was banned for life after being found guilty of match-fixing (not spot-fixing).

However, there currently seems to be huge outcry for a ban on Pakistan as a team. Why? Sure, the individuals that have been implicated in the scandal play for Pakistan, but why should the whole team be punished if they are found guilty? It just does not make sense. Did people clamour so vehemently for a ban on South Africa when Cronje, Gibbs and co. were found guilty ten years ago? No. Pakistan is already a sad story as far as cricket is concerned, banning them would only serve to make it more so and deprive the sport of a country steeped in cricketing history.

Forced to operate as a team of exiles due to security issues in their homeland, Pakistan tours the world and has, in the process, become what The Guardian’s Stephen Moss refers to as “cricket’s equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.’ The players therefore have to spend much time away from close friends and family and must surely miss playing in front of a fervent home crowd in Karachi or Multan. Stopping them from playing the sport they love because of what may turn out to be the selfish actions of a select few would only make their situation worse. Ban anybody found guilty of engaging in any form of fixing by all means, but please do not ban the team as a whole.

Categories: Cricket