Monday, 29 October 2012

Where to start...

You know there is controversy when Match Of The Day interrupts their broadcast to break some news. This news was that Chelsea had reported match referee Mark Clattenburg for alleged racial comments towards two of their players.

In addition, the wrongful (in my opinion) sending-off of Torres and questionable Hernandez winner were probably enough to make the back pages on their own.

What many won't know is that Clattenburg was once sacked from his job by the Professional Game Match Officials. He had allegedly sent threatening emails to business associates, and was said to have debts totalling £175,000.

It is difficult to make a comment without knowing precisely what was said at Stamford Bridge during Chelsea's 3-2 defeat to Man United. However, one would have hoped that Clattenburg would be a bit more careful, given his history. He has clearly put himself in a position of vulnerability and he will not want to read the sport sections of newspapers for the time being.

Back to the more football-related matters, and Chelsea's first defeat of the league season came in a predictably see-saw fashion. Two awesome attacking forces came together on Sunday, and in the end United's posed the greater punch. Eleven versus 11 may have given us a different outcome, but that's football. I would expect both to be key contenders for the title come May.

In an equally anticipated Merseyside derby, Luis Suarez predictably stole the headlines (and even more predictably not just for his football). His swan dive in front of David Moyes was a bit over the top for a goal that he didn't even score himself. He should've saved it for Liverpool's second goal - although Leighton Baines was probably relieved to see attention diverted away from his unlucky deflection.

Another poor referee's decision left the score at 2-2 - Suarez's last-gasp finish should definitely have stood. As it stands, Everton can still claim to be Mersey top dogs, but Liverpool are on the way up. A thin squad will be stretched to the limit for Brendan Rodgers - an improvement on last season's league position would represent a real achievement.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Factual sport analysis with a bit of fiction thrown in..

To start off this chunk of sporting news, I am pleased to announce that I am a Football Manager 2012 Europa League champion.

My mighty Newcastle United side, currently at the end of the 2013/14 season, battled through a tough knockout draw of Valencia, Borussia Dortmund, Udinese, Leverkusen, leading to a clash with Bayern Munich at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid. Not for me the dour 0-0 that Chelsea ground their way to - 1-1 after normal time gave way to 2-2 after extra-time. Penalties was again the decider, 3-1 to the Toon was enough. I think that makes me the first Northern Irish manager to conquer Europe..

In real news - Man United's Tom Cleverley thinks Man United's Wayne Rooney should be England captain. Talk about sucking up. Young Mr Tom should concentrate on cementing his own place before letting his own opinions loose - although he was probably gently nudged in the direction by a desperate journalist searching for a quote in the barren wasteland of stories that is the international break.

In tennis, 20 year-old Heather Watson has become the first British women to win a WTA singles title since four years before she was born. I must admit, after the Olympics I thought Laura Robson would get there first, but the two seem to be pushing each other to greater heights, which is exactly the way it should be in professional sport.

The same seems to be happening in the men's game - Djokovic got a measure of revenge over Murray in winning an epic Shanghai Masters final. While it would be foolish to write off Federer and Nadal, it is undeniable that the Scot and the Serb are in their own little private duel at the moment - I get the feeling they will trade the number one spot for a couple of years before another new generation sweeps the rug from under their feet.

Formula One's musical chairs is well underway. Well sort of. With Lewis Hamilton's move to Mercedes a cert, Vettel and Massa are also currently in the headlines, with rumours of Vettel moving to Ferrari in 2014 and Massa's place perhaps being under threat if he does not deliver the goods next year. After the injuries the Brazilian has had to recover from, I hope he fends off the double world champion's play for his seat.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Clash Of The International Titans

So England got the job done - although it would have been an alarming first 35 minutes until Wayne Rooney opened the scoring from the penalty spot. It has been well reported that the 5-0 defeat was actually better than the average margin of defeat that San Marino have experienced. The tiny nation's record defeat was 13-0, at home to Germany in 2006.

What usually happens in circumstances like this is a combination of massive overconfidence on the part of the favourites and a raising of the minnows' game. Well here's a look at the stats - 86% possession for England. In a year's time, when Roy Hodgson is probably on the ropes for one reason or another, the possession stats will of course be wheeled out in an attempt to prove that at least England's ball retention has improved since that 0-0 hammering dished out by Italy. The fact that San Marino were part of the itinerary will be gleefully brushed under the carpet.

A problem I have found during this international period is that people seem to question the fact that fixtures like this should even take place. I may myself be somewhat dismissive in the above paragraph - but if people are so adamant that the likes of San Marino shouldn't be taking part in international tournaments like this, then why not apply the same logic to the Premier League? This blog has previously railed against a closed Premier League (ie. no relegation) and one way to ensure San Marino never improve is to bar them from playing better opposition. I don't see how that could benefit anyone.

The same could have been said to apply to Wales in recent years. Obviously Wales have always been a couple of tiers above international football's true cannon fodder, but had their good form under Gary Speed (RIP) come at a better time they may themselves have been competing at Euro 2012. Who'd have thought that?

San Marino may only have a population of 30,000, the smallest of any UEFA country, but to get rid of them from the international arena would be heartless. Not everyone can be Spain.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Take that, Blogosphere!

The big talking point in English football this week was the new St George's Park centre. This centre of excellence is the brain-child of Trevor Brooking and aims to bring the glory days back to English international football. It is certainly a step in the right direction. However, a glossy new building will do nothing to help reverse a hoof and hope footballing culture unless the coaching staff can really drill the key technical and mental skills neccessary to mould a team that fans are willing to get behind.

When Arsene Wenger eventually retires/resigns from Arsenal the FA should do all they can either to appoint him to the top job, or at least a backroom advisory role. His footballing philosophy is one that can and should be taken on board. His lack of success at club level in recent years is not important - the transfer market is not his strong point. However, the amount of lesser-known players he has welded together into fluid teams is astounding. When you marry that with traditional English brawn, success can be expected.

Ryan Bertrand has kept Twitter firmly in the spotlight, claiming the injury that kept him out of England's titanic clash with San Marino was something rather more than a sore throat - how long before the BBC football page has a dedicated Tweet Beat news-section. If they steal that name for their advantage I will not be amused.

One thing that Bertrand's rant proves is that clubs should always have cover for each position. If one Chelsea left-back cannot provide hilarity for us all, then another should be able to step in at a moment's notice. In emergencys I suppose on-loan Patrick van Aanholt can step in - I checked his Twitter, he needs to step up the controversy factor. This was the highlight -

"Morning yall... can't wait to see my car when it's finished"

Tame tame stuff.

In other slow news - Lewis Hamilton's wondering out loud whether or not to use Twitter has seemingly found its way onto the BBC Sport front page (sorry BBC, you're really getting it in the neck today). I'm telling you.. the dedicated Tweet Beat (TRADEMARK) is only days away....

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Made of 90% football and 10% tennis

Oh Ashley Cole. Just to add to the growing list of Twitter-related storms in football, he felt it appropriate to call the FA a "bunch of t***s." He may have a point, but he has surely sealed himself some sort of exile from the national side. Or at least a seat as far away as possible from any FA directors on the next England away trip. For someone who wasn't directly involved in the Terry/Ferdinand fiasco, aside from providing a character testimony in court, he is showing up in headlines a worrying amount.

On a similar note, for any agoraphobics looking for bedtime reading, here's the published FA ruling

Sunderland's trip to Man City has drawn a quote worthy of being pinned up on the away dressing room wall. Roberto Mancini has rightly spoken of the threat posed by Adam Johnson, knowing full well he shouldn't be scared of someone who he deemed not good enough for his own Man City side. This is a key quote though from a BBC story:

"I am sure he will do well for Sunderland and go to another top team because he deserves this."

A sneaky attempt to stir discontent in his opponent's dressing room? Who knows what goes through the Italian's head - one thing is for sure, he's taken tips from Sir Alex on mind games.

Another manager who could probably stand to spend a week under Fergie's wing is Chris Coleman. As if the morale of his Wales squad wasn't low enough after the 6-1 thrashing in Serbia, this delightful nugget has come out of the woodwork, pleading for Craig Bellamy to commit to the national side.

""I hope he's in. He is a terrific player. It is not as if we have two or three Craig Bellamys coming through. Players like Craig don't come along all the time."

Read as - I don't think my young players, which were good enough for Gary Speed (RIP) are good enough for me. No one is trying to claim that Wales have youngsters to match the Spanish or the Germans, but a bit of public support might get them playing for their manager, as they've shown they are better than recent results. Is Coleman better than recent results? He's had decent, if unspectacular success on the pitch in his previous two jobs, but his record with British players (Coventry and Fulham) is unimpressive.

In tennis, Andy Murray's unstoppable run has come to an end, losing in the Japan Open semi-finals to Milos Raonic 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-4). I guess he's just a sham. Strip him of his Grand Slam title and Olympic Gold. We all knew he wasn't really good enough. Etc.