Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Southgate, Gazza and Hurst

Last night’s disappointing result against Germany was just one fixture in the long list of encounters we have had with our old foe, although there not always that disastrous. Friendly fixtures - if there is ever such a thing - or World Cup crunch matches against German opposition will always receive a substation amount of media coverage, with The Sun traditionally opting for the England flag double spread pullout.

England v Germany matches to remember:

1966 England 4 Germany 2
The last and the only time we have won the prolific World Cup, courtesy of a superb Geoff Hurst hat trick and a Martin Peters strike. Victory on British soil made it that it that little bit more special.

2001 Germany 1 England 5
The previous year, England had come out second best at Wembley, which resulted in Kevin Keegan’s resignation, but in September of 2001 England got their revenge in magnificent fashion. Michael Owen’s hat trick, alongside a goal a piece from Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey left the Germans stunned in Munich.

1996 England 1 Germany 1
Another tournament held in England, and another Germany team trying to stand in our way of cup glory, but this time they succeeded. With Baddiel and Skinner behind us, it seemed we go all the way until Gareth Southgate missed the crucial penalty to send England crashing out of Euro 96.

1990 England 1 Germany 1
The original ‘Euro 96’ in terms of a semi final place, Germany, and a shocking penalty display, and who says history doesn’t repeat itself.

You May Have Won The Battle, But We Won The War

Timeless World War encounters, endless World Cup scuffles and now a European scrap to be added to the numerous times that England have gone to war - no pun intended - with arch enemies Germany. After seeing off the hosts in the semi finals, Stuart Pearce’s side booked their place in the final at Malmo New Stadium, in a tie the nation would love to see replicated in South Africa next year.

Missing key players through suspension, Pearce was forced to make difficult alterations. These absentees proved to play a major part in England’s downfall, as Germany clinched the game with ease to set a new record of largest goal margin in the final of the tournaments history.

As well as the desire for glory, squad players surely couldn’t help think that an impressive tournament might improve their chances of making the 23 man squad for next year‘s World Cup, especially with Pearce having a huge influence in the selection process.

England’s most capped player, James Milner, will most defiantly have given himself a good chance of making the provision squad, if not the actual squad, despite not making an actually senior appearance.

Theo Walcott was the surprise selection in 2006 and since then has become a senior squad regular -when fit - but an average tournament for the Arsenal attacker means he could face uncertainty about a regular starting place.

Since the arrival of Shay Given at Eastlands, Joe Hart hasn’t make a single appearance for City and cleverly made the smart move to Birmingham City ready for next season, ensuring regular first team football, and lets face it, Birmingham are going to have a lot of shots against them.

Although the World Cup is a staggering 345 days away, if I was to step into Capello’s expensive Italian leather shoes, I would pick the following 23 man squad:

David James
Robert Green
Joe Hart

Ashley Cole
Rio Ferdinand
Glen Johnson
John Terry
Matthew Upson
Kieran Gibbs
Micah Richards

Gareth Barry
Steven Gerrard
David Beckham
James Milner
Frank Lampard
Joe Cole
Theo Walcott
Ashley Young

Wayne Rooney
Jermain Defoe
Emile Heskey
Peter Crouch
Kevin Davies (I wish)

Friday, 26 June 2009

Federer 27 going on 21

Considered the best tennis player of all time, Roger Federer shows us no sign of slowing down just yet. After commentator John McEnroe yesterday used the phrase ‘veteran’, when mentioning Lleyton Hewitt, it made me ponder just how long Federer has left on the international circuit.

The Aussie, who fought off fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro, is only a single year older than the world number two. With Federer aiming to represent his country at London 2012, as well as expressing his desire for his first child to watch him play, we could find the Swiss to be around for some time.

Like any sport, the earlier you can develop as a champion, the better. Pete Sampras, who Federer recently equalled in Grand Slam wins, didn’t call it a day till the age of 32, shining light on the possibility of many more potential titles to come for the 27 year old.

His ability is unquestionable as good as it has ever been, but the physiological factors are against him. I’m not saying he’s turning into an old man, whose speed and power weakens over time, but he will have to alter his style of play against the up and coming young guns, who are hot on his heels.

Federer’s experience will shine over the next few years as he will make his opponent do the majority of the work, not that he doesn’t already. With the correct diet and training, we could see a David Beckham or Paulo Maldini of the tennis world, competing at the highest level.

After turning on today’s match against Kohlschreiber and witnessing the first game, that of course Federer won with two aces and not dropping a single point, he’s got the potential to take his Grand Slam record deep into the unknown.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Pearce the Friendly Psycho

After going through my morning routine, which consists of shower, shave and Sky Sports news, I was happy to sit down and enjoy the latter with a nice bowl of cornflakes. With only one day remaining till England’s young guns face hosts Sweden in the semi final of this year’s European Championship, it was no surprise then to see the stern, serious face of Stuart Pearce being grilled by journalists.

Admiring the answers that the gaffer gave to both English and Swedish press, I got the impression that he held an healthy relationship with the media, especially with the response to Sky Sports Andy Burton: “You’ve been in the England camp and we’ve spoke on and off the camera.” His approach to the media is a credit to him and the country. Happy to answer any question with complete honesty, it’s no surprise that we don’t see much of his name dragged through the national press, linked with scandal and bust ups.

His calm and collective personality matches his managerial style. Pearce guided the under 21’s to semi final disappointment two years ago, but is confident he can go that step further this campaign.

As well as being the under 21’s manager, he is also the coach for the senior team, with many believing that he is the next England manager in the making. He, himself, is not getting too carried away and insists he still has a lot to learn in the business. He seems to keep the Premier League bad boys in check, but to be fair I wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of a man that’s nicknamed Psycho.

With the FA and Pearce meant to have met a gentleman’s agreement over an extended contract, we could hear a Mike Bassett “Four more f**king years” outburst if he can guide them to the final in four days time.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Murray Speaks the Truth

Andy Murray’s unprovoked outburst at the lack of depth that British tennis players are producing seems slightly harsh, but yet a close reflection of reality. This past year has seen all aspects of Murray’s game improve, but while he rises up the world rankings, he advances alone, being the only Brit inside the ATP world 100.

Murray is in the same boat as 13 other players inside the top 100, who fly the flag alone for their country. His frustration at his fellow country men comes after yesterday’s victory over Robert Kendrick, which has resulted in the 22 year old being the only Brit remaining in the tournament.

The absence of British talent from Wimbledon isn’t just a modern phenomenon. Although we have the world’s greatest tournament - maybe slightly biased - we can not come close to produce the remarkable talent of Fred Perry, the last Brit to triumph at Wimbledon, but why does this seem to be the case?

The majority of the world’s top 100 is full of players from eastern Europe and neighbouring developing countries, despite the lack of facilities or funding. In Britain, tennis will never be able to shed its middle class image and while this the case we will struggle to encourage youngsters into the sport.

Tennis is often seen as a social activity, rather than a competitive sport, with schools and colleges rarely putting any dedicated effort into taking the game further. With the funding available through the LTA, the main problem seems to be lack of identifying the talent at a young age.

While we continue to put all our eggs in one basket, we should be focusing on the development of teaching tennis through the educational system, that way we could identify natural talent at a young age and risk the chance of going without a British champion for another seven decades.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Wimbledon Fashion Week

While every blog, forum and website across the country will be swarming with Andy Murray’s victory over Robert Kendrick - it’s no shock to the system really, considering the 73 places between the two. One matter that has grabbed my attention over the past few days, is the peculiar clothing attire that certain players are modelling.

Roger Federer’s chic waist jacket, Serena Williams’s stylish trench coat and even Murray’s retro Fred Perry look has given tennis an unusual, but smarter appearance. It seems that style and impression has always played a major part in the English tournament, and in recent years we have been witness to blazers, trousers, cardigans and even manbags, mostly courtesy of Federer.

The warm up period prior to matches seems to have turned into a catwalk show, with players showing off their array of bizarre outfits. These clothes are obviously not suitable for playing in - not that they’re ever designed for it - but they don’t care as long as it gets the crowd and viewers remembering the name of the sponsor afterwards.

Wimbledon’s fashion statement just shows how the world of tennis is evolving, especially with players taking up role of the designer, and even having time off the sport to do so. Whatever next will we see on display, shirt and tie? Evening gown frock? Or even Murray showing his Scottish heritage with a kilt? Or will the ladies get their ultimate fantasy, with players deciding against any top at all?

Gareth Hock in Paradise White

What drives the modern sports star to the edge of insanity? Is it the constant pressure of success? Maybe the media invasion of personal affairs? Or even the harsh reality that comes with failure? Today it was reported that Wigan and England forward, Gareth Hock, has been tested positive for the banned substance cocaine and has been provisionally suspended by the Rugby Football League, pending an investigation.

Cocaine isn’t the typical drug associated with the game of rugby, but more you would relate to the rock n roll lifestyle of the likes of Motley Crew and Kiss. You often hear about the odd athlete being caught in the act enjoying a smoke, but the happy powder is one that’s becoming more frequent in the lifestyle of the professional sportsperson.

English international Matt Stevens, was banned for the same reason earlier this year, claiming: “Many athletes – like most of us – like to let off a little steam from time to time.” Surely having the right to demolish the opposition and bring them to their feet, by near enough any means, is stress relieving enough. The sport of rugby itself should be like a drug to the players that have dedicated their lives to play the game - that’s the reason they got involved in the first place.

With alcohol and marijuana having hangover effects on the human body, the increased number of athletes that turn to the mama coca is increasing to let off the ‘ever rising pressures of the game’. Wendell Sailor, Martina Hingis and Richard Gasquet - allegedly - have all fallen victim to the illegal substance.

If sports stars are tempted to turn to the movie star drug, then they must question their dedication to the sport, as there is always up and coming youngsters that will happily fill their boots if given the chance.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Robson goes into Further Education

We all know exactly how daunting it can be leaving secondary school for that all important, but necessary, leap to the real world, whether it be for further education or in search of that life pursuing ‘perfect job‘. The reality though can be hard hitting, one minute your king of the school, the next, your at the bottom of pack amongst the geeks and the rookies. One person who knows what I’m talking about, is wild card Laura Robson, who turned up to today’s match against Daniela Hantuchova on No 2 court after taking the huge step into the women’s game.

Despite being only 15 years of age, as we are reminded at every opportunity, she was not too far out of her league. Last year’s girls champion was the youngest player in the women’s draw since Martina Hingis in 1995, but with many expecting it to be a very one sided game, Robson had other ideas. 456 places lay between the two and after the first set, which Robson triumphed, it didn’t appear to be that obvious.

Although in the end the Slovak managed to use her years of wisdom and experience to claw back the game and ended up winning the next two sets, Robson showed positive signs that in a few years she could be a force to reckon with. A superb serve and a hungry apatite will do the youngster no harm in her pursuit for tennis glory.

The big step has already been taken by Robson, who must now start again at the bottom and work her way up but one thing is for sure, time is on her side.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Murraymania Begins

After a remarkable victory last weekend - to become the first Briton in 71 years to win at Queens - it seems Murraymania has been kicked into overdrive, as Wimbledon rapidly approaches. If you rewind just a measly 12 months ago, the British number one was ranked out of the top ten in the world and had never been beyond the fourth round of any Grand Slam tournament. But, with less than a week to go until the only Grand Slam to be played on grass gets under way, the 22 year old’s fortune has rocketed.

Murray’s ever joyful face has been, and will continue to be, in every national newspaper on a daily basis, with the hysteria adding to the already over hyped Murraymania. The British press are doing what they do best, putting unnecessary pressure on out best hope before a major competition.

With confirmation that the number one seed, Rafael Nadal, will play no part in the English tournament, which he was dominant throughout last year. His exit is no real shock, as Nadal was also forced out of Queens with a similar knee injury, but it does mean that the World Number one will be the first champion not to defend his SW19 crown since Goran Ivanisevic skipped the competition in 2002.

Murray must see his chances increased after learning of Nadal’s exit and that Roger Federer will be in the second half of the tournament, meaning that the only time Murray can face the Swiss is in the final - what a final that would make.

We must recognise that even if Murray isn’t successful - we all hope that’s not the case - his game is ever improving and this time next year we could be talking about Murray breaking into the top two…and the year after? Seems I’ve been sucked into the Murraymania as well.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Final Farewell to Silverstone

Sunday draws a dramatic end to the home of British Grand Prix, as Silverstone will host its last ever race on the Formula One calendar. The Northamptonshire circuit as been on the F1 calendar since 1950, when it was the first race in the newly created World Championship.

The two final Brits involved in Sunday’s 191 mile race will be looking to mark the historical occasion with victory in front of a home crowd.

Last year’s World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, is no stranger to a podium finish and when the rookie driver won last years event, he became the second Brit to triumph at Silverstone since the turn of the millennium. Hamilton joined the likes of John Watson, Damon Hill, Johny Herbert, Nigel Mansell and the great Sir Stirling Moss.

With current leader Jenson Button in superb form, it will be difficult for Hamilton to re-enact last season’s display. Button, despite being in his ninth season in the sport, has yet to make any impact at Silverstone, but with the Brawn driver running away with the Championship, it seems we may say a final farewell with a British winner.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Bully Drogba Escapes with Detention

It was announced today that Chelsea’s notorious hot headed striker, Didier Drogba, will miss at least four European matches after his controversial outburst against Barcelona in the recent Champions League competition. Drogba’s team mate Jose Bosingwa was also banned for three European games, after he was too found guilty of verbally abusing Tom Henning Ovrebo. Along with the two suspensions, Chelsea have also been fined £85,000 for the improper conduct of their players during the clash.

These suspensions, along with such a petty cash figure, for a club that earns over £70 million on a match day hardly seems like the appropriate conclusion of such a ruthless deed. According to the FA, over 7,000 referees call it a day on an annual basis due to abuse received by players and spectators. The correct authorities should of made an example out of Drogba and Chelsea, ensuring this type of behaviour doesn’t occur again.

Instead, Chelsea should have been forced to play four home games -matches due for televised broadcast- behind closed doors, hitting the West London side where it really hurts, their pocket. Despite Drogba missing four matches, he will still be receiving earnings of over £100,000 a week, so where is the justice?

With Chelsea getting off so lightly, to say the least, you can guarantee that this type of verbal abuse will continue within the game, until the authorities grow a pair and stand up to the playground bullies of the sport.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Gissa Job

It was just over four years ago that Michael Owen was apart of the famous Galactios era at the Bernabeu, playing alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Ronaldo, but today the former England striker is more like Yosser Hughes, with his catchphrase “Gissa job.”

The fictional character from Alan Bleasdale’s 1982 television series Boys from the Blackstuff was well known for his low class approach for employment and today Owen took the same route. One of the most prolific goal scorers to have ever worn an English jersey, today sent a 30 page begging brochure to Premier League clubs in a desperate attempt to continue playing at England’s top level.

Owen 29, will be hoping that the brochure will do the trick as his four year contract ceases at the end of this month, meaning the Newcastle number 10 can leave St James Park on a free transfer. His current £120,000 a week deal is surely not going to attract much attention, with Owen expecting to take a huge pay cut to play in the Premier League.

The 30 page document claims that: ’Were it not for an unhappy spell at Real Madrid and two injury scarred years at Newcastle, he would be spoken about in the same breath as Torres and Ronaldo and valued in the priceless figures that only match winning goalscorers ever justify’…but to be blunt that isn’t the case and never will be.

It is easy to suggest what might have been, but it doesn’t change the fact what has actually happened. With Owen’s best bargaining tool being a 30 page booklet reminiscing on the past, which even includes a section devoted to a recent medical report, it looks like the former Ballon d’Or winner faces a period of limbo as he waits anxiously for a club to declare their interest.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

King of Queens

In just a few hours, Andy Murray could become the first British winner of Baron’s Court since Bunny Austin 71 years ago. The only thing that stands between the British number one and his eighth final triumph in the past 12 months is American’s James Blake, seeded sixth for the competition.

Murray, has been in magnificent form over the past year with the only opponents to get the better of the Brit in tournament finals being the dynamic duo Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Although his game has massively improved, Murray still has a long way, and a grand slam, to go before he can close the gap on Federer and Nadal.

This year’s Queens tournament has been just what Murray needed in preparation for Wimbledon, which will begin later this month. Seeded number one for the tournament was always going bring high expectations and so far Murray as surpassed them.

On route to the final, the 22 year old has not dropped a single set and has served an impressive 31 aces against just four opponents, proving that the young Brit’s game is on the incline. His 39-6 win-loss record this year will make him today’s favourite. Lets just hope the future number one - so my crystal ball tells me - has a better concentration level that our last British hope…although I think even Henman himself would agree he has.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Stuart Broad...Cheating or The Start of a New Era?

Many students find that during their studies the majority of their modules they do end up being pointless, myself included, but one incident occurred during the Twenty20 cricket World Cup that made me sit up and realise I had learnt about this in the classroom. I’m talking about none other than England’s Stuart Broad, who was involved in, well lets say some very un sportsmanship behaviour against South Africa on Thursday night.

His ‘antics’ have earned him a warning from the ICC and could possible bring into dispute future actions from fellow cricketers. It seemed as if the 22 year old was purposely trying to put off and distract the opposition, with pointing halfway through his run up. England’s bland captain Paul Collingwood believes that: "New techniques and theories are going to be produced and things like this are going to happen and people are going to find different ways of putting a batsman off."

But the big debate that’s come out of the incident is whether or not it is classed as cheating. We have seen the same bizarre mannerisms used in other sports, without complaints or warnings issued. Can’t sports stars win on just ability alone or do they need such dirty and off putting tactics in order to gain an advantage? Although in Broad’s case no advantage at all.

Other Sports Personalities accused of such bizarre tactics:

Edwin Van Der Sar - The Dutch giant used similar methods during the 2008 Champions League penalty shoot out against Chelsea…it obviously worked for him.

Rafael Nadal - Although the world number one doesn’t point, he does intentionally control the tempo and speed of the game by wiping his face after every point.

I’ve been converted to…Twenty20 cricket?

Not being the biggest fan of cricket is an understatement and the only time I find myself watching the sport is either a) there’s nothing else on, b) the football season is finished or c) university work requires me to do so, but since the Twenty20 World Cup as started - as I can imagine is the case with others - I have found myself hooked to the sport.

I have always been under the assumption that cricket is a dull, dragged out sport for unfit athletes that couldn’t make it into any other sports team as a child, and the majority of cricket I have witnessed in my time would back this up, bar The Ashes of course.

Many of my friends are regular cricket followers and always go on about the excitement and action involved, with my mind often wondering elsewhere during conversations, but now it seems there is a style of the sport which can sustain my interest throughout. I have always been aware of Twenty20 cricket, but never really took the time to actually sit and experience the latest phenomenon for myself.

My new found interest has blossomed into a minor summer crush, which I now regularly follow on a day to day basis. Having already admitting I’m not the biggest cricket fan, although not a hater of the sport, I feel this bite sized game is a suitable substitute for non cricket lovers and could help attract new fans to the sport.

Just a mere 20 overs per team adds tension and pressure with every ball bowled, making the impact of scoring runs more dramatic and more significant. Pakistan’s Misbah ul Haq’s showboating strike against Sri Lanka was no different to a Steven Gerrard 40 yard strike, both superb.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have now been converted to the game of Twenty20 and might even give the normal game a chance…on second thoughts lets just take it one day at a time.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Ronaldo’s departure a blessing in disguise?

The inevitable as today happened with Premier League champions Manchester United accepting Real Madrid’s £80million offer for Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese winger almost signed for the Spanish side last year, but the Red Devils managed to keep hold of their prized procession for another season.

A disappointing Champions Leagues final and the arrival of Kaka at the Bernabeu must of surely been the deciding factor in Ronaldo’s desire to leave Old Trafford. Real president Florentino Perez seems to think he is playing a game of Football Manager, with him rein acting the famous galacticos era again.

Ronaldo 24, joined United in 2003 from Sporting Lisbon for £12.2 million and has achieved everything he set out to win with Alex Ferguson’s side.

Zidane’s £45.6million world transfer record has stood for eight years until Kaka smashed that figure this week, but it now seems that will get broken again

Despite his incredible ability, are Ronaldo‘s childish antics wanted at United? Do united really want to field a player week in week out who doesn’t want to be at the club? Or more importantly does Ronaldo’s departure make way for Antonio Valencia?

Come on Fergie, there's no excuse to get rid of Tevez now.

Just call it a day Neville…

Currently ranked 196th in the FIFA world standings, with only eleven other countries below them, last night’s clash against Andorra was always going to be a David and Goliath affair. The one sided match, which saw the visitors only manage 20% of the procession in the 90 minutes played, was just another stepping stone for England as they continue their impressive, not to mention unbeaten, run in qualifications for next years World Cup competition.

Fabio Capello could of easily fielded a weakened side to help players rest after a long League campaign, giving the chance to certain squad members to gain some important international time, but instead he made just three changes to the side that put four past Kazakhstan , showing fans that he cannot afford to take his eye off the ball, until we are official announced as qualifiers.

One player that stood head and shoulders above the rest was right back Glen Johnson. Johnson 24, was involved in all three opening goals and continued to deliver in the second half, when he set up former team mate Jermain Defoe for his first of the night.

Despite only having 15 caps under his belt, the young defender showed a thirst for an attacking style of play, which is pleasing to see compared to previous right backs, such as Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and even Danny Mills. Although the previous England right backs have attacked well, Johnson seems to take it that little bit further, bringing is current club form to England.

Johnson, on a personal level, had a very successful 2008-09 campaign despite Portsmouth finishing in the bottom half of the Premier League. It was announced at the end of the season that Johnson had been named in the PFA team of the year, only the second player to do so since pompey gained promotion to the England’s top flight.

With the only other options of injury prone Ledley King or Micah Richards, who is still yet to prove himself on the international circuit, it looks like Johnson has done himself no harm by taking full advantage of England’s last two weakened opponents. At such a young age it is quite possible we could have an answer to the current vacant right back position, which has been begging for an Ashley Cole clone for some time.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Tube Strike Halts England Fans

Anybody who has visited our nations capital will have more than likely used the very confusing, but efficient method of transportation that is know as ‘The Tube‘. For any visitor or tourist the complicated colours and lines can seem too advanced for its own good, but in fact the tube is one of the easiest methods of travel around and can transport you around London quicker than a car could.

Sounds too good to be true, it is until the one word we all hate to hear springs up…strikes. The only good strike I have ever known in my lifetime was when teachers decided to strike, just because it meant a day off school, but tube strikes in London causes chaos at the highest level.

Tomorrow’s England clash against Andorra has been hit by the announcement of the striking of London Underground workers, which is scheduled to start in less an 30 minutes time and will last for 48 hours. With no park or ride system in place, fans will find it very difficult to get to Wembley on Wednesday night.

Refunds will be available on all tickets purchased, with Capello’s side looking like they could play to a half filled Wembley as they continue their quest for World Cup qualification.

It’s a sad day when major, or even minor, sporting events are affected by such incidents. The only people who will be glad to see the strike put into power will be the sponsors who have paid their big bucks to advertise during the live coverage on ITV aka The Advertising Channel.

Interested in life in the Championship…email here

In the cliché style of Dr Evil, Mike Ashley is holding Newcastle United hostage for a demand of £100 million. Ashley, who bought the Magpies in 2007 for a reported £134million is now ready to part ways with the newly relegated side.

The millionaire businessman has hardly put a foot right at St James Park and is seen as many as one of the reasons behind the decline of Newcastle, which has resulted in the Magpies being relegated after 16 years in England’s top flight.

Dropping into the Championship means a major loss in revenue for Newcastle, especially with season ticket holders putting their chance of renewal on hold until the future of cult hero Alan Shearer has been decided.

Newcastle is a great club with decades of history and loyalty from its followers. What it needs is a business man - or women - who knows what they’re actually doing and aren’t just trying to score brownie points with the fans.

His unpopularity with the fans, and managers, has grown quickly over the past two seasons. Ashley first put the club for sale in September 2008, but soon took it off the market in December after struggling to attract attention.

But now Ashley has simply stated that interested buyers should get in contact through email, it sounds like more of a competition than a professional club putting itself up for sale.

So if you own a Newcastle top, enjoy the occasional beer and can name a Toon legend -do Ant and Dec count? - then apply here at admin@nufc.co.uk, good look folks and the winner will be named next week.

Chapter Four: …And Kaka lives happily ever after

Well, it has finally been made official, Brazilian midfielder Kaka will join Spanish side Real Madrid on a six year deal, after the £56million deal was accepted by Silvio Berlusconi and co. With English sides Chelsea and Manchester City rumoured to have been interested in signing the 2007 Ballon d’Or winner, it was the Spanish side that were leaders of the pack come feeding time.

This means that Kaka now holds the world transfer record, previously held by Zidane in 2001 when the French international moved to Madrid. President Florentino Perez, back for Galacticos round two, will be looking to take Real back to the top of Le Liga next season and I doubt this is the last of the summer signings at the Bernabeu.

Real Madrid’s finances have been a dispute of past times and surely must be once again. Over £400million in debt, just how can the second best side in Spain afford such record breaking signings? First of all, television rights allows media companies to buy individual matches instead of the shared system that is used in the Premier League, which helps them make £135million a year from domestic rights alone.

That figure is doubled what any Premier League side earns from television rights, which helps the Spanish club when transfer season approaches.

But who will be next on Perez’s shopping List?
Franck Ribery - The Bayern Munich winger has been linked with a move away from Germany in the summer, with Chelsea and Manchester United also reported to be interested.

David Villa - Currently at Spanish side Valencia, another club in debt, Villa did himself no harm with a terrific European Championship campaign last year. Price tag £40million +

Monday, 8 June 2009

Chapter Three: Money Doesn't Buy You Everything

So begins another chapter in the epic novel that started its once upon a time way back in January, when the Eastlands boys club made an audacious bid of £100million for the boy wonder, Kaka. Manchester City proved to the football world that money is no object when they flexed their muscles with the bid, but to our amazement Kaka turned down the £500,000 a week offer.

I remember at the time hoping that the 27 year old would turn down the offer and stay true to the main reason he got involved in football in the first place. The moment it was announced that Kaka would stay at AC Milan, my respect for the midfielder immediately grew as I realised that some footballers do still play for pride and are not just part of a growing football auction.

Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment at Chelsea sparked rumours that Kaka would follow suit and join his former AC manager to Stanford Bridge in the summer, but it was the appointment of Florentino Perez, his second stint at Real Madrid, that attracted Kaka’s attention.

During his previous reign, which many remember as the famous Galacticos era, Perez didn’t let any price tag get in the way of his expensive shopping wish list, as the likes of Ronaldo (£23.2million), David Beckham (£24.5million), Luis Figo (£37million) and current world transfer record holder Zinedine Zidane (£45.6million) all came to the Bernabeu.

Although the former FIFA World Player of the Year is still under contract at the San Siro until 2013 - since when has that ever mattered to a footballer? - and had shown no interest in leaving…until now.

Today it was announced that the midfielder had taken a medical a head of Brazil’s clash with Paraguay, at the request of Real Madrid, which confirms that Kaka will be joining the Spanish side for a reported £56million, a figure that will become the largest since Zidane joined Madrid in 2001.

In a way I’m glad that Kaka is moving to one of the world’s greatest clubs, even if it does take them further into debt, because he deserves to play alongside the likes of Raul and Van der Vaart at one of football‘s greatest arenas.

Manchester City’s ambition of a top four finish next season surely couldn’t of been that tempting or was it that Kaka is a realistic man? Proving that money doesn’t buy you everything, City will now have to come up with a ‘Dick Dastardly’ method of sabotaging this already sealed deal

"I Like"

England’s four nil thrashing of Kazakhstan at the weekend didn’t really prove that we are worthy of the Jules Rimet just yet, but the fact that we are alongside two other teams, out of 51 European countries that are hoping for qualification into next years World Cup, that have achieved maximum points so far.

Six wins take Capello and his men top of Group six, seven points clear of second place Croatia. Seven more point from our remaining four matches will make us group champions regardless of other results that occur within the group.

This is England’s best ever start to a World Cup qualifying campaign, with Terry and co still on course to match - if not beat - the 1986 and 1990 qualifying campaigns, where England didn’t lose a single match.

Not only are we leading the group comfortably, but we haven’t even found the starting 11 that will be representing England in South Africa, I think it’s fair to say we will be there. Capello is still trying out young, inexperienced players in order to find out what is the strongest England starting 11.

With the long Premier League season taking its toll on several key players, it has finally given the opportunity for other members of the squad to show what they are capable of. Ferdinand and James’s absent on Saturday gave Robert Green and Matthew Upson the chance to prove to the Italian mastermind that they are worthy of first choice back ups.

England’s next opponents are Andorra on Wednesday, with Upson expected to keep his place alongside Terry at the back, Capello could make one or two chances to the team that beat Kazakhstan, especially with Barry absent through suspension. Andorra are without a win so far and have only managed to score just two goals.

England will looking to beat the 21 goals scored during Bobby Robson’s 1986 World Cup campaign on Wednesday night as Capello’s men currently boast 20 to their name so far.

The One That Got Away

Federer finally managed to claim the Grand Slam title that he has been pursuing for the past five years. Since 2004, when the Swiss ace managed to bag himself the titles of the other three Grand Slam tournaments, it looked like he could be the third member of an elite trio of stars that have won all four titles in the same year.

But as it turned out, former world number one, Gustavo Kuerten, put an end to Federer’s dream of joining Donald Budge and Rod Laver in the record books.

With Nadal and Murray both crashing out of the Tournoi de Roland-Garros, Federer knew that he wouldn’t get a better chance of claiming the one title that has eluded him over the years. Nadal, for last three years has beaten Federer in the final of the French Open, to slowly take the 23 year old’s record to six Grand Slam titles.

A nervy semi final victory over Juan Martin del Potro kept Federer’s title dream alive, although fifth seed del Potro took the Swiss the distance in a five set encounter.

After finally making it through the gauntlet into the final, it was destined to only finish one way. Despite Robin Soderling’s best efforts, he couldn’t stand in the way of Federer’s pursuit of making Grand Slam history.

Federer took the match in straight sets to finally join the elite list of tennis stars that have achieved victory at all four Grand Slam tournaments, not to mention equalling Pete Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slam titles.

This victory is the defining win of Federer's career.

Other men who have won all four Grand Slam tournaments

Fred Perry
Roy Emerson
Andre Agassi
Donald Budge
Rod Laver

Grand Slam Titles

14 Pete Sampras Roger Federer
12 Roy Emerson
11 Rod Laver Bjorn Borg
10 Bill Tilden

Sunday, 7 June 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Dutch

A week is a hell of a long time in the sporting world, where heroes can be created and dreams can be shattered. Despite the football season finally coming to an end, the sporting drama that we all live for continues and shows no sign of slowing down.

Apart from Saturday’s international clash with Kazakhstan, our fine nation has had to turn to something other than football for contentment.

The French Open, Lions tour of South Africa, Twenty20 World Cup and the Turkish Grand Prix have been this weeks main sporting events…oh and the never ending dispute of which money obsessed footballer will end up at the debt ridden Real Madrid *yawn*.

The Good...

Holland Twenty20 World Cup cricket team

Although the Dutch may have ended our World Cup campaign before it had even got started, nobody can deny the effort that was display during the curtain raiser at Lords. With Holland requiring two runs from their last remaining ball, it was Edgar Schiferli who managed to get nothing but a one run hit on the ball. Fielder Stuart Broad had the chance to save England’s blushes, but literally threw that opportunity away, to award Holland one of the greatest up sets in cricketing history.

England managed to regain some national pride with a 48 run victory over Pakistan, which now leaves Holland deciding England’s fate when them themselves face Misbah-ul-Haq and his men on Tuesday night.

England Football Team

And why not? Fabio Capello and his side are making history with every step they take closer towards next year World Cup finals. England have not hit a banana skin so far during the six qualifiers they have played, taking maximum points along the way.

Leaders of group 6, with an eight point lead, England show no signs of taking it easy, especially after Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of Kazakhstan…I know it was only Kazakhstan but hey ‘I like.’

Roger Federer

Love him or hate him, you can not deny the fact that he deserves to be written into the history books along side the great Fred Perry, Roy Emerson, Andre Agassi, Donald Budge and Rod Laver, after Sunday’s straight set win over Soderling. This victory now puts Federer among these greats, as one of only six tennis players to have won every Grand Slam tournament.

Now tied with Pete Sampras for the most Grand Slam titles won, Federer must surely be regarded as one of the ‘all time greats’ of the game -if he wasn’t before- and could possibly take that record further in just under a month’s time, when the Swiss ace arrives in our countries capital for this years Wimbledon tournament.

The Bad...

Rafael Nadal

If you’re a strong believer in Buddhism and karma, then you will believe that the Spanish number one is feeling the wrath of Federer’s successful week. First, Nadal sees his beloved 31 match unbeaten reign come to an abrupt end - hold those tears just yet- and then the reigning Wimbledon champion has been advised by doctors to sit out the up coming Queen’s tournament with a knee injury…cue the violin.

Andrew Symonds

When will cricketers learn? It can’t be that difficult not to go out drinking for just a few nights during a tournament, surely? Well for Australian all rounder, Andrew Symonds, it proved to be too much. After breaking team rules related to alcohol, the 33 year old was sent home before the tournament had even got under way.

Not only did Australia loose their opening match against the West Indies, very poorly may I just add, but it could also see his 11 year international reign come to an end.

And the Ugly…

Mclaren Mercedes

Although last year’s champ started way back in 16th on the grid and managed to finish in 13th, Hamilton didn’t have the greatest of races on the humid Istanbul track. Mclaren’s car just isn’t the world class vehicle that brought Hamilton 10 podium finishes last season.

Having declared his disappointment with the current season, Hamilton has already started looking a head to next year.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Is Ancelotti the man for the job?

After months of rumours, which dominated a majority of our British press, it was announced yesterday that Carlo Ancelotti will become the new manager at Stamford Bridge.

With fan favourite Guus Hiddink confirming he will not extend his contract with the Blues, although many involved at the club had hoped he would change his mind after Sunday‘s success, the current Russian manager makes way for Chelsea’s fifth manager in less than three years.

Having managed Italian giants AC Milan since 2001 and raised such superstars as Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and no stranger to Chelsea fans Andriy Shevchenko, not to mention lifting the one trophy the Blues can’t seem to win not once but twice, is it safe to assume that the Italian godfather has been wooed in to bring Champions League glory to West London.

Due to commence role as Chelsea manager from 1st July, it is rumoured that his preparation for the post is at such an advanced stage that he has already discussed potential transfer targets.

Chelsea in the past two years have fallen short of the Champions League crown in cruel and unfortunate circumstances…some would say, but Roman Abramovich will expect ’Celotti’ to make it third time lucky and will again make funds possible to do so.

Although Ancelotti has proven himself in Serie A, he must adjust his tactics to suit the different style of football being played in the fast pace of the Premier League.

Although the Blues were crowned this year’s FA Cup winners, it was a small consolation on what was hyped up to be ‘their’ season back in September.

With the arrival of ‘Big Phil’ Scolari many expected great things, but in return saw the opposite. Scolari departing the club after just seven months in charge and the Blues were unable to rescue their season in time to be a candidate for the League title, which in the end saw rivals Liverpool leapfrog them to claim runners up.

It will an interesting summer to see if English football does finally get that £100 million bid for Kaka accepted or if French international Frank Ribery will set sail for England if an offer comes a long he, along with Bayern Munich, cannot refuse.