Saturday, 1 January 2011

Keeping hold of Scott Parker in January is vital for West Ham's survival bid

Parker is attracting interest from around the Premier League.

With only one game left in the busy football festive season West ham can rightly be pleased with their efforts so far.

The east London club have picked up eight points in their last four games and have moved out of the relegation zone in the process.

And while the New Year’s Day win over Wolves was vital, January 1 marked the start of another battle that West Ham must win if they are to build on their marked improvement.

That battle is to keep hold of Upton Park talisman Scott Parker from the clutches of former Irons boss Harry Redknapp, during the January transfer window.

 Tottenham’s interest in the England midfielder is well documented and Redknapp is a keen admirer of the midfield enforcer. But West Ham must do all they can to keep hold of the player who provides with the determination and drive they need to stay up.

Against Wolves Parker was at his usual best and while it was not the match winning contribution some have come to expect it is the way he goes about his football that is so important to the Hammers.

The former Charlton midfielder ran all day for his manager and put challenges in all over the field. He hustled and harried the visitors for 90 minutes, without fail and it inspired his teammates to follow suit.

It was a mark of the man when he was clattered into by Wolves defender Richard Stearman with a reckless challenge but Parker made no complaints and got up and continued where he had left of just before the tackle.

It has been regular viewing for the Upton Park faithful all season.

Parker has been exceptional this season and the player, who has three caps for his country, has been unlucky not to add more appearances for the Three Lions to his name. He has made 23 appearances for West Ham in all competitions this season and in everyone he has given his all to the cause.

While he may not be the type of player to glide past four players and slot a cool finish past a keeper, he more than makes up for it with his guts and determination.

The stats do not even make for good reading as West Ham’s win percentage with Parker in the side is only 27 per cent and he has only scored 8 goals in 95 league appearances since joining for £7 million from Newcastle in 2007.

But this season the former Chelsea star’s stats have improved staggeringly as he has contributed six goals in all competitions so far.

The 30-year-old gives a team much more than just goals though and with things going badly all around him, up until now, he is the man that stands toe to toe with the opposition.

It is plain for all to see why Redknapp would want to add Parker to his ever improving Spurs side.

But David Sullivan and David Gold must do all they can to repel any advances made for their star man because losing him would represent a huge blow to the Irons squad.

And with things improving on the pitch for West ham it is vital they do not take any steps back off it by cashing in on an asset.

Parker has proved his worth to West Ham by scoring a vital goal in the 3-2 win against Wigan that helped keep them up last season and if her remains in the claret and blue  it would provide a massive boost to the Hammers survival bid this year.

If they do manage to keep hold of him during January it could represent the club’s best piece of January business.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Swann the key as England bid to retain Ashes down under

Graeme Swann's off-spin can help ENgland retain the Ashes.
England depart for Australia on Friday in exactly the same position they found themselves in 2006, with the little urn in their back pocket.

Andrew Strauss’ side will be looking for a completely different outcome from the 5-0 whitewash they suffered last time they were in Australia.

But what is different about the upcoming tour to the series most England fans like to forget?

Firstly, Australia have lost their generation of great players that saw them dominate the test game for over a decade. 

Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath are long since retired and were joined by opening batsmen Justin Langer
and Matthew Haydn on the side-lines. Adam Gilchrist, the greatest wicket-keeper batsmen to have graced the game, also called time on his career.

 This left a huge hole in the Aussie side and captain Ricky Ponting has not got the options at his disposal he once had.

The aura surrounding the great Aussie sides does not circle the current side and it is something England can
take confidence from.

Secondly and most importantly England posses the best spinner in the world.

Much has been made of England and their ability to swing the Kookaburra cricket ball but whatever ball the sides play with Graeme Swann will turn it and cause batsmen prolems.

Swann has had a glorious start to his test career taking 113 wickets in 24 matches at an average of 26.55.

He is ranked number two in the Test bowler rankings and has tormented the Aussies in all forms of the game.

In particular, the Aussie top order has its fair share of left-handers and that is music to Swann’s ears. The off-spinner has an excellent record turning the ball away from the left-handers bat and with the extra bounce on offer on the Australian wickets the Notts bowler will fancy his chances.

With neither side boasting batsmen in the top ten places in the Test rankings it could be said the series will be decided by bowlers.

But with the pitches flat and the Kookaburra ball not doing as much as the Dukes ball when it is older the spinners are going to play a vital role.

This is definitely where England have the advantage.

Australia’s spin options are bare and the number one off-spinner Nathan Hauritz’s record doesn’t match up to Swann. Hauritz’s 63 wickets from 17 matches at 34.98 are not bad statistics but they do not read world-class as Swann’s do.

The England bowler now has the aura the Aussies are lacking and it will play a key part in the five Test series if he doesn’t lose his passport again between now and the flight down under.

If he can avoid injury, any more passport mishaps and any tweeting incidents while on tour England can regain the Ashes in Australia for the first time since 1986..

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Cavendish bids to join the cycling greats

Tour de France 2009: The Route
Cavendish leaves rivals in his wake once again.
In the early hours of Sunday morning Mark Cavendish will attempt to write another remarkable chapter in a career that gets better and better.
The 'Manx Missile' will attempt to become the first Briton since Tommy Simpson in 1965 to win the World Championship and few would bet against him wearing the rainbow jersey next season.

The 25-year-old sprinter comes into the Championships in the form of his life and fresh on the back of becoming the first Briton in 21 years to earn the points jersey at a Grand Tour.
He is the fastest cyclist in the world at the moment and despite his perceived arrogance
few would disagree.

Cycling has taken a battering in the last few days after three time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador was provisionally banned after testing positive for the banned drug clenbuterol. On the same day Ezequiel Mosquera, runner-up in La Vuelta, and his Xacobeo team-mate David Garcia Da Pena both tested positive for banned substance hydroxyethyl starch during the Vuelta. It was yet another kick in the teeth for cycling but Cavendish can be the one to pull the sport out of the doldrums.

It will be a tough race for Cavendish because Briton, as a lower ranked nation, will only have three riders in the field. The course also has some short steep climbs which do not usually suit him.

Cavendish will be assisted by David Miller – fresh from his World time trial silver – and Jeremy hunt who will do their best to keep him in a challenging position. He will also have some of his HTC Columbia team mates on the road and will be looking to them for a little helping hand.

However, Cavendish is a brilliant racer in his own right and his pedigree testifies to that.
The Isle of man star is the highest placed British rider on the list of Tour de France stage wins with 15 and a t the peak of his physical powers there is every chance of him pushing up the list and even targeting the legendary Eddy Merckx's 34 stage wins.

It is Cavendish's desire which stands him out from the rest. After a less than impressive start to this years Tour de France Cavendish showed guts and determination to fight back and claim five stage wins. He won most of his stages without his HTC Columbia lead out man Mark Renshaw - who took a decidedly over-enthusiastic approach to clearing the Manxman's path and was booted out of the race. With more luck and better preparation we might even be talking about Tour de France green points jersey holder but the vest still eludes him.

However, few would bet against him achieving this in the next few years.

To add to his reputation he is part of a list of riders who have claimed at least one stage individually in each of the three Grand Tours.

He joins Simon Gerrans, Alessandro Petacchi, Pablo Lastras, David Zabriskie, Denis Menchov and Daniele Bennati in the small circle of the current professional riders who have won a stage on each of the Grand Tours.

At this year's Tour of Spain, Cavendish became only the second Briton to secure a sprint title in one of the top three stage races following Malcolm Elliott's 1989 triumph in Spain.
His honours list reads 15 Tour de France stage wins, 5 Giro d'Italia stage wins, 3 Vuelta a Espana stage wins, The points classification jersey of the same event. Add to it his two World Championship Gold medals and a Commonwealth Games Gold. What a CV!

It must be remembered he only started road racing in 2007 but even then he showed signs of true potential. In his debut season for T-mobile he achieved eleven wins in his f, equalling the record held by Alessandro Petacchi.

British athletes are not usually associated with being winners but Cavendish is and he does not get bored of it. He loves to win and in a very non-British way he knows he is good.

It is this trait in his personality which does not endear him to some of his competitors. The HTC Columbia rider is seen as arrogant and moody but this is him in racing mode.
In 2008, journalists at the Tour de France asked him if he was the best sprinter, he replied 'Yes'. But in the world of cycling that is seen as arrogance and he went on to say: “if they don't ask me, I don't say I'm the best sprinter in the world.”

It is rare a British athlete has the confidence to believe in his ability but that is the beauty of Cavendish. He is endearing himself into the hearts of the British public by winning and do we like a winner. maybe one day the sports authorities will respect the calibre of the man instead of putting all their hopes in riders who let them down. Cavendish is clean and good at his sport.

This is why it will be hard to over-look Cavendish coming home wearing the world champion's rainbow jersey on his back. It is even harder, at the moment, to look past the sprinter when the BBC sports personality of the year awards come round in December.

The sprinter has had an unbelievable season, rewriting record book after record book, winning stage after stage and even a points jersey. He also has the chance to add to it with with the World Championship and the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, which follows the event in Melbourne.

It is time we celebrated a true winner in this country and someone who truly excels at the pinnacle of his sport. Whatever the result on Sunday Cavendish has had a remarkable season and either way it needs to be recognised.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Will Rory McIlroy's comments come back to haunt Europe?

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has warned Rory McIlroy: be careful what you wish for.
It takes a brave, confident young man to goad the greatest golf player that has ever lived but it could turn out to be pure stupidity on the part of Rory McIlroy.

Tiger Woods is not the man he was. He has had a turbulent year, suffering a loss of form and the end of his marriage.

While his game has gone off the boil it is testament to the character of the man that he keeps battling on. He is not the Tiger who has one 14 major titles to date and the fact his game is not quite up to scratch at the moment can only benefit Europe. But McIlroy's comments could not have been worse.

In cricket, sledging is a huge part of the game but even the Australians will leave certain batsmen well alone. They will never sledge Sachin Tendulkar or a Brian Lara because the great players do not need extra motivation.

“After what's happened in the last 18 months, I suppose a little bit of that aura is probably gone,” said McIlroy.

Woods finished an astonishing 18 over par at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational, prompting 21-year-old European team rookie McIlroy to say anyone of his team mates at the Ryder Cup would fancy their chances against the world number one.

McIlroy is a fantastic golfer, a fantastic prospect and someone who could win a huge number of major title. First he needs to learn how to deal with the media. These comments may sound good but they will only come back to haunt you.

It is also not the first time McIlroy has caused controversy. His comments saying about the Ryder Cup not being important and nothing more than an “exhibition” maybe true but to the golfing public it is a showpiece. A trophy full of history and importance.

There may come a time – after the weekend – when the youngster might regret all of his comments

Tiger needs no firing up but if he has not got extra incentive after McIlroy's jibes then he will not add to his 14 majors and any hope he has of passing Jack Nicklaus's 18 should be forgotten.

However, Woods is the ultimate competitor and come Friday morning McIlroy may get his wish and find himself up against a invigorated Tiger.

Throughout this week the American has looked in menacing mood and when asked about McIlroy's comments about wanting to play him Woods replied: “Me too”

Woods, 34, has a well documented poorer record in Ryder Cup format - won 10, lost 13, halved two – but if you are comparing it to his individual record of course it looks bad.

But if you compare it to other American's like Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk – who have played in more Ryder Cups than Woods – it reads favourably.

Woods needs the Ryder Cup this time and he sees it as a way of settling a few scores. With the media, McIlroy and even Montgomerie.

Europe's captain asked if had a choice of any Americans for his team who would it be. It was not Woods.

If there is one American who does not need any extra motivation from Corey Pavin it is Woods.

This could be his Ryder Cup time and the European team maybe queueing up to have a crack at golf's stellar name but this could be the time he comes good in this format. In the grand scheme of things the Ryder cup is not important in Tiger's long-term plan but it would be just the tonic to help Woods regain form, fans and his love of the game.

If it happens do not bet against tiger going onto win back a few if not all of his major titles. McIlroy and Europe you have been warned.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Arsenal need to act quick to save season

Manuel Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski - Arsenal's goalkeeping crisis: a season to forget for Arsene Wenger
Almunia and Fablianski have come in for huge criticism for their recent performances for Arsenal.

 First the good news, Manuel Almunia will not be in goal for Arsenal in the Champions League match against Partizan Belgrade but with all good news there has to be bad news.

Lukasz Fabianski will start in Serbia and the news will send shivers down every Gooner's spine. The Polish keeper and the Champions League do not mix.

Remember Porto?

The 25-year-old, who Arsene Wenger believes to have world class qualities (you are the only only one Arsene), spilled a regulation cross into his own net under no pressure. Arsenal fought back and grabbed a foothold into the game only for it to be undone by the error prone keeper again.

A long ball over the top of the defence was not dealt with by Sol Campbell and the ball ricochet off the central defender's leg. Fabianski picked the ball up and the referee awarded a indirect free kick for a pass back. The keeper then inexplicably gave the ball to the referee while his players were still way up the pitch and Porto's quick thinking gave them an unopposed tap in.

The goalkeepers Wenger has at his disposal are a time bomb which keeps going off. How many more mistakes is it going to take for Wenger to wise up. The Arsenal fans can see it and it is hard to understand how this situation is allowed to continue.

Wenger is a manager who pays attention to detail. He designed Arsenal's London Colney training complex, he designed the Emirates stadium from how wide his seat was to how wide the toilets are in the stadium but how can this brilliant manager have such a blind spot when it comes to goalkeepers.

It is not just a recent issue. Arsene Wenger inherited his only world class goalkeeper. David Seaman, arguably England's greatest goalkeeper, was a rock behind Arsenal's defence for years and he must lose sleep over the current Arsenal crop and Wenger's other goalkeeping flops.

First we had Richard Wright who froze on the big stage Jens Lehman was probably Wenger best goalkeeping buy but he was eccentric and prone to the odd error. Remember Rami Shaaban? And now Almunia and Fabianski. Say no more.

The startling thing about this whole issue is the Arsenal boss seemed to realise the men between the sticks were a problem. Wenger courted Mark Schwarzer openly. There are also very strong rumours he tested Liverpool's metal with a huge bid for Pepe Reina. There was the option of bidding for one of Joe Hart and Shay Given when it was not known who would start as number one at Eastlands.

But nothing materialised to the disbelief of the Arsenal faithful. Rumours of Wenger not coughing up an extra £500,000 for Schwarzer was an extraordinary development seeing as Arsenal announced a record profits of £56 million last week.

It seems Wenger is just stubborn and cannot admit he is wrong. He needs a goalkeeper and everyone can see it. There are still sceptics about the goalkeepers he pursued in the summer as Given can be vulnerable to crosses, a major problem with Arsenal's defence, and Schwarzer has not had the best start to the season. But there are keepers out there.

Hugo Lloris from Lyon has been mentioned, Igor Akinfeev of CSKA Moscow has been watched by several Premier League clubs and Dutch keeper Maarten Stekelenburg was linked after impressing at the World Cup. There is not a lack of options out there but Wenger thought he knew best. This decision is already coming back to haunt him.

So how do you deal with the situation now? Do what you do best Arsene and take a punt on youth. The situation CANNOT get any worse.

There are great hopes for 20-year-old Wojciech Szczesny. He got rave reviews for a loan spell with Brentford last year where he kept 10 clean sheets in 28 appearances. He has only made one Arsenal appearance to date in a 2-0 win over West Brom in the Carling Cup last season.

It is time for him to be given a chance because the keepers in front of him cannot stop making mistakes. Almunia against West Brom, Fabianski at White Hart lane. One after another the list goes on and the issue cannot be dealt with until January when the transfer window re-opens. Szczesny is the only option who we have not seen make a mistake yet.

In January the Arsenal boss needs to act quickly but before then he must back the young polish goalkeeper because he cannot be any worse than Manuel or 'Flapianski'. For a manager who gives youth a chance he cannot hold back the young keeper any longer. He is not the Messiah but it might just be the difference between Arsenal still being in the title race in January or there season being over.

Who knows Szczesny might even solve the problem before Wenger has to dip into his transfer kitty. That would certainly put a smile on the Frenchman's face.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Time issues solved at the touch of a button

Injury time boards could be a thing of the past with stop the clock.
On successive weekends in the Barclays Premier League the issue of stoppage time has divided opinion up and down the country.

First of all we had an incensed David Moyes and Everton.

The Toffees clawed their way back from a two-goal deficit against Manchester United scoring both two goals deep into injury time.  With the score locked at 3-3. 30 seconds remained and United created one last chance to score the winner.

The corner came in from Nani and was cleared. With time basically up the ball dropped to Arteta who released Steven Pienaar. With all eyes on the referee play was allowed to continue as Everton stormed towards United's goal.

Pienaar Squared to Arteta, who released Jagielka on the edge of the penalty area. The crowd wait in anticipation of a shock winner for the home side but Martin Atkinson had other ideas. The final whistle goes with Everton in full flow. Cue the Moyes rage.

The Scotsman is furious and he has every right to be.

Atkinson has a history with stoppage time mishaps. He was in charge of last seasons Manchester derby at Old Trafford when Michael Owen scored the winner for United in the sixth minute of a suggested five minutes of added time.

At Goodison Park, Atkinson allowed United a chance to score the winner but then denied Everton the same goal-scoring opportunity.

Any right minded person could feel Moyes’ frustration but not the FA who fined him and his assistant Steve Round £8,000 for their outbursts at the official.

Everton boss David Moyes vents his frustration at referee Martin Atkinson.

The same happened to Arsene Wenger, who has been fined £8,000 and serves a one match touchline-ban at White Hart Lane tonight, after watching his Arsenal side squander a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute of added time against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

The Arsenal boss was furious Phil Dowd failed to blow the full-time whistle after the proposed four added minutes were up.

Sunderland won a corner in the final minute of added time. It was their final attack, or so it should have been. Arsenal cleared their lines and Bolo Zenden picked up possession 40 yards out and with his back to the Arsenal goal.

By this point the clock had ticked past the minimum of four minutes added time (watch added time again, there is no reason for any extra time). Dowd decided to play on and the rest is history.

Once again there is no consistency when refereeing the game. Both incidents are fairly similar. The passages of play both come from corners which were both cleared.

The referees of both games could have both blown up at this point and no-one would have complained.
Everton would have been overjoyed at their remarkable comeback instead of being given hope of a winner.

Sunderland would have no complaints as they had 94 minutes to score but they blew their chance.
What followed were two different outcomes to similar passages of play, showing the lack of consistency amongst referees.

Take nothing away from Sunderland. They fought hard until the final whistle and got what they deserved. But you can understand the Arsenal manager’s frustration.
Sunderland cannot be blamed. Neither can Arsenal, nor Everton or Manchester United for the way their players and manager’s reacted.

The referee’s are also blameless to a certain extent because the men in charge at football’s governing body need to take a long hard look at themselves.

The issue of stoppage time is not a two week old problem. Injury time goals and time discrepancies are an age old problem but there is a solution staring the game in the face.

Both codes of rugby have used the time-keeping method which they have used to great success for many years.
In rugby the referee indicates to a master time keeper when to stop the clock.
When there is a stoppage the referee indicates to the master time keeper to stop the clock and when play re-starts so does the clock. Then when the clock reaches 80 minutes (the length of a rugby match) the next time the ball goes dead or a try is scored the match is over.


Obviously there are differences between the two sports and critics have suggested football is a faster game than rugby so stop the clock would slow the same down.

But when has the stop the clock system ever stopped a player taking a quick tap penalty just like it would not stop a quick free kick.

The clock only needs to be stopped for significant pauses in the game like substitutions and injuries, not quick occurrences such as throw-ins.

This would allow everyone at home watching on television, the crowd, the players, managers and referees exactly how long is left in the game. There would be no added time and no fluctuations on the length of matches.

The system would solve the problems of the last two weeks. It may even stop players from wasting time and feigning injury because they would soon realise the clock has stopped and their antics are not making a difference to the match.

Whether you like it or not, stop the clock makes complete sense in football but getting FIFA to recognise this is a battle in itself. Just look at the issue of goal line technology and how stubborn the governing body have been in putting cameras on the goal line. Instead we have six officials in all European games, which is a total waste of time.

The governing body need to embrace ideas from other sports because they have ideas and concepts which could improve football.

The touch of a button could wipe away all the confusion surrounding injury time. Everyone who loves the beautiful game would know exactly when a match starts and when it ends. There would be no arguments about a second here or a second there.

Stop the clock is the answer and it would rid football of “Fergie time” forever.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Bell offers new captaincy alternative

Bell has been in fine form for Warwickshire and his captaincy has been a bonus.

Ian Bell gave the England selectors a timely boost on Saturday with a magnificent ton in Warwickshire Bear’s Clydesdale Bank 40 triumph over Somerset at Lords.

It was not just his batting that caught the eye but his captaincy stood out as a huge bonus point for everyone involved in the England set-up.

Andrew Strauss is England’s current skipper and he is doing a fine job. The opener picked up the reigns after a torrid time for England where they lost their captain and coach.

Since then England, under Strauss and Andy Flower, have won an Ashes series, the World Twenty20 and have climbed to number two in the World in the ODI rankings.

At 33, Strauss is the best placed man to lead England into a tough 6 months of cricket but he will not be able to lead the side forever.

For many, England only has one alternative for the skipper’s role which is Strauss’s opening partner Alastair Cook. He is the current vice-captain and stood in for Strauss when he was rested for England’s trip to Bangladesh in February.

England left the sub-continent with two series victories where they won every game under their stand-in captain.

The problem for Cook and England is his lack of captaincy experience. The Bangladesh tour was his first taste of captaincy in the senior game.

The Essex star has captained junior sides he has never taken charge of his county and while he is still a front runner to take over from Strauss, Bell’s emergence is only a positive thing for England.

The Warwickshire stand-in captain led his side to victory in the Lord’s showpiece final with great assurance. His knock with the bat ultimately won the game but he out-captained ex-England star Marcus Trescothick to give his side the advantage.

Since returning from a broken foot Bell has captained his county leaving quite an impression. He has managed his bowlers well and with authority. His field placing has been imaginative and has put pressure on opposition batsmen.

The 28-year-old has also handled Warwickshire’s star bowler Imran Tahir impressively. The leg spinner has been the Bear’s stand out performer in one-day cricket and he took five wickets in the final.

Bell brought the bowler on to kill Somerset off and it is just what Tahir did. He bowled form the right end at Lords and the fields set by his captain asserted extra pressure on the opposition.

The captaincy had a positive effect on his batting. The Bears were in a bit of trouble at 39-3 until Bell took full control of the match. He played with power and precision playing shots all around the wicket. It was in stark contrast to the Bell who made his Test debut as a raw 22-year-old.

He made 70 on his debut against the West Indies back in 2004 but struggled to build on the innings against an Australian attack boasting Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne. He failed to dominate at the crease and was seen as easy pickings by his opponents. But Bell now seems to be the complete player and following his innings at Lords was reinstated to the England team for the final two matches of the summer.

Bell is now an integral part of the England set-up and will play a massive role in England’s bid to retain the Ashes down under.

This could prove the key issue in the race to succeed Strauss. Cook has had technical problems with the bat of late and there have been calls from some quarters for him to be dropped from the national set up and sent back to hone his technique in the county game.
Whereas Bell is now a mainstay of the England side and at 28, with 57 Test matches to his name, it could be the Coventry born batsmen’s time to lead from the front.

Whatever happens from now until Strauss steps down from the captaincy, England now have two serious options for the top job in English cricket.