Tuesday, December 11, 2012

England's Test Schizophrenia

It's been quite a 2 years for the England Test team, a dominant win over Australia on their own patch was backed up by a trouncing of India at home two Summers ago. Then just when it was all looking so rosy came an awful performance against Pakistan, scratchy ones against Sri Lanka and West Indies before an absolute hiding at home to South Africa where England barely looked competitive.

With a ominous tour to India looming, the retirement of Captain Andrew Strauss as well as the whole KP debacle, things were not looking good for the recent World No1 team.

England duly looked off the pace as they were well beaten in the first test in Ahmedabad and the signals for a whitewash were already looking ominous. In the bowling Broad looked out of form and Finn was injured.

The batting line up looked even worse with the inexperienced Compton being followed by a horribly out of touch Trott, a seemingly madcap KP and an iffy Ian Bell. Only Captain Cook and Matt Prior were offering any respite, the tour looked like becoming a disaster.

And then England picked Monty Panesar in Mumbai and it all changed. From absolutely nowhere, England produced a stellar performance to see India off comfortably before showing up in Kolkata and doing it all over again. Even were England to lose in Nagpur, a creditable draw would have been seen as a great outcome at the start of the tour whereas England have genuine hope of winning the series 1-3.

Much of England's success is down to Alastair Cook who has been absurdly good since taking the captaincy. The reintegration of KP threw up what most impartial bystanders had suspected, that the good far outweighed the bad.

Monty Panesar in particular and Graeme Swann were inspired in Mumbai and Jimmy Anderson and Steve Finn worked wonders with the seam in Kolkata. England have put in genuine team performances in the way they were doing 18 months prior with Alastair Cook being ably backed up by Trott and KP with the bat. Their fielding was sharper again also.

The hammering at the hands of South Africa put some serious doubts in supporters' minds over next years' Ashes double header - especially with Australia unearthing some new bowling talent. A win in India followed by a good tour to New Zealand would do much to restore confidence before the year of all years against Australia - No Nonsense.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chelsea lose all credibility

You could to a point argue that much of Chelsea's managerial merry go round was in some way defensible. Ranieri was a madcap manager from the old regime and no one could argue that Jose Mourinho was anything other than a fantastic appointment.

Mourinho although clearly irked by interference from above, proved to be a short term guy in any event who engineers his own removal when it suits him, he has done it at both Chelsea and Internazionale after all.

Avram Grant was nothing other than a short term fix designed to keep the Chelsea juggernaut on course until the arrival of a new broom in the Summer.

Again, few argued with the appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari, a manager of huge international pedigree but here is where the case for any defence starts to breakdown. Scolari was clearly struggling to some extent to adapt but the issue of player power within the dressing room forced him out quickly.

Hiddink again was a short term fix who had no aspirations to manage Chelsea long term and he merely paved the way for Carlo Ancelotti.

Ancelotti lasted longer than most as he doesn't rock the boat - something which has clearly appealed to PSG's new owners - and he was a popular figure amongst the players. He was given little funds to develop an already ageing team and was merely asked to patch up the old warriors, the double in his first season wasn't enough to save him.

Andre Villas Boas would herald a brave new world we were told yet other than the inherited and erratic pair of David Luiz and Ferando Torres (not so much erratic as flat lining), AVB was only really given Juan Mata to add to the mix.

What AVB wasn't given at all was any time and with Chelsea lurching towards financial disaster in the shape of no Champions League football this season he was also hooked and Roberto Di Matteo stepped into the bridge with the rest of last season becoming the stuff of legend.

Everyone who follows football knew that RDM was not Abramovich's first choice over the Summer, in fact he may not have even been his second or third. We would also point out that this blog, as much as we love RDM did not think he was the right man either.

It was a populist choice based on the fact that he had somehow inexplicably steered Chelsea to Champions League glory and quite simply that Pep Guardiola had absolutely no interest in managing Chelsea.

Given that RDM was not Chelsea's first choice, it would seem churlish for anyone to suggest that the purchases of Hazard and Oscar were anything other than Abramovich's. Signings such as Victor Moses strike more of a manager who knows the game a little.

Whislt there is no question that there would be three less Premiership titles and one less Champions League title without Abramovich and that all Chelsea fans are extremely grateful for that, the situation has become a farce.

Chelsea now appear to purely be a billionaire's play thing, a reality version of Championship Manager if you like except that most CM players employ much more meticulous planning.

Given the level of investment and the push to move to a new style of football, why would you entrust the task to a manager that you clearly did not rate?

Rafa Benitez will prove a hugely unpopular choice - initially at least - amongst Chelsea fans who have a spikey view of him at best from his frequent clashes with Chelsea demi-god Jose Mourinho. It is also yet another 'interm appointment' meaning again that long term planning is a fantasy. It may also be nothing other than a last throw of the dice to get Fernando Torres playing well, Benitez after all being the only manager to bring him to the peak of his powers.

Pep Guardiola's name keeps being brought up but he must be looking at all of this and asking himself why on earth would he really need it? It is a long way from Barcelona.

There are certain clubs such as Real Madrid and Inter that have employed similarly ludicrous short termism but they remain a huge draw for managers given the stature of the those clubs. Chelsea are now of course a 'big club' given their recent success but they remain a level off these huge institutions and they would do well to remember that.

Winning the league this year was always going to be a stretch and whilst admittedly going out of the Champions League at the group stage will clearly hurt the club, it is again bad planning that is to blame for yet another manager being fired.

If RDM was to be given such little time and margin for error then he should not have been appointed in the first place. It is also not his fault that the ageing axis of Lampard and Terry has not been adequately replaced yet and that Jon Obi Mikel is simply not good enough as their holding player.

Chelsea's dysfunction has become an embarrassment for the fans but unfortunately not for the club's management. They however care not what the fans nor anyone else think.

Abramovich would argue - if he ever spoke - that his policies have brought around three Premierships and a Champions League in the nine years he has been there and he would be right to a huge degree.

He clearly has a passion for football but unfortunately, unlike the Championship Manager players, his trigger finger exists in the real world and is to the wider detriment of the club irrespective of the trophies that come along the way - No Nonsense.

Friday, November 9, 2012

What is wrong with Roberto Mancini?

It is often said that teams are a reflection of their managers. ManYoo down the years have had Keane, Hughes, Cantona, Ince, Neville G, Stam, Schmeichel, all have breathed fire down their opponents necks in the image of their master.

Arsenal in the same way adopt a very studious and methodical approach to any given match yet there's an inherent suspicion that they're really just a bit of a pansy.

Chelsea under Mourinho were efficient, full of purpose, prone to the odd tantrum and devastatingly successful, the list goes on. So how does that leave Manchester City under Roberto Mancini?

City are an utter paradox, a team of spoiled overpaid superstar individuals who refuse to take the pitch in crucial Champions League ties, a team that threw away the title lead in such weak fashion towards the end of last season and have again flunked in the CL this time around.

Yet they are also the team that clawed back that lead that they gave up to win the title, they are the team that were 1-2 down to QPR with only minutes left in the season yet scored twice to win the most dramatic title in the English game since a certain Michael Thomas scored at Anfield twenty three years ago.

They are a team that were 1-0 down at West Brom recently with ten minutes to go and sent on the brooding Edin Dzeko to score twice and are still unbeaten this season. So which is the real Manchester City?

Much of the reason for this conundrum must lie with Roberto Mancini. Mancini was a brilliant (check you tube) yet highly temperamental player (a toned down version of Di Canio or Cantona), prone to mood swings and brilliance.

As a manager he utterly confounds with a combination of charm, wit and humour and a very quick temper and thirst for confrontation. His predilection for act first/think later reactions is there for all to see and it is this Jekyll and Hyde that appears to be muddling his team.

Mancini is clearly getting many things right. Many clubs have spent a lot of money yet have not necessarily bought success. It can be done but it still requires sound management, especially when faced with Sir Alex Ferguson.

Winning the league last season was no mean feat and yet Mancini has flunked his lines so badly in the Champions League yet again. There also appears to be little joy in the man, win or lose and that feeling seems to be transmitting itself to the fans who were leaving the stadium in droves in midweek despite City trying desperately for a win. The CL is the pinnacle of the game yet their fans seem ambivalent towards it, why?

Mancini is a naturally confrontational person, indeed he seems to revel in it (why else re-sign Mario Balotelli?) and there is nothing to suggest that prevents you from being a successful manager, after all Mourinho, Ferguson and Cruyff before them have managed to blend their caustic tendencies with winning trophies.

There are of course managers who's abrasive manners have hindered their managerial careers no matter what their intelligence or footballing knowledge, step forward Graeme Souness and Roy Keane. There is no doubt that Mancini has been successful but he appears to be treading a fine line between the two.

Manchester City need more than anything else right now, stability and continuity and both of those must come from the manager. Despite knowing this - and he must be aware of it - Manicini continues to agitate against his employers constantly complaining at his treatment.

It may come from an inherent insecurity, he was after all sacked from Internazionale after winning Serie A due to his failures in Europe. With City in exactly the same position and with ex Barcelona staff being hired and Pep Guardiola looking for a new challenge, these feelings of uncertainty may well have grounds.

Recent public revelations that he had extensive talks to join Monaco in the Summer as well as talking to several other clubs would seem to serve any positive purpose to anyone connected to Manchester City yet someone either connected to Mancini or City leaked the story. Either he wants out or someone wants him out.

There is much talk of the egos in the City dressing room. Yaya Toure talked openly about it recently. This is nothing new, successful clubs are full of big egos, it goes with the territory yet the truly great sides have these egos in check, either through the Mourinho and Ferguson method of sheer ruthlessness or through the Barcelona method where the joy of what they are achieving seems to render egos within the team meaningless.

Mancini is adopting the former method yet his attempts to clamp down on his players smack of rage rather than authority, the Carlos Tevez saga being a prime example. Whilst there is no doubt that Tevez has generally behaved terribly, there also seems little doubt that there was a huge element of misunderstanding in what happened that night on the bench in Munich.

Unlike Ferguson who managed a diplomatic climbdown over the Rio Ferdinand 'kick it out' furore, Mancini was unable to do the same, sticking to his guns to the extreme with the upshot being they lost a key player for most of the season and was probably the reason they nearly lost the title.

Both Ferguson and Mourinho rarely talking badly about their players in public, only doing it one suspects for strategic reasons when they feel it will have a positive effect on the player in question. Mancini has been quick to criticise several of his players in public including Dzeko, Tevez and Balotelli as well as more recently Micah Richards and Joe Hart. Alex and Jose would have dealt with things 'in house'.

Manicini it seems is at war with both those above and below him at Manchester City and whilst it is possible that he is actually trying to get sacked - as Mourinho did at Chelsea - he would appear to be on increasingly borrowed time. As it was so succinctly put in Braveheart, if you make enemies on all sides, you'll wind up dead, who'd have thought Manicini should be heeding advice from Mel Gibson? - No Nonsense.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Problems Mount For Chelsea

Roberto Di Matteo's honeymoon has been an extended one with last season's heroics in the Champions League being followed by an - until recently - impressive start to the season with Chelsea's new starlets Oscar and Hazard settling into the side quickly.

The John Terry affair has been an unfortunate cloud hanging over for the club and in hindsight it appears it would have been far better to have had the matter dealt with last season with on pitch sanctions taken at that point. It would have given the club more time to rebuild their damaged reputation also.

Whilst Chelsea's problems surrounding the John Terry affair have been well documented, problems on the pitch appear to be mounting too. Impressive wins against Spurs and Arsenal away have been offset by being well beaten by Atletico Madrid, Shaktar Donesk and ManYoo. Tactically against the best sides Chelsea appear to be wanting, much the same as Man City have been in Europe.

The writer of this blog was (un)fortunate enough to be present for the ManYoo game at Stamford Bridge and several things were apparent. The biggest issue other than tactics appears to be a chronic lack of leadership at the club.

It stems all the way from the owner. All Chelsea fans love him for his chequebook but none could profess to knowing his thoughts - and certainly not his values - on many issues other than his supposed love for total football.

Watching United in the flesh for the first time in many years since moving abroad, the writer again was struck by the drive that the men in red have stemming almost certainly from the touchline where one manager breathes fire and the other appears to be everyone's friend.

ManYoo man for man looked to be a poorer team than Chelsea - other than upfront and we'll come to that - yet the difference in desire and the level of aggression was apparent from the start, it is something that doesn't always come across on television.

Whilst Chelsea's play this season has often been commendable, this was a team shorn of the characters of Drogba, Terry, Lampard as well as others who have left such as Essien. Whilst this blog is not suggesting these players should still be playing regularly or even at the club given the need for younger legs, there is no doubt that the club is lacking character and apparently at all levels.

This brings us to Fernando Torres who has been defended many times on this blog. Torres appeared to have been enjoying a mini renaissance after his well documented struggles but of late again he has been at his surly and shoulders sagging worst.

Enjoying a beverage after the game, I asked one of my fellow fans what they thought the score would have been had we had RVP today and United had Torres, both of us agreed Chelsea would have won.

Chelsea are inherently going to struggle if they are going to persevere - Sturridge the only other current option - with their central striker seemingly unable to re-find either his physical form or his mental strength.

With the array of inventive talent behind him moving the ball around quickly it should be food and drink for Torres yet his goalscoring chances seem to be limited to headers from crosses and corners.

In addition to these issues, Chelsea have taken great umbrage with Mark Clattenburg over firstly his handling of the game and then the alleged comments to Jon Obi Mikel. The reality is Chelsea lost the game because they were set up poorly, far too open at the back.

Ashley Cole is supposedly the best left back in the world yet he was horribly isolated twice in the first twelve minutes with the result being two goals. Chelsea were again exposed in the second half leading to Ivanovic's fully deserved sending off.

Whilst the Hernandez goal was offside, it wasn't a blatant mistake and one made by the linesman after all and the kind that are got wrong at every stadium all over the country every week.

That leaves the Torres second yellow as the only howler and whilst it ruined the game as a spectacle - especially for someone who had flown five thousand miles to see the match - it wasn't the reason that Chelsea lost the game.

Chelsea have made a further rod for their own back by making snap accusations against Clattenburg that seem unlikely in the extreme, indeed the Juan Mata accusation was withdrawn promptly.

Whilst there is little doubting the appalling on field behaviour of many footballers, it seems staggering to believe that a professional referee would have said the things that are being suggested.

Referees do not behave like footballers on the pitch in the same way that they rarely get involved in roastings, assorted nightclub incidents, urinating in public and getting into fights outside McDonalds off it. It is doubtful after all that the referees could afford the super injunctions.

It is not all doom and gloom for Chelsea, they have after all had an incredible year given the Champions League triumph and the exciting new signings give much cause for hope. Seeing Oscar in the flesh in particular, he looks a huge talent with defensive duties to match the attacking talent. Alongside the likes of Mata, Hazard, Luiz (we still rate him highly), Ramires and Ivanovic, Chelsea have mainly talented players not yet even in their prime.

The siege mentality however fostered during the Mourinho years has been replaced by an air of near paranoia and of being just plain sore losers. It's time for Chelsea to show some leadership and that means at all levels in the club starting with the crunch home tie with Donetsk this week - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Greatest Ever Premiership XI

This article will no doubt cause much conjecture, disagreement and even wailing and nashing of teeth and that is the entire object of the exercise.

For clarification, we are only looking at the period since the inception of 'The Premiership'. This allows for a smaller group of players to be compared as well as not running into the difficulties of comparing eras.

The criteria for selection are individual performances set over one season only in the Premiership, i.e. when they were at the peak of their powers, who was the best in a given position?

Given that ManYoo have been the dominant force since the inception of the Premiership we shall be using Sir Alex's tried and trusted 4-4-2 (just as he starts to tinker with employing a diamond formation...),
We will also be attempting to give a blend and balance to the side. So prejudices and rivalries aside, here we go.

There are basically three candidates for this slot which are Peter Schmeichel, David Seaman and Petr Cech. All three offer compelling arguements.

Schmeichel was one of the most dominating keepers in history as well as being a phenomonal shot stopper. His long flat throws from the penalty box were an incredible offensive weapon for ManYoo also. He was however prone to gaffs and his berrating and blaming of anyone else around him when something went wrong could be a destructive influence. Ferguson it must be said has never effectively replaced him.

David Seaman was an extremely good and reliable goalkeeper but never one suspects a great one. Neverthless he offered Arsenal a level of consistency over such a huge period that he remains one of their best ever signings. Like Schmeichel, he has never been adequately replaced.

Petr Cech has had two careers at Chelsea, one before his horrendous head injury and one after. The early Cech probably only lagged Gianluigi Buffon in terms of ability and performances. After the injury however he has never quite been the same, only starting to recover some of his former belief last season. Still remains a top class keeper.

It is tough between Schmeichel and the young Cech but Peter Schmeichel takes the No1 jersey for the team.

Right back
A relatively straightforward choice given the paucity of options. Step forward everyone's favourite Sky Sports pantomine villian, the ever 'busy' Gary Neville. Whilst not everyone's cup of tea, Neville was an exceptional and versatile defender who rarely let his team down. His haul of medals lay testament to that. The earlier vintage also had great attacking verve with fantastic link up play with David Beckham in particular.

Honourable mentions to Albert Ferrer, Lauren, Lee Dixon, William Gallas and Jamie Carragher.

Left back
Whilst there's not been a huge amount of quality at right back, there have been many good left backs with excellent players such as Patrice Evra, Graeme LeSaux and Gabriel Heinze all rating a strong mention. Ashley Cole however stands above all as possibly the best left back the world has seen since Paolo Maldini and Bixente Lizarazu (Roberto Carlos couldn't defend in case you were wondering).

Centre back pairing
Certainly one of the toughest conundrums in this entire process. There have been great rugged leaders such as Tony Adams, John Terry, Nemanda Vidic and Jaap Stam. Vincent Kompany has also developed into a true leader at City.

There have been exceptionally technically gifted and quick defenders such as Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King and Ricardo Carvalho and man mountains such as Sol Campbell and Marcel Desailly.

Tony Adams was a great leader and improved hugely under Arsene Wenger. John Terry for a couple of seasons under Mourinho was genuinely world class and seemed to find the extra yard of pace that he now so badly lacks. He remains an excellent passer of the ball as well as chipping in with some crucial goals.

Nemanda Vidic's recent injuries have only reinforced just how much he is missed whilst Jaap Stam recovered from a sticky start at Old Trafford to become one of the most dominant defenders in European football.

Rio Ferdinand is one of the most elegant central defenders in modern times although lapses in concentration can sometimes let him down, it's almost sometimes as if the game is to easy for him. There was always a suspicion that it was Carvalho that made John Terry look good and that says as much about him as anything although he had fantastic distribution and attacking verve also.

Arsenal have never really recoved defensively from Sol Campbell's departure, not a screamer or a shouter but simply an excellent defender. Marcel Desailly was coming to the latter stages of his career when he joined Chelsea but he remained one of the most dominant defenders in Europe with a wealth of experience. His distribution was also often underrated.

Given the array of attacking talent that will follow and the predilection for the full backs to get forwards, we are going with a solid and dominant pairing of Jaap Stam and Marcel Desailly. No centre forward would relish playing against those two (except possibly the one we have picked).

Right Wing
A straight forward shoot out between the two ManYoo No7s Beckham and Ronaldo. The Beckham of the turn of the century was a formidable force, running, tackling, crossing, shooting and with dead ball delivery with little compare. He was the geniune all action midfielder and one could sometimes understand his wish to play more centrally.

Ronaldo is almost a freak of nature given his stats, he is the only player who can remotely keep up with Lionel Messi's numbers. He arrived at ManYoo as a raw but incredibly talented winger and left the complete forward player who could score goals from anywhere including being a great header of the ball.

His sheer weight of goals in his final two seasons at Old Trafford mean that Cristiano Ronaldo gets to put back on the No7 shirt he had to give up to Raul.

Left Wing
Ryan Giggs we hear you cry and there is certainly a compelling arguement for ManYoo's most decorated player. Again we must stress the selection criteria is not consistency. Giggs has had a phenomonal career and on balance of sheer Premierships won it is hard to suggest not picking him. His final ball and lack of goals meant that amazingly enough he never truly realised his full potential however.

More recently, Gareth Bale has developed from an awkward full back into a full grown monster of a left winger with alarming pace and directness as well as great ball striking. If he continues to develop and realise his limitations (he is no Lionel Messi as he showed when given a roaming role last season) then he can become a devestatingly effective footballer of the highest class. Consistency and staying injury free will be the keys for Bale.
For a period at the end of the nineties however, Marc Overmars produced the kind of football that everyone knew he could prior to sustaining a potential career threatening injury. The highly skillful Dutch winger was a genuine match winner such as with his famous goal at Old Trafford as Arsenal won 0-1 to overhaul ManYoo for the title that year. Quick, direct and with a wonderful eye for goal, Barcelona were spurred to spending 25M on him (when 25M was still a lot of money).

An honourable mention to the man that replaced him, Robert Pires. Also David Ginola who played some incredible stuff for Newcastle in particular. Arjen Robben's short stay at Chelsea also produced some fantastic displays but the mercurial Dutchman was never able to put an entire season of excellence together.

Central Midfield Pairing
The key to this discussion is again balance. The league has seen combative box to box players with great defensive qualities such as Patrick Vieira, Roy Keane, Paul Ince and Emmanuel Petit. More creative goal scoring box to box players such as Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes and most recently Yaya Toure.

There is the defensive midfield tour de force that was Claude Makelele and the attacking creative schemer and goalscorer that was Cesc Fabregas as well as a diminutive Brazilian going by the way of Juninho. Luca Modric was also a truly wonderful player for Spurs during his time there, full of craft and guile.

For the first more defensively minded place, it is a fight between, Keane, Vieira and Makelele. Makelele gives a compelling arguement given the calls for balance but Roy Keane edges the arguement.

Keane as a force of nature had few peers. The aggression in his game left many to forget what a supremely talented player he was. Keane of the late nineties was one of the finest players of his generation and whilst not a Premiership match, his perfomance in the second leg of their Champions League semi final in Turin in 1999 was the stuff of legend.

His ill displicine added to the fuel of his general decline but for several years he was the driving force behind ManYoo's relentless success.

For the second place, it is a toss up between Scholes and Fabregas, both superb masters of ball retention and passing. Scholes has won everything in his career but whilst his consistency is admirable, Cesc Fabregas added a fantastic goal scoring pedigree to his performances during his final two seasons at Arsenal putting his contirbution onto a different level.

For those of you crying out for Steven Gerrard, the simple reality is that Gerrard is a very good player but not a great one. His inability to control the pace of a game renders him poorer in comparison to the true greats with everything always at one hundred miles an hour. Sometimes you need a scalpel and not a sledgehammer.

The 'No 10'.
With the wonderful football that has eminated from Spain in the past decade, so has a brand of attacking midfielder that doesn't really fit into a 4-4-2 system. Players currently such as Juan Mata or David Silva fit this profile, as did Joe Cole and Juninho to a large degree before him. These players as such don't really slot into this system - wonderful players that they all are.

Ferguson's teams have always been at their best with a withdrawn striker, be it Cantona, Sheringham or Rooney when he's played in his best position. All three would certainly put their hands up for selection but they have strong competition from Matt Le Tissier, Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp.

More recently Manchester City have added Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez who can either lead the line or play in the withdrawn role. Neither is a true 'No 10' however and nor is Wayne Rooney.

Le Tissier was probably the most gifted of all of these players yet he lacked the ambition to play at the very highest level shunning the brighter lights to remain a huge fish in a very small pond, his fitness was always an issue too.

Zola's impact on Chelsea was huge, voted their player of the century but Eric Cantona's influence was even bigger at Old Trafford with many memorable match winning performances.

Despite this, Dennis Bergkamp gets the nod for our first slot up front. His craft bordered on genius at times with goals both scored and created from all angles. Like Cantona he had a fiercely competitive streak and was part of Arsenal's most successful period in modern history.

There have again been many fantastic strikers to grace the Premiership. From the early days with Ian Wright, (Sir) Les Ferdinand and the emergence of the young Alan Shearer to the exciting arrival of Jurgen Klinsmann. Mark Hughes also gave many seasons of his masterclass of back to goal play and ball retention.

We then moved on to the likes of Robbie Fowler and the young Michael Owen before the arrival of Thierry Henry and Ruud Van Nistelrooy and finally Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres of the early Liverpool vintage. Along the way Andy Cole scored a barrel load of goals.

Again, both Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez have proven to be fabulous players either as a main or support striker. Robin Van Persie enjoyed an incredible season at Arsenal last year playing much more as a lead striker than as a withdrawn one, he plays with a huge level of skill.

It is incredibly hard to pick just one as Drogba had several fine seasons. Robbie Fowler was tremendous in his earlier Liverpool days, Thierry Henry was often unplayable and Van Persie was sensational last year.

We are however opting for Alan Shearer of circa '95/'96 vintage where he was in his absolute pomp. Pace, power, technique, he had absolutely everything with an unquenchable thirst for goals. It is possibly tough on Henry but there was always a suspicion that he went missing in the big games.

So there we have it, the best players in England's top division since the inception of the Premiership in 1992.


                                          Neville      Desailly    Stam       Cole

                                        Ronaldo      Keane   Fabregas   Overmars



Subs Bench
Petr Cech, Rio Ferdinand, Graeme LeSaux, Claude Makelele, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Thierry Henry

Whilst there will be calls for Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger and possibly even for Davie Moyes and whilst there are questions about his tactical accumen in the Champions League, few would argue that Sir Alex Ferguson has proven to be the master of the Premiership seeing off all comers.

The debate can now commence and whilst everyone will have an opinion and ultimately that's all that it is about, it is interesting to note that including the substitutes, only one player who is not from Chelsea, ManYoo or Arsenal has made selection - Alan Shearer.

Liverpool have endured their most barren domestic period which is reflected by not having a single player selected. ManYoo contribute the most players - 8. Arsenal contribute 4 (five if you include Ashley Cole) and Chelsea 5 (4 if you include Cole for Arsenal). It is little surprise those three until City last year were the only teams to win the Premiership since its' inception other than Blackburn (step forward Alan Shearer).

What is also interesting is that in the first eleven, only one player is currently playing. This is a reflection that in recent seasons, ManYoo, Arsenal and Chelsea (as well as Liverpool) have all been fading forces as has the quality of the Premiership been falling. Of the teams at the top, only really Spurs and Manchester City could claim to have significantly improved. If we were to do this exercise again in a few years times one suspects a few more Manchester City players will be replacing Arsenal ones - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lance Armstrong

Stories about doping in cycling have been so widespread for so long that they usually barely register as 'news', such is the level of global apathy towards cycling that the 'Tour De Cheats' has created.

Cycling has an almost incomparable history of cheating. Eddy Merckx a five time Tour champion and hero to many once said 'you don't win the Tour on bread and water'. Merckx rode in the 60s and 70s.

This had led to many cycling fans turning off their television sets. The Tour is the greatest endurance sport on the planet yet no one any longer believes what they see, any great performances immediately throwing up suspicions in the same way that wides and batting collapses now confound in cricket.

In sports, there have always been athletes such as Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan that transcend the sporting world and become global superstars, known to all. Lance Armstrong was and is one of those people.

Armstrong's story was utterly compelling, fighting back from near death from cancer was a story enough without winning seven Tours De France afterwards, it was amazing stuff and now it seems it was all too amazing.

The evidence that Armstrong was involved in and even led a systematic doping programme designed with the simple aim of delivering victories for himself is compelling. It was done with not a single thought for ethics, rules or even law and even now he shows no remorse.

Armstrong's defence is built around the simple premise that he has never failed a drugs test. Quite how this could possibly stand up to such an avalanche of detail, times, places, people, facts seems entirely implausible.

Quite why nearly every single cyclist or protagonist has owned up and made their peace - whether for their own ends or another reason - would do such a thing seems entirely at odds with Armstrong's statements also. Success always comes with people bearing grudges, but everyone?

Armstrong has always defended himself vociferously to anyone who would care to listen, he has always been a fighter whether it was cancer, cycling or anything else he cared to get involved with. For him to go to ground so meekly seems highly telling also, the case for the prosecution is so overwhelming, what else can he do?

Armstrong has of course crossed many lines with charges being suggested as strong as witness intimidation, perjury and even trafficking in controlled substances, criminal charges could be a very strong possibility never mind the prospect of being sued for countless prize money and performance related bonuses.

The man has of course done a huge amount of good, his Livestrong Foundation has raised countless millions for the fight against cancer and he has inspired many through his actions and his books. The question is now is what the motivation was for doing all this work? Was it genuine concern or was it simply to provide a distraction and a smoke screen to protect him from his real life's work, winning Tours at any cost?

It is a tragedy that two of the most dominant sportsmen of the previous decade, Tiger Woods and Armstrong have been exposed as frauds.

Whilst Woods' troubles have nothing to do with golf, there is little question that Tiger pedalled a myth about his being a family man to earn endorsements and cash in on his magnificent skills as a golfer. His public image was one of perfection, a golfing machine with the perfect home life off the course, everyone wanted to be Tiger Woods.

How wrong we were and even with a highly contrived public apology, Tiger has and never will fully recover from those events. The other players no longer fear him as they have seen him in reality to be as fallible as anyone. It was Tiger's mental strength more than any of his physical golfing attributes that set him apart. He had already beaten the other players before he teed off - Ernie Els admitted as much in his autobiography.

None of that of course makes any real difference in a sporting sense but on a personal level it does, Tiger is not the saint he painted himself to be and in Armstrong's case, the image of perfection has become utterly tainted given his exposure as a ruthless cheat and bully. This leads us back to the question of his motivation for all his charity work.

The other issue that Lance Armstrong has created is that whilst he has created hope for so many through his foundation, he has destroyed so much hope for many through his blatant cheating.

The problem is that cheating and in such an organised way taints your view of all sports. Athletics hit a new low when Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal in Seoul in 1988. The problems of the actions of the likes of Johnson, Armstrong, Marion Jones is that it kills sport for everyone else.

One hopes for instance that Usain Bolt is just a freak of nature, such an incredible physical specimen of huge proportions that his records are legitimate. But one cannot help having the nagging doubt that in a few years time we are set to be hugely disappointed when we find out otherwise. How many days, weeks and even months of Tour De France viewing over the years have been rendered entirely meaningless? Was any of it legitimate?

The Armstrong story will eventually fade from public view, the likes of Nike are even now standing by him referring to the amount of good that he done in his life. What no one knows is what his motivation was for this work outside of cycling.

And no one has yet counted the cost of what his doping actions have meant for up and coming professional cyclists, induced into his drugs culture, for would be future cyclists or athletes and for simple sports fans across the globe, shame on you Lance Armstrong - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

England Not Upto The Task

England surrendered their T20 crown last night, going out to the hosts with the merest of whimpers as they were well beaten by a talented and hard working Sri Lankan side.

For what seems the longest time now, England have had an obsession with changing their personnel hugely for different formats of the game seemingly forgetting that the basics of cricket, i.e. scoring runs and taking wickets remain paramount.

During England's horrible home performance at the 1999 World Cup, Sir Ian Botham lamented the introduction of so many 'bits and pieces' players who would not get into the side on the strength of either their batting or bowling yet were picked because they could do a bit of both, just not very well.

Since then, England have also developed an obsession with finding 'pinch hitters' and as of yet have still not figured out that when picking wicket keepers to open the batting in shorter formats, not one of those players is Adam Gilchrist.

Despite not being Adam Gilchrist however, it seems bizarre in the extreme that one of the most destructive test batsmen in the world right now, Matthew Prior is deemed not good enough to club a few overs for an England team hardly flush with established batsmen. Ian Bell is considered good enough to open the batting in ODIs for England yet isn't good enough to even get in the T20 squad, it beggars belief.

Looking at the England team last night, it had all the appearances of a development squad, hopelessly out of their depth against a first class International team. It is also time to stop the pretence that Ravi Bopara is an International cricketer, he has neither the technique nor the mental strength. Eoin Morgan also failed badly again last night when the team needed him.

England's sub continent travails against spin have been well documented and the irony is that in protecting the integrity of the England team by keeping their players from the IPL, England are going backwards (in all formats) against spin bowling and sub continent conditions where it appears more and more cricket is going to be played.

Whether anyone likes it or not, T20 cricket is here to stay and players are adapting and changing their skills accordingly through the IPL. Spin wasn't even the main culprit last night, more a devastating first over from Malinga that England simply couldn't cope with. Malinga's bowling in the T20 format is phenomenal and England had simply no idea how to deal with his clever use of cutters, length and changes of pace.

Stuart Broad is a fine player but it is questionable whether he is the right choice for captain given his propensity for hot headedness. T20 is a format that is often highly charged with fine margins, it is a cool head that is required and a batsman directing the bowlers at the end might serve England better. Unfortunately all the experienced batsmen were in TV studios or watching on TV at home.

This has been a year to forget for England across the board and with a daunting series in India to come followed by an energy sapping trip to New Zealand, all is not well in the England camp ahead of the Ashes. Maybe a certain Kevin Pietersen will be welcomed back more readily than anyone may have thought - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Brendan Rodgered?

Problems at Anfield have become all too frequent for many years now. But even during all the long years under the shadow from Old Trafford there has always been light at the end of the famous tunnel in the shape of some fine cup wins and one famous night in Istanbul.

Along the way there have been a myriad of fine players that have represented the club such as Gerrard, Michael Owen, Torres and Xavi Alonso and always some kind of hope that a genuine title challenge could be mustered. Those hopes are distant ones now with the size of the problems at Liverpool becoming worryingly apparent.

That is not to say that things cannot be rectified, in Brendan Rodgers they have a manager - that this blog believes certainly - that can chart a long term overhaul of the club. It is however a long term project and it is in danger of being derailed early in the process.

The cusp of the current issue surrounds deadline day which in itself begs several questions about the running of a club. Deadline day is something that should be avoided, not something for clubs to swarm around. The sound business is done early in the transfer window with the deadline day required only for tweaks or adjustments such as Real Madrid taking the option of Michael Essien as a squad player.

Liverpool it seems were awfully disorganised last Friday and allowed Andy Carroll to go out on loan without securing a replacement. The word being that Clint Dempsey was Rodgers' preferred replacement only to be told that FSG would not stump up the cash.

FSG are on a steep learning curve. They allowed Dalglish and Comoli to go bananas last Summer on a vast array of mediocre fare such as Henderson, Adam and Downing which when all added up was a pretty penny.

Liverpool's finances prior to this were not in particularly great shape in any event due to the handicap of Anfield's relatively paltry gate receipts and the sizeable spending under Rafa Benitez again often on questionable signings (Reina, Alonso and Torres excluded).

It is therefore no surprise that FSG wish to use a more concerted strategy and approach, concentrating on younger players with potential and resale value. Clint Dempsey at 29 years old offered none of that, he did however offer an immediate boost to the team in terms of his proven goal threat.

So here is the rub. Brendan Rodgers insisted on being in charge of footballing matters prior to joining. The idea of a director of football was kicked in to touch. If that were to be completely true ala Sir Alex Ferguson, then FSG's job is to advise Rodgers how much money is there and it his decision on whom to spend it.

What appears to have happened here is that FSG would not sanction the move due to Dempsey's age in an entirely opposite approach to the Glazers who sanctioned the huge outlay for the 29 year old Robin Van Persie. So is Brendan Rodgers in charge of footballing matters after all? It seems not.

American owners hail from a land of franchises and salary caps where budgets are generally met. In instances such as the LA Dodgers, tales of financial mismanagement are met with widespread derision. Financial prudence should be expected and to a large degree welcomed, just ask Leeds United or Rangers fans.

Where the line appears to have been crossed is that when a budget is available and FSG feels that their valuation of a player is more accurate than their managers'.

The view of this blog is that in both Van Persie's and Dempsey's case, the clubs paid over the odds for both players who will have little resale value and are already at their peaks. ManYoo will argue that should Van Persie fire them to the title and the latter stages of the CL that he was cheap and they would have a point.

The problem also with such a simplified view is that it does not allow the manager - looking at the wider picture - to mould the squad as he sees fit. If Dempsey were to repeat his goalscoring heroics of last season and move Liverpool up the table then they too could argue he was worth the money given the riches on offer closer to the summit

This current spat is probably no more than that but it is possibly showing that football is beginning to change with owners starting to flex their 'no' muscles a little more. Several managers have felt irked over the Summer at the perceived 'lack of support' from their boards but the reality is that clubs are simply maxed out.

Liverpool are for example paying Joe Cole 100,000 pounds a week, with 40,000 crowds and little corporate money and no Champions League revenues (or hope of them in the short term), that is simply too much.

Brendan Rodgers did not create the problems at Anfield, nor did he spend the money of the previous regimes. It does appear however that for the time being, he is going to have to pick up the tab, life at Swansea was never this complicated - No Nonsense.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Premiership is up and running

Three games in to the new season and the runners and riders are starting to take shape. None of the teams expected to be challenging for the title have played each other yet however meaning we're still without a clear picture of how the title battle will shape up. We can however make an assessment of the Premiership teams so far.

With the new array of attacking talent, Chelsea will be far too good for most teams. The problem however is with such vast quantities spent, Di Matteo's team will have to 'come out and play' in the big games and it remains to be seen how they will fare.

Chelsea were torn apart by Atletico Madird on Friday night and their record against the top teams in the league last year was poor. The jury is still out and they need to improve defensively quickly.

Michael Laudrup has enjoyed a fantastic start but there were signs against Sunderland of a soft centre. Swansea have been a suprisingly pleasant addition to the Premiership and they should be more than good enough to stay up.

West Brom
Good number twos aren't always successful managers but Steve Clarke has enjoyed a magnificent start to his managerial career. An excellent win against in form Everton is a good indicator that this perennial yo-yo club can again stay up.

Man City
The blue machine is rumbling to life after their stutter against Liverpool. They will be there or there abouts for the title without question with quality throughout their ranks. Europe could provide a distraction however.

Man Yoo
For long periods against Southampton they were terrible with an aged and creaking midfield and central defence. Despite that they still won. Ferguson gives them an incredible edge and Van Persie looks to have slotted in without blinking.

ManYoo will be pushing City hard for the title but they should struggle in the latter stages of the Champions League where their lack of mobility in central areas will be a problem.

Quick out of the blocks for once before slipping up at the Hawthorns. Everton have good players but the squad is thread bare. Should push for a European spot for sure.

West Ham
Love him or hate him Sam Allardyce gets results. West Ham should easily be good enough to consolidate their Premiership status and Andy Carroll may prove an excellent loan signing if he stays out of the capital's nightclubs.

As usual they have sold their best players and seemingly replaced them with inferior ones, Carzola looks a quality purchase however. They will continue to flatter to deceive and win nothing, should make the Champions League spots.

It will be another long hard season for Wigan and there is no reason to expect anything else. Will be a nailbiter to the end to stay up.

A tough season for the Geordies as expectations are higher now and it is hard to see them repeating last years' heroics. A top half finish should be guaranteed however as they have serveral fine players.

Have lost two good players but have gained Dimitar Berbatov who remains utter class. Should be good enough for a mid table finish.

There is a feeling that Pulis has 'taken them as far as he can' but like clubs such as Charlton before, Stoke should be careful of trying to change what has been a successful formula.

Stoke will remain hard to beat and will pick up enough points but hard to see the side progressing from previous seasons.

What Martin O'Neil lacks in tactical accumen, he more than makes up for in motivational powers. Sunderland have added quality in Adam Johnson and he should provide good service for Stephen Fletcher. They will be aiming for a top half finish.

This season was always going to be tough and so it is proving. The losses of Modric and Van Der Vaart have been offset by the arrivals of Dembele and Dempsey. Dreams of the Champions League will remain just that however in what is a crunch season for AVB.

Could be a tough season for the Canaries after last year's heroics and a season long battle with relegation looms for them.

Early days for the newly promoted side but again they would appear to have little to look forward to other than the bottom end of the table. They will have to fight hard to avoid the drop.

Aston Villa
Paul Lambert performed heroics at Norwich and remains a gifted young manager. There is a suspicion however that he may have underestimated the size of the job at Villa Park.

Villa's squad looks woefully inadequate in all departments and whilst they should be able to stay in mid table, there is a reason that many pundits are tipping them for the drop.

In the relegation zone after 3 matches was not what Brendan Rodgers was hoping for. Two dire perfomances against West Brom and Arsenal sandwich a fighting performance against the champions. Rodgers is attempting to change the club's philosophy from the bottom up and the Liverpool fans need to think about where they want to be in five years time, not in the next five minutes.

They should start to improve markedly after Christmas once the new ideas bed in. European football next year is not out of the question. Regardless of their change in approach, allowing Andy Carroll to go out on loan with no replacement looks incredibly short sighted however as he provides a fantastic 'Plan B'.

The Loftus Road side took an elephant gun to the transfer market but have so far come up hopelessly short. The squad looks sizeable and it is certainly not a cheap one. Something however seems to be wrong with the team and Mark Hughes need to get to grips with things quickly or it could be another tough season.

Whilst it is good to see the South coast team back in the big time, there is a suspicion that the stay could be a short one unless they start to mature quickly. They do have some decent players and a genuine goal threat in Ricky Lambert but the Premiership is a tough place to learn as they found out yesterday againt ManYoo. Will be tough to stay up.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Now is the Summer of England's Discontent

Just when it had all been going so well. The West Indies had been dispatched and a series against South Africa to confirm England's status as No1 in the world beckoned. Several weeks later, England have lost both their test and ODI No1 status, Kevin Pietersen and now their captain Andrew Strauss.

Despite the disappointing form with the bat that was the reason for his departure, Andrew Strauss should be remembered as a fantastic captain presiding over a period of phenomenal success unmatched in modern times for England. His reception in the press conference yesterday and the reaction from the players since said it all.

It was unfortunate that the KP fiasco was brought up at the press conference, mooted as a possible factor in his decision but the journalists are obliged to ask and it should not have detracted too much if at all from the main event.

For England, it is a bitter pill to swallow given that they have lost both a good player and a tremendous leader at a time when the team is having 'a bit of a wobble'. In reality however Strauss did appear to be a player in decline and the chances of a significant improvement from here on seemed remote.

As ever with the man he has done the right thing and in doing so swiftly, England have time to rebuild but they must act quickly and decisively. Their batting options have been much reduced with question marks now at opener, No4 and No6.

There is of course the option of moving Trott to open and moving Bell back up the order but that could possibly be folly. Whilst Cook and Trott clearly enjoy batting together, finding another settled opening partner for Cook would seem the better option. No3 for England has been a troubled position since Robin Smith left the scene and it would seem better to leave Trott where he is.

Ian Bell, for all his obvious class and new found self belief seems happier lower down the order and has provided invaluable runs for England in the last few seasons, again it would seem the wrong thing to do to start moving him around again.

Kevin Pietersen of course provides a dilemma for Cook and Andy Flower. What he did was wrong and clearly the dressing room is against him but he remains one of England's best players. Sometimes things do happen but people must always be able to move on.

There have been a plethora of instances in both cricket and wider sport where there have been unpopular or selfish players in a dressing room but it doesn't necessarily need to be a divisive issue if it is handled properly. England are a good team but not one that is good enough to pass over world class players. If KP is prepared to tow the line from now on he should be given a second chance.

For Alastair Cook, one must hope that he follows the example of his mentor Graham Gooch and flourishes as a captain and opening batsman. It is not an easy role, just ask Mark Taylor or Michael Atherton but it can be done and Cook it would appear has all the tools.

He certainly - Tuesday aside - has done a good job since taking the OD role and whilst a test series in India followed by back to back Ashes is a slightly bigger matter, he should be well placed to succeed. He also has the added advantage of a settled attack. Managing his bowlers should not be too much of an issue with all the apparent selection issues in the batting department.

It has been a six months that promised so much but ultimately has been one to forget for England  Strauss' decision whilst disappointing for all, is probably the right one and has been done at a point that gives England time to integrate new players into what has been a winning unit - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Amla and South Africa's Cream Rises to the Top

An innings of the highest quality by Hashim Amla consigned England to defeat in Southampton yesterday and took the Proteas to the top of the rankings in all three formats. Like a playground bully who takes a younger child's toys away, the tourists have grabbed both of England's No1 spots in both tests and ODIs.

Whilst the victory was set up by Amla's individual excellence, the reality is that South Africa have looked a level up from England for the entire Summer and this latest game won at a canter gives further evidence of the visitors' superiority.

Amla in truth gave a couple of chances with Kieswetter the culprit which only gains credence to the question - where the hell is Matt Prior? Whilst Prior's average in the OD format is not the best, this is not the Matt Prior of 4-5 years ago, he is a premier cricketer these days.

England's reply looked doomed from the first over when Captain Cook played all around a delivery that deserved nothing but the straightest and lowest bat. Ian Bell looked relatively assured but the other batsmen achieved starts without having anything like the application to bat through the overs. Bopara and Morgan remain bit part players that are not of the calibre to be members of a team challenging for the No1 spot in the world.

Samit Patel provides a confluence of frustration and quality to proceedings. There is no doubting his ability but given the level of sporting professionalism nowadays and the harshness of training for all athletes -regardless of their trade - one wonders just exactly what he is doing with his spare time and how much he really wants to excel.

Whatever the sub plots were, England were simply outplayed here and they need to improve especially in the discipline of batting. Andrew Strauss is rumoured to be just about to provide another twist to the England story and we wait to see how England will respond  - No Nonsense.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Reality Check For England

Following the England cricket team is a bizarre experience. For several decades they were mediocre at best. Central contracts ushered in a new era of professionalism however and as Australia's dominance started to wain, England have won three out of the last four Ashes series.

Despite all this, for most England followers it was hard to believe that the dominance they showed down under recently was real. That feeling was reinforced when they buckled so badly at the WACA, it had all been an illusion and it was back to the Aussies on top. But what happened afterwards at the MCG and the SCG threw all that on its' head. Dare to say it..... England are quite good.

India were put to the sword in the most clinical of fashions last Summer and suddenly England were No1 and there seemed little doubt that they fully deserved it. A settled batting line up - with only a nagging doubt about the No6 spot - and an all conquering attack, fantastic times to be an England fan with the odd T20 World Cup win thrown in too.

The reality is of course that Test Cricket itself is in decline with Australia, the West Indies and to a lesser extent Pakistan offering up pretty mediocre fare for the traditional power houses. India also it seems now has little interest in anything longer than 50 overs that isn't played in it's own backyard. England were No1 but one could ask, so what?

South Africa are a genuinely good Test team, everyone knew that and it was billed rightly as the defining series in the World right now. What England found however is that whilst they have become extremely good at bullying lesser teams ruthlessly, they appear to be rather less good at scrapping in close contests.

England were poor earlier this year against Pakistan with lots of talk of being 'undercooked', of a lack of preparation and an almost obsession about playing spin against sub continent teams with DRS. Sri Lanka came and went and so we moved on back home and the West Indies were duly dispatched.

England's preparations against South Africa were perfect even managing a sound thrashing of Australia in the ODI series to boot. South Africa were apparently the ones short of match practise and the media - this blog included - were lulled into the expectation of a sound Engalnd series victory.

But what transpired was very different with South Africa offering a master class in batting during the first test as England were literally hammered in the most crushing of defeats.

Whilst the second and third tests were much closer affairs, since the opening hours of the first test, there are very few sessions that England can look back on and say 'we won that one'. There was always the sense that England were hanging in there rather than ever really being on top, short bursts aside.

Whilst the bowling still looks decent with Swann, Anderson and Broad - although strangely down on pace - all looking the class acts that they undoubtedly are, the batting is now causing real cause for concern.

Cook has had a phenomenal couple of years and should bear no criticism but Strauss, great captain that he remains is becoming burdensome for the team due to his relative lack of runs. More competition for places is required for the openers. Cook averaged only 32.5 in the series with Strauss even worse with an entirely mediocre 17.8.

Jonathan Trott seems less assured than in previous times and with the loss of Kevin Pietersen, England's batting line up now looks brittle where previously it had looked fabulous and with great depth. Of England's premier front line, only KP in his four innings averaged above 50, Jonny Bairstow aside.

The KP saga has been an unfortunate sideshow and it remains to be seen what the long term ramifications will be. It is clear that the ECB, Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have lost patience entirely with the player and it has been noticeable that there has been no evident support from KP from anyone within the dressing room.

Whilst England's stance is commendable, it is clearly a 'lose lose' situation for everyone as England can little afford the loss of one of their premier batsmen. KP is a big game player and with ten Ashes tests looming in less than twelve months, a way to reintegrate him into the side would be the best outcome.

Jonny Bairstow everyone seems to believe has the talent and potential to become an England regular but he is young and needs time. Both Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan have shown time and time again that whilst they are extremely capable limited overs players, they lack the technique and possibly concentration at the very top of test cricket.

It is not all doom and gloom for England, they have after all been beaten by a very good side but there is definitely food for thought.

What is key is how England react to this set back and their Winter tour to India now takes on added spice given that they have lost series to both Pakistan and South Africa already this year. Winning in India is always tough but it would be the perfect way to set themselves up for next year's Ashes bonanza - No Nonsense.

Friday, August 17, 2012

England lose the impetus

England started in superb fashion yesterday with Finn proving again that he has the potential to be a match winner. His selection ahead of Bresnan was a positive one - no disrespect to the fantastic Yorkshireman - with the requirement of taking 20 wickets paramount.

Unfortunately for England, the early ground made up was lost to a strong South African rearguard action and the possibility of getting SA out for close to 2-250 disappeared quickly in the late afternoon gloom. With a less than settled batting line up, a score of over 300 from the tourists will provide a tough ask to produce a position to win from for England.

Jimmy Anderson was excellent all day and whilst Broad was strangely subdued and low on pace, Finn provided early fireworks before some radar issues in the afternoon. Graeme Swann asked many questions the most pertinent of which was 'Why didn't I play in the last test?'

South Africa as always were gritty with Duminy, de Villiers and Rudolph all absorbing various blows to the body to slowly claw their way back into the test.

The morning session will be key. If England can skittle the remainder cheaply then they have a chance to win the match if Cook and Trott in particular can perform their vigils at the crease. Should South Africa bat all morning and into the afternoon then England could potentially be staring down the barrel again - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Premiership Champions League Race, how are the runners stacking up?

With only a couple of days left until the first fixtures of the season, it has been a relatively quiet Summer transfer market with few clubs other than Chelsea willing to make a major splash of cash. So where does that leave the clubs chasing the Champions League spots this season?

Manchester City
City will actually benefit from a Summer of less upheaval and activity. Hamstrung by the massive wages they are paying to unwanted players they have been able to shift on, City have only so far recruited Jack Rodwell. He is an undoubted talent but the likes of ManYoo had clearly cooled their interest in him given his patchy injury record and even Mancini has said he is 'not ready'.

City appear to be investing in some more 'Englishness' with Rodwell but the squad essentially remains the same with the reintegration of Carlos Tevez. A central defender still looks a requirement. They will however be tough to beat this season now they a title under their belts.

United's midfield shortcomings have not been fully addressed by the signing of Shinji Kagawa but he will provide fresh impetus to a hopelessly ageing and immobile midfield. Should Darren Fletcher complete his recovery from illness then his added dynamism will be much welcome also.

The squad doesn't look United vintage but Ferguson as ever remains the trump card. The acquisition of Van Persie would take much of the pressure off Wayne Rooney's shoulders to provide the goals also.

'Arsenal in shock player purchase' read the early Summer headlines and it appears in Podolski and Cazorla they may have signed some genuine quality with the jury currently out on Giroud.

As always however, their Summer has been dominated by talk of players going the other way and yet another saga with Van Persie risks derailing Arsenal's early season plans. Had Arsenal sorted out Fabregas and Nasri earlier last year they may well have not had the awful start to the season from which they could not fully recover.

Will Spurs provide redemption for AVB? Spurs again look a team in limbo with the ongoing Luca Modric situation. They have been unable so far to add to their attacking options and it is unlikely that Van Der Vaart will get fitter as he gets older.

The signing of Vertonghen looks a sound one which will add much needed quality at the back now that Ledley King has finally succumbed to his chronic and unfortunate knee problems. Hard to see Spurs improving on fourth place and more signings are required.

Newcastle United
Despite last year's stellar showing it is hard to see the Toon as genuine contenders for fourth spot but thus they must such was last year's achievements. A relatively stable Summer seeing them hang on to their prize assets means the Geordies will start the season with renewed hope and the spectre of the returning Andy Carroll is also an intriguing sub plot.

Last year's big underachievers saved their season with their heroics in Munich which both permitted and signalled a spending spree not seen at the Bridge since Abramovich first arrived. Hazard and Oscar in particular will add pace, quality and youth but their settling in period might be bumpy.

Chelsea may also have a new face in one Fernando Torres now fully emerged from the shadow of Didier Drogba. Whether he can regain his former glories may be key to whether Chelsea can mount a serious challenge this season.

Mikel and Lampard look ponderous in midfield and more replacements including a right back are required for what is not a big squad in terms of quality. It is unlikely however that Abramovich paid around 60M to be patient and Di Matteo knows that results are imperative with Munich now a memory.

Again, hard to call them genuine contenders but this blog shall give Brendan Rodgers the benefit of the doubt for now. He has so far said and done the right things and appears to have a definite plan. The acquisitions of Borini and Allen will be key for Rodgers as to whether they can make the step up to playing at Anfield.

It may take Rodgers several seasons to shape Liverpool into what he wants and having picked such a promising manager, one hopes that FSG will indeed give him the time he requires.

This blog's prediction for the coming season

1. Manchester City
2. Manchester United
3. Chelsea
4. Arsenal
5. Liverpool
6. Spurs
7. Newcastle

Monday, August 13, 2012

We need to stop talking about Kevin.

Whilst this blog has been supportive of KP in the respect that a balance needs to be found in the cricket calendar and that there are far too many ODIs, the behaviour of England's premier problem child this week is beyond the pale.

There is no doubt that England will be significantly weaker against South Africa with KP's absence given that the team is struggling to find an answer to the No6 dilemma - without adding no4 to the problem - but the selectors have done the only thing they can do by dropping a player who is single handedly undermining the entire group.

Whilst Strauss has not exactly been setting the world on fire for some time now, his leadership and the partnership he has forged with Andy Flower has been paramount to England's success and if KP's presence is no longer a positive one then he must go.

The issue of the alleged sms' that have been sent is an entirely ludicrous situation. Everyone knows that you remain loyal to your teammates no matter what and you certainly don't go running to the opposition of all people. Those actions alone are disgraceful.

KP's youtube stunt is also miles offside with the timing - around the same time as Mo Farah was winning gold - showing the entirely false sense of importance that Pietersen feels he has.

It may well be that KP had rumbled that the ECB were going to call his bluff and was attempting to pre-empt his dropping by holding out a very public olive branch. Whatever the reasoning, the fences should have been mended privately and not played out to the public gallery - especially as KP was at pains to stress in the past he wished to keep all the discussions private.

Players are a long time retired from international sport and hopefully Lords will give Pietersen time to reflect on what has transpired and hopefully decide to knuckle down and want to start scoring runs for England again.

His teammates will be dismayed for sure at his absence but more so in his betrayal of a dressing room that seems totally at odds with his portrayal of his cutting an isolated figure. KP needs to stop talking and start batting, if England will take him back that is - No Nonsense.

Monday, July 23, 2012

England suffer in the sun

Three days of one sided cricket have shown Thursday to have been a false dawn for England in the series opener against South Africa with the tourists dominating proceedings at the Oval.

Talk before the game (including here) was of the much vaunted pace attacks and also the possibility of the visitors being 'undercooked'. It is England however who have ended up being roasted.

South Africa's first innings card looks absurd with only two wickets falling in 189 overs. Credit first must be given to the batsmen's performances - especially Hashim Amla - but England in truth have failed to compete.

This Oval pitch appears to have foxed the England bowlers entirely and their attack was made to look one dimensional and entirely ordinary as South Africa's batsmen gorged their way to 637/2 declared.

Amla, Smith and Kallis all played superb innings, Amla's triple century was a study in concentration, technical excellence and supreme craft. Smith showed all the grit and presence that he is blessed with and Kallis was as peerless as ever as he racked up yet another huge innings. We will have to wait until the 2nd Test to find out how AB deVilliers reacts to the dual role he now occupies as he wasn't required to bat here despite three new balls.

Amla's post match comments that the pitch was simply getting easier and easier to play on made a mockery of England's 2nd innings travails, as did Steyn and his supporting cast in obtaining far more movement out of the pitch than the England attack.

England gave wickets away cheaply last night and whilst we know what we are getting with KP, some effort to bat for the team occasionally when backs are to the wall would be appreciated by all.

It would be churlish to write England off after one bad test but there appears a worrying gulf in class akin to when England hammered Australia down under 18 months ago.

England have not become the No1 team in the world by being a bad side but the reality is that test cricket does not have the depth it used to and faced with a very good team, England have fluffed their lines terribly.

England's batting looked suspect in the sub continent earlier this year but the bowling attack was felt to be robust with options a plenty. Saturday and Sunday were like the bad old days from the Nineties as England toiled horribly.

The pitch has been there for both teams to use and South Africa have extracted way more from it with both bat and ball which is concerning given that England are on home soil.

No one is suggesting that Bresnan did not merit his place but the option of Steve Finn's added pace and bounce - even on this pitch - may have given another option as Morkel showed last night given the serenity with which South Africa's batsmen were playing.

England face a battle today to even make South Africa bat again and saving the test would seem to be beyond them regardless of the bullishness of Graham Gooch. England will need to regroup quickly if they are to fight back after this stark wake up call - No Nonsense.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

KP - Bigger Than The Team?

That seems to be the accusation being thrown in the direction of Kevin Pietersen after his retirement from OD and Twenty20 internationals and then his 'flirtation' with returning to the fold.

From England's point of view it is essential that they stand firm. The difference between the success this current side is enjoying versus the relative success under Michael Vaughan (no messrs Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist et all also helps) is that they a team in the truest sense.

Players such as Flintoff and Harmison were fine ones but also divisive at many times. This England team is greater than the sum of its' parts, able to dig deep when required with even their OD travails slowly being tackled. KP after all didn't take part in the recent blowing away of Australia.

To write off KP as an arrogant, selfish, flashy and self interested is simple enough but to do so is also slightly naive. Whereas the greatest are true team players such as Dravid and Kallis, many of the world's great talents are selfish, everyone used to dance to Brian Lara's tune as an example.

Some players require indulging, to be made to feel a little special but there is a feeling here that KP is not actually asking for such.

If you read what Pietersen is saying, he is basically stating that he wants to be able to play the IPL fully whilst continuing playing for England. England players are well enough off we hear you say but who in the main does not want to maximise their earning potential, especially in such a short career?

The issue is one between the selectors and the players, in this particular case KP but the reality is that it is the ICC and the Cricket boards that are forcing players to choose, this situation is arising because of the unquenchable thirst for revenue through the saturated and dull ODI format.

England are due to play South Africa for the unofficial test championship, a mouth watering prospect yet we will only see three tests, why? Simply because the ECB chose to play 5 ODIs against Australia despite the knowledge that almost a year of unbroken Ashes cricket will follow in 2013. Is it Kevin Pietersen's fault that so many needless (and sometimes meaningless) ODIs are scheduled?

The weather in the UK is often bad enough yet tests are being pushed to May and September to accommodate more and more ODIs. This blog has been critical of India's continued commitment to test cricket but the ECB should be taken to task over where its priorities lie given that England is the last bastion of regular sell outs for test matches.

There is no doubt that KP is acting in his own self interest but his complaints have much more than just a hollow ring to them when the ECB is clearly acting in their own financial self interest. The likes of Bresnan and Swann are playing with painkilling injections and the extra ODIs are certainly not helping, there is simply too much cricket.

There can be little arguement also that the ODIs help to prepare the England side even. Seven (count them) ODIs were played at the end of the last Ashes series leaving the team tired and seemingly disinterested in the World Cup that followed. England sank without trace.

The priority after South Africa will be the ten Ashes test matches, surely two extra tests against South Africa would be better preparation (certainly in terms of finding an established No6) than the five money spinning ODIs against Australia this year?

England have said that players cannot pick and choose their matches and formats, rightly so but at the same time Andrew Strauss was excused a trip to Bangladesh to recharge his batteries so accommodations can be made.

What is wrong with KP saying that the next World Cup is a step too far but that he'd like to help England win the upcoming T20 version? England to a degree are cutting off their nose to spite their face by excluding arguably their best T20 batsman.

The IPL has been a pain in the backside for the ECB since its' inception but the reality is that unless more financial wrong doing in India is exposed it isn't going to go away. Players aren't going to not want the money or the experience of playing in India either.

The ECB can continue to force players to choose and will feel justified in doing so. The ex players will talk of the pride of playing for your country but the likes of Kerry Packer and  also rebel tours to South Africa in the past have proven that money talks.

The powers that be can simply say 'these are the rules and be damned' but in doing so they risk losing their most talented players - as those are the ones that the IPL wants - like they are doing with KP for the T20 World Cup. This is not the first time this has happened and it won't be the last - No Nonsense.

Seamer's Paradise

Such is the much mooted battle of the two best seam attacks in the world when England versus South Africa kicks off later today.

Undoubtedly there is a glittering array of bowling talent on show in particular. With England's seam friendly conditions to the fore, we should expect three - weather permitting - tests with a positive result.

For South Africa, Dale Steyn will spearhead the attack backed up by the fresh Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel. Steyn as ever will be a combination of speed, accuracy and hostility. Morkel looks a little short of form right now but no doubt more overs will improve his rhythm.

Philander is the interesting one and could be the joker in the pack for South Africa. He makes up for a lack of pace with a nagging line and length and his short test career has been exceptional so far. The first test will do much to shape how he matches up against England's batsmen.

England's seam attack is much lauded and rightly so. In recent home series they have been simply able to bully the opposition much as they did against an undercooked India last Summer. Quality and variety abounds as well as strength in depth with huge competition for places meaning that Steve Finn will be left again drumming his fingers for the first test.

The area of spin is one where England have a definite advantage with Graeme Swann lining up against the as yet unproven Imran Tahir. Even in conditions that should see seam attacks dominate, Swann's ability to hold down one end giving his quicks some respite and his knack of taking key wickets could prove decisive.

Both batting line ups contain undoubted quality with batsmen capable of dominating attacks. Much has been made of the bowling attacks but with run scoring at a premium, it may be the form of the batsmen that is key.

The likes of Smith, Duminy and Amla will have to play well with AB de Villiers being given the added workload of keeping wicket. For Smith in particular it will be a chance to prove once and for all that he is a fine South African captain, if he can lead from the front it would be a huge fillip for the tourists.

All of this and then the imperious Jacques Kallis, a man who has had far more runs and wickets to his name than column inches in such an illustrious career.

Whilst his bowling is not what it was when he was first change up to Donald and Pollock - consider just how long this man has been around - his batting has been so far impervious to time with his standing bearing comparison to the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting and Lara.

Kallis does not have a great record in England (only one century) but his presence is immense. His stoic stays at the crease and his ability to act as a fourth seamer will be crucial if indeed South Africa are to push England hard.

The English press wrote much in the past about the talents of Andrew Flintoff and whilst Kallis is more a batsmen come part time bowler these days rather than an all rounder in the truest sense, he is a sensational cricketer and one of the best the world has ever seen, England beware.

England have a very settled batting line up other than No6 which has remained a problem position since Paul Collingwood retired.

Jamie Bairstow has been an unfortunate victim of rare short term thinking by the England selectors after his brief opportunity against the West Indies. Given the England selectors' general policy of continuity of selection in recent years and the importance of the series, it is hard to find too much fault with them picking the batsman they feel is best placed to score runs in the short term.

For Ravi Bopara, there is a feeling that we've been here before. He has undoubted talent but unlike the travails of Graeme Hick or Mark Ramprakash, there is a suspicion that Bopara's problems at test level are due to technique rather than pyschological ones.

If the current England test team have a problem, it is a lack of competition for batting places with no real alternative to the current established top five. For Bopara it is possibly a final chance but one that unfortunately comes against an attack tailor made for these conditions. One hopes that when Steyn is moving the ball around at pace that his gate remains firmly closed.

Given the abilities of Matt Prior as the best test wicketkeeper batsman in the world and a readily wagging tail of Broad, Swann and Bresnan, England have batting depth the current envy of the world and given the dreadful injury to Mark Boucher, that balance and depth of batting could prove the crucial factor in what will be a close fought series.

Each test should be able to provide a result and first innings scores of 350 or over should be at a premium. England have their tails up, have the West Indies series under their belts and a better balance to their team. We at this blog predict a 2-0 series win to England with one test undoubtedly falling foul of the weather - No Nonsense.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Did Scottish Football Just Get Something Right?

For the first time in many years, it appears that Scottish football has acted in a way and reached decisions that the majority of fans are actually pleased with, so what has caused this almost unique phenomenon and is it the Mayan calendar at work?

Once Rangers liquidated and the scale of their ills and wrong doings were apparent, starting all over again at the bottom was the only credible outcome. Despite that there was initially a huge suspicion that a fudge would be arranged such is the terror throughout the land at losing the Sky TV deal.

The spectre of further shenanigans regarding an SPL2 that Rangers would join remains somewhere in the background although it does now look as though Rangers will be kicking off in the bottom tier this season. What is odd however is that Scotland managed to actually do the right thing, so just how did this happen?

Little has galvanised both motivation and opinion amongst Scottish fans in many a year. There is no doubt that Rangers have probably been dealt with more harshly (although with validity) than others would have been due to the hatred that they have stirred for so many years. Their effective cheating has yet to be sanctioned by the SFA.

That being said, there is definitely a sense in the country also that there was an opportunity to force some much needed change within the game and that a fresh start was required.

The media has been quick to talk of 'financial armageddon' ad tedium with word that several other SPL clubs will go to the wall quickly once the much fabled Sky deal is off the table.

The reality is that the Sky deal offered very little to Scotland as the money it brought in was not being put to work in the right places and was simply servicing debts that should have not been there in the first place. A chance to create a smaller but debt free set up is a slightly naive one (possibly) but a very attractive one nevertheless.

The paralysis induced by the spectre of Sky merely served to maintain the awful status quo much in the way heroin keeps its' victims' issues under wraps for just a little longer before the inevitable eventually comes.

SPL clubs need to be able to process a budget and run their clubs in accordance with their incomes and not be subsidised by four Old Firm games every season that they have nothing to do with.

Whilst it is Rangers and Celtic that have formed this duopoly, it is the rest of Scotland that has accepted it. Edinburgh for instance has a large population yet is unable to produce a fan base to have a club that could truly rival either of them.

Both Aberdeen and to a lesser extent Dundee United had periods where they matched if not bettered what the Old Firm could muster. It is since the dawn of the modern TV age that the chasm has so widened so why be so terrified to let it go?

What is far more important is to have fans walking through turnstiles every week, that is the sustainable business that the country so cries out for. For all the talk of TV deals, the teams across Europe who are the biggest all have huge grounds that are full every week, they are big clubs because people pay to go and watch them first and foremost.

The reason that a common sense decision was reached on where the newco Rangers should play was because the same chairmen who are terrified of losing Sky are it appears even more terrified of losing what few fans they have.

Scottish football desperately needs to return to focusing on getting punters through the turnstiles again rather than depending on a TV deal focused around four Old Firm games a year. With a bias like that was there ever going to be any other outcome than such a ludicrously lopsided league?

Rangers' fall is undoubtedly going to be a hard pill for Scotland to swallow financially and it may well be that administration will be required for other clubs along the way. It could however be that several years of hardship could see the game rebranded and reformed into a viable product with clubs that are self sustainable.

What has also become abundantly clear is that there is no need for an SFA, an SPL and an SFL, it is an utter nonsense as not one association has made a decision on anything of any significance other than the botched attempt to invoke a transfer ban on Rangers. Every matter of substance has been voted for by the clubs, there is only a need for football body, end of story.

What happens next is far from clear and the sense of a new beginning is going to be overwhelmed by one of overriding uncertainty. Even Celtic who have stressed that they do not need Rangers to survive, undoubtedly need the television money that Rangers' existence guaranteed in order to sustain a squad that is hugely overweight for the purposes of winning the SPL now.

It is of course clear that Rangers' attendances will drop markedly now that they are on the bottom rung but what crowds can be expected at Celtic Park for the next few seasons given that they will effectively be on their victory parade and lap of honour from day one?

All of this points to a coming together of clubs into a much smaller and more competitive pot and it is there and only there that there is some hope for Scottish football. It is already TWENTY SEVEN years since a club outside of Rangers (it is possible Rangers could have some struck off) and Celtic won the league in Scotland which is a quite farcical statistic.

By way of some comparison, five different clubs have won the Eredivise since 1998. Four clubs have won the Portuguese first division in the past twelve years and since 1998, EIGHT different teams have won Ligue 1 despite Lyon winning it seven times in a row during that same period.

Whilst the Daily Record and such have enjoyed the hyperbole of words such as 'armageddon' the reality is that Scottish football has been bankrupt for some time already. Changing the name of the league does not change the product which has generally been dire since the late eighties which was the same time that meaningful competition ended.

That the bodies that run Scottish football had allowed themselves to become so beholden to Rangers and Celtic was farcical. The collapse of Rangers has had doomsayers stating it would be the death of Scottish football completely, how on earth did the SFA and co allow the game to get into such a dreadful state where one single club could bring the whole thing down?

Everyone has known for years that many clubs in Scotland are no longer viable yet nothing has been done about it despite the travails of Dundee and Motherwell as well as the breadline existence of so many others.

Rangers new life in the old fourth division and whatever punishments are still to come must not be the end of the matter but the start. Scottish football must find a way to produce a competitive and attractive product and only then can they start to negotiate television deals that will enhance the products and help it grow, not merely keep it on life support - No Nonsense.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Levy's High Stakes Gamble

Earlier this year, Harry Redknapp was being touted as some modern day managerial genius who was going to breeze into the England job once Fabio Cappello upped sticks. At the same time, Andre Villas Boas was being castigated and pilloried around the globe for his abject failure in man management of the Chelsea dressing room.

Ironically, it was AVB's dismissal that prompted the Chelsea revival that ultimately saw Redknapp kicked out of Spurs for failing to qualify for the Champions League, now he has replaced 'arry at White Hart Lane.

This blog has praised Daniel Levy many times in the past for his shrewd stewardship of Spurs and for his standing up to 'bigger' clubs who come praying on Spurs' better players, Chelsea's pursuit of Luca Modric last year being a case in point.

Redknapp whilst having done a good job at Spurs is not exactly a progressive manager and Levy, aware of Spurs' handicaps wishes to have a coach who is at the forefront of the modern game to give the club the edge it needs.

Despite all this, Levy has engaged in an incredibly high risk stratagem having just fired Spurs' most successful manager in many years and hiring a man whom it is already said is an unpopular figure with the Spurs dressing room. The highly paid pampered stars of the Premiership are a tight knit bunch and the Tottenham players do not like what they have heard from their Stamford Bridge counterparts.

AVB failed at Chelsea due to well documented problems with the senior players. Spurs do not have a dressing room anything like that at Stamford Bridge and also do not have a squad that has to be rebuilt, merely one that needs to be added to which is a much simpler task as those players will instantly be 'his'. There is no ghost of Mourinho in North London either.

There is little doubt that AVB is a considerably talented and clever man, he does however appear to care little for the 'human' side of football. Whilst he can be entertaining and intelligent to listen to, he can also become hugely brittle and defensive when dealing with the press, his star fell incredibly quickly at Chelsea and one wonders where that whole experience has left him.

One thing that does not appear to have changed is his self confidence and self belief which was reflected in his ire with Spurs' apparent courting of more than one candidate with AVB rumoured to be walking away from the talks if that situation was to continue.

It is also indicative of the view of the level of dysfunction at Chelsea that a club such as Tottenham have not been dissuaded by AVB's short and ill fated reign there.
The Spurs job is clearly an attractive one but at the same time he is joining Spurs at an incredibly tough time given their relative recent success, the expectations to finish in the top four and the lack of resources from their stadium size and lack of Champions League revenues.

Both the Manchester clubs will clearly expect to finish above Spurs, Arsenal are for once already spending money and it is hard to see Chelsea being in any way as poor as they were last season. It should also be safe to assume that Liverpool will be more competitive, all of which points to a fourth place finish for Spurs being a tall order.

It would be unfair to write off AVB because of his failing at a club as dysfunctional as Chelsea and with a squad that was clearly in decline. That being said, Levy has taken a big gamble and his status as the best Chairman in the Premiership will rest on how quickly or otherwise AVB settles in - No Nonsense.