Josh Wright

Separation of Two Greats

In Football on September 20, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Wenger endures his sides worst start to a season since 1953

As followers of the Premier League this weekend with have been privileged to view an undeniably entertaining, high-quality and fascinating weekend of football. We had numerous fantastic goals, sweeping attacks and astonishing plays, and that is before we even begin to mention the misses of Torres and Ramires to name but a few. So what have we learned from this weekend? What is indisputable is the gap that has been produced between Manchester United and Arsenal.

Manchester United:

The early pace setters have maintained their 100% record in the Premier League, leading the chasing pack with 15 points from 15. Sir Alex has assembled a team that while containing players of youth still have the class to put away teams. To have beaten teams such as Chelsea and Arsenal comfortably in the first few games, scoring freely and looking secure despite a new and relatively inexperienced defence, portrays the quality that has been assembled at Old Trafford. An attacking quartet of Rooney, Hernandez, Nani and Young with pace, skill and technique aplenty have torn Premier League defences apart. Both Nani and Anderson, despite previous criticism with regards to their Premier League pedigree, have developed into crucial members of this United side. Anderson looks secured and solid, while also providing a creative flair. Nani was unplayable, attacking with pace and fluidity as well as scoring a contender for goal of the season. However it is not just United’s attacking prowess that is terrifying for their title rivals, but their immense defence. Evans seems to have become a player re-born and Evra is his usual self. But the major development is the acquisition and growth of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. If we examine the two individuals start to the season it would be hard to belief that one is just 19 and the other playing non-league football just 2 seasons ago.  They play we a security that far surpasses their years and experience, as well as both providing an attacking threat; Smalling scoring against Chelsea and Jones scything run and commitment leading to Rooney’s 9th of the season. On this form it seems difficult to look further than United.

Arsenal

Another trip to the North-West, another defensive horror story. Throughout the history of the Premier League only 2 teams have conceded more goals after 5 games than Arsenal this season and they are now sitting perilously close to the relegation zone following their worst start since 1953. Mertesacker and Santos, judging by their first appearances, do not look to have filled the gapping void that is Arsenal’s defence. Koscielny and Djourou do not possess the quality that must be demanded of an Arsenal player and are Arteta and Benayoun able replacements for Fabregas and Nasri? Wenger must now look long and hard at both his much criticised transfer policy and, crucially in the short term, the measures that must be taken to secure a defence that conceded 4 against a pressurised Blackburn side.  While the Gunners chief executive Ivan Gazidis has ruled out sacking Wenger, stating;

“”Arsene Wenger is not broken. To see him portrayed as an idiot is damaging – not to him or the club but to the game.”

“[Sacking him] is a route we are not going to go down.”

He continued saying, “He didn’t suddenly become a bad manager or out of touch. That’s nonsense,” and while this is undeniably true, it is possible to claim that this has happened gradually over the past 5 years. Arsenal still have not one a trophy since their FA Cup success of 2005, and look further from correcting this failing now than ever. Not only does Wenger’s team portray intrinsic failings, but the development of Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham has made competition much tougher. What Wenger and perhaps crucially the Arsenal board do over the next days and weeks are vital to saving the Gunners season, a season in which any aims of title contention have collapsed.

Promotion, Relegation or Neither – The Intrinsic Issue with English Rugby

In Rugby Union on May 13, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Cornish Pirates involved in the Championship Final - a game that ultimatly provides little reward due to ground regulations

Following this week’s Championship Play-Off Final first leg between Worcester and Cornish Pirates, a game in which Pirates were defeated 21-12 in Penzance, the innate issue of structuring the league has returned to the forefront of debate in the sport. There seems to be an intrinsic issue regarding promotion and relegation at this current moment, one that seemingly defeats the whole purpose of the system currently implemented.

The Championship semi-finals were contested between Worcester, Cornish Pirates, London Welsh and Bedford Blues. The fact that they are in the semi’s, fighting over the ultimate goal of promotion, means that the ultimately successful team should be promoted? Leeds, having finished bottom of the Aviva Premiership should surely be relegated, as the system stipulates?  However in this year’s situation only Worcester would be allowed to process into the top tier of English rugby, the other three teams, whilst being crowned league champions, would be consigned to the Championship yet again, and Leeds would avoid of relegation despite their ultimate league position. Current ground regulations stipulate certain criteria for a club to be allowed to play in the top division, criteria that only Worcester meet.

What, therefore, was the purpose of the restructuring of the Championship in recent years? Currently the league is contested between 12 teams, the top 8 make the promotion play offs whereas the bottom 4 are consigned to relegation play offs. This is firstly a highly unfair system, if we examine the league this year Bristol, the 8th placed team, finished with 41 points whereas Worcester, the team that finished 1st in the regular season, finished with 101 points. What purpose does it fulfil rewarding a club like Bristol whose supporters would be the first to say have had a dreadful season with the opportunity for the ultimate prize?

We then have the second intrinsic issue with the new system in that while creating a play-off system such as this provides smaller clubs with the opportunity of competing for the prize of winning the league, it is ultimately futile as the majority of these clubs could not be promoted under current regulations. What therefore is the point of this? Attempt to increase the drama and excitement of the climax of the season? Attempt to draw in bigger crowds for these crucial games and as such provide much needed revenue for a large numbers of these clubs? While it is possible to claim that last season it was a success story, with Exeter being promoted and now occupying the top-flight for the first time in the club’s history, it has also been highly damaging. Bristol Rugby, having just been relegated, invested massively in insuring an immediate return to Aviva Premiership. Having finished top this would have previously been enough however the season effectively came down to a cup final between the two West Country sides, a final they ultimately lost. The club is now in financial turmoil, with the squad and coaching set up collapsing in and around itself. True it was foolhardy to invest so much on what was effectively one game, but it is now the fans of this historically large club that suffers.

What then are the options available for those who currently run the game at the highest level? Bath Director of Rugby Sir Ian McGeechan has today issued his support to a 14 team Premiership and a freeze on relegation, stating it would be for “the good of rugby.” The RFU has previously stated that it would block any possible attempts to increase the size of the league and that the current system would remain in place until 2016. Despite this a large number of those involved in the highest level of the game are still trumping for a system similar to what McGeechan was championing. However would limiting top class rugby to just a few teams really benefit the game?

I for one feel that what clubs such as Exeter and recently Bedford, Cornish Pirates and London Welsh have shown is that given the opportunity it is possible for them to succeed. They are inhibited by a flawed system in which it is not the quality of their rugby that is rewarded but the infrastructure of the club. A club should not be prevented from competing due to the size of its ground; if the quality of team is there then that should be enough. Sport is about winners and losers, and this is not determined in the boardroom but on the pitch, and as such it should be events on the pitch that dictate those off it, and not the other way around.

The Not So Beautiful Game

In Football on May 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Neil Lennon is attacked at Tynecastle in possibly the next wave of Sectarian violence

Football in this country has escaped the dark days of racism and repeated crowd trouble? On a global scale is it not the most popular sport in the world?  A sport that permeates race, class and politics? The recent events regarding sectarianism and corruption allegations clearly beg to differ, and for the impartial observer threaten to destroy all that is beautiful about the beautiful game.

The evening of the 11th May 2011 will go down as a dark day for football due to the events of an individual who maliciously attacked the Celtic manager Neil Lennon during the crucial SPL clash between his team and Hearts at Tynecastle. The individual climbed down from the seating, ran onto the pitch and assaulted Lennon before being restrained and later arrested. This comes within the recent events of death threats and even parcel bombs being sent to Lennon and a number of other prominent fans of Celtic. It then transpires that the next day a package addressed to Lennon arrived at Celtic Park containing a bullet. These events cannot and should not be taken lightly by all authorities involved, they represent a despicable and cowardly attempt to threaten and endanger a number of individuals.

The Old Firm is more than a rivalry, this is clear; but this connection to and recent revival of sectarian conflict needs to be stopped. We can proudly say that on the whole the issue of racism in football on these shores is no more. The game is now a family game, one in which we can take pride in our teams and enjoy the sport at its very best. It should not be a way to express your damaging political views and in this case an excuse to perform acts of terror.

In a less serious, but undeniably damaging affair, issues regarding Fifa and corruption have once again resurfaced following Lord Triesman’s comments. Triesman, the former FA Chairman, stated that with regards to Jack Warner, Nicolas Leoz, Ricardo Teixeira and Worawi Makudi that their behaviour was “below what would be ethically acceptable.” This is with regards to corruption in the process of bidding to host respective world cups. Triesman’s exact allegations vary from Paraguay’s Fifa member Leoz asking for a knighthood, Thailand’s member Makudi wanting the TV rights between England and Thailand in a national friendly and Brazil’s Fifa member Teixeira asking Triesman to “come and tell me what you have got for me.”

Fifa presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam responded to these claims stating “I will happily and unreservedly restate that I firmly believe Fifa, as a decision-making body and as an organisation, isn’t corrupt,” however it is clear that the appropriate course of action is an independent investigation. With the scandal encompassing the whole organisation, including Bin Hammam and Qatar’s successful 2022 bid, it would be ludicrous to accept a Fifa led investigation.

Both of these events vary significantly from sectarianism to corruption however both threaten the sport that we all love. In many ways people feel disillusioned with the wealth and business culture associated with the modern game however we are now free of the troubles of the past. These recent scandal’s cannot be allowed to progress into anything worse. It is a game first and foremost, and I for one hope it stays that way.

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