Monthly Archives: February 2014

Are Defenders and Goalkeepers undervalued in Football?

Lahm is an excellent footballer but has never been close to a Ballon D'or nomination.  Source: ran.de

Lahm is an excellent footballer but has never been close to a Ballon D’or nomination. Source: ran.de

After watching another masterful display by Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm in his new defensive midfield role last week, some people began to wonder why he’d never come close to winning the Ballon D’or. But it’s had me thinking of a more broader question, do we devalue the contributions of defenders and goalkeepers at the very top level of football?

Since the inception for the award of FIFA’s best player back in 1991, only one defender has won whilst one other and one goalkeeper have finished as runners up. The majority of the other winners and runners up are made up of either strikers or midfielders with a regular eye for goal, the ones that always grab the headlines.

It’s not that surprising, people will say that the most important thing to do in a football game is to score goals but that’s a generalisation that’s demoting the players who have a job to prevent the other team from doing so, especially for goalkeepers. In that sense, it’s also easier to tell that a forward is playing well because he’s scoring goals whilst with someone defending it can be something as simple as positioning that’s stopping the opposition from creating clear cut chances.

Fabio Cannavaro is still the only defender to win the Ballon D'or or the FIFA World Player of the Year.  Source: stacjaalienacja.wordpress.com

Fabio Cannavaro is still the only defender to win the Ballon D’or or the FIFA World Player of the Year. Source: stacjaalienacja.wordpress.com

There are some fantastic defenders in the world of football, with Lahm being an expert example. Well regarded as one of the best full-backs in the world regardless of which side he’s asked to play on, he’s now even become one of the standout defensive midfielders this season under Pep Guardiola. He’s very solid defensively, has always used his positional sense to make up for his pace (compared to other RB’s and LB’s, he’s not slow) and can create goals with either foot.

If he had played in central midfield his entire career, he might have pushed the likes of Xavi and Iniesta in the awards races but since he isn’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s not just him, Vincent Kompany, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Alessandro Nesta, Cafu, Thiago Silva, Nemanja Vidic, Ashley Cole, Roberto Carlos and many more have been world class in their careers with some stellar seasons but have not been considered for the big award.

And that’s discounting the hordes of terrific goalkeepers there have been, with only Oliver Kahn finishing second in 2002. Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas, David Seaman, Petr Cech, Edwin van der Sar, Manuel Neuer, Fabian Barthez and others made telling contributions during their careers to their various successful teams yet they were never seen as the best player in the world.

I'm still surprised that Buffon hasn't at least come close to winning it.  Source: The Telegraph

I’m still surprised that Buffon hasn’t at least come close to winning it. Source: The Telegraph

This might sound overall a little hypocritical because of my previous article about awards aren’t really needed but I’m pretty certain they mean a great deal to the players who do gain the accolades. Being in the FIFA XI, which is pretty biased anyway, shouldn’t be the limit for these kinds of players and maybe something like a Defensive Player of the Year award should be created to help celebrate the excellent work of defenders.

It’s unlikely to happen any time soon which is a shame, but let us all recognise their importance to football. Some may argue that a good defensive performance can be 19th century football but where would football be without great defenders to give great attackers a real challenge?

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Should all sports have “All-Star Weekends”?

All-Star Kyrie Irving holding up his MVP trophy last night.  Source: usatoday.com

All-Star Kyrie Irving holding up his MVP trophy last night. Source: usatoday.com

The NBA All-Star Weekend has been and gone, being another success of showing off the sport to the wider public in a relaxing, star-studded event that looked to have been enjoyed by players and fans alike. The series of events, culminated with a highlight reel All-Star Game, had me wondering what if other sports were to follow the NBA’s lead of a fan-centric weekend?

For those unaware, the All-Star Weekend starts on the Friday, with a celebrity game followed by the rising star game, full of players in their rookie or sophomore seasons. Then comes the contests for Saturday, with the shooting stars competition, skills challenge, three-point contest and the classic dunk contest. The weekend finishes with the All-Star Game, two teams of fan-voted players in a showcase of the very best the NBA has to offer.

This, combined with the unbelievable play of Michael Jordan, helped the sport grow into the powerhouse it is today and despite players lacking a little effort in the game they do always try to put on a show for the fans. It’s a great idea that helps the fans feel connected with the players, who in turn show off their talents in an exhibition that gives them almost a weekend off their hefty schedule.

Drew Brees, accuracy competition, make it happen!  Source: ibtimes.com

Drew Brees, accuracy competition, make it happen! Source: ibtimes.com

It’s not necessarily the main game that is being argued for, as said there are already All-Star-esque games in all of the major US sports, but different skill contests would be an excellent addition to a weekend off. Think of a QB accuracy contest, a catching contest or even a big-hit contest against a dummy which could be really entertaining.

And it’s not just the NFL that should do something like this, imagine if FIFA could organise a weekend for the entirety of football to get involved in or if not, if UEFA or The FA could do it as an added advertisement for the great game. A free-kick challenge, crossing accuracy, heading challenge, crossbar challenge, wouldn’t we all want to see Messi take on Ronaldo in a free-kick challenge?

And that’s what it’s all about, watching superstars take on and play with other superstars. Imagine Ronaldo and Messi on the same team for a game? Imagine them taking on Rooney and Aguero? A FIFA All-Star Game would be such a good spectacle, even if they did a 5-on-5 format instead of a full 11-a-side 90-minute game.

Players like Man City Ladies' new signing Toni Duggan would benefit from more publicity for the WSL.  Source: Daily Mail

Players like Man City Ladies’ new signing Toni Duggan would benefit from more publicity for the WSL. Source: Daily Mail

It could be an excellent idea to add into the Women’s Super League to add to the fan base of a growing sport, as it was used for the NBA back in the day. They could even do it in single sports like Golf, Tennis or Snooker, facing off with each other in skill shot challenges or hardest/longest hitters, it can just add something to a viewer’s experience to see how good the sportsmen and women are.

This is obviously pretty much fantasy filling, especially in the case of football, but why not try to give something back to the fans with something that will help the players have a relatively relaxing week off from the stresses of their regular season? It could be an extra boost to viewership of sports, add an extra bit of entertainment and help encourage young kids to want to be a part of the sporting world, which can only be a good thing.

Homosexuality seems to be coming out in sport

Casey Stoney, being England captain, is a wonderful example for young women across the country.  Source: BBC

Casey Stoney, being England captain, is a wonderful example for young women across the country. Source: BBC

With the announcements this week both from Michael Sam, looking to be drafted into the NFL, and England women’s captain Casey Stoney revealing they are homosexual, it seems like the final taboo barrier in sport is being pulled down.

In the case of Stoney, a seasoned international with 116 caps for the national team, she had never hid her sexuality within football circles because it’s accepted but had been holding back from saying it publically worried of being judged. Thankfully, that has now lifted and there has been widespread messages of support for the Arsenal player, hoping that she has helped others in her position to be comfortable in their own skin.

Her own inspiration, she said, came from the recent coming out of diver Tom Daley, who revealed he was in a relationship with a man back in December. She has become the most high profile active gay footballer, a positive step in changing attitudes after players such as Robbie Rodgers felt obliged to retire, albeit briefly, because they didn’t feel they would be accepted.

These, added to the recent coming out of retired German international Thomas Hitzlsperger, are beginning to change minds that it’s acceptable within a sport such as football to be a homosexual and that’s very welcoming from an adapting society.

Michael Sam is heading into an NFL world that won't be completely supportive, but he's not worried.  Source: Forbes

Michael Sam is heading into an NFL world that won’t be completely supportive, but he’s not worried. Source: Forbes

This week also saw University of Missouri defensive tackle Michael Sam revealing he is gay, having told his teammates during the season but felt that he should reveal it before being drafted. There has been plenty of support, especially for his bravery in a sport that in the past has shown it’s ugly side to the issue.

Plenty of players have vocally said they would feel ‘uncomfortable’ or simply wouldn’t want a homosexual player on their side but the NFL is fully supporting Sam. Hopefully it won’t affect his draft stock, projected to go between the third and fifth round and again hopefully inappropriate questions about his private life won’t be asked during the scouting process by teams.

He is likely to become the first active homosexual male in America’s four major sports, with Rodgers’ MLS not considered and Jason Collins yet to compete again in the NBA but mainly due to his play rather than his sexuality. It’s a big pressure for someone at just 24 entering the NFL but if handled with grace it will be a huge encouragement to not be afraid of scrutiny anymore.

Even someone like Orlando Cruz, in boxing, has received great support, showing the change in attitudes.  Source: The Guardian

Even someone like Orlando Cruz, in boxing, has received great support, showing the change in attitudes. Source: The Guardian

Even in the most macho of sports, boxing, a man in Orlando Cruz has had the courage to come out in a positive light and whilst he’s no longer in title contention, it’s only due to skill. It lifted a weight from his shoulders that he felt had helped him, it’s a weight that no-one should have to burden for much longer.

It’s all great that everyone feels like they can come out about their sexuality and be more open about it but hopefully it’s a means to an ends where it isn’t an issue anymore. Society is becoming more accepting, despite countries like Russia being behind the times and it’ll only be a matter of time where it’s no longer talked about.

Mistakes have been made in the past, such as the lack of support for Justin Fashanu in the 90’s but sport is beginning to make amendments to make sure it’s a more welcoming atmosphere to people of all creeds. However, there is still more to do and then hopefully in the near future the only talking point about any professional sportsmen will be their ability, not what they do behind closed doors.

Hamburg SV’s Leaky Defence Could Lead To Relegation

The Imtech Arena has seen good football this season, but it's usually from the away team.  Source: newfootballwallpapers.com

The Imtech Arena has seen good football this season, but it’s usually from the away team. Source: newfootballwallpapers.com

There are no bones about it, even people at the club are admitting it, Hamburg are in trouble. The former seven-time German Champions and one-time European Cup winners are sitting 17th in the Bundesliga just past the halfway stage of the season and face the real possibility of their first ever relegation.

Thorsten Fink got off to a poor start that led to his sacking in late September, but after a bright beginning to the Bert van Marwijk era it’s turned sour, with his side just winning once in the past nine games.  The team look incredibly low on confidence; performers in last season’s 7th place finish have either gone or have gone missing this season which has the Red Shorts hanging by a thread.

Bert van Marwijk is under enormous pressure, he could be gone sooner if result do not change.  Source: UEFA

Bert van Marwijk is under enormous pressure, he could be gone sooner if result do not change. Source: UEFA

It’s not difficult to see the area in which things are going wrong. The club has conceded the most goals in the Bundesliga, shipping 44 in just 19 games isn’t good enough. It was poor in Fink’s reign when they shipped 5 to Hoffenheim and 6 at Dortmund, but van Marwijk hasn’t improved the defence at all during his reign with the team conceding three goals in each of their last four games.

Different combinations have been tried, 7 defenders have had over 400 minutes this season through injury or changing the side and they haven’t found a winning combination. Westermann hasn’t seemed at his best for a while now, especially since he was removed as captain and signings like Johan Djourou which looked promising have failed to invigorate the side.

Loan signing Lasogga has been the bright light for HSV but his injury has hit the team hard.  Source: Bundesliga

Loan signing Lasogga has been the bright light for HSV but his injury has hit the team hard. Source: Bundesliga

At the other end of the field there has been less problems with Pierre-Michel Lasogga looking like a good loan deal and players such as Hakan Calhanoglu performing well but there isn’t any depth. Zoua has been disappointing at best and they’ve now allowed Artjoms Rudnevs, who was excellent last season, to go out on loan to Hannover and score twice in two games.

Scoring 33 goals so far is actually pretty good with only six other teams having scored more, so when the team’s deficiencies are so blatantly obvious why was nothing done in January? Finances have been running short in more recent times, loan deals were made for midfield players rather than bringing in defensive reinforcements, which now seems very much like a mistake.

All signs are pointing to a similar situation van Marwijk had at Holland, his attacking style worked with the players they had but the deficiencies in both talent and structure in defence were never addressed. Fans marched to the club’s training ground today in an attempt to spur on the ailing side but it might be a change in attitude needed to steer the club away from relegation.