Friday, July 19, 2013

The Sports Medley Vol. 1

I am starting a new feature on the blog today, focusing on some brief observations from the world of sport. These pieces won't have a theme and unlike my regular posts will not focus on one sport specifically, but rather feature quick analysis on a variety of sports stories that have caught my attention recently.

Tito Vilanova steps down as Barcelona manager

Barcelona called a quick press conference today to announce the resignation of manager Tito Vilanova. In what is a big shock to the footballing world, Vilanova needs to continue treatment of his cancer, and is simply unable to continue in the dugout. It certainly puts all the dirty laundry that has aired in the past week about his illness into perspective.

Vilanova will be credited with wresting the La Liga crown back from Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid. For me, the abiding memory of Vilanova's brief and interrupted reign, was the first half of the 2012-13 La Liga season when Barcelona simply tore apart all comers. Barcelona won 17 of their first 18 games, with one draw, as Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba and Lionel Messi played some simply sublime football.

Manchester City beef up their attack

Manchester City announced the signings of Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic today for a combined 42 million pounds. The owners have certainly backed Manuel Pellegrini with their actions, and we now wait to see how the new arrivals perform for the Citizens.

While Negredo has performed well in Spain, there are still doubts about his performances against the best opponents. I am not convinced that he is an upgrade on Carlos Tevez, but he might find Pellegrini's management style to his liking, and will be a viable forward option behind Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko. Jovetic is certainly the more exciting signing. The Montenegrin is extremely versatile, and Pellegrini's fluid tactics will bring the best out of the forward who is equally adept at finishing chances himself and creating goals for his teammates.

The craziness at PSG

A year ago, not many except die hard fans of Serie A knew much about Marco Veratti. Paris Saint-Germain bought him last summer after Carlo Ancelotti clearly identified his fellow Italian as a vital part of the PSG jigsaw. Fast forward a year, and Veratti's reputation has been considerably enhanced after some brilliant performances in Ligue Un and the Champions League. The 20 year-old now wants a raise from his salary of 850,000 Euros a year to 3 million Euros a year. Once again, Veratti is just 20!

On the face of it, it comes across as another example of player power and uninhibited greed that is rampant in the modern game. However, cold hard logic would dictate otherwise. Can one really blame Veratti when his paymasters have just signed two 19 year-old centre-backs, Lucas Digne and Marquinhos for a combined total of 42 million pounds. If you are anything like me, the only word that comes to mind is crazy!

The British Open challenges the world's best again

July is a special month on the golfing calendar, as everyone associated with the sport looks forward to the British Open. Just last week, a plethora of players current and past were talking about the magic of Muirfield, the venue for the Open this year. It took only one day into the tournament before a whole raft of players started complaining about the conditions.

With many golfers now succeeding on the PGA Tour featuring courses that emphasize power, they simply get befuddled when playing links golf, as they are not used to the ball being on the ground so much. In such circumstances, it's refreshing to see players with tactical understanding coming out on top of the players with powerful drives. As we head into the final weekend, I hope that one of Miguel Angel Jiminez, Angel Cabrera or Tiger Woods wins the 142nd Open Championship for the sheer ability to adjust their games to suit the conditions.

What is up with McIlroy?

When Rory McIlroy won the PGA Championship in commanding fashion last year, one would have had to possess the ultimate gamblers instinct to predict the Ulsterman missing the cut at the Open. It's easy to forget that McIlroy is only 24, and he could easily recover from his slump in 2013 to dominate the game for many years to come.

However, I can't help but ask, was the money offered to change his equipment so important, that he sacrificed years of hard work that went into becoming world no.1? McIlroy was at the top of his game, and was set to dominate this year with the form that he was in. Makes one realize that the ugly spectre of commercialization can't be detached from any sport.

The batting troubles of Pakistan and West Indies

For the casual cricket observer, the current one-day series between Pakistan and West Indies in the Caribbean might seem extremely entertaining. Shahid Afridi's return to the side, yielded a breezy 76 of 55 balls followed by a remarkable spell of 7 for 12. The third one-day resulted in a scarcely believable tie, as the Windies last wicket pair of Kemar Roach and Jason Holder blasted 24 runs of 13 balls.

The bigger issue from my perspective, is the complete lack of batting intelligence displayed by either team. I can't remember the last time a bilateral series was played between two teams, with neither reaching 250 in three completed games. Lest it be forgotten, the two teams performed poorly with the bat in the recently concluded Champions Trophy as well. Temperament seems a non-starter for both sets of batsmen, often mixing reckless attacking shots with long periods of dot balls against innocuous bowling. The art of rotating strike and pinching singles has become anathema to the two teams who seem satisfied with their prowess in Twenty20 cricket at the expense of more refined batting skills required to succeed in the longer forms of the game.

The abandonment of the Sri Lankan Premier League

The 2013 edition of the Sri Lankan Premier League was called off earlier this week, and not a tear was shed in the cricket community. Financial guarantees were not met, and the SLC decided it didn't want to deal with any fiascos pertaining to player payments that have bogged down other similar leagues.

My biggest gripe about this situation was that the SLC was ready to forego a season of test cricket in order to accommodate the SLPL. We could have been looking forward to a test series, whereby Sri Lanka would pose a significant challenge in home conditions against the world's best test team South Africa. In stead, all Sri Lankan cricket fans have to look forward to are a couple of meaningless Twenty20's preceded by an equally meaningless one-day series. Utter shambles doesn't even begin to describe it.

Stoke City's remarkable gesture

I belong to a legion of football fans who have never enjoyed watching Stoke City on the pitch. When you are looking for a feel good story in the world of football, one hardly ever thinks of looking up Stoke City. However, with one noble gesture, Stoke City have turned the PR battle on its head.

The club are offering supporters free coach travel to all 19 of their Premier League away games this season. While the gesture alone is heart-warming, what really enhances the credibility of the move is that Stoke City are crediting the increased TV revenue as the main reason for the initiative. In stead of frittering the revenue away on increased player wages and inflated transfers, Stoke City's gesture will serve to galvanize the away support of the team, and could potentially even result in the team improving their wretched away form.

The legacy of Bert Trautmann

Bert Trautmann, the German goalkeeper who won the FA Cup with Manchester City in 1956, has died at the age of 89. Trautmann is best remembered for playing the final 17 minutes of City's Cp final win against Birmingham City with a broken neck. He played more than 500 times for City between 1949 and 1964, having first arrived in England as a prisoner of war.

Trautmann's legacy is greater than the accolades he won on the pitch. Initially, many fans of the Citizens were extremely reluctant to embrace a German footballer as one of their own. However, Trautmann quickly won over the fans with a string of match-winning displays, typified by some gravity defying saves. Trautmann's success in England broke down many barriers and stereotypes in a polarized world, and is a reminder that at its best and most powerful, football can be a vehicle for promoting positivity and togetherness in society.
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