maz23's blog

10 Jul

Why Neymar and Thiago Silva should count their lucky stars

With the fallout of Brazil's 7-1 humilating defeat to Germany being felt by the locals, players and personnel alike two  players who didn't participate in the game have their reasons to be greatful for not being involved - Neymar and Thiago Silva.

Brazil's captain Thiago Silva was ruled out through suspension after picking up his second booking against Colombia in Brazil's 2-1 quarter final win. The PSG centre who was the world's most expensive defender before his club splashed out on his international team mate David Luiz is seen as one of the best defenders in the world. His stock is pretty high and is the most important defender for Brazil. His spot was filled by Bayern Munich centre back Dante who, like David Luiz had a nightmare against Germany. Many critics have questioned PSG's decision to spend £50m on David Luiz before the game, and after his horror show they'll be more questions asked. Luiz, like many of the other players involved have been the scapegoat for the defeat whereas Thiago Silva has seemingly got off the hook. His leadership, his reliability, his supreme reading of the game and all round qualities were a definite miss for Brazil, but to say that it would've made a difference against a Germany team that ruthless is a long shot.

Before the World Cup Brazil had pinned all their hopes on the shoulders on Neymar, a 22 year old seen as a superstar by Brazil and  earmarked as the next big thing. A player who was hoping to follow in the footsteps of the likes of fellow Brazilian heroes Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho et al. Neymar had a fine start to the World Cup scoring 4 goals in 3 group stage games before converting the winning penalty in Brazil's shootout win against Chile in the last 16. Neymar's corner set up David Luiz to head in the opening goal of their win against Colombia so Neymar's contribution was clear to see. After getting injured by Juan Zuniga's challenge and being taken off, Brazil went into mourning overnight,it was clear that there was a change in mentality amongst Brazilians iin that without their two superstars they did not expect to win the World Cup. Not being involved in that fateful match has probably saved Neymar of being the utimate scapegoat because every Brazilian looked to him to carry the nation to the World Cup trophy. Even with his involvement Brazil may not have been able to stop Germany winning.

In the past there have been complaints the England have had too much expected of them. Brazilian people expect their team to win the World Cup, anything less is not good enough and in comparison have enormous pressure put on them. You could see the pressure after Brazil's shootout win against Chile with the emotional embrace between Scolari and Neymar. Brazilian football fans are not afraid to voice their displeasure if they feel their national team or players are not performing to their expectations. Brazil legend Cafu was cruelly booed during a clash with Argentina at the Maracana in 1998 after he was even though he was played out of position, Fred has been a constant scapegoat during the World Cup for local fans with his lack of return in goals. Fred's style of play is different to past Brazil strikers which doesn't represent the idealogy of Brazil fans, who want a striker in the mould of the former players such as Romario or Ronaldo.

Now all thats left in the World Cup for Brazil is their third place playoff match against Holland. Win or lose this match will mean little to either team as Brazil will need to go back to the drawing board and look at whats gone wrong, and how it can be put right.

28 Jun

World Cup Group Stage Review

This piece was suppose to fully focus on what a tremendous spectacle we've all been treated to so far (with the odd boring game here and there) but instead the main talking isn't on the great games, goals and players we've watched, instead it's about the actions of a player who hasn't learnt from his past misdemeanours - Luis Suarez.

Suarez has previous from his time at Ajax (earning a 7 match ban for biting Ottman Bakkal) and Liverpool (an 8 match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra and a 10 match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic). In Uruguay's crunch match with Italy Suarez's actions were caught on camera and FIFA moved swiftly to announce that he'll be suspended for 9 matches and be banned from football related activities after biting Giorgio Chiellini. The disciplinary measures have divided opinion, although the majority seem to favour the sanction, Uruguayan officials and Chiellini himself have voiced their disagreement with the punishment handed out to Suarez. As the fallout continues, the world waits to hear what Suarez has to say about his punishment.

Now on to the football, it took severals days before the boring previous World Cup became a distant memory. The host Brazil won their group containing Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon, but they weren't very convincing in winning the group. They came from behind in the opening match to beat Croatia before drawing 0-0 to a Guillermo Ochoa inspired Mexico who were good value for the draw before a 4-1 demolition of Cameroon. Mexico finished second in the group after winning 3-1 in the decisive match against Croatia after winning 1-0 in their opening match against Cameroon, who did not win a single game after losing 4-0 to Croatia.

Group B being arguably the group of death contained holders Spain, runners up Holland, Chile and Australia. Spain's demise was the story of the group after they were thrased 5-1 by the Dutch despite taking the lead, the highlight of the game being Robin Van Persie's superb diving header which levelled the game before Spain were picked apart. Their lose 2-0 to Chile at the Maracana Stadium ensure their elimination from the competition before winning the wooden spoon match 3-0 against Australia, who played pretty well during the competition with their results not reflecting their performances. They lost 3-1 to Chile after pushing them all the way before conceding an injury time goal. Australia lost 3-2 to Holland despite being the better team, the match featured Tim Cahill's volley which is a goal of the tournament contender. Holland beat Chile 2-0 to win the group and more crucially avoid the host Brazil in the next round.

Colombia topped group C with convincing wins against Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. James Rodriguez has been one of the players of the tournament and his team mates will look to him for inspiration to help Colombia to step up in the knockout stages. Greece finished second in dramatic circumstances as they scored a penalty in injury time to snatch second from Ivory Coast, who had beaten Japan in their opening game to put themselves in a good position to reach the knockout stage. Greece's draw to Japan had given them a glimmer of hope in their winner takes all match against Ivory Coast despite being reduced to 10 men in the first half.

The other group of death containing Italy, Uruguay, England and Costa Rica had several twists and turns along the way. The first being Costa Rica's 3-1 scalp of Uruguay after going behind, many had tipped Costa Rica to be the whipping boys of group d but they ended up winning the group (after beating Italy 1-0 and drawing 0-0 with England) with the only goal they conceded being from the penalty spot. Uruguay snatched second place in the last game against the Italians, Diego Godin scoring minutes after Luis Suarez had bitten Giorgio Chiellini. England were out before the group had finished. Despite playing well they lost their opening game 2-1 to Italy and lost 2-1 to Uruguay. The two goals they conceded against the Uruguayans were very soft from a defensive perspective and leave the World Cup without winning a match for the first time since 1958.

France topped group e without losing a game after a dominant 3-0 win over Honduras which saw the Hondurans finish with 10 men and beat Switzerland 5-2 in an entertaining that included the French missing a penalty before finishing off with a goal less draw against Ecuador. Switzerland finished second after Xherdan Shaqiri's hat trick in the final match against Honduras, Ottmar Hitzfeld's side had put themselves into contention after beating Ecuador in the opening match 2-1 coming from a goal down. Ecuador had given themselves hope of going through after beating Honduras 2-1 in their second match. Ecuador were up against it in their final match against France after Antonio Valencia was red carded.

Lionel Messi became the first player to be named man of the match in each group match after scoring every game to inspire Argentina to finish top with three wins from three. He scored what proved to be the winning goal as the Argies beat Bosnia 2-1 in their opening before scoring an injury time winning against a spirited Iran. Messi scored the opening goal and a free kick on the stroke of half time in an entertaining 3-2 victory over Nigeria, who had finished second on 4 points after drawing 0-0 with Carlos Queiroz's Iran and beat a disappointing Bosnia side 2-1. Bosnia left the World Cup with a win though beating Iran 3-0 in their final match. There were high hopes that Bosnia could be the surprise package of the World Cup, but the experience of a World Cup could spur them on in future tournaments.

Germany topped group g after winning their last group match against USA, Thomas Muller was has arguably been one of the best attackers of the tournament (and is so far the joint top scorer with Lionel Messi and Neymar on 4 goals) scored the only goal of the second half. Muller scored a hat trick in the Germany's opening game as they dominated Portugal in a 4-0 win after Pepe's sending off for a stupid headbutt on Muller. Muller set up Germany's first goal in their thrilling 2-2 draw against Ghana. The Ghanians lost their first match 2-1 to USA in an entertaining match and despite having an outside chance of going through in the last game, lost 2-1 to Portugal after a Cristiano Ronaldo winner. The Ghanians had sent Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince-Boateng home hours before the game for "indiscipline" with many speculating what may have gone on in the Ghanian camp. Portugal disappointed in the World Cup despite finishing joint second on 4 points, but finished behind USA on goal difference, they drew 2-2 with the US thanks to an injury time goal after being outplayed for the majority of the match.

Belgium topped a group h which included Algeria, Russia and South Korea. Despite all the hype surrounding the Belgian golden generation, they underperformed at times during each match despite winning all of their group matches. All of their goals came in the last 20 minutes as they came from behind to beat Algeria 2-1, and won 1-0 against Russia and South Korea (having been reduced to 10 men in the first half against South Korea). Belgium will need to step up their performances if they're to progress further in the World Cup. Algeria caused a huge shock finishing second after beating South Korea 4-2 and drawing 1-1 in their crunch match with Russia. Algeria's reward for their hard work is a tie against Germany in the next round, but have undoubtedly exceeded expectations. Igor Akinfeev had a World Cup to forget after his error cost Russia a possible victory in their 1-1 draw with South Korea and was at fault for Algeria's equaliser as he failed to clear from a free kick when he tried to punch the ball away.

So far 136 goals have been scored in the group phase averaging nearly 3 goals per game, the World Cup is set for some exciting and intriguing games in the knockout phase. Many had tipped Brazil and Argentina to meet in the final at the Maracana Stadium on July 13th, but after watching what's unfolded during the group stages, those who've made it to the knockout phase have shown that on their day they can achieve anything. If the group stage is anything to go by, it'll be hard to pick which teams will go through and triumph.

Team of the tournament so far:

Ochoa
Aurier, Marquez, Howedes, Blind
Robben, Rodriguez, Oscar
Muller, Messi, Neymar

14 Mar

Formula 1 Season Preview

To say that there is a lot of anticipation surrounding the new F1 season is an understatement. With new rules in place as well as driver movement the 2014 F1 season looks like becoming the most unpredictable and dramatic season for years.

The new rules have introduced 1.6 litre V6 turbo hybrid engines with extensive energy-recovery systems which replace the 2.4 litre V8 engines, while cars will only be allowed to use a maximum 100kg of fuel over a race distance (a third less than last year) on top of the new weight limit which has been lowered. The new energy-recovery system is made up from the kers system with a second electric motor fitted to the turbo which will produce 150kw for 30 seconds per lap (last year the kers system produced 60kw for 6.7 seconds per lap).

There are changes to the design of the car which has led many to call the new look ugly. The main concern for many is the new front nose which has been lowered for safety. With other safety features surrounding the car, the majority of the designers have come up with a new design for the front nose which resembles a giant anteater. The idea of lowering the nose is to reduce the chances of t-boning incidents, although people within the paddock have voiced their fears about the nose getting stuck under the car if there is minimal contact.

Then there's the controversial double points for the last race which has caused an uproar amongst fans as well as those involved in F1. Bernie Ecclestone had tried to get double points awarded for the last three races of the season only to be rejected with many still unhappy to have it for the final race of the season. Sebastian Vettel's dominance has prompted Bernie Ecclestone to introduce the new rule having dominated the last 4 years winning two of his last three titles with a least three races to go. Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have both said that awarding double points could ruin the hard work the drivers and teams put in over the course of the season.

Kimi Raikonnen's return to Ferrari to partner Fernando Alonso is expected to produce fireworks as both drivers will fight for the number one spot in the team. With many expecting something to happen between the two, those who know Raikonnen well will know that he will not bat an eyelid if Alonso or the media stir something up (as he proved when he partnered Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya at McLaren) and will get on and do the job. Daniel Ricciardo graduated from Toro Rosso to Red Bull as Mark Webber's replacement and young Dane Kevin Magnusson is tipped to go on to big things at McLaren and make a similar impact to Lewis Hamilton.

With all the testing over and done with what have we learnt? Mercedes are in very good shape having spent a portion of last season developing their power unit and their car. Hamilton and Rosberg have been tipped as early favourites for the title. Williams have been a surprise package during the Jerez and Bahrain tests. Valteri Bottas may finally have the car which will help him realise his potential, and help Williams have a better year after having their worst season last year. Ferrari have had mixed results, anyone who saw the programme horse power (which allowed cameras access to Ferrari's preparation for the new season) on Sky Atlantic would know that one of the problems Ferrari faced was their lack of fuel efficiency which will be crucial and where races can be won and lost. It'll be interesting to see which team and driver can be the fastest, and the most efficient during the race.

Red Bull on the other hand have had a horrific time during testing to say the least. They've failed to complete a half race distance worth of mileage let alone a full race distance as they've suffered with reliability issues. While Renault have come out and taken responsibility for their power unit, Red Bull have also put their hands up and will be playing catch up to Mercedes. It'll be interesting to see how Sebastian Vettel copes with having what looks like an underperforming Red Bull, and it'll truely demonstrate his class if he can keep up with the front runners. Red Bull have been the masters of developing their car as the season has progressed over the last couple of years. Whatever happens this season is anyones guess but one thing most can agree on is that we're in for a exciting season.

3 Jan

Sport in 2013

Now that 2013 has drawn to a close, it seems like a good time to reflect on what has happened in sport during the year as we've most definitely seen the good, the bad and the ugly side of sport.

Well where do we start? It was roughly at the beginning of 2013 when Lance Armstrong (finally) decided to admit to doping during his Tour De France dominance. The sad thing about the whole saga is how much his story had inspired many others that anything was possible after he recovered from cancer to dominate cycling. Armstrong destroyed the reputations' of those he thought went against him and has since been made to grovel as well as face law suits for loss of money from sponsors. However, cycling should count it's blessing that it hasn't dealt with many controversies since Armstrong's confession. The 2013 Tour De France was won by Britain's Chris Froome who at the 2012 Tour De France was used to support Bradley Wiggin's bid to win (which he did successfully).

On to rugby and what a year for the British and Irish Lions who won their first test against the Aussies since 1997 after winning the series 2-1, They were rightly voted team of the year on the BBC Sports personality of the year. England however didn't match their expectations of winning the rugby league World Cup crashing out of the semi-finals to New Zealand who lost in the final to Australia 34-2. But that shouldn't take the shine away for the British and Irish Lions who will look to build the series win when they face off next against the Australians.

Moving on to cricket and the main talking point of the year will be the the summer and winter ashes series. The summer series was one to remember for England as they won 3-0. Ian Bell was named man of the series and rightly so after some supreme batting displays as England dominated and Joe Root's 180 at Lords the highlight of the series. The win gave England confidence heading down under. After Stuart Broad's brilliant bowling display on the first day, England couldn't take advantage with the bat and were dominated by Mitchell Johnson's bowling. It went downhill as England lost the ashes and are 4-0 down facing a possible whitewash having had Jonathan Trott sent home due to personal issues after the first test, and Graham Swann's sudden retirement after the third test. Take nothing away from Australia and especially Mitchell Johnson, Michael Clarke and arguably the man of the series Brad Haddin as they've continually tormented England throughout the series. The fifth test gives England a chance to try out the likes of Gary Ballance, Boyd Rankin and Scott Borthwick as they look to plan for the future.

What a Year in Formula 1 and what a year for Sebastian Vettel. I don't think there are anymore words that can use to describe his achievements. Rewriting the record books becoming the youngest driver to win four consecutive titles, equalling the record of 9 consecutive wins and 13 wins in a season. There were times when several of his wins were overshadowed by booing from the crowd over the incident at the Malaysian Grand Prix where he passed Mark Webber after being instructed by Red Bull not to. But let's not allow the issue take anything away from Vettel, who was the only driver able to adapt to the tyre changing scenario to leave his rivals chasing his shadow, after the infamous British Grand Prix where there were six separate incidents involving Pirelli tyres bursting. Lewis Hamilton's first season at Mercedes by his own admission went better than expected and managed to pick up his first win for the silver arrows at the Hungarian Grand Prix whilst McLaren struggled with Jenson Button achieving their highest finish in Brazil with a fourth place. Fernando Alonso fell away from the pace after the tyre changes after a promising start. Now we have the 2014 season to look forward to with a host of rule changes which will leave designers scratching their heads on how to bring the best out of their cars next season as well as Kimi Raikonnen's move to Ferrari where he won the title in 2007.

The tennis season became one for British fans to remember as Andy Murray ended the wait for a British male champion at Wimbledon when he became the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the coveted SW19 title after defeating then world number one Novak Djokovic in straight sets. But the year arguably belonged to Rafael Nadal. The Spainard returned from a lengthy injury spell to win the French Open and the US Open as well as reaching 14 singles finals since returning and winning 10 on top of returning to the top of the ATP rankings. Novak Djokovic (who beat Andy Murray in four sets at the Australian Open and lost in the French Open semi finals and the US Open final to Rafael Nadal) recently recruited Boris Becker to join his team as he looks to reclaim the world number spot from his rival. Swiss legend Roger Federer recently claimed that Wimbledon will be his best chance for a grand slam trophy this year as he looks to break the recent dominance of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, this makes the 2014 tennis season one to look forward to for fans and players alike.   

Now where do we start with football? Gareth Bale's world record move to Real Madrid? Neymar's move to Barcelona? David Beckham's retirement? I doubt many would have expected Sir Alex Ferguson to announce his retirement. Arguably the greatest manager of all time had done it all and had nothing left to prove, his retirement has made this season's Premier League unpredictable to say the least. Arsenal have made extra strides this season and whether they can keep it up or not is another thing, especially when you consider that Chelsea are winning without playing well and Manchester City have been unplayable at times. All the English teams have qualified for the knockout round in the Champions League but Bayern Munich (now taken over by Pep Guardiola after Jupp Heynkes's retirement following their treble winning success) look like early favourites to become the first team to retain the trophy although the teams left in the competition make this one of the strongest line ups in the knockout stages for years.

It's not long till the World Cup and with all the problems Brazil has faced with getting the facilities ready, and having to deal with unrest from angry locals has made the preparations near enough a farce. Roofs collasping, workers dying, protests and late stadium openings basically sums up Brazil's preparations of staging the World Cup. With several group of deaths drawn this promises to be a World Cup full of drama and excitement on paper. Here's to 2014 in Sport.

9 Nov 1

Football should stop sugar coating issues on racism

Recently football became embroiled in more controversy surrounding racism when Manchester City's Yaya Toure was racially abused by CSKA Moscow fans during the Champions League match. The reaction to the punishment of the partial stadium closure on the Russian club as well as the 50,000 Euro fine (roughly £42,800) has the feel of injustice.

Let's have a look at a few examples of punishments dished out to those involved in the game and compare them to the punishment given to CSKA Moscow. Arsenal striker (if you wish can call him that) Nicklas Bendtner was fined £80,000 for revealing a betting company's logo on his underwear while celebrating a goal for Denmark against Portugal at Euro 2012. It's hard to believe that there would've been a huge uproar about Bendtner's antics in comparison to racist chanting. Fines for Arsenal (£33,000 in March 2012 for confronting a match referee), Chelsea (£85,000 in June 2009 for failure to control their players) and Manchester City (just under £25,000 in April 2012 for delaying the second half kick off) have looked excessive when you compare the recent fines (fines alone, not including suspensions or stadium closures) given to the likes of Porto (£16,700), Spain (£16,000) and Russa (£24,000) for racist abuse from their respective fans. It's no wonder why those affected feel like UEFA and FIFA don't care. 

FIFA's "honourable" President Sepp Blatter came out and said that he would like harsher sanctions for those guilty of racism. It was not long ago that Blatter suggested that any issue surrounding racism should be settled with a handshake (I'm sure those who slaved away in the cotton fields would agree!), it's one thing for someone in a position of power to suggest something but it's another for them to put it in to action. People who are affected by the issue are fast running out of patience with organisations set up to tackle racism (e.g. kick it out). The only notable thing of recent time that has been put in to action is the introduction of goaline technology, bare in mind that the debate for and against goaline technology has been relatively short compared to racism. 

When English clubs were banned from European competition due to the Heysal disaster, English football stood up and tackled the issue of hooliganism which has improved over the last two decades. Fines and stadium closures can only go so far in tackling racist chanting. The next step should be to deduct points or exclude teams from competitions as it should (like it did for English football) make those guilty to sit up and take notice, learn from past mistakes in tackling the issue (or turning a blind eye) and help educate people on racism. Otherwise it won't be long before players start to retaliate like Didier Zokora (who Spurs fans should be familiar with) did. Zokora, now plying his trade with Trabzonspor of Turkey, was racially abused by ex Newcastle United midfielder Emre (who plays for Fenerbahce) during a game between the two sides. Emre was given a three match ban (a lenient punishment compared to Luis Suarez). Feeling that justice didn't prevail, Zokora refused to shake Emre's hand the next time the two players met on the field. Zokora and his team mates took justice in to their own hands by kicking Emre about when given the opportunity. Although many supported Zokora's actions, everyone involved in the game should take appropriate action to ensure that this doesn't become a regular occurance.

10 Sep

Rafael Nadal, the rejuvinated star

The day after losing to the relatively unknown Steve Darcis in the first round at Wimbledon, I wrote a piece questioning whether Rafael Nadal would be able to reach the top of his game again with his injury prone knees. I'm glad to say that I was proven wrong.

We saw the Rafael Nadal of old last night put in a near dominant display against the world number one Novak Djokovic during the four set win. The win finished off a stunning run in which he was unbeaten in all 22 matches he's played during the hard court season. The Spainard had lost his serve once in the US Open leading up to his record breaking 37th match against the Serbian Novak Djokovic to take their head to head 22-15 (the previously record for matches between two competitors was held by John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl).

Now the talk has moved on to whether Nadal can break Swiss legend Roger Federer's grand slam record. Nadal is third in the all time list with 13 grand slam wins to his name while Federer is on 17 (with Pete Sampras in between the two on 14). There's no doubt in my mind that Nadal will surpass Sampras if he continues for at least another two years (by that I mean play another two times at Roland Garros). Anything else other than Roland Garros titles for the king of clay will be classed as a bonus even though he became the youngest player to win all four majors when he won at Flushing Meadows in 2010.

Apart from a thirty minute "blip" between the middle of the second set to the middle of the third set Nadal played with a ruthless streak last night against Djokovic. By his standards Djokovic had been slightly off form during his previous matches leading up to the final, and could not cope with Nadal's second wind after he had broken Nadal's serve three times in a row (the first break of serve included the epic 54 shot rally). The turning point during the match came when in the third set Djokovic had three set points on Nadal's serve and failed to take any of them, Nadal then went on to break Djokovic's serve to win the set and dominate the fourth set with two breaks on the Serbian's serve. You could tell how much it meant to him when he celebrated after Djokvic hit a forehand in the net on match point.

Expectations weren't high when Nadal made his comeback from a torn patella on his knee. His coach and Uncle Toni Nadal said that all of Nadal's achievements this year have been nothing short of a miracle. The Spainard has won 10 titles out of 12 finals (not making the final once at Wimbledon), won 88 consecutive service games until Richard Gasquet broke him in a pretty one sided semi final at the US Open and has lost 3 matches out of a possible 63. It's pretty clear that it'll take more than a pair of dodgy knees to stop Nadal from achieving anything he wants in Tennis. A year ago he wasn't at the US Open and now he's completed a fairytyle come back, I'm sure tennis fans can't wait to see where he is come next year.

3 Sep

Manchester United struggle in the window

It's the day after deadline day,  and clubs around Europe were rushing to get their targets before the 11pm deadline. After being able to sleep on it, opinions seemed to have not changed about the one team who seem to have stood out throughout the transfer window, and not for the right reasons - Manchester United.

When thinking of Manchester United during a typical transfer window, they've been known to get their business done pretty early in comparision to other teams. In the past the only time they've left anything till the last day is when a pursuit of a top target had dragged on (e.g. Berbatov and Rooney deals). The Red Devils were the type to also keep their targets on the hush hush until the latter stages of the transfer negotiations.

This transfer window couldn't have been further from it for the champions. It began with a failed bid for Barcelona's young midfielder Thiago Alcantara, the Spainard who had earlier in the summer won the European under 21 Championship with Spain decided on a move to the European Champions Bayern Munich and link up with his old coach Pep Guardiola. The champions failed with three further bids for Cesc Fabregas which they unusually went public on. The first mistake was going public on the bid before being sure of signing Fabregas as it showed their strength (or weakness) in the market. The champions also failed with bids for Everton duo Leighton Baines and Maruoane Fellaini with the amount on offer angering the Everton hierarchy.

It was reported that Roma had rejected a bid for Danielle De Rossi days before deadline day and the Italians revealed the period for considering any bids for their talisman had passed which considering the qualities of the Italian international was a missed opportunity, especially as De Rossi's future with Roma had been uncertain for a while. David Moyes then tried with a £25m bid for Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ander Herrera. He was one of the many Bilbao players who was responsibile for tearing United apart in the Europa league two seasons ago. Bilbao had told United to match his £30.5m release clause if they wanted to prize away Herrera. On deadline representatives claiming to act on behalf of Manchester United had flown to Spain to negotiate with Herrera after the club had met Herrera's release clause. However it was reported that the representatives were imposters which was making the window for Manchester United nothing short of a farce.

On deadline day and without the creative influence needed to replace Paul Scholes, David Moyes worked to the final minutes of deadline day to secure Marouane Fellaini for £27.5m (although he could've got him for £4m cheaper had he triggered a release clause which had expired), many will argue that he paid over the odds for the Belgian but time will tell if he gets the return he invested in the player he signed for Everton even though he isn't the creative player that United have needed for several seasons. Apart from the Herrera farce, Manchester United failed with a £33.9m bid for Sami Khedera, and a late loan bid for left back Fabio Coentrao after Real Madrid had missed out on replacement Guilherme Siqueira.

Although David Moyes finally signed Fellaini, many will feel that he wasn't his first choice target. If anything, the transfer window showed David Moyes's weakness in attracting top players and he'll have to prove himself before attracting top players to Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson would not have allowed United to get in such a situation, some will say that Fergie may have attempted to hijack Arsenal's move for Mesut Ozil and signed the player himself, Ozil is the type of player that every club needs. The transfer window will be part of a learning curve for David Moyes and the Old Trafford faithful will hope that he will have learnt his lesson from the mistakes he made. Credit is due for Moyes for persuading Wayne Rooney to stay and more performance like the one against Chelsea will be needed from Rooney to help ease the pressure on David Moyes especially if Rooney doesn't stay in the long term.

24 Jul 1

Who is Tata Martino?

After the expected (and somewhat sad) resignation of Tito Vilanova, Barcelona have moved quickly to announce his replacement. With the likes of Luis Enrique, Michael Laudrup, Andre Villas Boas and Guus Hiddink having been linked to replace the outgoing Vilanova, the post is set to be taken up by the unknown Argentine Tata Martino. All of those connected to Barcelona will want to know just who is the man who is taking up what is arguably one of the biggest jobs in world football.

Tata Martino (or Gerardo Daniel Martino to be precise) is a former attacking midfielder from Argentina. Martino  began his playing career in 1980 for his home club Newell's Old Boys, he played for them for the majority of his career making 505 appearances (in three different spells) scoring 37 goals. Martino had a brief spell in Spain with Tenerife (in 1991 making 15 appearances and scoring 1 goal and his only experience in Europe to date) before heading back to Newell's Old Boys for his second spell from 1991-1994. He would spend a year at Lanus making 30 appearances scoring 3 goals before heading back for his final spell with Newell's Old Boys. He would move to Ecuador for a short spell with (ironically) Barcelona SC making 5 appearances. He didn't make much of an impression on the international stage, with only a single cap to his name for the Argentinean national team in 1991. Martino was however named as Newell's Old Boys best player in the club's history by a fans' poll. Martino's only honours as a player were three league titles in his first spell at Newell's Old Boys.

Tata Martino began his coaching career in 1998 in the lower tiers of Argentinean football, he spent a year with Brown de Arrecifes before moving Platense in 1999, and in 2000 he managed Instituto for 2 years. In 2002 he went to Paraguay to manage Club Libertad, where he won his first honours as a manager. The Asuncion based club won league titles in 2002 and 2003 before Martino moved to rivals Cerro Ponteno where he won a third successive league title. In 2005 Martino managed his first top tier Argentinean club Colon for a short period before moving back to Paraguay for a second spell with Club Libertad winning the Paraguayan league title for a fourth time in his short managerial career. Martino's success in Paraguay earned him the opportunity to manage the Paraguayan national team in 2007, he reached the quarter finals of the Copa America later that year (and was also named South American coach of the year) and took Paraguay to the final of the 2011 Copa America before losing out to Uruguay. After leaving Paraguay Martino returned to Newell's Old Boys for the 2012-2013 season where he won the half season Argentinean league title and progressed to the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores (the South American equivalent of the Champions League) only to be knocked out on penalties by Ronaldinho's Atletico Mineiro.

Martino is well known protagonist who sets his teams to press high up the pitch, and become aggressive in recovering the ball. A very similar method to Marcelo Bielsa, a man who mentored him many years ago at Newell's Old Boys, and is also well respected by ex Barcelona player and manager Pep Guardiola. Martino likes to play the 4-3-3 formation with the false number 10, a system which suits a certain Lionel Messi (who grew up in Rosario, the home of his first club Newell's Old Boys). Although Martino's teams in the past were known for not being able to endure his particular style of play for 90 minutes, teams in Spain should on paper be able to cope as they play more matches in a calendar year compared to their South American counterparts. Barcelona will have studied their candidates very carefully, and ensured that they pick a man who will continue with their footballing principles, and their traditions above all. Although Martino hasn't managed a team in Europe, his coaching CV looks very impressive after a decade and a half in management, and a very wise choice considering Barcelona needed a new manager immediately, and after rushing their search for a replacement for Vilanova, they have found what could be classed as a logical choice. Martino is a well respected coach in South America and his style of play fits well with Barcelona's philosophy which were based on Marcelo Bielsa's methods, who himself based his own philosophy on Johan Cruyff's total football which helped Barcelona dominate the early period of the 1990s.

Through this he has landed himself what many would call as a once in a life time opportunity (be it in unfortunate circumstances) to showcase his managerial skills, and no doubt he'll have the world watching as he aims to build on Barcelona's recent success. One thing is for certain, no one will go easy on what many people will regard as a man who is very inexperienced for such a high profile, high pressured job, some will ask if Martino is up for the job? Only Time will tell.  

 
30 Jun

Mark Webber: A Man Who'll Be Missed

Webbers sommersault into the Red Bull swimming pool after his Monaco Grand Prix victory

After his stunning drive to finish second after the unfortunate first lap incident which lost him many places and the left end plate on his front wing, the reception Mark Webber received from the British crowd showed that he is a fans' favourite. Webber, who only revealed earlier in the week that he is to leave F1 at the end of the season will be missed by fans and fellow drivers a like.

Liked by many for not being afraid to speak his mind, and be blunt about sensitive subjects as well as his sense of humour. Webber is seen as one of the nice guys of Formula 1 who is never afriad to show his emotions as he did in the aftermath of this years Malaysian Grand Prix after his team mate Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders to pass him, which was then preceeded by a middle finger salute from Webber. This was followed by Webber's refusal to acknowledge Vettel after the race and then during the drivers' interview with Martin Brundle state that "he'll get protection as usual". Is the break down in his relationship with Vettel the main reason for quitting F1? Or is it the Pirelli era where drivers such as Webber feel that they are not pushing themselves to the limit due to having to protect the fast degrading tyres as the reason for quitting F1? 

Webber started his F1 career at bottom team Minardi after previous stints in Formula 3000 and sportscar racing at Le Mans (where he had a horrific crash in 1999). On his debut he scored two points at his home Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne. Throughout the year Webber had demonstrated his talent by punching above the car's weight with some impressive finishes, and that had convinced Jaguar to take a chance on him. Throughout the majority of his career Webber had been in uncompetitive cars having chosen to race for Williams is 2005 and 2006 rather than Renault (who Fernando Alonso had won  titles with in those two seasons), although on paper you couldn't blame him for wanting to race with a historic team like Williams and help them return to their glory days. From 2007 till now Webber has raced with the Red Bull team where he has achieved all 9 of his F1 wins. He has been with the team throughout all of it's successes spearheaded by the well renowned designer Adrian Newey, the leadership of Christian Horner as well as Vettel and Webber. The recent domination by Red Bull has seen Vettel become a triple world champion and in the process has Red Bull win three constructors championships.

Webber's relationship with Vettel has never been easy going. Although most people would point to Turkish Grand Prix in 2010 where Webber and Vettel collided whilst Red Bulls were first and second, some had forgotten that Vettel cost Webber a potential win at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2007 whilst Vettel was racing for Red Bull's junior team Toro Rosso by crashing into the back of him during a safety car period. During qualifying for the 2010 British Grand Prix, there was a row over a front wing which was taken off Webber car and put on Vettel's car after Vettel's new front wing suffered a failure and Webber had an old front wing put on as a replacement. This prompted Webber to say over the radio "Not bad for a number two driver" after his dominant win at the British Grand Prix after Vettel had suffered a tyre failure after the start. Although Red Bull had stated that their drivers were free to race Webber had been told not challenge Vettel during the 2010 Canadian Grand Prix as he was suffering a gearbox problem which had left the Aussie infuriated. During the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, Webber felt he was faster than Vettel but was not allowed to challenge him despite having a a 21 point margin lead. Vettel had gone on to win his first title after a critical strategic error from Ferrari cost Alonso a first title with Ferrari. During the 2011 British Grand Prix; in a season where Vettel was dominating, Webber was ordered not to challenge Vettel during the closing stages of the race in which he was clearly faster but ignored the team orders and continued to race his team mate. In 2012 the Red Bull drivers were closely matched until Webber's title challenge faded during the summer stages of the season. In the final race of the season in Brazil Webber had been told to forget about his own result and help Vettel. However during the start of the race, Webber had squeezed Vettel near the pit wall which lead to a nightmare start for the German who then collided with Bruno Senna later in the first lap and ended up last. Despite surviving the bad start Webber did not help Vettel out against Alonso in the race which infuriated Red Bull chief Christian Horner and Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko.

Marko had always championed Vettel and backed his push for the title; whilst he has made some unflattering about Mark Webber which has further fuelled the speculation that Red Bull continue to back Vettel over Webber. However the incident in Malaysia earlier in the season has left Red Bull in an awkward situation if in the future they use team orders as many will feel that Webber isn't inclined to abide by team orders again let alone help Vettel with his title push.

With many arguing that the Pirelli era has taken away the racing element from the sport. The racing strategy has become more focused on protecting the tyres, this has led to the majority of the drivers to complain that they are not racing to their full potential. Pirelli had designed their tyres to ensure that they do not last for long periods of the race; and to add an exciting element to the sport. Instead what we've seen is roughly 20 tyre failures and the safety of the tyres called in to question. Webber may have felt it was the best time for a change and pursue an ambition he has harboured of winning the Le Mans race. Webber has chosen to try and achieve it with the famous Porsche team who are making a return to the famous 24 hour race, and looking to win it for the first time since 1998.

Although Mark Webber got himself in to a competitive winning car in his mid-thirties no one can doubt the talent he has, he racing prowess (his pass on Alonso at Eau Rouge in the Belgian Grand Prix being the best example) or the determination he has shown to get to where he is today. The man from Queanbeyan near Canberra in New South Wales with 9 wins and 37 podiums in Formula 1 to his name will be never be forgotten once he departs from F1 and will be sorely missed by peers and fans a like.




24 Jun

Rafael Nadal: A shock defeat or not?

Steve Darcis and Rafael Nadal acknowledge each other at the end of the match

Rafael Nadal...a man described by many as one of the best tennis players of all time. A man liked by many within the game and outside the game for his humility and his never say die attitude. However, Rafael Nadal is a man who has been recently plagued by injuries to his knees over the last several years which has arguebly robbed him of that extra yard in tennis.

Now lets not take anything away from Steve Darcis, he played some of his best tennis to date. It was the first time the world number 135 ranked Belgian had beaten anyone inside the top 5. Darcis doesn't have an impressive record at Wimbledon (his best year was the second round in 2009); but many were quick to suggest that Nadal's long standing knee injuries were to blame rather than give credit were it was due to Darcis, although Nadal was quick to deny suggestions that his knee injury was the reason for his defeat. Nadal as always showed his humble side and complimented Darcis on his game as he did to Lukas Rosel last year when the then world number 100 outplayed him on his way to a thrilling 5 set victory over the two time Wimbledon champion.

Not long after the match German tennis legend Boris Becker had suggested that Rafael Nadal should consider his future on grass after suffering his second straight defeat at Wimbledon to a player ranked 100 or below (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/tennis/23040937). After the defeat last year to Lukas Rosel, Nadal took a 7 month hiatus to recover before his impressive comeback this year. It seems that despite reaching the final in each of the nine tournaments he has entered (winning 7 of them including the French open) his knees either haven't fully recovered, or he has struggled with the transition from clay to grass (which wasn't helped by the fact that he didn't play in a warm up tournament on grass, and taking in to account that the majority of his matches have been on clay). To play on grass you need to have strong legs and knees because not only will the players be sliding and slipping, there's also a lot of change in direction. The ball bounches a lot lower meaning that the players are bending their knees more often which will put an extra strain on Nadal's knees.

If you look at the stats during the match, Nadal won 65% points on his first serve compared to 74% by Darcis; Nadal won 54% points on his second served compared to 57% by Darcis. Nadal hit 32 winners whilst Darcis hit 54. Darcis also generated 11 break point chances converting 3 of them while Nadal converted 2 break points out of the 7 chances he generated. On the day, dodgy knees or not Nadal was simply beaten by the better player who went out all guns blazing to win the biggest match of his career. 

So what next now for Nadal? While the betting industry recalculates the odds for the men's title, and the path towards the quarter final and semi-final (as far as Murray and Federer are concerned); Nadal will have a while to prepare for the less demanding (as far as his knees are concerned) hard court season; providing that he's fit enough to enter the US open. One thing is for sure, his long standing knee problems will affect the amount tournaments he can participate in on the ATP tour, and he'll have to manage his fitness, and himself carefully in order to put himself in a position to maximise his chances at the grand slams.

Thank you for taking your time to read, please feel free to comment :-)

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