Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tiger Woods in the Rough is Great to See

The long-running Tiger Woods saga has been saturated with more drama than your average soap opera. Woods, once a superstar golfer, lost everything in a flash and is now on his journey to claiming back not only his status on the course but his reputation off it.

Tiger's first Masters victory
We have witnessed Wood’s rapid rise to stardom with success at a young age, a battle with career threatening injuries, a scandal that rocked the world, repentance of the highest order and acknowledgment of previous faults, which leaves only one missing scenario. The bittersweet ending.

Tiger, one of America’s most famous embodiments of the American Dream, must now seek to emulate his initial rise to greatness once again and this resurgence mission gathered great pace on Sunday.

Shooting a 13-under par 275 at Bay Hill to claim victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational by a 5-shot margin, Woods claimed his first PGA Tour victory since September 2009 at the BMW Championship, to draw a line under what has been the lowest point of his career.

It all began when he crashed his Escalade outside his home in November 2009, but got worse with numerous reports of infidelity, a high profile divorce, public defamation by former caddie Steve Williams and a damning description of events in former coach Hank Hanley’s recently published novel.

Doomed to fail
Woods hit rock bottom in sensational fashion with arguably the biggest public fall from grace of any superstar past or present. But, he is determined to prove that his troubled times are over and that such misdemeanours are a thing of the past.

Tiger Wood’s attempts to bring himself full circle in an unbelievable restoration of faith and fortune is the sequel to his incident-filled first episode and the setting for his latest chapter is Augusta.

The Masters is a modern representation of a reality show, incorporating drama and comedy in an action-filled adventure towards the capture of the romanticised green jacket. Taking the stage, Woods, who has, up until last weekend’s victory, been considered unlikely of success, will enter the tournament as 3/1 favourite. 

He will understand that he has much improved competition at The Masters, especially in the form of Rory McIlroy, who won the U.S. Open last year, the youngest player to do so since Bobby Jones in 1923. McIlroy boasts a longer stretch of form and recently held off Tiger’s dramatic surge of a last round 62, to claim victory at the Honda Classic in Florida.

At the other end of the scale, 41-year-old veteran and psoriatic arthritis sufferer Phil Mickelson will also pursue Woods. Mickelson, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last year, is a three-time Masters champion, who claimed his 40th PGA Tour victory last month in the ATT Pebble Beach Pro-Am and knows Augusta inside-out.

McIlroy will be biggest threat
The Tiger Woods show lacks traditional themes, for he is no hero and does not chase villains, but is by far the most eagerly anticipated programme on the PGA’s listings and Woods’ recent victory has sent media speculation into overdrive.

Whether Woods manages to secure his fifth green jacket at Augusta or not, The Masters will benefit just from his presence. When he missed the 2011 U.S. Open in Bethesda, Maryland due to injury, ratings fell by a staggering 26%, illustrating just how influential his appearance is on spectatorship.

So as the viewing public prepares to witness the next chapter of the Tiger Woods chronicle, there are two main schools of thought amongst the audience.

Some brand Woods as a golfing genius who must be given the plaudits he deserves for his achievements on the golf course, because this is the reason people grew to love him and his ‘private’ life is none of our business.

Is this how it ends?
Others see a man who betrayed not only his wife but the public who gave him so much adoration, helping him to become the iconic figure that he was and feel a person so morally bankrupt as he appears to be, should not be given any respect after such brutal transgression.

Whether you see the good in a man who has trodden a long journey of repentance to seek forgiveness for his sins, or the evil in a man who committed crimes so drastic they cannot be forgiven, one fact remains.

Golf with Tiger Woods is a must-see event.

Written by Dom Wallace

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why Messi Isn't The Greatest Ever

Lionel Messi registered a record-breaking five goal haul last Wednesday, as a boisterous Barcelona swept aside a baffled Bayern Leverkusen outfit, to march promptly into the Champions League Quarter-Finals.

Barcelona's old No.10
Messi once again exhibited his undeniable quality and complete understanding of the modern game, bringing to the boil the debate that has simmered under the surface since he adopted Barcelona’s number 10 shirt from the majestic Ronaldinho in 2008.

That season saw a 21-year old Messi score 38 goals on his way to claiming La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League trophies and the youngest top scorer in Champions League history picked up the UEFA Club Forward of the Year and UEFA Club Footballer of the Year awards, coming runner-up in the 2008 FIFA World Player of the Year.

Having received a staggering 46 accolades since then, netting another 153 times in just 157 appearances for Barcelona, Messi has proven to football spectators worldwide that he is a truly unique talent.

But, is Lionel Messi 'The Greatest Footballer Ever'?

Last May, Wayne Rooney was helpless to prevent the Argentine running rings around his teammates at Wembley, once again crushing his dreams of Champions League success. Despite such a brutal infliction of pain, Rooney found only pure pleasure in observing Messi’s latest masterclass, tweeting “Messi is a joke. For me the best ever.”

Messi makes it look so easy
When talking of all-time greatest footballers the same names inevitably arise such as Pele, Cruyff, Maradonna, De Stefano, Puskas, Beckenbauer, Platini, Eusabio, Francescoli and Best.

Having scored a mind-blowing 1,283 career goals in 1,363 appearances, Pele is considered by many as the number one footballer ever, when forced to choose. The so-called ‘King of Football’, who famously quipped, “I was born for soccer, just as Beethoven was born for music”, has his own views on whether Messi is eligible for the title of ‘Greatest Ever’.

In January Messi scooped the FIFA Ballon D’or award for the third successive year and Pele was present at the ceremony to admit, “I like Messi a lot, he’s a great player. Technically we’re practically at the same level.”

However, the Brazilian legend asserted, “When Messi’s scored 1,283 goals like me, when he’s won three World Cups, we’ll talk about it.” He further clarified, “He’s a great player for Barcelona, but when he plays for Argentina, he doesn’t have the same success.”

Maradonna is an admirer
The 71-year old global football icon displayed his sense of humour, claiming “People always ask me: ‘When is the new Pele going to be born?’ Never.  My father and mother have closed the factory.”

Joking aside, Pele makes a valid point given that his 77 goals in 92 international appearances, including three World Cups and countless international records vastly outweigh Messi’s 22 scores in 67 games, boasting only one tournament victory in the 2008 Olympics.

Messi supporters would argue that at 24 years of age, assuming he remains injury-free, he will have every opportunity to meet and exceed the numerous achievements made by the Brazilian.

This statement holds great truth and it is impossible to construct arguments that successfully derail the assertion of Messi as the ‘Best Player of the Modern Era’.

As a generation we must acknowledge how privileged we are to witness such aristocratic displays of ingenuity on the football field.

We must also recall that our knowledge of Pele’s greatness is formed from vivid recollections passed down by those fortunate enough to have seen him perform or through rare clips of his wizardry, but primarily from reading of his accomplishments statistically.

Still the greatest... for now...
Granted the wealth of modern technology enables us to chronicle Messi’s career in a more comprehensive manner, but when the final whistle blows the bare bones of a legendary striker’s career is exposed through numbers.

Lionel Messi is an exceptionally gifted talent who has the world at his feet, but his sensational career record of 254 goals in 384 games still falls tremendously short of Pele’s, who can rest assured, temporarily, that he remains 'The Greatest Footballer Ever’.

Written by Dom Wallace

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Who Dares Cross the Bridge?

An unhappy ending
With Andre Villas-Boas becoming the seventh manager to lose his job since the Roman Abramovich regime commenced in 2003, speculation surrounds who is being lined up to cross the bridge that has seen so many stumble and fall. The following candidates top the Chelsea wish list:

JOSE MOURINHO – 49, Real Madrid

The main target
‘The Special One’ is the players and fans favourite to return to Stamford Bridge, where he previously won six trophies, including two Premier League titles, crowning him Chelsea’s most successful manager ever.

Mourinho has made no secrets of his desire to return to the Premier League and amidst rumours of increasingly strained relations with Real Madrid’s big name stars, he was spotted house-hunting in London last week.

However, with Arsene Wenger’s job in the balance at Arsenal and the possibility of Harry Redknapp trading Tottenham for England, the media frenzy has flown into overdrive.

Mourinho has also been linked with both Manchester clubs, although with Man City’s current form and Sir Alex Ferguson’s good health, these posts are showing little sign of availability.

With a history of achieving his goals and moving swiftly on, Mourinho has suggested his next visit to England will be in a long haul capacity, citing Ferguson’s reign as inspiration.

The problems at Chelsea cannot be immediately resolved and the Chelsea faithful will be hoping this is the perfect project for him to take on with his experience and deep-rooted love for the club.

Although there would be the small task of resolving ‘philosophical differences’ with Abramovich...

PEP GUARDIOLA – 41, Barcelona

Highly regarded
Despite boasting the capture of every possible trophy as both player and manager at Barcelona, Guardiola has always kept his options open, only ever signing one-year contract extensions.

He openly admits a fondness of Premier League football, expressing a desire to tackle alternative cultures and if Barcelona win their third Champions League title in four seasons this year, it might be a perfect way to move on.

However, with Real Madrid looking favourites to win La Liga, this would be considered a low point and it remains hard to see him parting company with what is arguably one of the greatest football outfits of all-time.

Does he really want to confront the headache of a floundering Chelsea team in desperate need of refurbishment - a role offering an average shelf life of under 12 months?

RAFAEL BENITEZ – 51, Unattached

Controversial choice
Most short-term memories of Benitez are not particularly impressive, with an unsuccessful short-lived spell at Inter Milan and a troubled time prior to his departure at Liverpool.

Those whose football knowledge extends further than this will vouch for Benitez and his tactical shrewdness which saw a prosperous tenure at Valenica before guiding Liverpool to Champions League success in 2005 and running Manchester United close for the Premier League title in 2008/09.

Benitez has the experience of winning the Champions League, the trophy that Abramovich so desperately wants to capture and also has the ability to get the best out of fellow Spaniard Fernando Torres who has so-far flopped at Chelsea since his £50M transfer.

The biggest issue with this appointment would be how the Chelsea fans would greet a man who they associate with relative failure at Liverpool. Benitez was also a hate figure for Chelsea fans during his time at Liverpool following controversial Champions League semi-finals in 2005 and 2007.

This will not concern Abramovich, though he may do well to remember the sour relationships Benitez formed with board members at Valencia and Liverpool, concerning his campaign for increased control of transfers.

FABIO CAPELLO – 65, Unattached

Recently standing down from his post as England manager, Capello has reappeared on the market and may offer Abramovich just what he needs.

Capello is hard-headed and refuses to be flustered by big egos and the diva-like behaviour that seems to accompany modern football’s superstars.

A Champions League victory with AC Milan over Barcelona in 1994 and domestic success in Spain with Real Madrid combine with his role as England manager to complete an extremely well-rounded CV.

Capello in an unemotional figure who always put the team’s fortunes ahead of personal battles and this could be the refreshing approach that Chelsea are in need of.

ROBERTO DI MATTEO – 41, Chelsea (Caretaker)

A passionate figure
Still popular at Stamford Bridge, Di Matteo is most notably remembered for his two FA Cup-winning goals for the Blues in 1997 and 2000.

Di Matteo is currently installed in a caretaker position and has recruited fellow ex-Chelsea midfielder Eddie Newton to form a management duo that aims to use knowledge and passion for the club, which seems to have lost all sense of identity, to turnaround their old employer’s fortunes.

Di Matteo had a successful role at Milton Keynes Dons and started brightly at West Bromwich Albion before a rapid decline in form saw him relieved of his duties less than a year into his contract.

Di Matteo is unlikely to carry this role any further than the end of the season, although if he were to guide Chelsea to the much coveted fourth position or even mastermind a victorious cup campaign, Abramovich may be persuaded that someone with long-standing ties to the club is the answer to the new revolution.

A self-inflicted headache
Whether any of these candidates are available or suited for the role is debatable but one certainty remains. Whoever Roman Abramovich chooses, we can safely assume the next appointment will be made on the basis of experience and not potential.

Written by Dom Wallace

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Redknapp Can't Rescue English Expectations

On Wednesday night England conceded three goals at Wembley for the first time since 2007, heaping more misery on the national team’s build-up to Euro 2012. Still void of a manager and with the tournament only 14 weeks away, the outlook for the England football team is grim at best.

Robben goes Double-Dutch
Stuart Peace was employed in a caretaker role as England’s lack of class was once again highlighted by a Dutch side who never really hit fifth gear. Cruise control was enough to steer past an England side whose late double was unable to derail the World Cup finalists.

As the FA continue deliberating over the appointment of a new boss for Euro 2012, the vast majority of English fans only have one suggestion.

That man is Harry Redknapp.

Whilst it is hard to disagree that he holds the best credentials for the job, it would be a huge mistake for both the FA and Redknapp to appoint him.

Fan's favourite
It seems the expectations are for Redknapp to waltz into the camp and totally transform the English team’s fortunes. He has admitted an interest in taking on the role, but the timing is surely so wrong for all parties involved.

Yes, Redknapp’s Tottenham have played the best football in the Premier League this season, but this would not necessarily transfer to the national side and he would not want to jeopardise all the progress he has made at White Hart Lane.

As for the FA, the pressure remains to recruit successfully and although these are desperate times, patience could be the virtue they require. If England fail to perform at Euro 2012, appointing Redknapp now before the disappointment would further tarnish their reputation.

However, appointing Redknapp after Euro 2012, whether successful or not, would bring great energy to the build up to the World Cup in 2014. The current youthful England squad has a lot of potential stars and by 2014 it will undoubtedly be a greater force than at present.

Capello fell from grace
Let us not forget that a popular Fabio Capello was named BBC’s Sports Coach of the Year for England’s successful qualifying campaign prior to the World Cup in 2010, praised for his disciplinary skills and rewarded with a contract extension.

Such is the cut-throat nature of modern management, that just several weeks later, due to a pathetic display by the English players in South Africa, the fans were calling for his head.

I have no doubts Redknapp will manage England one day but now is not the right time. He surely does not want to risk people doubting his ability before he has had a chance to prove himself.

There has been so much controversy surrounding an England side lacking an abundance of raw talent, that their chances of success at Euro 2012 are slim.

So,does it really matter who is in charge?

True, Harry Redknapp is the only fit contender for this post but even he is not a miracle worker. It will take time to reinstall the relevant mindset and beliefs that are required for success with England's national team.

Familiar disappointment for English fans
Just as important as the manager is the quality of the players, which in England’s case is somewhat lacking. A midfield of Gerrard, Parker, Barry and Johnson is non-comparable to Spain’s Xavi, Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas.

The biggest fear for English football fans should not be who will manage the team at Euro 2012, but how they will manage their own expectations. 

Supporting your country wholeheartedly is what these tournaments are all about, but English fans must learn to be realistic. Whether Harry Redknapp leads England to Euro 2012 or not, they must not expect to win.

Written by Dom Wallace