Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Transfer Window Is The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Where would "Mr Transfer Deadline Day" Jim White be without the window?  Source: tvnewsroom.com

Where would “Mr Transfer Deadline Day” Jim White be without the window? Source: tvnewsroom.com

Since its inception, there have been plenty of detractors to the transfer window system. Some complain that it rushes team into panic buying or selling, some moan about it inflating prices on players whilst some feel that there should be a limit on how many players a team should buy. All are valid points to make but there are plenty of reasons to love the transfer window.

First of all, there is the day that every fan and even players write into their diaries and that is transfer deadline day. Fuelled by teams wanting to buy but not meeting the high asking price of the team wanting to sell, a huge influx of deals are done in the final 24 hours of the window leading to an exciting TV event each summer and winter.

It’s a brilliant day of rumours, people flying here there and everywhere, will the paperwork get there in time? Can the teams agree on a fee? It has become almost an event for football fans which has only added to the interest in the sport. It’s also manufactured essentially by the clubs, if they got the deals done early there would be no deadline day to observe but because everyone feels they have until that time to negotiate it tends to come to a head come the end of the window.

Wenger has been outspoken about the window before, he just can't help himself.  Source: The Guardian

Wenger has been outspoken about the window before, he just can’t help himself. Source: The Guardian

Another thing that the window has added is security to clubs that in the previous system which meant a team was always nervous of a bid. Teams that were playing poorly would simply pick up a player or two that improved them and could lead to better results or teams that had a player playing very well or looked promising would be snapped up by a big team instantly.

Imagine that system with the like of Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco who have unlimited finances so can essentially buy who they want as soon as they could be available? A team like that would have run away with everything straight away because no-one would be able to compete.

To the point of limiting the amount of transfers, that notion is a little short-sighted. It’s easy to say that as a manager of a big club doing well, but if you need four or five players to stay in the league and with the financial implications of relegation putting a cap on how many you can bring in is unfair to those in need.

In the end, the transfer window is here to stay and fans will be delighted by that whilst clubs will still try to haggle until the final day. Going back will cause more problems, changing the system will upset others more severely and managers will just come to accept that this is the way things are done.

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What It’ll Take To Win Super Bowl 48

This is the kind of moment everyone is playing for this Sunday.  Source: Telegraph

This is the kind of moment everyone is playing for this Sunday. Source: Telegraph

The media and teams have decended on New York this week for Super Bowl 48 between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. The MetLife Stadium will host the first-ever “cold” Super Bowl and in anticipation of the game, I thought I’d look at the keys to success for both teams.

Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning and his "Omaha" calls will be key to a Bronco's success.  Source: CBS Sports

Peyton Manning and his “Omaha” calls will be key to a Bronco’s success. Source: CBS Sports

The AFC champions’ biggest weapon is their soon-to-be 5-time MVP Peyton Manning. The veteran quarterback, who is already regarded as one of the greatest of all time, could make history by being the first passer to win two Super Bowls with two different teams.

He will be their key player, he always is, but his main objective this Sunday will be to not turn the ball over. He’s a master of calling plays on the line and he knows just as much as anyone else how ball hungry this Seattle defence is. Clever passes, audibles to run plays when needed and as few risks as possible will be needed because you won’t get too many good opportunities to score against Seattle.

Yeah, Bronco's D? Don't do this again.  Source: Orlando Sentinel

Yeah, Bronco’s D? Don’t do this again. Source: Orlando Sentinel

On the other side of the ball, Denver have really improved over the past two weeks on their defence stopping the opposition QB for long periods of time. This needs to continue on Sunday, keep Wilson in the pocket so he’s not tempted to use his legs and keep the recievers covered well beyond the play because Wilson will keep a play alive for as long as he can.

But the key for the defence is to slow down “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch. If you stuff him at every attempt, don’t allow him to break out a long one and it hurts their passing game too. They killed the San Diego and New England rushing attack, they need to do it again or Seattle could put up big points.

With Special Teams it’s the basics, Prater is a good kicker so that isn’t a worry and Colquitt is a solid punter too. The only worry is Trinton Holiday, the return specialist, as he has a tendancy to fumble and that cannot happen Sunday. He can break out a TD play, but he’s too much of a risk to take into a game against a hard-hitting side like Seattle.

 

Seattle Seahawks

Seems like everyone is talking about "the best" at the moment. Sherman does back it up, though.  Source: fair.org

Seems like everyone is talking about “the best” at the moment. Sherman does back it up, though. Source: fair.org

We all know Seattle’s strength and if you don’t, go ask Richard Sherman to yell it at you. The Legion of Boom have been utterly dominant this year with 28 interceptions and ranking first in total yards per game. This Sunday, they go up against the best offence in the league and their main goal is simple, to stop them winning Denver the game.

First of all, their excellent pass rush needs to make Peyton panic early on, pressing him hard and if possible getting some hits. Hopefully this will lead to one or two wayward throws, which is a gift that Seattle has to take, keep the ball out of Manning’s hands.

On offence, they need to establish the run early and get Beast Mode dominating the line so that it opens up more play-action opportunities. From there, even if a play leads to Russell Wilson scrambling because sometimes that can lead to their biggest chunk of yardage.

Beast Mode just wants to go out and play, you have to respect that.  Source: Washington Post

Beast Mode just wants to go out and play, you have to respect that. Source: Washington Post

If Percy Harvin is able to start, he needs to start. He’s their best passing weapon, despite barely playing all season long and getting him into the game will make more space for players like Golden Tate to get easier catches.

Again, Special Teams is about doing nothing silly and not turning the ball over cheaply. This tends to chalk up a few field goals, they need to make sure they go through so that if they get out in front they stay there.

It should be an exciting game, the elements could be a factor but with it likely to stay dry during the game it’ll probably be an old fashioned tussle between the best two teams in the NFL. The only shame is that it’ll be the last game until September, so make sure you soak it all in before the long, long off-season begins.

Why Do We Need Awards In Sports?

This clearly meant a lot to Ronaldo, but if Messi was fit all season would he have still got it?  Source: forzafutbol.com

This clearly meant a lot to Ronaldo, but if Messi was fit all season would he have still got it? Source: forzafutbol.com

People love rewarding others for their success. Since we were praised by the teachers at school, we all enjoy a pat on the back and a job well done when it’s deserved, it’s human nature to want to feel valued. However, after recent releases of the FIFA XI, the Pro Bowlers and the current votes in the All-Star game, there’s a feeling that regardless of who helps pick who wins they get it wrong.

Probably the best of the bunch is the Pro Bowl voting, mainly because the size of the squad and the accolade is even between actual starters and bench players. There were a few difficult omissions, I felt Muhammad Wilkerson had to be in there somewhere, Lavonte David must have been close and Alshon Jeffery deserves huge credit but it was mostly right (leaving out my Mike Scifres as punter bias, but he is boss).

It's a shame Alshon Jeffery's excellent season will not be rewarded.  Source: Sports Illustrated

It’s a shame Alshon Jeffery’s excellent season will not be rewarded. Source: Sports Illustrated

There is a few favourable ones, Andre Johnson was nowhere near brilliant consistently, Troy Polamalu was only good on occasion and offensive lineman tend to get by on name alone, but it’s more the format that’s the issue this year. It’s surprising, since they usually have a few really bad ones, that it’s been actually a decent Pro Bowl voting year even though it’s voted by the viewers.

However, the issue with fan voting is it can turn up some absolute stinkers and it’s the most evident in the current voting for the All-Star game. At the moment of writing, Kobe Bryant leads the voting for guards in the West and whilst he’s a certainty to be a Hall of Famer, he couldn’t be further away from being an All-Star this year.

He’s barely played and when he has he’s still tended to struggle. Kobe himself took to twitter to ask fans to vote for someone else to start since he won’t be fit in time to play anyway, which is actually pretty commendable.

When even Kobe's asking you to stop, it's getting silly.  Source: Washington Post

When even Kobe’s asking you to stop, it’s getting silly. Source: Washington Post

This is where fan voting can hurt things like this, All-Star nominations somehow can count towards a HoF CV and the fact it’s essentially a popularity contest makes that seem ridiculous. The fan culture tells people to vote for their player regardless of how they’ve done and because the Lakers have the most fans, Kobe gets in.

Where fans vote it can turn into favouritism and unfortunately it’s no difference when the professionals are allowed to do it. Just look at the FIFA XI, with just three players from the Champions League winner and none from the runners up.

Could Lewandowski have done more to be in the FIFA XI this year? Or Reus? Or Gundogan?  Source: The Telegraph

Could Lewandowski have done more to be in the FIFA XI this year? Or Reus? Or Gundogan? Source: The Telegraph

It gets even more ridiculous looking at who voted for the Ballon D’or, with players not picking others simply due to friendship rather than honesty. So crazy, in fact, that Casillas finished second in the FIFA XI voting having only played three La Liga games all year after being dropped for Diego Lopez which is simply absurd.

In the end, I feel that votes like this don’t just discredit those that have done so well and haven’t been chosen but are also tainted by the fact it’s essentially a popularity contest. We should just appreciate things as being great without having to shower everyone with awards, because it becomes a farce when we do.

The Quarterback Conundrum

Flacco is a slightly above-average QB, but he has a Super Bowl. Go Figure.  Source: celebritynetworth.com

Flacco is a slightly above-average QB, but he has a Super Bowl. Go Figure. Source: celebritynetworth.com

You hear it all the time in the NFL, it’s turned into a passing league and to compete you have to have a great quarterback. Without it, your dreams of getting anywhere near the Lombardi trophy at the end of the season is slim to non-existent. But what is the definition of a great quarterback? And why do so many teams stick with a good QB when it might only take them so far?

Looking back at the past five Super Bowl champions, only two have bona-fide, widely-recognised top-tier passers (Aaron Rodgers at Green Bay and Drew Brees at New Orleans). Two others are two-time champions (Big Ben at Pittsburgh and Eli Manning at New York Giants) whilst the other is seen by most as a second-tier above average QB (Joe Flacco at Baltimore).

During all their Super Bowl runs, in the regular season at least, none of them were particularly spectacular statistically. It was one of Ben Roethlisberger’s worst seasons based on figures, for most it was their least attempts and average completion percentages with relatively average TD-INT records compared to their other seasons in the league.

And look at Eli's play since his second Super Bowl, it's been nothing short of pretty bad, especially this year.  Source: sportsblog

And look at Eli’s play since his second Super Bowl, it’s been nothing short of pretty bad, especially this year. Source: sportsblog

What links them together is their work in the post-season, where between the five quarterbacks and their combined 18 play-off games, they threw just 4 interceptions. Ball security is a huge factor in American Football and when it comes to the crunch, the ones who want to win it all have to keep the ball safe.

So if you want that style of play and you don’t want to risk drafting what could be a dud, you pick up a game manager like Alex Smith at Kansas City, right? Where he throws 4 TD’s and no interceptions in his first play-off game as a Chief, surely he came out on top?

That’s where the world of statistics being the dominating factor end. Even though Smith played well even without star running back Jamaal Charles, the QB who threw 3 interceptions, Andrew Luck, managed to lead his Indianapolis Colts to a 45-44 victory.

Seriously, this is one of the craziest plays I've ever seen, the definition of "Luck"  Source: sportzovertime

Seriously, this is one of the craziest plays I’ve ever seen, the definition of “Luck” Source: sportzovertime

And that’s exactly why it’s a conundrum and you can’t rely simply on football instinct or statistics alone. Can a great QB win a Super Bowl? Of course, but he still needs the right weapons, line and a defence that can help keep him on the field. Can an average QB win a Super Bowl? Yes, as long as he doesn’t turn the ball over, has other options like a running game or a great defence that can carry the team if needs must.

Every team is looking to solve the puzzle and win a championship, which is why the NFL is so loved. Any team can do a quick turnaround and compete the next year and when it gets to play-off time, throw the book out of the window. Because if wild card weekend taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected in the NFL.

FC Lorient continue to fly under the radar in Ligue 1

Christian Gourcuff is well respected around the league, and for good reason.  Source: lexpress.fr

Christian Gourcuff is well respected around the league, and for good reason. Source: lexpress.fr

If you ask any football manager in the world, he would tell you that he loves it when the press are not talking about his club at all, even when they are doing well.

They just want to go about their business without the added pressure and win football games to help their team rise through the ranks. One such team has done that not only last season but this is French side FC Lorient, who everyone seems to forget just how well they have performed.

Last season, the club managed to end the season in eighth position, just a spot off their best-ever seventh place finish in 2009-10. Through predominantly the scoring boots of Jeremie Aliadiere, FCL rose through the ranks to finish above the then-reigning champions Montpelier.

The return of Aliadiere and Traore will be key to helping the club push for European Football.  Source: ouest-france.fr

The return of Aliadiere and Traore will be key to helping the club push for European Football. Source: ouest-france.fr

This season didn’t start off so well, after splitting their first four games with two wins and two losses, the club went on a run of just one win in nine games, with that victory coming against lowly Sochaux. Sitting in lowly 17th position, it seemed like this season would be much more of a struggle for Christian Gourcuff’s men.

However, the club managed to turn things around quickly by stringing together five wins on the bounce and conceding just one goal in the process. And just before the winter break they showed their character by drawing 2-2 with Lyon in the final minute having been two down just after half-time, lifting them to 9th in the table.

As always with football, there were a number of contributing factors to Lorient’s change in fortune but the most prominent is the form of Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar. Since joining on a free from Valenciennes in the summer, many thought he might not live up to the potential he had shown in his teenage years.

Aboubakar has been superb this season and may force his way into Cameroon's starting line-up at the World Cup.  Source: skysports.com

Aboubakar has been superb this season and may force his way into Cameroon’s starting line-up at the World Cup. Source: skysports.com

But Aboubakar has silenced those critics, scoring 11 goals in Ligue 1 so far and is only behind PSG pair Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani in the goal-scoring charts. His movement has been excellent, he drifts in and around the back four in such a way that players can’t keep track of him, giving him the space to use his pace and his finishing ability to deadly effect.

The service has been excellent too, mainly from veteran Yann Jouffre, who is currently joint third in assists with five so far. He’s been a consistent threat down Lorient’s right wing and has also scored on five occasions, showing that he can both create and finish attacking moves for the club.

The defence has been pretty solid too, especially as of late. Bruno Ecuele Manga and Lamine Kone have struck up a solid partnership that has seen interest come in for both from Premier League clubs. The signing of 20-year-old Raphael Guerreiro has also helped, with the left-back becoming more consistent in attacking and defending over the course of the season, solidifying his place in the side.

With the return of Jeremie Aliadiere and Alain Traore from injury, with the latter scoring the equaliser against Lyon, this side could continue to impress this season if players can stay fit. But, as I said earlier, Gourcuff will be hoping more than most that his team stay flying under the radar in France.

Additional thoughts from @FCLorientUK:

It was an awful start to the season which lowered the mood around Lorient, however recent run of superb form has put the club right back in the race for European Football.