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Six degrees of Sports Separation

October 29, 2010 Leave a comment

This article will look at six major sports news stories that are in some way linked together beginning with Diego Maradon and ending with the second game of the Baseball World Series. So let’s begin the journey through today’s news.

Maradona would love to manage in the Premiership

The former Argentina coach and arguably greatest footballer of all time, has stated his desire to manage in the Premier League. After leading Argentina to the quarter finals of this year’s World Cup before his team lost to Germany, Maradona is now open to a new challenge and has expressed an interest in managing a team in the Premiership.

Maradona told Sky Sports News “I would like to manage in the Premier League. It has very good teams, an exceptional level and great players.” After being linked with the vacant Aston Villa position before Gerard Houllier was appointed, Maradona will now no doubt be in the mix when the next vacancy presents itself.

Maradona to coach in England?

Although he is looking ahead, Maradona is still disappointed in the manner of his parting with the Argentina national team. Maradona built up a good relationship with a number of the players in the national side and it was thought he would be kept in charge of the national team after the World Cup.

Maradona has a particularly strong friendship with Argentina and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez.

Tevez injured and back in Argentina

Tevez the key man for City

After limping off in the 3-0 loss to Arsenal last weekend, Carlos Tevez has been ruled out of Manchester City’s next two matches against Wolves in the Premier League and an away trip to Poland to face Lech Poznan in the Europa League.

Tevez has been in typically good form so far this season and his absence will certainly be felt by City who will now have to look to Emmanuel Adebayor and Mario Balotelli to lead their attack. Tevez has now flown back to Argentina to recover from his dead leg and there has been speculation in the media that he is unsettled in England and missing Argentina.

City fans will be hoping this is not the case as Tevez has led by example since being appointed team captain and with the eagerly anticipated Manchester derby against United coming up, City will require Tevez to be fit and ready against his old club.

A former teammate of Tevez at Manchester United is goal keeper Edwin Van Der Sar.

Van Der Sar looks to continue after hitting 40

The veteran Dutch stopper has had a long and illustrious career with Ajax, Juventus, Fulham and now Manchester United and although he has today turned 40, he is keen to keep playing.

Van Der Sar still United number 1

Still the number one choice in goal at United, Van Der Sar’s current deal runs out at the end of this season and because of his age there is a question as to whether he will retire. However, there is now talk that Van Der Sar is looking to remain a Manchester United player for another season and continue to perform right at the top level regardless of his age.

Another sporting superstar still playing in his 40’s is Brett Favre.

Favre injury may end record run

41 year old Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is at risk of ending his NFL record 291 consecutive starts. After deciding to come back for another season in the NFL rather than retiring, Favre has struggled in his 20th season with injuries to his ankle and elbow and after taking a hit to his ankle in the loss to the Green Bay Packers last week, Favre’s consecutive streak of games (he hasn’t missed a game since 1992) may well come to an end.

Favre has struggled with injury this season

The Vikings have had a less than impressive start to the season currently sitting third in the NFC North with a record of 2-4 and Favre himself has been mediocre at best. There has been talk about Favre being benched simply on form but that would seem unlikely with the efforts made by the Vikings to get him back for this season.

Favre managed to practice today with tape on his ankle, which has two fractures, and the decision on whether he will play against the New England Patriots this Sunday falls to head coach Brad Childress.

Favre holds pretty much every record that matters for quarterbacks in the NFL his name has been synonymous around the globe with the NFL.

NFL international series takes place in London this weekend.

Wembley prepares to welcome the NFL once again

After the success of the three regular season NFL games held in London at Wembley stadium, the next instalment of live action in the UK features the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos this Sunday.

Wembley Stadium welcomes the NFL once again

Regardless of the poor form of both teams, the 49ers 1-6 and the Broncos 2-5, Wembley will be nearly if not completely sold out for the game as UK

fans get their yearly dose of live NFL.

The game itself promises to be a close one although a potentially un-exciting encounter. San Francisco have been forced into a change at quarterback with the injury to starter Alex Smith and instead of David Carr, they have gone with former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith as the man for the game in London.

Both teams are in dire need of a positive result in an attempt to kick start their season and with all the divisions in the NFL extremely close at the minute, neither team will have given up on potential play-off hopes.

San Francisco is the designated home team in London and this week has been a good one for San Francisco sports teams at home.

San Francisco Giants go 2-0 up in World Series at home.

Giants shut out Rangers to take 2-0 lead

After a high scoring 11-7 win in the opening game of the best of seven series, the San Francisco Giants thrashed the Texas Rangers 9-0 to take a two game lead in the World Series to decide the MLB champion for this season.

Taking home field advantage in the series, the Giants have won their two home games before heading to Texas for the next three games and then returning to California for the final two games if needed.

Giants pitcher Matt Cain lead the team to a second win

The Giants crushed the Rangers thanks to an inspired performance from pitcher Matt Cain keeping the Rangers without a run before SanFrancisco sealed the win with a glut of runs in the eighth inning.

Texas’ pitchers failed miserably giving up seven runs to take the game from a potential 2 run difference going into the final inning to a 9 point blowout. The Series now moves onto game three in Arlington, Texas where the Rangers will look to rebound from these defeats and turn the series around.

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NFL Celebration Hypocrisy

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

This is something that has never made sense to me for a while and since Mike Carlson mentioned it this week during Sunday Night Football on Channel 4, it proves I am not the only one who has a problem with it. For those unaware who Mike Carlson is, he is the studio analyst on Channel 4 for Sunday Night Football as well as being the greatest football analyst/presenter/commentator/journalist, whatever you want to call him in the UK or the USA or anywhere else for that matter.

Anyway, the issue I am referring to is the NFL’s policy on over celebrating and how referees can hand out immediate 15 yard penalty’s to a team if players are deemed to have celebrated ‘over the top’. For the past few years, the league has been trying to curtail players’ celebrations after scoring a touchdown.

Chad Ochocinco one of a number of players renowned for his touchdown celebrations

There are a number of players who have made a name for ‘creative’ celebrations after scoring. Some of the most memorable in recent history include Terrell Owens signing a football, Chad Ochocinco giving CPR to the football, proposing to a cheerleader and playing a golf shot with an end zone pylon, Steve Smith (Panthers, not Giants) creating a snow angel and cradling the ball like a baby, Randy Moss mimicking mooning the Green Bay crowd after scoring for Minnesota and Joe Horn phoning his mum on a phone hidden in the padding of the goalpost.

Throughout the game there have been a lot of famous celebrations. Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson always performed the funky chicken dance after every score and for a period in the early 80’s the Washington Redskins team performed a group high-five after scoring. All of these celebrations have endeared the players to a lot of supporters providing an extra dose of entertainment to the games. There are of course those who find the celebrations far too excessive and egotistical as the game is all about the team and not the individual.

Players are no longer allowed to leave their feet or use props or have pre organised celebration routines. For example, this season we saw Dallas Cowboys’ offensive lineman Marc Colombo penalised 15 yards after Jason Witten’s touchdown. Witten gave the ball to his lineman to spike (spiking the ball is still allowed) before the two performed a jumping chest bump (also allowed even though they are jumping off the ground), however Colombo last his balance and stumbled to the ground, the referees then threw the flag and penalised the Cowboys 15 yards on the kick off for this.

This is not the most baffling thing I find about the rules however, if the league wants to ban excessive celebrations then that’s their choice and although I personally think it removes something from the game, plenty of others agree with the NFL. However, there is one GLARING omission that it is just beyond belief. The Lambeau Leap.

The famous Lambeau Leap

Any football fan knows what the Lambeau Leap is, for those who don’t it is a celebration performed by Green Bay Packers players at their home stadium, Lambeau Field. After scoring, the Packers player leaps into the crowd of celebrating Packers fans. Now, if Marc Colombo is being penalised for falling over as it breaks the rules of going to ground, how is sprinting over to the crowd and leaping into the stands after every score not against these rules!? Don’t misunderstand me here, I enjoy the Lambeau Leap and love to see it whenever watching the Packers, but why do players from every other team have to behave like robots after scoring like it means nothing to them when Packers players can display the emotion and delight of scoring in this manner!?

Those who support the lack of celebrations, but also support the Lambeau Leap will argue the usual point of it being ‘tradition’, well how is it any more of a special tradition to general celebrating? NFL players had been performing all sorts of celebrations before the Lambeau Leap was ever performed. It just seems that they should enforce the penalty on this along with other celebrations if they are serious about the rule

If I was suddenly appointed as the commissioner of the NFL, it’s a long shot I know; I’d simply remove this rule entirely and allow players to design and perform as elaborate a celebration as they want. This really is just another example of the NFL standing for the ‘No Fun League’.

NFL clamps down on hits, what’s next, touch football?

October 21, 2010 2 comments

The recent hot topic in the NFL is the matter of illegal hits by players and how the league are looking to stamp out these illegal hits to reduce the risks of serious injuries amongst players. The league showed their current tough stance on the matter by handing out three huge fines to James Harrison, Dunta Robinson and Brandon Meriweather hitting them hard at the wallet after they hit hard to the helmet. In total, 11 players have been fined this week and the NFL have come out firing with these fines and the league has stated that fines will continue for dangerous hits with the possibility of players also being suspended.

Steelers linebacker Harrison suffered the largest fine for an illegal hit this week

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Harrison’s fine has been the biggest talking point after the player stated he would consider retiring from the game as a result of it because he didn’t feel as if he could continue to play if he wasn’t allowed to play how has done since a child. Harrison has developed into one of the premier defenders in the NFL over the last few seasons, becoming renowned for his strength and pace to beat blockers and make big hits on ball carriers and the quarterback. However, the league decided that his hit to the helmet of Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi deemed a $75,000 fine although he was not penalized during the game for the hit. Harrison was also fined $5,000 dollars earlier in the season for a hit on Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young. Robinson and Meriweather were both fined $50,000 dollars for their hits. Meriweather was also penalized during the game with a 15 yard penalty for his helmet to helmet hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap and has since apologised for the hit stating that he would “play within the rules” from now on.

Clearly vexed by the fine, Harrison was excused from Steelers practice on Wednesday giving him time to sort out his emotions and so he himself could decide if retiring was what he wanted to do, although the Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin expected him back the next day, and Harrison did return to the team in preparation for the weekends game in Miami.

To many, including myself, Harrison’s reaction to his fine may seem a little over the top. Although the fine is undeniably huge, the reasons for it are understandable. In the last season or two, head and neck injuries and in particular concussions have become the big worries for the NFL as they look to increase protection to players. The rules on hits to defenseless receivers and helmet to helmet tackles have changed in an attempt to increase safety and these fines and threat of suspensions demonstrates how seriously the NFL is taking the matter.

Nobody wants to see players seriously injured during games, and the NFL will always try to improve safety to players, especially on the back of a spate of similar injuries or a major incident such as the Kevin Everett injury in 2007. Everett suffered a fracture and dislocation of the cervical spine when playing on special teams for the Buffalo Bills that was described as life threatening by doctors. However Everett did make good strides in his recovery and managed to walk out at the Bills final home game of the same season just over three months later. After Everett’s injury, the league decided that system teams used to block for kick returner’s, using a wedge made up of a number players charging down the field, was to dangerous and the rule was changed to limit the number of players allowed to form a blocking wedge to 2 players.

Although anyone can understand that player safety is of paramount importance, the NFL has been built upon tough defenders who strike fear into the hearts of opponents because they know they are going to be hit, and hit hard. Harrison is not the only defender to come out and express his disappointment and concerns about the new hard-line taken by the NFL. A number of the best defensive players, and unsurprisingly the hardest hitters in the league are worried about how the game is developing. Baltimore Ravens linebacker told NFL.com that the way things are going “the game will be diluted very quickly.” Lewis has always been a fearsome defender and he has expressed that he won’t be changing anything about his game because of the league’s official view. “My opinion is play the game like that game is supposed to be played, and whatever happens, happens”.

Another veteran defender, Arizona Cardinals’ Joey Porter told NFL.com There’s no more hitting hard. That’s what our game is about. It’s a gladiator sport”. A number of other players voiced their concerns to NFL.com including Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman “”What they’re trying to say — ‘we’re protecting the integrity’ — no, you’re not…It’s ruining the integrity. It’s not even football anymore. We should just go out there and play two-hand touch Sunday if we can’t make contact” and Miami linebacker Channing Crowder “If I get a chance to knock somebody out, I’m going to knock them out and take what they give me,” Crowder said. “They give me a helmet, I’m going to use it”.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says the league isn't changing rules, simply enforcing them.

Players are clearly worried as to how the league officials are fighting against illegal hits. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell stated to NFL.com “It is incumbent on all of us to support the rules we have in place to protect players” and the leagues executive vice president, Ray Anderson agreed that tough football was what fans wanted and what the league wanted and that they are not trying to get away from that, but what the league wants is to remove the illegal and dangerous hits that can put players careers at risk.

No doubt this debate will continue throughout the season and there will probably be more fines and punishments handed out to players by the league. The debate itself simply adds to another problem to the negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement for next season, causing more worries that there will not be any football to debate about next season.

One thing the league must do is maintain a consistent and fair approach to the punishments they intend to give out. The legality of a hit should not be judged on the outcome of that hit. If a player is injured because of a hit, it does not automatically become an illegal hit. Regardless of whether an injury occurs or not, there should be a clear distinction between the legal and the illegal.

The NFL has a long history of violent and aggressive play that has contributed to its success, not only in America but across the globe. Many fans are attracted to the ferocity of the game and whenever you see a big hit laid on a ball carrier, there is a collective gasp of awe followed by huge cheers around the stadium. I agree that it is important to try to protect players wherever possible but if players are worried of receiving serious repercussions for performing the big tackles, there is a chance that the game will become a slightly watered down version of what it once was.

Rooney on his way out of Old Trafford?

October 19, 2010 3 comments

With Sir Alex Ferguson admitting today that Wayne Rooney wants to leave Manchester United, there is the prospect of huge movements of money and players when the January transfer window opens. The speculation around where Rooney will be come January or the start of the next season has led to him being linked with moves to a number of major clubs that could pay him astronomical wages. Manchester City, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid are all potential destinations for the England star, and the movement of Rooney could spark a number of other big names switching clubs.

One potential move United could make if Rooney leaves is for Liverpool striker Fernando Torres. Torres has looked out of sorts this season and doesn’t seem to be playing with much spirit for Liverpool who have begun the season with all sorts of problems, currently sitting next to bottom in the Premier League. Would Torres be interested in a move to Old Trafford? Probably. Would Liverpool let him go to their arch rivals? Not so likely, although a suitably large offer might tempt the new owners of Liverpool to allow Torres to move on.

United may also be offered players and money in exchange for Rooney by Real Madrid or Barcelona. Karim Benzema has often been linked with a move to United and if Real Madrid offers Benzema along with a transfer fee, Rooney could swap places with Benzema and link back up with Cristiano Ronaldo. Barcelona also have players that could tempt United in a swap deal such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is currently on loan at AC Milan and apparently surplus to requirements at the Nou Camp.

I’m sure like me, most neutral English fans will want to see Rooney remain in the Premiership, whether he stays at United or moves to somewhere like City or Chelsea doesn’t bother me. I simply want to keep the best players in the Premiership, but whatever happens in the next few months, it is going to be very interesting how this saga develops and how a Rooney transfer might pave the way for a number of other major moves between the top clubs in Europe.

Chelsea sign 11 year old!

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Yes, Premiership leaders and defending champions Chelsea seem to have ambitions of winning everything available this season, including the under-13 league title, if there is such a thing. Today, the signing of 11 year old striker Michael Gyasi from Northampton Town was confirmed for an ‘undisclosed fee’.

 

Am I the only one who sees something strange in signing an 11 year old for an undisclosed fee? What sort of contract was this boy on that required a fee to be paid? I’m all for teams fighting off big clubs that sniff around their young talent and as a Crewe fan I understand how annoying it is when teams come looking at your talented youth players. However, it is normally players who are say 15-18 years old, i.e. those that have hit puberty. Never before have I heard of a team going out to sign an 11 year old.

 

Yes this is a great opportunity for Gyasi who now gets to develop as a footballer at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Although he is reportedly a striker, when I was 11, everybody played as a striker. You just got the ball and tried to score.

 

I’m sure these sorts of moves go on all the time with very young players moving academies, although I would’ve assumed the reasons would be simpler such as the family relocating or a kid falling out with one of the other kids. Maybe this is the modern football world we live in now, where any and every player can be bought and sold.

 

Rumor has it that Gyasi is challenging Daniel Sturridge for a place on the bench this weekend.

Defense Wins Championships?

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

So long a cliché in the NFL, the statement ‘defense wins championships’ has those who believe it and those who refute it. A number of NFL pundits and fans will say that defense will give you a chance, but a team needs to put up points if they are going to win. However, regardless of your view on this defensive philosophy, you can’t ignore what is happening after the first 5 weeks this season.

 

In terms of giving up points per game, the top 6 defenses in the league are:

 

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers               12.5
  2. Atlanta Falcons                       14
  3. Kansas City Chiefs                 14.2
  4. Baltimore Ravens                  14.4
  5. Chicago Bears                         14.8
  6. New York Jets                        16.2

 

The 6 best records so far this season:

 

  1. Baltimore Ravens                 4-1
  2. Atlanta Falcons                     4-1
  3. Chicago Bears                         4-1
  4. New York Jets                        4-1
  5. Kansas City Chiefs                 3-1
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers               3-1

 

Notice a pattern here? At the moment, the teams with the best defenses are the best teams in the league. An obvious statement maybe? Well, to win games, they need to score points. Do they have the 6 best offenses as well? The simple answer is no. The top ranked offensive team in points per game out of these 6 are the New York Jets (4th, 27 ppg). As for the rest, Atlanta Falcons (10th, 22.6 ppg), Pittsburgh Steelers (12th, 21.5 ppg), Kansas City Chiefs (19th, 19.2 ppg), Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears (joint 22nd, 18.4 ppg).

 

Other than the Jets, and to a lesser extent the Falcons, these teams have been winning with great defense whilst having just enough on offense. If the Steelers defense hadn’t started so well, Ben Roethlisberger could well have returned to a 0-4 or 1-3 team.

 

There are two other teams sitting at a .750 record and they are the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both at 3-1. The Patriots currently average the most points per game in the NFL.

 

Unlike the top defenses, having an offense that puts points on the board hasn’t necessarily led to success so far this year. Of the top 6, there are the Jets at 4-1 and Patriots 3-1. There are however two teams with losing records in the San Diego Chargers (2-3) who are averaging 28 points per game and the Detroit Lions (1-4) averaging 25.2. The Lions stats have been skewed with them putting up 44 points in their win over St Louis, but they still averaged 20 points per game before this, putting them ahead of the Chiefs, Ravens and Bears offenses.

 

Having great offenses has always proved successful throughout the years, especially in recent times with teams like the Colts, Saints and Patriots dominating the league with their offenses. For instance, looking at last season the Saints won the Super Bowl with the 20th ranked defense in the league.

 

Maybe this season, the cliché becomes a reality and defense really does win championships. Maybe the high powered offensive teams such as the Houston Texans, San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints will get back to some consistent form and win games regardless of their defenses.

 

However, if the season continues as it has begun, who’s to say we won’t see a Super Bowl involving the Jets and the Falcons or the Steelers and the Bears battling to see who can limit the other teams scoring the best.