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Cristiano Ronaldo: Back to his best or continuing top form?

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Depending on whom you ask, Cristiano Ronaldo is the answer to the question of who is the world’s best footballer. Shooting ability, passing accuracy, vision, pace, aerial prowess, set-play wizardry; the Portuguese possesses it all. Over the last four years, Ronaldo has established himself as one of the world’s elite players, terrorising defences from Wigan to Rome to Bilbao and just about everywhere in between. His 42 goal season in 2007-08 helped Manchester United to a Premier League and Champions League double and netted him a whole host of individual awards including the prestigious Ballon d’Or and European Golden Shoe.

He was at this point the undisputed king of football, but there is a feeling amongst some that he has slipped somewhat since. Is this really the case? In short, the answer is no.

Following his record-breaking season, Ronaldo underwent ankle surgery and so did not return to first team action until September 2008. Once Ronaldo hit his stride following his time on the sidelines, he was back to his unplayable best. Whilst he was unable to emulate his 42 goal haul of the previous season, he was still Manchester United’s top goalscorer with 18 goals in the Premier League (second only to Nicolas Anelka) and 26 goals in all competitions. This meant that in his last three seasons at the English club, Ronaldo had scored an incredible 91 goals in all competitions and had contributed an impressive 36 assists. Not bad for a player who is not a striker in the true sense of the word. Furthermore, the 2008-09 season saw him win a third consecutive Premier League title and reach a second Champions League Final. On a personal level, he finished runner-up to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in voting for the Ballon d’Or. Not bad for a player supposedly struggling for form.

In the summer of 2009, the inevitable came to pass and Ronaldo got his dream move to football’s glamour club, Real Madrid. The transfer made headlines all over the world as it smashed the previous world record fee with Los Merengues shelling out £80 million for his services. Would Ronaldo be fazed by the price tag and expectations? Not at all.

Cristiano Ronaldo has been in imperious form this season (This Image is the property of AFP)

Despite injury problems, he formed a formidable strike partnership with Argentine Gonzalo Higuaín and continued his scintillating form, netting 33 goals in just 35 appearances in all competitions and added seven assists to boot. Although he failed to lead Real Madrid to the Spanish league title, there was no doubt that his first season at the Santiago Bernabéu had been a success as Real Madrid finished just three points behind Barcelona (as compared to a nine point difference the previous year).

The 2010-11 started after what had been a lacklustre World Cup for Ronaldo, Messi and many of the world’s leading players. The question was asked: were these poor performances a sign of things to come? In the case of Ronaldo, absolutely not.

His start to the season has been nothing short of sensational and his present form is arguably better than it was during the 2007-08 season. He is currently the top scorer in La Liga having found the net 14 times in just 12 games and has scored three times in five Champions League games. Throw in six assists and you have a picture of a player very much in form and very possibly the best in the world.

When Ronaldo is in the form that he currently is, he is simply unplayable. His two-footedness means that defenders do not have the option of forcing him on to his weak foot, very few can match his speed and his clean accurate shooting gives goalkeepers little chance. Ronaldo is clearly enjoying life in the Spanish capital and he seems to love playing under compatriot Jose Mourinho. With a fully fit Ronaldo firing on all cylinders, as well as a more than capable supporting cast, Real Madrid are serious contenders for a Champions League and La Liga double. The first real test of their credentials comes this Monday (29th November) as they take on defending champions Barcelona at the Camp Nou and they will certainly be looking to Ronaldo to lead them to victory against their great rivals.

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Categories: Football

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

November 16, 2010 Leave a comment

This Saturday passed (November 13th) was a big night in the boxing world as the world’s number one boxer fought for a world title in an unprecedented eighth weight class, one of the sport’s top prospects took on a tough opponent and there was the matter of a world heavyweight title fight between two Englishmen for the first time since Lennox Lewis took on Frank Bruno back in 1993. On the face of it, this should have been a great night for the sport to show the best it has to offer but what we got was very much a mixed bag.

The Good

What more can one say about Manny Pacquiao? The so-called ‘Mexecutioner’ added the name of Antonio Margarito to those of Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera on his list of Mexican victims. Many had speculated before the fight that the Pacman had moved up one weight class too far this time. Margarito, who was much bigger and supposedly physically stronger than the Filipino, was looking to restore his reputation following last year’s loaded hand wraps scandal. The size difference was evident at Friday’s weigh in as Margarito weighed in bang on the agreed catchweight of 150 lbs whilst Pacquiao came in at a comparatively light 144.6 lbs. By fight night, this had turned in to 17 lbs weight advantage for the Mexican.

Margarito was relentlessly battered for 12 rounds (This image is the property of SBnation)

Once the opening bell rang, it quickly became apparent that the size difference was a complete non-factor as Pacquiao used his superior speed and accuracy to pepper the Tijuana Tornado with a dazzling array of punches. For 12 rounds Pacquiao hammered the Mexican, who was never in the fight and in truth, either referee Laurence Cole or Margarito’s trainer Robert Garcia should have ended the fight earlier.  In fact, Pacquiao himself pleaded with Cole to end it in round 11. Margarito’s bravery may be commendable but he should have been saved from himself as he was being pummelled relentlessly for 12 rounds. By the end of the fight, his face was so full of blood it resembled a butcher’s apron and the reading of the scorecards was merely a formality as Pacquiao won by scores of 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110.

Pacquiao again looked sensational as he dominated a much larger opponent who was supposed to give him serious problems and the question now is where does he go from here? The obvious answer is a showdown with fellow megastar Floyd Mayweather Jr, but Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach has stated that unless Mayweather comes to the table quickly, he thinks Manny may call it a day. He does not need the money, his legacy is secure and unlike many boxers he has something else to focus on as Congressman of Sarangani Province in his native Philippines. Saturday may very well have been Pacquiao’s final fight.

 The Bad

The undercard of the Pacquiao fight provided the ‘bad’ element of the night. First of all, former undisputed Middleweight king Kelly Pavlik’s planned fight with Brian Vera fell through. Pavlik has not looked the same since Bernard Hopkins schooled him in October 2008 and whilst the official reason given for his absence from Saturday’s card was a rib injury, rumours (unsubstantiated I must add) persist that he is facing the toughest fight of his career – versus the bottle. For the sake of boxing, let’s hope Pavlik sorts out whatever issues he may have as he is an exciting and affable fighter, something which boxing certainly needs.

Then there was the issue of the scoring in the Mike Jones-Jesus Soto Karass fight. As the house fighter, it is not a surprise that Jones got the decision in a close fight, but what fight was Sergio Caiz watching to score it 97-93? This score is way out of line with what happened. Furthermore, Gale E. Van Hoy of Juan Diaz-Paulie Malignaggi fame managed to score the fight a draw at 94-94. As Jason Pribila pointed out in his piece for Secondsout.com, something just does not stack up in what was a 10 must system. To quote Pribila directly: “He scored the fight even, which was perfectly acceptable. However, under a 10-point must system, I can’t figure out how he turned in a score of 94-94. Jones assaulted Soto Karass in round two, but the Mexican survived and threw enough punches back to avoid a 10-8 round. However, there was not a moment in the fight where Jones came close to losing a point.” Yet another scoring mystery in Texas. It is about time these people were relieved of their duties as judges.

The Ugly

The Ugly unfortunately occurred in my beloved hometown of Manchester, England where WBA Heavyweight champion David Haye defended his title against fellow Englishman Audley Harrison. Where do I start with this?

Before the fight, Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis got in to the ring to address the crowd and in truth, a fight between those two in their suits would have been better value for £15 PPV money than what Haye and Harrison served up.

I like David Haye. He is a bit too mouthy at times but he is an extremely talented and exciting boxer capable of injecting some much needed character and excitement in to a drab heavyweight division. However, if Audley Harrison is as terrible and deluded as Haye told us for the two months leading up to the fight, why was he fighting him and asking us to pay £15 for the ‘privilege’? What makes this even more baffling/annoying is the fact that I was then able to watch Pacquiao-Margarito on non-PPV (Sky Sports in England).

The fact is that Audley Harrison was never good enough to challenge for a world title and nothing in his professional record ever suggested otherwise. The only time he had fought anybody remotely close to world class (Dominick Guinn), he lost convincingly. I do not like to question a man’s heart when he is prepared to step between the ropes as I do not have the guts to do it, but Audley is not a fighter. We saw this on Saturday as he completely froze and seemingly refused to fight. With the exception of Jimmy Thunder’s first punch knockout of Crawford Grimsley in 1997, I cannot recall ever seeing a boxer fail to land one meaningful punch in a fight (Harrison landed ONE jab in nearly eight minutes) and I certainly cannot remember seeing a referee have to tell boxers to start fighting as Luis Pabon did on Saturday.

WBA Heavweight Champion David Haye lands a straight right (This image is the property of AP)

Whilst Harrison may not be a world-class boxer, he is most definitely a world-class salesman as he had the nation believing (despite its better knowledge) that this was going to be a genuinely competitive fight. It was anything but. Haye did not throw a punch in anger until round 3 and when he did, it rocked ‘A-Force’ to the core and the following four punches caused Harrison to hit the canvas. I applaud him for rising to his feet as he could easily have stayed down, but once he rose it was always only going to be a matter of time. That time was seconds as Haye rained in more punches and Pabon mercifully ended the contest. The fight had been an embarrassment to the billing ‘World Heavyweight Title Fight’ and the fans made their feelings clear (before starting a rendition of ‘you’re s**t and you know you are.’)

Harrison stated after the fight that he needs to consider his future now, let’s hope he makes the right decision and hangs them up. His abject showing on Saturday will mean that he is not exactly a fighter that everyone will be rushing to see. He has to stop living off the memory of his gold medal in Sydney and realise that professional boxing is not for him. He had huge reach, height and weight advantages over Haye and despite this being by far the biggest fight of his career, the best he could muster was one solitary jab. Please call it a day Audley.

As for Haye, he has constantly criticised the Klitschkos’ choice of opponents and whilst he does have a point, it is merely a case of the pot calling the kettle black after this farce. Haye could have tried to arrange a fight against somebody like Alexander Povetkin, Tomasz Adamek or Ruslan Chagaev but instead opted for Audley Harrison. The public will not put up with paying for similar fare again and so the pressure is now on Haye to make a fight against either Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko.

Contract negotiations are complex and so it is probably unfair to lay all the blame at Haye’s door for the lack of a unification fight to this point, but whatever the case, it needs to happen next year because the likes of what we saw on Saturday are killing the sport. Manny Pacquiao has almost single-handedly kept boxing in the mainstream sports news in recent years so if he does choose to permanently swap the gloves for a shirt and tie, boxing really will need Haye and the Klitschkos to step up to the plate.

Categories: Boxing