Wednesday, 10 December 2008

BBC Sports Personality of the Year

The annual BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year Award is to be held this Sunday with a fantastic list of contenders to scoop the prestigious prize. The ten listed contenders are:

- Rebecca Adlington

- Ben Ainslie

- Joe Calzaghe

- Nicole Cooke

- Lewis Hamilton

- Chris Hoy

- Andy Murray

- Christine Ohuruogu

- Rebecca Romero

- Bradley Wiggins

Many people are predicting a straight fight between Lewis Hamilton, Chris Hoy and Rebecca Adlington for the top three places in the voting, and whilst all three would be worthy winners of the award after some truly outstanding achievements in 2008, it will be Ben Ainslie that will be getting my vote.

Ainslie is a truly phenomenal athlete and unquestionably the greatest sailor this country has ever produced. His list of achievements over the course of his career are quite staggering. He has won three gold medals in successive Olympic Games, dating back to the Sydney Olympics in 2000, to go with the silver he won in Atlanta in 1996 when he was just 19 years of age. He has also been named British Yachtsman of the Year on four occasions and was ISAF World Sailor of the Year in 1998 and 2002.

Now I am realistic enough to know that someone of Ainslie’s low profile is unlikely to ever win BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year but I think this merely reflects the culture we live in today. The back pages of newspapers are always dominated by sports such as football, cricket and rugby, sports where we have achieved very little success over recent years, whilst born winners like Ben Ainslie are pushed out of the spotlight that they so richly deserve to be in.

Of the three main contenders for this year’s title my preference would be for Hoy to win the event. Not only for his success in becoming the first British athlete since 1908 to bring home three gold medals from a single Olympic Games, but also for this quote that he gave to a national newspaper which shows a refreshing attitude in these days of the egotistical sportsman. When asked by a reporter from The Guardian;

“In the last 24 hours everyone has been offering an opinion on Chris Hoy. But what does Chris Hoy think of Chris Hoy”

Hoy replied with: “Chris Hoy thinks that the day Chris Hoy refers to Chris Hoy in the third person is the day that Chris Hoy disappears up his own arse.”

Monday, 10 November 2008

No Ordinary Joe

Now I can’t confess to being a huge boxing fan. It has never really been a sport that has drawn my attention in a way that sports such as football and cricket have. However when the big fights come around I find myself eager to watch them and take in the spectacle of the event, such was the case on Saturday evening watching Joe Calzaghe and Roy Jones Jr.
And what a fantastic fight it was between two true gladiators of the sport, prepared to put mind, body and soul in the hope of emerging victorious and take their place amongst boxing legends.
My allegiance lay with Calzaghe when it came to taking sides for the fight, but in retrospect I didn’t mind who won as long as I saw a good fight, which I thought was the least I deserved after sitting through three mediocre fights on the undercard and staying up till half past four in the morning when the fight I had been waiting for began.
And I wasn’t to be disappointed. The fight was exciting from start to finish. Roy Jones rolled back the years in the first couple of rounds and came within seconds of securing an early victory after catching the Welsh Dragon with a thunderous right hand. Joe, though, much like in his previous fight against Bernard Hopkins, showed the true heart of a champion to pick himself off the floor and comprehensively defeat his opponent. It truly was a joy to watch and at times it appeared that Calzaghe was just toying with Jones Jr and had he chosen to could have knocked him out whenever he wanted to. I think the only thing that stopped him from doing so was out of respect for his opponent. This could well have been Roy Jones Jr’s last fight and he didn’t deserve to finish it looking up at the bright lights from the canvas.
What next for Calzaghe? He had talked about his imminent retirement leading up to the fight, but hinted at a possible change of mind in his after match interview. My personal view is that Joe will probably retire and that his comments after the fight about possibly boxing on were said in the heat of the moment after what was undoubtedly his finest performance. Before the fight I would also have liked to see Joe retire if he won the fight and become one of the only boxers to retire with an unblemished record.
However after seeing just how good Calzaghe was on Saturday night I truly believe that he has one great fight left in him and intriguingly the contract for the fight against Jones contained a rematch clause. Now what about Joe Calzaghe against Roy Jones Jr at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff. A wounded former champion against the best boxer Britain has surely ever produced. Surely Joe has one big effort left in the tank?

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The strange case of Jenson Button

Well it was certainly big news for the Brits in Formula One this week. As you will all know Lewis Hamilton thrillingly clinched victory from the jaws of defeat on the final lap of the race and David Coulthard bowed out with a crash on the first corner, after what has been a distinguished Formula one career. But one British man who flew very much under the radar at the final Grand Prix of the 2008 season was the former Golden Boy of British motor sport, Jenson Button.
Button burst on the scene in the sport in the spring of 2000 with the Williams team, who had a one year opening on their roster as they waited for Juan Pablo Montoya who scheduled to join the team for the following season. It was a fantastic opportunity for a rookie driver and Jenson held his own in his debut season finishing in eighth place in the driver’s championship and proving that he had the potential to do great things in Formula One.
However as all British motorsport fans have discovered it hasn’t quite worked out the way it was supposed to for Button. After leaving Williams his next port of call was at the Benetton team that had recently been purchased by Renault, where he was to endure somewhat mixed results as he struggled with a car that was often uncompetitive and always undergoing development. Button, though, continued to show flashed of his ability and narrowly missed out on his first podium finish in 2002 after finishing fourth in the Malaysian Grand Prix after his suspension failed on the final lap allowing him to be overtaken by Michael Schumacher.
In the 2003 season his career took a turn for the worse when Renault boss Flavio Briatore announced his intention to replace Button with the team’s former test driver Fernando Alonso. Despite outcry in the media Briatore stated “Time will tell if I am wrong.” Alonso then went on to win world title in 2005 and 2006. Pushed further on the subject in an interview he gave with the times Briatore had this to say on the subject of the British drivers dismissal. “Jenson is a fine driver but there were too many contracts, too many things in the background.”
His next move was to BAR Honda alongside former world champion Jacques Villeneuve and Button made a promising start to his career at his new team, outpacing his illustrious team mate for much of the season. The season that followed is by far his greatest so far in the sport. He finished in third place in the drivers championship behind the two dominant Ferrari cars, finishing on the podium ten times, and scoring 85 points though his maiden victory was to remain out of his grasp.
What then followed was a number of contractual disputes that became a somewhat messy affair for all those involved with the eventual outcome that Jenson decided to stay where he had been anyway believing that Honda offered him the best chance of securing the Formula One success that he craved.
Despite all this turmoil off the track Jenson was still doing all that he could to wring some points out of what he would once describe as a ‘dog of a car’ and his persistence paid off when in his 113th Grand Prix he achieved his first victory, showcasing all of his talents in winning in the wet after starting in 14th place on the grid.
The 2007 season was one to forget and was described by the man himself as a ‘complete disaster’ and 2008 was no better with Jenson scoring a measly three points in what was undoubtedly one of the worst cars on the grid. However optimism is surprisingly high in the Button camp for the 2009 season after the recruitment of Ross Brawn to the Honda garage, with Brawn being the man who famously guided Michael Schumacher to five World Championships in a row.
I for one hope that next season Honda produce a car to match the undoubted talent of Button. If they don’t he is quickly in danger of becoming the forgotten man of Formula One. However if they do there is no question in my mind that Button could play a major part in what could be one of the closely fought contests in the history of the sport with Alonso, Raikonnen, Massa, Kubica and hopefully Button aiming to steal away Hamilton’s World Championship. I believe that given the right circumstances in the next couple of years we could be looking at another British World Champion.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

so long mike..

Having read Mike Ashley's statement tonight about him wanting to sell Newcastle United you can't help but be impressed by his passion for the football club. There is no doubt in my mind that he has the best interests of the club at heart and has always done what he has thought was in the best interests of the football club.
Unfortunately Mike has one fatal flaw that has affected his time ever since he bought out the club from the previous and frankly loathsome owner Freddie Shephard.
This much was obvious from some of his comments in his carefully worded statement released earlier this evening. Take this quote for example,
"Also one of the reasons that the club was so in debt when I took over was due to transfer dealings caused by managers moving in and out of the club. Every time there was a change in manager millions would be spent on new players and millions would be lost as players were sold. It can't keep on working like that. It is just madness."
Absolutely right Mike it is madness to keep changing managers more often than some people change their underpants, so why then are we looking for our third manager since you bought the club in May 2007?
And though undoubtedly Dennis Wise and his team of scouts have brought in players who have so far all looked promising in the black and white shirt, surely they could have given Keegan the one thing he wanted more than anything this summer, which was a left back and in particular Stephen Warnock from Blackburn Rovers. We are undoubtedly short in this area, a shortfall that was embaressingly shown up in our game against Hull where Charles N'Zogbia gave a truly woeful performance.
So Mr Ashley, thanks very much for clearing the debts and getting rid of Sam Allardyce, for that I will be eternally grateful, but it's time to go and thank you for realising that and getting out before the club threatens to tear itself apart.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

My last post that I wrote on this blog was about a young sportsman coming of age and this will be a similar post after the recent good form of Andy Murray.
It is obvious that the young man from Dunblane has come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of months dating back to the French Open.
He reached the third round there playing some of the best tennis he has ever produced on clay and then followed this up with strong performances during the grass court season where he reached the quarter finals at Queens before retiring injured and then recorded his best grand slam performance after setting Wimbledon alight with an epic five setter against Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. This match will also be remembered by many, myself included, for possibly one of the greatest shots I've ever seen when Murray played a truly fantastic passing shot down the line to take the third set and start what turned out to be a fantastic comeback. He was then of course comprehensively beaten by Rafale Nadal but there is no shame in that as Nadal is quite clearly head and shoulders above every other player in the world and it appears to be only a matter of time before usurps Roger Federer as world number one.
Murray then took a couple of weeks off before heading to Toronto where he finally seemed to become the player that many have said he has the potential to be. This was truly evident when he came up against Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open Champion, and a player he had previously failed to beat in four attempts. Murray though played some of the best tennis of his career and overcame his nemesis comfortably 6-3 7-6.
He then lost again to Nadal in the semi finals but the match was extremely close, and had Murray not been struggling with a knee injury he might have advanced to the first masters series title of his career.
It wasn't to be but the future looks ever brighter for Andy Murray. In the next couple of months he is competing for Great Britain in the Olympics and will also be competing in the season ending Grand Slam in America, where he won as a junior and I think is his best hope of winning a Grand Slam.
He is a young man who is truly in charge of his own destiny. He isn't afraid to make tough decisions for the sake of his career and it is this single mindedness which sets him apart from many other young players, and in particular British players.
If he keeps progressing the way he has it can surely only be a matter of time before he becomes the first Britain to win a Grand Slam since Fred Perry won Wimbledon in the 1930's.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

A Coming of Age?

I thought it was extremely interesting to hear some of the comments that were flying around in the press this week after England’s comprehensive ten wicket defeat at the hands of a ruthless South African side.
What with all the controversy about debutant Darren Pattinson being picked to represent England and all the issues raised about the team being divided some interesting comments from Andrew Flintoff went very much under the radar. His comments concerned Lancashire seamer James Anderson.
Ever since Anderson burst onto the scene with a fabulous hat trick in the 2003 World Cup he has been a cricketer who has left many experts split. Many regard him as a bowler of incredible talent but somebody who mentally isn’t strong enough for the demands of test match cricket.
Flintoff however had this to say. “Jimmy is a class performer and we’re going to need him. He is a class act who burst onto the scene as a young lad and had instant success. He then didn’t find it too easy after that. However in the past 18 months or so, we’ve seen Jimmy Anderson grow up and I think people forget that he is only 25 years old.”
High praise indeed, particularly coming from somebody such as Flintoff. He does though have a point. Anderson appears to have matured as a player beyond measure, and anybody questioning his mental strength only needs to see his performance in making 34 runs as nightwatchman to see that he has guts and courage in the face of an onslaught.
It was his bowling though that really caught my eye. He was England’s best bowler throughout the entire match without receiving the rewards he deserved for his perseverance and control.
He has though had a rough time in international cricket. He has been in and out of the side in both forms of the game and has suffered injuries and periods where his confidence seemed to completely desert him.
‘Jimmy’ has always found a way to get himself back in the side and at the moment it could be argued that he has been England’s best bowler in 2008. He has also proved himself to be a decent batsmen with many saying he is the most improved batsman within the England set up and is a truly outstanding fielder.
His current record for England is as follows
Tests 27 Wickets 95
ODI 91 Wickets 126
So he has already broken the century barrier in the shorter form of the game and is quickly closing in one a hundred test wickets for his country which is an excellent achievement in anybody’s book. And like Flintoff said he is only 25 years old. He is at an age where he has a wealth of international experience to draw upon at a time when many players of his age have yet to make their bow in international cricket. If he uses this to his advantage Jimmy Anderson could be a frightening bowler for England for the next ten years.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Birth of the next Anfield legend?

After witnessing the truly outstanding debut season of Spanish striker Fernando Torres at Liverpool this season, it begs the question as to just how great the man known as 'El Nino' can become.
Can he become a Liverpool legend to follow in the likes of Dalglish, Keegan, Fowler and Owen? In truth he has the ability to surpass the achievements of them all. This season, with one game still to play he has notched 32 goals in all competitions. This, when taken in context with how poor Liverpool's season has been, is a quite staggering achievement. He has taken to the English league like a duck to water and has rammed it in the face of any critics who thought that he may struggle to adapt to the physical nature of the game in this country.
The moment that comes to mind for me that summed up that Torres had the qualities to succeed, was not an outstanding goal, but when he stood up to John Terry early on in the season. Terry is without doubt a centre half with brilliant intimadatory qualities and a lesser player might have backed down in the face of such ferocity. Not Fernando Torres. He laughed in Terry's face and then scored the sublime goal, rounding the Chelsea defence and slotting calmly past Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal.
Another aspect that sets 'El Nino' apart from the rest is that he is without doubt, a big game player. Some players have been known to bully the small teams but then when the big match comes along are known to crawl into their shells. Torres has been outstanding, carrying Liverpool virtually on his own through the group phases of the Champions League, and then maintaining that form all the way through the competition, until they were eventually knocked out by Chelsea in the semi finals.
The flmaboyant striker has stated many times in interviews that he could see himself finishes his career at the club he now calls home. This will be music to the ears of Liverpool fans around the globe, whilst a collective groan can almost be heard from Premiership defenders up and down the country.
The scary prospect is that he is only 24 years of age. It is still impossible to tell how good this man can become. However if he carries on scoring at the rate he has, and stays at Anfield for the next ten years Ian Rush's all time goalscoring record could be at stake.
The Anfield fans sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and if Fernando Torres keeps on playing the way he has done Liverpool supporters will ensure that he never walks alone.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Greatest driver in F1 today?

With this season looking as though it could possibly be the most competitive in Formula One's long history there is continued debate about who is the most talented driver on the grid.
In today's current climate most people will go for one of two choices, reigning world champion Kimi Raikonnen, or Britain's F1 sensation Lewis Hamilton. However there is one man who I believe is being continually overlooked this season and that is two time world champion and current Renault driver Fernando Alonso.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, his well publicised feud with Lewis Hamilton has rapidly decreased his popularity, with some people inside the sport and many fans outside it.
However there is no doubt in my mind that Alonso was a victim of circumstances. He joined a team, led by boss Ron Dennis, that clearly favoured the young Brit, and the two talented driver's competitive instincts led to a partnership that could no longer work. This eventually resulted in Alonso and Maclaren agreeing to terminate the final two years of their contract.
This season, though only three races old, has really proven to me just what an outstanding talent Fernando Alonso is. He has driven extremely well in what is a very poor car indeed and seems as though a weight has been lifted from his shoulders after his return to Renault.
It appears that team Maclaren are missing him aswell. Alonso is well renowned in Formula One circles for his input in to how the car is set up and Maclaren and Hamilton in particular(teammate Kovalinen has been outstanding) have struggled with the set up of their car.
The plain truth as far as I can see is that Fernando Alonso is the most complete driver in the sport today. He drives with flair, but also knows when to drive conservatively when the situation requires it. Had Hamilton done this in the last two races last season he would surely have been World Champion.
It is my belief that given the right opportunity it will be Alonso, not Raikonnen or Hamilton, who will go down in history as the greatest driver of the post Schumacher generation.