Friday, 13 November 2009

Pushed to the limit

Burn out is one of those phrases in sport that divides opinion. Many people believe that sportsmen and women are very well paid for what they do and that tiredness shouldn’t be an issue. However there is a growing minority of people who are becoming more sympathetic to the stresses and strains placed on an athlete’s body in modern day sport.
Andrew Flintoff is one such example of a sportsman who has seen his career cut short and curtailed by injury. Though he still plans to make a comeback in the one day form of the game there are many who feel that he may never play at the top level of sport again.
However one interesting example that I came across while looking more into this was that of Australian Moto GP rider Casey Stoner. In the middle of the 2009 season whilst chasing Valentino Rossi for another title Stoner announced that he was set to take a mid season break in order to recover from a mystery illness.
There was much speculation about what was afflicting Stoner but the general consensus was that he was suffering from burnout. He is renowned in the Moto GP world for being one of the fittest competitors on the track and it was believed that he had simply overdone it in his quest to be as physically fit as possible.
He had complained of feeling nauseous and exhausted during races and was eventually diagnosed with mild anaemia and gastritis.
Despite finally finding out what had been making him so unwell the question still remained as to what could cause a 24 year old to endure such problems and the answer comes again back to overtraining. The reason for this was pressure to succeed. In a sport that has been dominated by the quite brilliant Valentino Rossi for years, it is crying out for someone to come and mount a serious long term challenge at the top of the sport and for many that man is Casey Stoner. But it seemed that he has overdone it in his quest for success, and he won’t be the last sportsman to do so.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Battling back

“Keeping the faith. That’s what counts. Holding true to what matters is the key to a decent and meaningful life. And we can all keep the faith- as long as things go our way. It’s when things go against us that trouble is doubled. That’s because we not only suffer from bad times, we also question the faith that sustains us. And no matter what form it takes, faith matters.”
These were the words of Simon Barnes writing in The Times on Friday as Jonny Wilkinson was on the verge of making his long awaited comeback in an England shirt. The words undoubtedly apply to Wilkinson who has shown amazing courage and resilience as he has fought back from injury after injury. However if there is one sportsman who has to show strength in the face of continued adversity it is surely England cricketer Simon Jones.
Jones, who last played a Test match for England during the glorious Ashes summer in 2005 missed the whole of the 2009 season with an injury but is finally on the verge of making a comeback after signing a three year deal with Hampshire.
In an interview with Sky Sports Jones said that he just wants to get back playing but that he also still harbours hopes of a return to the England set up.
“I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to play for England again but the main thing for me is to play. First and foremost I’ve got to concentrate on my stuff with Hampshire and get back playing. This year was a bit of a nightmare.”
Jones is one of those players who you can’t help but think what might have been. He was, at his peak, a frightening bowler. He bowled with fearsome pace and aggression and had the uncanny ability to make the ball swing both ways. In 2005 Australia couldn’t handle him and had he stayed fit he would have been approaching 300 Test match wickets rather than being stuck on 59. But despite injury after injury he continues to fight back. He continues to keep the faith, both in himself and his own ability.
Barnes continues: “In our own lives, we have all known times that test us, that tempt us to give up, to blame others, to abandon the things that matter. Some people go through extreme and terrible experiences, others have better luck. But we all know about hard times.”
Simon Jones certainly does. But he keeps on bouncing back and one day I fervently hope that he will be back in an England shirt terrorising the best batsmen in the world.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Mission Accomplished

Just a short article to congratulate Jenson Button on his magnificent achievement in becoming Formula One World Champion.
Button is a role model to anybody taking part in any form of sport. An example that persistence and belief in your own ability will pay off if you never give up.
He hasn’t had it easy in his career. Bursting on to the scene as a raw, prodigiously talented 20 year old, his early promise quickly nose dived and he was written off as a playboy. More interested in partying than scoring points was the general consensus.
However he has turned his career around in magnificent fashion with the help of technical genius Ross Brawn.
Button drove a terrible car for years as he showed the patience of a saint knowing that sooner or later his chance would come and in 2009 it did.
He might have struggled in the latter half of the season after being so dominant in the first but the history books will not show that.
All they will show, is that in 2009 Jenson Button was the best racing driver on the planet. A childhood dream achieved and one that is thoroughly deserved.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Cracknell on thin ice

I am not a big fan of rowing. I, like many others, get swept away in the excitement of it all during the Olympics but that’s about it. The sport enters my consciousness once every four years then disappears for another four. I am a self confessed football and cricket fan and those are the sports that I most immerse myself in.
However if somebody was to ask me who I admire and respect most from the world of sport, then the answer for me is an easy one. Ex Olympic rower James Cracknell.
However despite his extraordinary achievements as a rower (2 Olympic Golds and 6 World titles) it is what he has accomplished after his retirement that leads me to admire and respect him.
Now when a sportsman retires it is for one of two reasons. They are no longer physically capable of doing what they used to or they have lost their hunger for success. Neither was true of Cracknell. He has readily admitted that he might have retired too early.
So after announcing his retirement Cracknell found himself without a long term goal for the first time in his adult life. What could fill this void?
The answer came in the form of Ben Fogle.
Having already entered the Atlantic Rowing race and ordered the boat Fogle approached Cracknell with a proposition.
“I’m rowing the Atlantic. Would you like to do it with me?”
“Can you row?” replied Cracknell.
“Errrr no.”
Cracknell duly declined his offer.
However a month later he had a change of heart. He needed an outlet for his passion and drive and what better way than testing himself against one of the toughest environments Mother Nature has to offer. The trip was a great success. They finished first in their class and a great friendship had blossomed along the way.
It was their next challenge that really caught my imagination. Cracknell, along with Fogle and new team member Ed Coats set off on a race to the South Pole, which was documented by the BBC for a TV Series called ‘On Thin Ice.’ I tuned in every week without fail as I witnessed the incredible efforts of these three polar novices as they battled to win the Race to the South Pole. What made it such compelling viewing for me was seeing Cracknell try and survive in such a tough and unforgiving environment. For a man who has seemed invincible in many of the challenges he has taken on this was one that broke him down. Despite all his months of preparation, Cracknell realised that the kind of environment he was now in could throw him tests that he was unable to prepare for.
It showed the side of a sportsman that we rarely see. Cracknell was vulnerable and for the first time in his life admitted that this was a task that he may not be able to finish. However with great mental strength, and with the help and support of his team mates he pushed on to achieve his goal of reaching the South Pole.
It might not have made pleasant viewing for Cracknell, but for the first time the viewing public were able to see a sportsman with the layers stripped back, as somebody who is normal, and struggles like the rest of us. Not everybody likes him, he can often come across harshly on television, but you can’t help but respect him.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Alonso back at the top

Fernando Alonso’s move to Ferrari was one of the worst kept secrets in the history of Formula One. Everyone in the paddock knew that the move was going to happen, it was just a matter of when. The move , though, is undoubtedly a good one for Alonso, but it also extremely beneficial for the sport. In my eyes, and the eyes of many others Alonso is the best driver on the grid. No other driver could have got the results that he has managed over the last two years in what has often been a terrible car.
Many have questioned whether the complex Spaniard will be able to handle driving for Ferrari alongside a competitive team-mate in the form of Felipe Massa after his experience with McLaren and Lewis Hamilton in 2007. However, Alonso is an intelligent man and will have learned from his past mistakes and also has the added benefit of having a great friendship with the currently absent Brazilian.
Next season now promises to be an intriguing one. Alonso in the Ferrari against Hamilton in the McLaren. Both will be battling at the front of the grid but they won’t be the only ones there. Kimi Raikonnen, the man moved aside to make way for Alonso looks increasingly likely to return to McLaren in place of his under achieving countryman Heikki Kovalinen. Massa, should be a formidable force when back in full health, and there will also be the Brawn’s, most likely consisting of Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg and the Red Bull’s of Mark Webber and Sebastien Vettel, both of whom have enjoyed successful but somewhat inconsistent times in 2009.
If there is a sport that needs a shot in the arm it is Formula One. This season has seen its reputation dragged through the mud, with the controversy early in the season about whether the top teams would be re-joining the competition or forming a breakaway competition to the recent race fixing scandal that saw Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds jettisoned from a sport they once graced. The fight for the title has also lost all momentum after the thrilling finishes of the previous two seasons. Jenson Button has done his very best to throw away the Championship but still finds himself 15 points clear of his nearest rivals as he crawls to his first World Championship.
It is about time that the best drivers were back at the front of the grid. Fernando Alonso should be fighting for wins and World Championships, not battling it out in the midfield. Next season he will be back at the very top, where his immense talent truly belongs.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The British Media have become notorious throughout the passing of time for their ability to build up sports stars only to knock them back down. Notable examples include such stars as Paul Gascgoigne and David Beckham as both have lived out their lives under the watchful eye of the media.
However it is becoming increasingly evident that this attitude is filtering down from the media and into society in general.
This is no more evident than in the case of Tom Daley.
On the face of it Daley appears to have it all. A competitor in the Beijing Olympics at 14, he recently became Britain's youngest World Champion in any sport after winning the recent World Diving Championships held in Rome.
As it turns out, though, his success has brought with it great difficulty, culminating in him being removed from his school after suffering persistent bullying at the hands of his classmates.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph Daley said: "It began with 'Speedo Boy', then 'Diver Boy', and that was ok, but then the younger kids started doing it too. I wasn't upset, just annoyed that I couldn't go anywhere without being hassled. It then graduated to things like 'How much are your legs worth?Shall I break them for you?' and I was getting pencil cases, rolls of masking tape and other stuff lobbed at me. By the end they were deliberately tripping me up."
It is a sad state of affairs that such a talented young man has become such a victim of his own astonishing success.
We are just lucky that he is able to rise above the lousy behaviour of his peers, surely motivated by jealousy at what Daley has already achieved in such a short time.
Fortunately, though, his passion for divind remains undimmed as he focuses on more success in the future.
"I may have just won gold, but thinking about what you've done doesn't get you anywhere. As far as diving goes, I'm back to square one, and three years of hard work for 2012."

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Schumacher back in town

Comebacks in sport have been a hot topic of conversation in 2009 ever since Lance Armstrong returned to the cycling peloton after an absence of three years.
However anybody who knows anything about Armstrong wouldn't have been too surprised when he announced his comeback. He has a competitive instinct, so deeply ingrained in his character, that couldn't be fulfilled running marathons and working for his fantastic charity, Livestrong.
However the comeback of Michael Schumacher to the Formula One grid is one that has shocked the world of sport.
Schumacher and Armstrong are undoubtedly cut from the same competitive cloth with both having an amazing desire to be the very best at what they do.
Despite this, though, it always seemed highly unlikely that we would ever see Schumacher behind the wheel of a Ferrari again.
Many people said when he left the sport in 2006 it was so his good friend Felipe Massa wouldn't lose his seat with Kimi Raikonnen set to join the team for the 2007 season.
It therefore seemed unlikely that Schumacher would ever be needed by Ferrari again with Raikonnen winning the world title in 2007 and Felipe Massa missing his world title dream by a breath to Lewis Hamilton in 2008.
With Fernando Alonso widely expected to join the team in either 2009 or 2010 it seemed Schumacher could look forward to a comfortable retirement and a job for life as an adviser to the team.
All that changed, though, when part of Rubens Barrichello's car flew into the face of Massa during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix which resulted in a fracture of Massa's skull.
Who else could step in but the man widely regarded as the greatest man ever to get behind the wheel of an F1 car.
But just what is he capable of after a three year sabbatical from the sport?
There is no doubt that in recent races the standard of the Ferrari's car has been improving, most evident in the last race with Raikonnen coming home in second place, and the team will surely make further improvements to satisfy the high standards that will surely be demanded by Schumacher.
Can he win a race this year? Probably not. The Red Bulls are dominant and Brawn GP are more than capable of a resurgence as the season draws to a close.
However with seven races to go he could have a massive part to play in the destination of the 2009 World Title.
Schumacher was a truly great driver. I look forward to the old magic dazzling Formula One fans for the rest of the season.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Beckham content in the shadows

The recent England games were notable for the praising of the performance of players such as Wayne Rooney and Glen Johnson who are undoubtedly starting to come of age under Fabio Capello’s new look England regime.
However one player who went very much under the radar was the man who has dominated the headlines on both the front and back pages for the last ten years: David Beckham. Picked to play against Andorra in the place of the suspended Gareth Barry, the AC Milan man turned in a tidy performance.
For all the criticism that Beckham has received over the years he has undoubtedly become a fantastic ambassador for his country. He is quite happy to bide his time, uncomplaining when he finds himself reduced to five minute cameos for his country.
Beckham loves playing for England. He gives it everything he has and will continue to do so until Fabio Capello tells him enough is enough.
Unlike players such as Jamie Carragher, David Beckham will never turn his back on his country. If every England player showed as much effort, skill and commitment as he has over the years there would be more trophies and less dust in the England trophy cabinet.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Something to prove

For the first time in his managerial career Jose Mourinho goes into a pre season campaign finding himself very much under pressure in his role as manager of Inter Milan. No longer is he renowned around the world as the next great young manager, but has found himself usurped by the inspirational leadership skills of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona.
Instead he is quickly gaining a reputation for building, dull methodical teams, who whilst winning trophies, don’t win any friends.
In fact since Mourinho went to Italy he has done his very best to make himself as unpopular as possible, clashing with fans, managers, players and the media. He won the league but came short in the Champions League. That is another blot on his copybook. Inter signed him to win the European Cup and the fact was they didn’t even come close. The only reason they continue to win Serie A year after year is due more to the failings of the other teams around them than anything done by Inter Milan.
Next year Inter need to continue to dominate Serie A and need to show some form of improvement in the Champions League, but what’s more they need to do it in a style that Mourinho has previously shown himself to be unaccustomed to.
If not Mourinho will find himself shipped out of Milan with his tail between his legs and looking for another job.
It is time the so called ‘Special One’ started to justify his own hype.

Power to inspire

It is beyond reasonable doubt that the vast majority of sport’s films present in today’s society get an extremely bad press and rightly so. When I think of bad sports films I immediately think of the mediocre ‘Goal!’ films that have been in circulation in recent years. There have been many others aswell. Rocky III and Rocky V will forever remain etched in my memory as two of the worst sport’s films I have ever seen.
However, for every bad sports film there are undoubtedly some very fine ones. I was a big fan of the original Mighty Ducks film, aswell as enjoying films such as Raging Bull and the more recently made Friday Night Lights. A film about sport has a way to inspire perhaps like no other genre of film. There is one particular film that stands out for me above all others and that is Any Given Sunday. Despite it’s stellar cast including Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz it is a film that has gone very much under the radar.
The scene that makes this film great for me is just before the team go out and try and win the Superbowl. Al Pacino, who takes on the role of the downtrodden coach in the film, makes I think one of the finest and most inspiring movie speeches of all time in an attempt to motivate his players. Enjoy.

I don't know what to say really.
Three minutes
to the biggest battle of our professional lives
all comes down to today.
we heal
as a team
or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch
play by play
till we're finished.
We are in hell right now, gentlemen
believe me
we can stay here
and get the shit kicked out of us
we can fight our way
back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time.

Now I can't do it for you.
I'm too old.
I look around and I see these young faces
and I think
I mean
I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I uh....
I pissed away all my money
believe it or not.
I chased off
anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately,
I can't even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That's, that's part of life.
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
I mean
one half step too late or to early
you don't quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast
and you don't quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that's going to make the fucking difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING.

I'll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch.
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.

Now I can't make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy
who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you are gonna do the same thing for him.

That's a team, gentlemen
and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
That's football guys.
That's all it is.
Now, whattaya gonna do?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Ronaldo release to rejuvenate Rooney

Amidst all the headlines this morning about Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Manchester United for Real Madrid it comes as no coincidence to me that United have accepted the offer on the back of two outstanding performances from England's very own boy wonder Wayne Rooney.
For the past two or three seasons now Rooney has been forced to sit back and watch as Ronaldo has accumulated glory, headlines and personal accolades as Manchester United completed global domination of the game. Rooney, being the selfless character that he is, has willingly sacrificed himself for the good of the team, to allow the Portugese genius,to take centre stage. And no matter what anybody says about Ronaldo there can be no denying that he is the greatest foreign footballer to ever grace the Premier League stage. He has dazzled with his skills and goals, which were even more impressive coming on the back of the controversial incident with Rooney at the last World Cup.
However it has now become evidently clear that it is time for Ronaldo to move on. He has achieved everything he possibly can in the English game and the lure of Madrid is too much for a young man who grew up supporting the team. What is also clear is that despite concerns that Madrid are reverting to their former 'Galactico' era is that they could be on the verge of something very, very special and Ronaldo does not want to miss out on this.
What worried Manchester United fans must remember though, is that they have the greatest manager in the history of the game and that nobody leaves Old Trafford without the say so of the manager. With the £80 million they will receieve for Ronaldo the club will be able to secure the services of Carlos Teves and possibly lure Karim Benzema and Frank Ribery to the Theatre of Dreams and also buy the high quality holding midfielder they desperately crave in the continued absence of Owen Hargreaves.
The most important thing about the whole move is that Rooney can finally be let off his leash. For too long he has been forced out to the left, with defensive duties a key aspect of his role, preventing him from doing the damage higher up the pitch.
With Rooney playing back in his central role, it might not be too long before the working class lad from Liverpool usurps the Portugese superstar as the greatest footballer in the world.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Today saw history made in the world of professional sport as Roger Federer became the first man since Andre Agassi in 1999 to complete the full set of Grand Slam tournaments, and equal Pete Sampras’ record of Grand Slam titles.
In my mind, and that of other sports fans this undoubtedly places him above the shoulders of all the others and elevates him to the pantheon of the greatest male tennis player in the history of the game.
It seems that everytime Federer plays now he etches his name further into the history of the game.
However it is not the records and the amount of trophies racked up that makes him the most revered player to ever swing a racket. I, for one, think that Rafael Nadal will break every record Federer has ever set as long as he manages to stay fit and healthy, though his latest knee injury shows that this may not be possible. It is the way that the Swiss maestro plays that sets him apart from the rest. He plays with such a grace and elegance that is no longer seen in the modern game today. Players such as Nadal, Murray and Djokovic are counter punchers, who play from the baseline and wait for their opponent to make a mistake. Federer takes the game to his opponents and does so with such style that he has become a joy to watch.
After today’s victory it makes a mockery of those who said that he was finished as a player. He has played in the last five Grand Slam finals, winning two of them. Not bad for someone who is over the hill.
So now onto Wimbledon and the one that Federer really wants. Losing his title last year hurt him more than anything else in his career. He wants his title back. Only a fool would bet against him.

Monday, 25 May 2009

The Dreaded Drop

So it finally happened. After all the years of mismanagement both at boardroom level and in the dressing room Newcastle United finally succumbed to the dreaded relegation.

When I decided to buy my ticket for the Villa away game I did so in the hope that it would all be done and dusted by the last game of the season anyway and that we could just enjoy the game rather than have to worry about the ramifications of staying up or going down.

However, when it became clear that it was going to go down to the last game of the season things became more and more nerve-wracking. I had spent the days leading up to the game in a state of resignation giving us little chance of staying up.

When I woke up at 6am yesterday morning, though, I did so with a renewed sense of optimism. Anything can happen in football and with Hull, Middlesbrough and Sunderland all facing tough fixtures I was confident that a point would be enough to keep us at the top level of English football for another season at least.

And I was right. A point would have been enough. However, the first fifteen minutes aside, we managed to produce one of our worst performances all season with Brad Friedel reduced to the role of a mere spectator for the second half of the game.

However, I left the stadium a proud man. The support from Newcastle United fans was truly unbelievable and will live with me till the day I die. We sang from the beginning till the end. Had the players on the pitch showed as much commitment as the fans did off it we would never have found ourselves in the position that we did.

So, now the rebuilding job begins. It is essential that we give Shearer the job. While at times he has looked like the managerial rookie that he is, there have been signs over the last few games that he is learning quickly. His decision to put Ameobi on yesterday will still be one that forever baffles me but he is not the first manager to make the mistake in thinking that Shola has something to offer.

The one thing that sets Shearer out from the rest is his character. He is not afraid to make big decisions as evidenced with his treatment of friend Michael Owen who has found himself on the periphery since Shearer returned to the club. The most important thing is that Shearer truly cares about the club, and in a season where Newcastle United has become a laughing stock, the full time appointment of the club’s greatest ever player will go some way to restoring the dignity to a team that so desperately needs it.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Time to walk away...

The events of early Sunday morning were extremely sad for Ricky Hatton and his millions of fans across Britain and the sporting world. Not only was he out of his depth, but found himself completely destroyed by the best pound for pound fighter in the world, Manny Pacquiao.

Of course there is no shame in losing to such a great fighter. Pacquiao is the man after all who destroyed one of the greatest boxers of all time when he demolished Oscar De La Hoya.

However it was the manner of his defeat that will have been most worrying for the Mancunian and his legion of loyal followers. He looked a shadow of his former self. A fighter who has seen his best days. Despite all the world titles and great performances (his victory over Kostya Tszyu will live long in the memory) when Hatton has come up against truly world class opponents he has fallen short.

There is no shame in this. He will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the legends of British boxing. Hatton was a brawler of the highest quality. Unfortunately against Mayweather and Pacquiao brawling wasn’t enough.

So what of Mayweather and Pacquiao. Well it appears that Pacquiao’s anointing as the new pound for pound king has stirred something in Mayweather who has announced that he will be coming out of retirement and will face Juan Manuel Marquez in July.

If Mayweather beats him, which he should it would set up a clash between perhaps the two most talented boxers of their generation, if Pacquiao were to accept the challenge which he surely would.

Hatton shared the ring with the very best that boxing had to offer, and gave it everything he had. There is no shame in being a gallant loser. Hatton still has his dignity intact. He should walk away from the sport while it remains that way.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Shear legend returns

Well it looks like Alan Shearer is going to ride in on his white horse and attempt to rescue his beloved Newcastle United from relegation. It is a decision that I think has surprised many fans of Newcastle United after Shearer was critical of the current ownership regime after the departure of Kevin Keegan as manager back in September 2008.

Many had also thought that Shearer had perhaps turned his back on the idea of management having turned down coaching and management roles at England, Newcastle and Blackburn since his retirement from the game in 2006, with him building a successful career in the media and keeping himself busy with his various pieces of charity work.

However it appears he has had a change of heart and will take charge of the team for the remaining eight games of the season as the players battle desperately to avoid dropping into the Championship. It is undoubtedly a clever bit of timing by Shearer to finally step up into the management game. He literally can’t lose. If we stay up he just adds to his already incredible legacy, and if we go down the blame can’t be attributed to him.

I for one think that by appointing him we have at least given ourselves a chance. Hughton and Calderwood proved in the last game that they are tactically inadequate. To bring Ameobi on when we had Guittierez kicking his heels on the bench was one of the most baffling decisions I have seen for years.

When Alan Shearer stepped up to take his penalty in his testimonial game the commentator marked the moment with these words.

“And Alan Shearer who has rescued Newcastle so many times before, has a chance to do so again.”

If anybody can rescue us now, Alan Shearer is that man.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Roddick Re-emerges

For many tennis can be quite a monotonous game. A great deal of people just cannot understand the appeal of watching two players hitting a ball as hard as they can at each other over a net for at least two hours at a time. I, however, have always enjoyed the game. When I was growing up the great rivalry was between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi who played some epic matches over the years. Following that there was the dominance of Roger Federer before the emergence of the player who will possibly emerge as the greatest of all time Rafael Nadal.

However what I have felt that the sport always lacked was real personalities, which is why I have been delighted to see the re-emergence this year of American Andy Roddick as a real force to be reckoned with on the Tour. Roddick is undoubtedly an outstanding player and would surely have added to his solitary Grand Slam had he not come across Roger Federer on the three other occasions that he has battled his way to a Grand Slam final.

However since 2006 and his last Grand Slam final appearance Andy Roddick has been written off by many with 2008 being one of the worst seasons of his career. In the Grand Slam events he only managed a quarter final place in the US Open, missed the French through injury, progressed to the third round at the Australian and gave one of his worst ever performances at Wimbledon, being knocked out in the second round.

It would have been a mistake, though, to write him off completely, and Roddick has come roaring back this year. He progressed to the final of the Qatar Open where he was defeated by Andy Murray before progressing to the semi finals of the Australian Open, beating defending champion Novak Djokovic along the way.

He will no doubt depart the French Open in the early rounds like he always does, but will be a genuine threat on the grass and hard courts of Wimbledon and the US Open. Andy Roddick is back.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Big year for Poulter

2009 is undoubtedly a big year for many sport stars but none more so than Ian Poulter. If he ever wants to win a major in golf this is his chance.
Poulter is in the form of his life. In 2008 he came of age, and finally started fulfilling some of the promise that he always said that he had. He came extremely close to winning The Open only to be edged out by a truly inspired Padraig Harrington, which was enough to see him granted a somewhat controversial wild card pick by Captain Nick Faldo.
However despite many people’s misgivings about his selection he was undoubtedly the star performer on both sides and announced to the world that he was capable of taking on the best players in the world and winning.
It was about time that he started to justify the hype. Poulter is a one man self promotion machine with his most famous comment being that when he fulfils his potential he will be the equal of Tiger Woods.
At 32 years of age it is now make or break for Ian Poulter. He is in the prime years of his career and with Tiger still feeling his way back into the game after his terrible knee injuries it is now or never for the Arsenal fan.
If he doesn’t win a major title in 2009, he never will.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Chambers deserves second chance

As Dwain Chambers opened his latest can of worms this week with some damning allegations with the serialisation of his autobiography Race Against Me many people will have missed the fact that Chambers stormed to gold in the final of the European Indoor Championship in Turin. Perhaps even better than his victory in the final was his sensational performance in the semi final, which was the third fastest run over that distance of all time.

However despite his performances Chambers continues to polarise opinions. This was no more evident than in the BBC’s coverage of the event. Steve Cram, Jonathan Edwards, and Colin Jackson could barely hide their contempt for the British runner. Considering the BBC’s commitment to impartiality their behaviour was nothing short of a disgrace.

The plain facts are is that Chambers, sadly, is a victim of his own honesty. Had he feigned innocence, like most convicted drug cheats with the normal party line of ‘I have never knowingly taken a banned substance’ he would have been welcomed back into the sport with open arms. Which in 2006 he was. Take for example this quote from Kelly Holmes just after Chambers made his first comeback into the sport before the European Championships in 2006. Talking to Five Live’s sportsweek our double Olympic champion said, “ It was right that he was out of the sport for the time he was, but he’s come back. He’s a great athlete, and we probably need him back in the sport.”

Fast forward two years, however, and Holmes has seemingly had a vast change of heart. “We believed him when he said it was a mistake. That was before it came out that he had taken this drug knowingly. I believed there was a big mistake but then he admitted he had taken drugs. That changes your views about a person.”

But the righteous one didn’t stop there.

“He is being treated in the way he deserves to be treated. He needs to start looking at himself and realise why people don’t believe he should be in the sport.”

It is impossible to understand where Holmes is coming from on this. What she is basically saying is that if Chambers had denied all knowledge of how the drugs had got into his system he would have been welcomed back with open arms. However, because he was honest and brave enough to own up to the mistakes that he made he has been ostracised.

He has been spurned from all the top European meetings and his competitive running opportunities are now extremely limited. Some have said he should have been banned from the sport full stop. This is wrong. Chambers committed the crime and served his time. Everybody deserves a second chance.

Dwain Chambers is no different.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Peitersen plan backfires

No doubt the biggest story in sport over the last few days has been the rift between Peter Moores and his captain Kevin Pietersen, which today it seems has resulted in both of them leaving their jobs. Whether they resigned or were pushed is a moot point. What is increasingly evident is that Pietersen’s biggest strength, his ego, has come back to haunt him.
He thought that he could force Moores out of the system and decided to flex his muscles with the ECB in the hope that he could get the result he wanted, and have a coach of his choice appointed. However it has undoubtedly backfired on the abrasive South African as he faces losing the captaincy and the possibility that he may abandon the England team for the riches of the IPL.
So what now for English cricket? In my mind they need to start looking at the best ways to tackle the short term goals. What England face this year are seven test matches against the West Indies, the Twenty20 World Cup, then of course followed by the Ashes series against Australia.
So who should be the new captain and coach? With the cricket in the West Indies due to start in the next couple of weeks, three things need to happen to make sure England enjoy a successful 2008. Andrew Strauss should be given the captaincy in all forms of the game and restored to the one day squad. He has craved the captaincy since his elevation to the international game and has done reasonably well when he has filled in on a temporary basis during the injury problems of Michael Vaughan. Ashley Giles should be given the coaching job with a contract until the end of the Ashes series, and will no doubt steady the ship with his calm measured approach to the game, and will mean that it gives the ECB a chance to take their time and appoint a top class coach with Graham Ford and Tom Moody amongst the favourites for the job.
One more thing that I think England should consider is the position of Marcus Trescothick, who recently announced his retirement from all forms of international cricket due to his stress related illness. However if Bell or Collingwood fail in the West Indies, the England selectors should do everything in their power to persuade him to play for England throughout the course of the summer. If you want to win matches, you need your best players and Trescothick would be a fantastic asset as English cricket attempts to drag itself out of this self inflicted mire.