Wednesday 24 September 2014

No Need For Panic At Old Trafford Just Yet

There has been a lot of talk this week about a potential crisis at Manchester United, which might seem a bit ridiculous considering only 5 league matches have been played so far. There has also already been speculation about reinforcements come January, with Arturo Vidal seemingly linked.

But the Red Devils haven’t got off to a good start. United have just managed one league win so far this season which was against QPR last week. Mk Dons humiliated them 4-0 in the Capital One Cup Second Round, last month. They are currently 12th after 5 games following a shock 5-3 defeat away to Leicester, in which they led 3-1.

Despite spending over £150 million in the summer, Van Gaal is finding life in English football tough going. But with new signings such as Di Maria, Rojo, Falcao, Herrera, Blind and Shaw still finding their feet in the Premier League there is certainly no need to push the panic button just yet.

It’s fairly obvious that what they need is time. The new signings above mentioned have barely played between them. United’s defence has looked very shaky so far but once Rojo shows signs of his World Cup exploits and Luke Shaw finally becomes a regular, then the defence suddenly looks more solid.

There is no questioning Man Utd’s frontline. The trio of Falcao, Van Persie and Rooney are arguably the best strike force in European football, let alone the Premier League. The only problem is how they all get in the side.

The likely scenario is that Van Persie and Falcao play upfront with Rooney just behind as they did against Leicester. Then with the world-class ability of Di Maria and workmanship of Daley Blind, their midfield now is packed with quality.

It is true that Van Gaal should have added another centre back in the summer but they still have options. Rojo needs time but has the potential to be a quality centre back that can also play on the left. When Luke Shaw becomes match fit then he will be a sure starter at left back and he has the ability to be there for many years to come.

 Then there is Daley Blind. Although he is predominantly a defensive midfielder he can also play on either the left or right side of defence, which is the sort of versatility that can be a real asset for Manchester United.

So although Man Utd have had a tough start to the season, there is still plenty of hope that they will be challenging again soon. With the amount of potentially world-class talent in the squad, United will still be looking for a top 4 finish come May. 

Why The Moeen Ali Booing Was Not Racist

During the recent ODI series between India and England, it appeared that large sections of the crowd were booing England’s Moeen Ali. This was first brought to attention during the 4th One Day International in Birmingham, incidentally Ali’s birthplace. It was clear during India’s innings that when Ali would field the ball on the boundary, a large part of the predominantly Indian support would erupt in a chorus of boos. This again happened during the T20 international match also at Birmingham, a few days later.

There has been a lot of coverage on this story, suggesting these boos were ‘racist’ and a ‘disgrace to the game’. While it is hard to argue with the latter, the fact that people are trying to imply these boos were racist could not be further from the truth. It is no secret that Moeen Ali is a Muslim of Pakistani heritage. I have seen a lot of articles on the internet saying these boos were because of his beliefs, but that is simply not the case. India has had plenty of Muslim players don the blue Indian jersey over the years, fan favourites in fact in the case of Irfan Pathan and Zaheer Khan. India is a country with a large Muslim population where the multiple religions have integrated. India have played South Africa many times in the past year and not once has Hashim Amla, openly a Muslim, been subjected to any type of booing from the Indian fans.

There are many reasons why the booing took place and none of them are to do with religious beliefs of racism. The most obvious reason is the fact that he is of Pakistani origin and there has been so much history between the two countries in the past that booing each other is bound to happen. Now that is not to say I condone this, but it has happened for years and people have managed to deal with it. A conflict between two countries is certainly not racist, especially as the two used to be one many years ago.

Another reason behind the booing could be down to the fact Ali pretty much had a go at the British Indian fans for supporting India, saying they should get behind England instead. You can understand why many Indian fans would be upset with this remark, as supporting India is fully justified and a way to get in touch with family roots. To many Indians, a Pakistani British man such as Moeen Ali telling them to support England rather than India would seem like a huge slap in the face. It is much more likely that they were booing him because of these comments rather than just because he is a Muslim.   

These booing’s are also very similar to the booing of Ravi Bopara and Samit Patel, both of Indian descent who have played for England against India in the past. When they did, they too were booed in the same way as Ali was. This is because a large part of the Indian fans feel betrayed by the fact that one of their own has decided to play for England. This might seem a bit ironic as I am sure they would play for England if given the chance but these booing’s are much like Ali’s, and are simply due to the fact they don’t like British Asians playing for England. This is a completely different argument but an interesting one.

British Indians have every right to support their roots and it is quite insulting when someone such as Ali is telling you otherwise. I am quite frankly sick of seeing all the bad press about the booing’s, putting it down to racism when it is about Ali’s comments he made and the fact it is like a betrayal when a British Asian plays for England. It is typical of the media to make a story out of nothing and to assume the worst in what is at the end of the day, only a bit of harmless banter part and parcel in sport. 

Sunday 14 September 2014

Why Money Is Slowly Killing The Beautiful Game

For quite a while now, the enormous amounts of money at the top of the game is slowly killing football as we know it. Smaller clubs in the lower leagues have struggled to survive with a large amount of clubs entering administration more than ever, in the past 5 years or so. The Premier League has become so uneven in recent years in two ways.

The first is that it is miles ahead of any other League in England, which didn’t use to be the case before its inception in 1992. Clubs like Nottingham Forrest and Derby in the 1970s had won England’s top Division almost immediately after being promoted, suggesting a much more even playing field back in those days. The same happened with Leeds just before the inception of the Premier League, who were promoted to the top tier, Division One in 1990 and won in just two years later.

The second way is how teams such as Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and to some extent Liverpool have completely dominated the league in the past 15 years or so. It is no coincidence considering they have been far and away the biggest spenders in this time frame.

 It is clear then that inadvertently the creation of the Premier League and all the television revenue generated by clubs since then, has made the beautiful game all about money. Underdogs like Coventry and Wimbledon used to perform well above expectations, with both clubs winning the FA Cup in the late 1980s. Wimbledon went from Non-League to FA Cup winners in just 10 years, which would be a distant dream in today’s climate where money can only buy you success.

Since Cristiano Ronaldo went to Real Madrid for a then record of £80 million in 2009, 10 players have moved for over £50 million. Before 2009, Zidane was the record transfer at £46 million. This proves how much money has influenced the game more than ever, in the past 5 years.

 Financial fair play (FFP) has since been brought in just a couple of years ago. The plan here was to see a more even playing field among clubs, to prevent clubs spending more than they earn otherwise face penalties. Man City have already failed this last season and were hit with small penalties by their standard. Their summer transfer budget was reduced to under £50 million and they were hit with a £49 million fine. This is not sufficient enough to change the game because this is a fine they can easily pay off and £50 million is hardly a small amount of money.

Sports lawyer Faye Bargery states that FFP has the potential to turn world football into an even more uneven playing field. This is because he suggests smaller clubs with restricted income will struggle to compete against the bigger clubs as they can only spend what they make, which will pale in comparison to the amount of money a Real Madrid makes. Also with FFP, the chances of a Roman Abramovich pumping millions into a club are now very unlikely due to the money that will be lost from over spending; only the clubs with the biggest revenue can hope of competing at the very top. FFP will essentially create an oligopoly instead of an even playing field, with football becoming increasingly dominated by a small number of top clubs.

Until something is done about clubs like Man Utd and Man City spending over £150 million in a single transfer window as they have done in recent years, and a limit on player wages then football will slowly die a painful death, lower down the ladder. Clubs at the lower end of the scale will be killed off one by one by the uneven distribution of money and the knowledge that they can never make it to the Promised Land.

With the way things are going, sooner rather than later we will see the first player to be worth over £100 million and the first £1 million pound a week footballer. This is certainly a bleak picture indeed. Long are the days where a club can get promoted to the top division, win it in their first season and by two years time have already won back-to-back European trophies, as Nottingham Forest did well over 30 years ago. No longer can a smaller clubs dream turn into reality. 

Friday 5 September 2014

England Finally Beat India In Final ODI

England finally secured victory over India at Leeds in the ODI series which finished 3-1 to the visitors. The 5th and final match- one was rained off- was a dead rubber but one in which England desperately needed to win after 3 thrashings to the hands of India. It seemed as if India were off the pace and were not that interested in a series which was already won.

India won the toss and elected to field on what seemed like a good batting track with a little bit of pace and bounce. England didn't get off the the best of starts, losing 2 wickets in the opening 10 overs with Hales falling to Yadav and Ali being dismissed off the bowling of B. Kumar. Captain Alistair Cook looked like he was finally getting some much needed runs at the top of the order but still looked scratchy with a couple of edges luckily going to the boundary. He fell again to spin on 46 with the score on 91 and Morgan fell shortly after to leave England 117-4 off 29 overs. He too met his downfall to spin, getting stumped off the bowling of Ashwin.

 It looked like spin was going to be England's weakness yet again but Joe Root and Jos Buttler had other ideas. They were very positive against the bowling of Jadeja and Ashwin, something in which the rest of the batsman could take heed from. Root brought up his 2nd ODI hundred with a big 6 off Jadeja before he fell for 113. Mohammed Shami got a couple of late wickets with some solid death bowling but a late 33 off 23 balls from Ben Stokes took England to 294-7 off of their 50 overs.

India got off to the worst possible start with Rahane falling off the third ball of the innings to a poor shot, sliced to point. Kohli continued his shocking tour falling yet again to Anderson, edging a ball outside off. India moved along to 49-2 after Dhawan smashed Ali for 6 but he was dismissed in the same over, bowled trying to hit Ali out of the park. Ali again got a wicket, dismissing Raina to reduce India to 91-4. Ali has somehow been getting a lot of wickets on this tour, surprising as he does not seem at all special. His action is pretty average and he does not tend to spin the ball much, also his record is substandard in county cricket which is why his success is a mystery.

 Rayudu played well for his 50 but he fell trying to hit Stokes over the top and when Dhoni was out to Finn, the match was all but over with India 173-6. Jadeja hit a fairly rapid half century with the game already lost and cashed in on this with some late runs, smashing his way to 87 from 68 before chopping on to Finn. India were dismissed for 253, 41 runs short.

This victory for England should not take away their weaknesses against spin displayed from this series. They have also been pretty poor in the bowling department and look miles away from a side who can challenge for a World Cup.

 India on the other hand can be extremely pleased with their work from this series. They were a little off today but it really did not matter in the grand scheme of things. They looked strong in most departments throughout the series, although death bowling will still worry Dhoni. It could be argued that 9 players have all but cemented their place in the starting XI for the World Cup in a side that will be very hard to beat as they defend their crown in just 6 months time. As far as this tour is concerned, the last match takes place on Sunday in a one off T20 match.  

Sky Blues Mark Homecoming With Victory

Coventry City marked their first match back at the Ricoh Arena for 503 days with a hard earned victory over Gillingham. Over 27,000 fans turned up to watch this historic occasion and one that will live long in Sky Blue memory. Finally the fans have something to cheer about after a year of utter misery.

Coventry started the brighter of the two sides enjoying plenty of possession. As a result, they took the lead after 10 minutes as Frank Nouble struck home on his City debut much to the joy of the tens of thousands of Coventry supporters. This goal was mainly down to the hard work of 18 year old defender Ryan Haynes, who had to beat 2 Gillingham defenders before cutting the ball back to Nouble. John Fleck nearly added a second soon after but his header went just wide of the target. Coventry dominated much of the opening half an hour but their failure to add a second gave Gillingham a sniff. Gillingham then enjoyed a period before half time of keeping the ball well but failed to created any clear cut opportunities.

 The second half started in much of the same way as the first. Coventry kept the ball well at times and despite the hold up play by Nouble, no one else could support his efforts. Soon after the hour mark, Gillingham's Hause headed wide for the visitors from a corner before keeper Allsop produced a scrappy save to deny defender John Egan. John Fleck did however, nearly add a second for the hosts but his audacious 45 yard strike was saved by Bywater after he had to back pedal as he was some way off his line.

Coventry didn't look comfortable at all at the back and when they did go forward, they didn't get bodies to support Nouble which could have been down to a lack of urgency. Former Sky Blue Cody McDonald went close for Gillingham near the end and there was still time for City fans to be nervous as Allsop failed to stop a ball from going across the 6 yard line but luckily for the Sky Blues, the ball was somehow cleared of danger. City managed to see off the 4 minutes of stoppage time to edge the match 1-0, much to the sheer delight of all the Coventry fans who had waited one hell of a long time to see their side play at home and even longer for a home win.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Rahane Ton Gives India Series Win

India bounced back emphatically from their test series humiliation to wrap up the series after winning the 4th ODI at Edgbaston on Tuesday, to go 3-0 with one to play. Some tight bowling from the seamers was also followed up by the high quality spin bowling that India possess as India restricted England to just 206 and a incredible opening stand by Rahane and Dhawan set up one of the most one-sided ODI match you will see.

India won the toss and elected to field on a good looking batting track that did a little bit early on. England got off to a poor start after B. Kumar removed Alex Hales and Alistair Cook in the same over to restrict England to 16-2. Ballance was then out a couple of overs later to Mohammed Shami as England were put into a spot of bother at 23-3. Kumar and Shami at this point were bowling extremely well with excellent control, sticking to their line and lengths brilliantly. Root and Morgan trundled along slowly as England reached their 50 in the 20th over. The two got England past the 100 mark before spin again proved their downfall. Jadeja got rid of Morgan for a gritty 32 as he was caught by the unusual fielding position of leg gully, demonstrating the adventurous side of captain Dhoni which is a trait needed to succeed at the highest level.

 Part time bowler Suresh Raina dismissed Root shortly after, as Root attempted to play the reverse sweep but was caught easily. Moeen Ali was the only England batsman to show any flair and attacking prowess as he played spin excellently with plenty of foot movement, boundary hitting and the rotating of strike. He hit a well made half century off just 37 balls but regular wickets and little resistance from the tail meant England were bowled out for just 206 in the 50th over, well short of a par score.

With run rate not being an issue, India started watchfully as they only scored 4 runs in the first 4 overs. The next over though is where the innings was really kicked started. Rahane stroked his way to 4 boundaries in the Jimmy Anderson over and never looked back. Some beautiful stroke play and wonderful timing by both Dhawan and Rahane took India to 57-0 off of the 10 over powerplay to give India more than the perfect start. Things went from bad to worse for England as a lack of control in their bowling allowed India to score far too quickly for the amount of runs they had on the board.

 Rahane brought up his 50 in style as he hit Ali for 6 and Dhawan followed suit hitting a massive six off the bowling of Anderson to bring up a sublime half century. By this stage India were strolling to victory at 127-0 off 21 overs with just 80 needed. Rahane then brought up his maiden ODI century, a truly excellent innings surely cementing his place in the side ahead of the World Cup in 6 months. He eventually fell for 106 after an opening stand of 183 but Dhawan smashed the remaining 25 runs from the next two overs to end up 97 not out as India ended up 212-1 from 30.3 overs to cruise home and cruise to a quite brilliant series victory, proving why they are the best ODI team in the world.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

India Back To Winning Ways With Thrashing

Give India another format aside from the test arena and they thrive. Another dismal overseas test series in England ended 3-1 to the hosts but they bounced back from that humiliation with a thumping 133 run victory over England in the second ODI at Cardiff. A much improved Indian side in all three areas of the game definitely raises the question as to why they perform so much better in one day cricket as opposed to the test format.

After the first ODI was rained out on Monday, this was effectively the first in a five match series. England won the toss and elected to bowl in overcast conditions and were rewarded, reducing India for 19-2 in the 8th over. Chris Woakes was the man to take both the wickets, which included the removal of danger man Virat Kohli for a duck as his abysmal tour continues. Rahane and Rohit Sharma got things moving with a 91 run partnership at just under a run a ball, until Rahane was stumped off the bowling of Tredwell for 41. Rohit Sharma brought up his half century, a gritty innings of 82 balls crucial to India's cause. But he fell tamely trying to hit the ball over long off but did nothing other than finding the fielder and reducing India to 132-4 and needing a big partnership to restore things. 

India had got to 156-4 by the 35th over and the start of the 5 over powerplay, which really changed the whole momentum of the innings and indeed the match. Raina blasted Woakes for 20 runs in the 38th over which kick started a real surge which led to 62 runs coming off the 5 over batting powerplay. He then brought up his 4th ODI century of just 74 balls which was his first international century for over 4 years. He later fell to Chris Woakes and Dhoni picked up yet another half century as India closed their 50 overs at a very competitive total of 304-6. 

England's innings was halted initially by rain which reduced their innings to 47 overs, with a target of 295. Debutant Alex Hales looked assured at the crease as he cruised to a run a ball 30 with England bringing up their 50 inside 10 overs. But captain Cook and then Ian Bell fell in the same over off the bowling of Mohammed Shami to leave the hosts 56-2. Things then got worse as Joe Root was bowled by Kumar to make it 63-3 and which gave India all the momentum. 

The visitors really bowled well, hitting the right areas which challenged the England batsmen greatly. Left arm spinner Jadeja then came into the attack and removed Hales in his first over for 40. Buttler was then out for 2 as Jadeja picked up his second wicket in as many overs to leave England in tatters on 85-5 from 23 overs, needing over 200 runs at a run rate of nearly 9. Ashwin dismissed Morgan for 28 to leave England 119-6 with the match seemingly all but over. Jadeja picked up a couple of wickets as he ended up with figures of 4-28 as England got bowled out for 161, giving India victory by 133 runs in a match they mostly dominated throughout and looking like a real force ahead of the World Cup in February.