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Category: Sport

2017 World Relays: Team GB Disaster

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Team GB Results at 2017 World Relays:

Men’s 4x100m: DNF

Women’s 4x100m: DNS

Men’s 4x400m: 6th

Women’s 4x400m: 4th

GB got 2 out of 4 medals from the relays in Rio, one being an historic first medal in the women’s 4x100m. Going into the World Relays in Bahamas these championships could be seen as an opportunity for the women’s teams to continue their development and build on their Rio success and for the men’s teams it was an opportunity to seek redemption (4x100m) or justice (4x400m) for their respective Rio woes. What transpired though was an across the board regression of all the GB teams and a big warning klaxon with a home World champs in just 4 months.

Men’s 4x100m: There are many words that can be used to describe the GB men’s 4x100m team’s performances since bronze at the 2009 world championships. None of them positive. Atrocious, disgraceful, pitiful are more in the ball park. Since 2009 at global champs  (Olympics, Worlds and World Relays). The team has medalled once (2014 World relay bronze) and only completed a final on one other occasion  (5th in Rio 2016). The other 5 champs they were either DQed or dropped the baton. For a team that won a shock gold in Athens cos they were so well drilled this is simply unacceptable performance. They’ve had numerous woes over this period: poor selections, lack of talent, injuries, inexperience but when it boils down to it they’ve consistently choked ,they don’t perform when it counts and it needs sorting. When they came 5th in Rio they were beaten by both Japan and China, teams with relatively weak individual sprinters but with extremely slick changeovers. This is what the GB team used to be famed for, solid consistency. I had no great hopes that Bahamas would be a reversal of our recent fortunes and unfortunately I was proved right. We won our heat with a team of Ujah, Hughes, Gemili and Talbot anchoring. Nothing wrong with that quartet. But the order? Why put your weakest man on the anchor. It’s madness. Something is very wrong with the selection policy. For the final Talbot was moved to the 3rd leg (right decision) and Gemili was swapped for youngster Edoburun (potentially cos Gemili was injured). Now there’s nothing wrong with bringing an in form youngster into the team but to anchor. In a global final. Idiocy. Put him on the back straight. Anyways the result? Edoborun set off too fast and the changeover was screwed up. It was simply inexperience and we shouldn’t blame the boy, we should blame the fool that put him on the last leg. For London there is much to do. They should train to be a baton passing machine and what’s more they should have a no 1 quartet and order so there’s no need for chopping and changing. I personally suggest: Hughes, Ujah, Talbot, Gemili but what do I know.

Women’s 4x100m: The GB Women’s 4x100m bronze in Rio was the exceptional GB relay performance of the Games. Just 4 years prior they had failed to even qualify for the Games, and last year the young quartet of Phillip, Henry, Asher-Smith and Neita ran a stunning new national record of 41.77 to win GB’s first medal in the event since LA 1984. That medal was symbolic of the rising standard of GB female sprinting, after decades in the doldrums, there are signs that GB are on the brink of becoming a real force in the world stage. Led by the ridiculously talented Dina Asher-Smith, who has already reached 2 major world finals before the age of 21, and is single handedly writing the GB record books. Asha Philip has recently become European Indoor Champion over 60m and Desiree Henry has great potential as well as having one the world’s best yardsticks in training partner Daphne Schippers to aim for. Unfortunately GB pulled out of the World Relays due to a number of niggly injuries and while this was no doubt the right decision. It’d of been nice to have seen how they have continued to develop.

Men’s 4x400m: I don’t think we’ll ever know why the GB men’s 4x400m team were DQed in Rio it was just one of numerous questionable officiating decisions and it’ll probably forever be a tar on the games. Whether they would have won a medal we’ll never know, but if we crudely compare their heat winning “time” to the medal winning times, it suggests not. Of course that doesn’t take into account potential line up changes or the fact you step up in a final. Since those games Nigel Levine, relay mainstay and solid 400m runner was involved in a horrific motorcycle crash in Tenerife and may never been able to run again, this has obviously weakened the team significantly, then you have Martyn Rooney. For years our anchor and British No 1 but despite an abundance of talent he has always failed to deliver when it really mattered, and for that reason it’s time he goes so the team can build for the future. British Athletics seemed to share my sentiment as Rooney did not run in Nassau. The team of Matt Hudson-Smith, Delano Williams, Jarryd Dunn and Theo Campbell came 6th and sadly I feel this maybe a warning sign of a lull in GB men’s 4×4. Out of that quartet only Hudson-Smith has the potential to be world class, and for perhaps the first time in history, GB had no men’s 400m runners at the European Indoors. Traditionally we have always been strong in the men’s 4×4. Roger Black, Jamie Baulch, Iwan Thomas, Kriss Akabusi and even John Regis all had incredible unforgettable moments in the event, but maybe a trough is iminent. Time will tell.

Women’s 4x400m: In Nassau, this was the event we came closest to medalling in and I can’t really put my finger on why we didn’t to be honest. There was a turbo charge finish from Swiety of Poland, and Ohurougu lost out in a battle with MacPherson of Jamaica. I cannot help thinking the unthinkable, that former World and Olympic Champion Ohurougu may be starting to decline. She’s no spring chicken of course and she has suggested she would retire but it seems right now that our latest golden age of British Athletics is ending, the 2012 generation is stepping aside and that’s really sad. What’s worse is that I don’t see the athletes coming to continue the success. Over the last 10 years British athletes have been superstars, the very best in the World. Farah, Ennis, Ohurougu, Idowu, Dai Greene, Rutherford, the list goes on but where are their successors? It feels like we’re heading for a grey period like after the likes of Jackson, Lewis and Edwards retired where win do very little on the global stage but hopefully I’m wrong. Back to the women’s 4×4 though I think their future unlike their male counterparts, is fairly bright with the Nelson twins plus quality 400m hurdler Eilidh Doyle, there is a solid core to move into the post Ohurougu era.

Overall: With regard to the Men’s 4×1 British Athletics needs to sort itself because it is a mess, and it shouldn’t be unlike other nations we have dedicated relay squads and runners that are funded just to be on the relay, they should be specialists and they’re not even solid. They also need to sort the selection out. On the women’s side they have a clear pool of runners of which the relay is selected from, whereas the men it seems to be whoever’s in favour with the establishment at the time. Take Dasaolu for instance despite being no 2 on the all time list behind Christie, he was originally frozen out the team for being injury prone. Then he was brought in for the 2016 season (although left out of the Olympic final, which they screwed up). Before being stripped of ALL funding in 2017 due to poor performance, when the likes of Harry AA who seems more concerned with his muscle to fat percentage than sprinting, keeps his funding, as well as a bobsledder who has never ran competitively for GB in senior competition. It’s madness. With regard to the other teams, the World Relays was not the best but at least they know what to tune up for London. In terms of how we’ll do in London both Women’s teams can definitely medal, on paper the Men’s 4×1 should medal but they won’t cos they’re a mess and the Men’s 4x400m I don’t think has the quality to medal anymore but hopefully they can surprise me. London 2017 will be very interesting.

The Future of Athletics: Women’s 100m

The women’s 100m final was almost like a changing of the guard in women’s sprinting as one Queen gave way for another but even if for a brief moment you ignore Fraser Pryce the 2008 and 2012 champion and Thompson the 2016 champion. Looking down the result of that final it shows that in terms of talent and competition the event is about to enter a faster, more explosive and perhaps closer era depending on how the respective athletes’ careers progress. However before we look to the future we must explore the past.

Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce – Double Olympic Gold Medalist, 7x World Gold Medalist, World Indoor Gold Medalist and Commonwealth Gold Medalist. When it comes to women’s 100m sprinting over the past decade, Fraser-Pryce has been the undisputed queen. From her shock win in Beijing 21 yr old to her world title in the same city 7 years later. In the last 8 years Fraser-Pryce has lost just 2 major 100m finals, Daegu 2011 to Carmelita Jeter and Rio. In addition she has dominated the circuit most seasons, consistently finishing as World No 1 most seasons and her blistering Jamaican Record of 10.70 puts her 4th on the all time list. In terms of rivals, they were many that challenged over the years (Torri Edwards, Kerron Stewart, Carmelita Jeter, English Gardner, Torie Bowie, Daphne Schippers) both in terms of running fast times or the odd defeat on the circuit but none that truly called into question Fraser-Pryce’s position as undisputed no 1. It is testament to Fraser-Pryce’s dominance that out of those aforementioned women there isn’t really one great rival no Frazier to her Ali, or Evert to her Navratilova.

Stephen Francis, coach of both Fraser-Pryce and Thompson decided that Fraser should focus solely on the 100m that season meaning there would be a new world 200m champion (more on that later). While Fraser-Pryce was still clearly world no 1 with 10.74 world lead in Paris, Dutch former heptathlete Dafne Schippers was also blazing a trail on the circuit, running national record after national record and showing her credentials as a world class sprinter. While Schippers was no doubt impressive what was also becoming apparent in female sprinting was that the ladies were getting closer. The pool of women that could run sub 10.9 was increasingly widening and many commentators started to honestly question whether Fraser-Pryce with her maturing years (somewhat harsh considering she was only 28) could really take another title against this new breed of sprinters. In the final Fraser-Pryce once again rose to the occasion with her trademark rocket boost start and then held off the fast finishing Schippers to take yet another world 100m title.

While the future of the event was evidenced in that final particularly through Schippers and the multi-talented Bowie. It is Fraser-Pryce’s training partner that we now turn our attentions to. One Elaine Thompson. Thompson was not a name familiar to me at the beginning of the 2015 season, and I imagine it would be the same for most outside of Jamaica. I first saw her run live at the London Anniversary Games in the 200m where she ran a new pb of 22.10 beating Torie Bowie and I recognised that she was a talent over the longer sprint. Like with Fraser-Pryce Francis only entered Thompson for the 200m saying she wasn’t “ready for the double”. It can be argued that Francis’s decision was the right one as Fraser-Pryce defended her title in the shorter sprint and Thompson won a first major medal in the longer sprint. My assessment is that Francis was being far more calculated, from his point of view he wanted to have both his sprinters have success so entering them in each of their favoured events effectively guarantees this. Fraser-Pryce was reigning champ in the 200m and Thompson had run a 10.84 PB and had consistently ran sub-11 in the early season it is not unreasonable to say they would’ve been rivals.

Thompson did not win the 200m title in Beijing, that went to Schippers by 3 hundredths, but the performance Thompson produced demonstrated to the world that she was not just a good sprinter, it showed that she was one of the very greatest of all time. Period. Why? Because the Women’s 200m Final was the race of the championships and one of the most mind-blowing races in recent memory. Thompson led coming off the curve before tying up with 30m to go as Schippers overtook her to take the gold. Then eyes turned to the clock. Schippers crossed in 21.63, the fastest time for 17 years. Thompson crossed in 21.66, a personal best, 2 hundredths of the Jamaican record and a time that put her 5th on the all time list behind Flo-Jo, Marion Jones, Schippers and Merlene Ottey. Being amongst that company showed her incredible pedigree, but she had not taken the gold and it was the perceived wisdom of some in the athletics world that it would be Schippers not Thompson that would go on to tear up Rio the following year.

Focusing back on the 100m, in the 2016 season the contenders for the 100m Olympic title emerged as Torie Bowie of the US, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson. Bowie the World bronze medalist ran a swift 10.80 in the opening Diamond League in Doha, and a new PB of 10.78 at the American Olympic trials (all be it finishing 3rd), laying down her credentials. Fraser, struggled with a toe injury for much of the season and had no major wins going into the Olympics, however considering her Championship pedigree and unerring dominance in the event over the preceding 8 years, it’d be a fool to doubt her. Schippers did not blaze a trail through the 2016 season either in the 100m, it is her weaker event but despite this she won the Monaco Diamond League 100m, defended her European 100m title and went into the Olympics with a world class season’s best of 10.83 from Doha (2nd to Bowie), someone with that 200m strength and the mentality of a champion will always be a contender. Finally Thompson, Thompson was the form athlete going into the Games with wins in the Rabat and Rome Diamond League 100ms, she also won the Jamaican title against none other than double Olympic champ Fraser equalling Fraser’s national record of 10.70. It was clear that Thompson’s 2015 performances were no fluke but could she go one better and take the gold this time out.

As always at a major champs the semi-finals were fascinating in assessing who was in the shape to take the title. Bowie won semi-final 1 in 10.90, Fraser edged out Schippers in semi-final 2 in 10.88, and Thompson won semi-final 3 also in 10.88. The stage was set.

It was a fairly even start, but then Thompson took the race over pulling away from one of the greatest sprinters of all time and speeding to the line in a blisteringly quick 10.71, just 1 hundredth of her shared national record. The silver went to Bowie who was left in the blocks a bit and came back strong in the final strength, and bronze went to the imperious Fraser, not at her best, she just did not have the next gear need to go with the new champion but despite the injury issues, she still medalled. Pedigree. It was a changing of the guard in a number of ways, but more so it is the dawn of a new era. Thompson went on to take the 200m gold too, she’s destined to have an incredible career. But look down the final, every athlete is young, quick and a number know how to perform in majors. I think Thompson can dominate a la Bolt but what’s more exciting is that the calibre of her rivals is such that the event could go to places we’ve not seen in a generation. I’m talking 10.6s maybe even 10.5s and whisper it but I think Thompson with that 200m PB, in the right race with the likes of Schippers in top form, could even threaten that world record from Flo-Jo time will tell, remember she’s only 24 years old.

The Future of the 100m

  • Elaine Thompson JAM (24) – Olympic 100 and 200 champion, World 200m silver medalist, Jamaican 100m national record holder. 5th on 200m all time list. Joint 4th on 100m all time list. PB: 10.70 NR
  • Tori Bowie USA (26) – Olympic 100m silver medalist,  Olympic 200m bronze medallist, World 100m bronze medalist, PB: 10.78
  • Marie Josee Ta Lou CIV (28) – African 200m gold medalist, African 100m bronze medallist, 4th in Rio 100 and 200, PB: 10.86
  • Dafne Schipers NED (24) – World 200m Champion, Olympic 200m silver medallist, World 200m silver medallist, European 100m Champion, 3rd on the 200m all time list, European 200m record holder, PB: 10.81 NR
  • English Gardner USA (25) – Olympic and World 100m finalist, American Champion, joint 7th on the 100m all time list, PB: 10.74
  • Dina Asher-Smith GBR (21) – European 200m Champion, British 100 and 200m record holder, PB 10.99 NR
  • Candace Hill USA (18) – World Junior 100m Champion, World Junior Record holder, PB 10.98 WJR

Laura Muir: The New Paula?

 

xfvslm4mIf you’re a Paula Radcliffe fan, you won’t like this article. If you’re a Laura Muir fan, you won’t like this article. Now we’ve got the caveats out the way let’s crack on.

Tuesday 16th August 2016. Laura Muir starts the Olympic 1500m final as world no 2. Like most middle distance finals the pace was slow. Until around 600m to go World record holder Dibaba made a surge, followed by World no 1 Kenyan Faith Kipyegon and Muir. Result -Kipyegon won gold, Dibaba silver, Muir? 7th. She couldn’t handle the pace of Dibaba and Kipyegon. She overcooked it and she paid for it in the last 200. More sensible athletes such as Jenny Simpson who sat back were rewarded. Afterwards British commentators praised Muir for her bravery. No. She flopped. She ran like an imbecile. She went in with the 2nd fastest time in the world which is great but it was set with a pacemaker. Yes she’s only 23 but she’s been to multiple championships. She should have developed a racing brain that tells her. She can run fast times (a couple of weeks later she set a world lead in Paris). So she should either run hard from the off, which I wouldn’t recommend. Or rely on her strength and wind it up rather than ‘kicking’ which she doesn’t possess the ability to do. In Rio she did neither she believed herself to be in Dibaba’s league because she’d run a fast time and tried to take her on at her own game. Idiocy. Fast forward to 2017. Muir is now double European indoor champion. Congratulations. But it doesn’t answer my glaring question of her. Can she beat world class runners when it truly matters. Allow me to explain.

Many pundits are likening Laura to Dame Kelly Holmes due to her record breaking exploits and her event. Kelly herself rates her very highly. However Kelly was never an athlete that ran around the circuit aiming to break records. Kelly was all about the medals. And while for most of her career she missed out on the G she consistently picked up silverware at every level, till finally in Athens she produced two of the greatest performances in the history of British athletics to become our first double gold medallist for donkeys years. Kelly is a legend and notably a championship performer. Right now, Muir reminds me much more of Paula Radcliffe.

Paula like Muir was a supremely talented athlete in terms of pace. She has a litany of records and is one of Britain’s 3 reigning world record holders  (Women’s marathon). However Paula never really did on the big stage. Her track career she became known as a perennial loser. She like Laura was a committed front-runner who suffered from the lack of pace makers at championships. Paula unlike Laura in Rio aimed to take out the pace herself but although she was fast on the circuit she would always fine she’d lack the strength in the major finals to maintain it or she came up against opponents that could run as hard as her and still have the little bit extra (which is why I wouldn’t recommend Laura to run like that). It’s the extra that makes a great. Paula didn’t have the extra, and I don’t Laura has either, they’re bottlers.

2004 Olympics Paula was the marathon world record holder and outstanding favourite for the marathon gold. She ended up dropping out and crying on the kerb. To her credit she did end her career with a global title but I do not think Muir will ever get there. Yes, Muir has now won some silverware but it was against nobody. Whether people admit it or not in terms of the hierarchy of championships, the European Indoors languish pretty low. Yes she’s fast but she doesn’t run fast in championships with other world class runners. It’s almost  like the combo of quality runners plus the pressure of a championships turns her into a different athlete. And maybe it does. It’s common for talented athletes to choke on the big stage. Asafa Powell, Leroy Burrell and countless others. This is why I can’t buy into the hype that she will become a Kelly or a Mo because you can’t teach championship mentality and you can’t really develop it. Championship mentality doesn’t mean winning gold. It means producing your best on the big stage. Some athletes are good enough to win golds without their best. But Laura isn’t in that bracket and frankly even if she did run a pb in a championship final the Dibabas, Kipyegons and Hassans would probably still best her. But she’d earn my respect.

It’s about time the British press stopped giving plaudits for so called bravery and guts when someone clearly underperforms as Laura does time and time again and started giving the plaudits to athletes that may not have the glamour of being record holders but that produce their very best when it really matters. The Asha Phillips and the Greg Rutherfords. I for one will not remember Laura Muir’s British record in the Paris Diamond League but I’ll always remember Greg’s leap on Super Saturday, Ohurougu’s dip in Moscow and Kelly’s shock in Athens.  Let’s give them the true champions their dues rather than bigging up the running version of a prize fighter.

Cruyff, The Player: A Tribute

Soccer - Holland

“In a way I’m probably immortal.” – Johan Cruyff (1947-2016)

Today is a sad day, today we lost one of the true legends of our beautiful game, Hendrik Johannes Cruyff. Now I’m no football journalist, I write this unapologetically as a fan and Cruyff was archetypal in transforming football into the game it is today, and the game I fell in love with as a young kid. I have decided to split this piece into two parts, one focusing on Cruyff as a genius player, another on Cruyff’s mercurial managerial career. It is not an overstatement to say that in terms of influence on football, no one will ever again match Cruyff. The ideas and beliefs he introduced to the sport, the philosophy he made possible as a player, then perfected as a manager, “Total Football” is the foundation of some of the greatest sides of history, his followers include the greatest managers of our time, Guardiola, Wenger and his influence has spread to every corner of the world. Any team that plays a possession based, fluid, interchangeable system, is a disciple of Cruyff. Far more than a great player, he was the closest this sport has to a prophet, a role he didn’t shy away from as demonstrated by some of his philosophical musings:

“Playing football is very simple but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is”

“If I wanted you to understand, I would have explained it better”

“The most difficult thing about an easy match is to make a weak opponent play bad football”

“Technique is not being able to juggle a ball 1000 times. Anyone can do that by practising. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your team mate”

“Football is a game of mistakes. Whoever makes the fewest mistakes wins.”

“Every trainer talks about movement, about running a lot. I say don’t run so much. Football is a game you play with your brain. You have to be in the right place at the right moment, not too early, not too late.”

“Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring”

“It’s better to go down with your own vision than with someone else’s”

Cruyff began his career at Ajax, before Cruyff a relatively unknown club in Amsterdam. After Cruyff one of Europe’s greatest ever clubs. Cruyff did that. Cruyff became a regular for Ajax in 1965 under Rinus Michels, a revolutionary manager who pioneered an idea that was later to be known as Total Football, the idea was that rather than every player play a very fixed, rigid position as was commonplace at the time, he believed that the team should be fluid, they should switch and interchange, if the right back bombed forward, someone should fill his place etc. In Cruyff, Michels had the perfect player to orchestrate his ideas, while Michels preached Total Football in the dressing room, it was Cruyff that would literally conduct the players on the field, blessed with a football brain and intellect that was second to none, his vision was such that he could almost see moves before they happened, he was truly remarkable. With Cruyff on the field, and Michels in the dugout, Ajax became dominant at home, winning 4 out of 5 Eredivisies between 1965 and 1970, then in 1971 Total Football won Ajax the ultimate prize in club football, the European Cup, easing past Panathinaikos 2-0 at Wembley. After taking Ajax to the very pinnacle, Michels moved on to Barca. Cruyff was to stay for a bit longer.

It was early that very same 70-71 season that Cruyff would first wear his famed no 14 shirt, on the 30th October 1970, Cruyff lent his teammate his no 9 shirt and pulled a no 14 out of the spare shirt bucket. Ajax beat PSV 1-0, and superstitious Cruyff insisted on the side keeping the same numbers next game, much to the dismay of the Dutch FA, who had previously stipulated starting 11s must wear 1-11. Cruyff got his way however and the affair was symptomatic of Cruyff’s turbulent relationship with authority. He was an arrogant egotist, but he was also more often than not right, and a genius to boot. Cruyff was a innovator destined to smash the established order to smithereens. He was before his time. A trailblazer. It is no surprise he would go on to boss things. His influence on the game was taking shape.

Stefan Kovacs took over from Michels at Ajax and continued his Total Football philosophy retaining the European Cup, in what was interpreted as a highly symbolic victory over Inter Milan. Journalists said Cruyff (now a Ballon D’Or winner) had single handedly ripped apart Inter in addition to scoring both goals and that Total Football had killed off Italy’s defensive catenaccio system. Ironically apart from the early 90s Milan side featuring Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard, Total Football never took hold in Italy as it did in other nations. This match however was a changing of the guard. Inter represented the past with their rigid, defensive, structured system. Cruyff with his long flowing locks and Ajax was the future with their attacking panache and fluid system. In 1973, Ajax made history by becoming only the second side in history (after Real Madrid) to win 3 consecutive European Cups (beating Juventus and young Dino Zoff in the final) sealing their place in history, as one of the greatest club sides ever. Early in 73-74 season Cruyff would take the next step in his career, Barcelona.

When Cruyff arrived in Barca, they were not the all conquering European behemoth they are today, as it was his later managerial tenure that would help build them into that behemoth. They were instead a team that hadn’t won a league title in 13 years. The move saw Cruyff reunited with Michels and the two set about bringing Total Football to Spain. Cruyff moved to Barca when Spain was still ruled by General Franco, and the Catalunyan people in particular had suffered greatly at his hands. Signing the best player on the planet was considered a major coup for Barca, and a great lift for the Catalunyan people, they fell in love with Cruyff, not only for his skill on the ball, but his role as a figurehead for a resurgent Barcelona. He made Catalunyans feel pride in their side and their identity. No more so can this be demonstrated than in Barca’s comprehensive 5-0 drubbing of Real Madrid (Franco’s favoured team) at the Bernabeu. It was iconic. Cruyff had humilated Barca’s greatest enemy, and perhaps in the process humilated Franco and to this day, it is a match that has never been forgotten, one journalist said Cruyff had done more for the Catalunyan people’s spirit in 90 mins than politicians had done in 90 years. It was in this that Cruyff would score his most famous goal, “The Impossible Goal”, an extraordinary backwards overhead kick against Atletico Madrid. Barca went on to win their first title since 1960. Cruyff practically became an honorary Catalan, he gave his son a Catalunyan name, Jordi, and developed a great mutual affection with the Barca fans one that would only grow with his return in the dugout the next decade.

1974 was the year of Cruyff’s 3rd Ballon D’Or, and also the year of the pinnacle of his playing career the 1974 World Cup. Before the tournament once again demonstrated his rebellious, innovative side while every player wore the 3 stripes of Adidas, the kit manufacturer of the national side, Cruyff had a special shirt with 2, he had personal endorsement deal with Puma, you could say he invented player power. The tournament where the world first witnessed Total Football in full flow. Michels left Barca at the end of the season to become the Netherlands head coach and moulded a team that marvelled the world. Widely considered to be one of the most attractive, beautiful teams that have ever graced the World Cup, Netherlands were a side that everyone wanted to watch, they played differently, they astonished and bamboozled. It was a revelation and Cruyff with his sumptuous style and casual flair was the epitomy of that. Ghosting past defenders like they weren’t there with deceptive pace, and incredible close control. His impeccable passing, always knowing where his teammates would be as he and his teams became masters of space ie. controlling the space, to control the game and increase the likelihood of winning. In the 2nd game of the group stage Cruyff would produce a moment of genius that would become the moment of the tournament, and something that would be remembered, and attempted for generations to come. First Cruyff picked the ball out of the air with one touch, incredible control in itself, then was immediately faced by Swedish defender Jan Olsson, Cruyff turned his back on him and shaped to pass or cross, so Olsson went for the block tackle, rather than pass however Cruyff dragged the ball behind his planted foot with the inside of his other foot, turned through 180 degrees, and accelerated away, to the point that Olsson ended up tackling thin air and staring into an empty space where Cruyff formerly was, Cruyff had left Olsson for dead. He then put the cross in unhindered by the mortal full back. It wowed the world then and still does now. It became known as the “Cruyff Turn” and one was one of Cruyff’s great contributions to the game. It was symptomatic of the Dutch side’s ingenuity and creativity but even more remarkable, was that unlike the great tricksters of today, Cruyff who did not believe in showboating, had not practised the move beforehand, he saw an opportunity to get past his man and he invented it in that split second. Very few players have such ability. It was truly incredible. Often forgotten is that the Netherlands didn’t actually win the game, it ended 0-0 but no one cared Total Football had captured the world. From then on it was not about who would win, it was about what other marvels could the Dutch side produce on their way to winning.

In the 2nd group stage Netherlands faced Brazil in what was effectively a semi final. Brazil were the reigning champions after the magnificent 1970 sides victory but were a declining force after those heady days, gone was Pele and in Netherlands, they faced a side that equalled them in technical, individual skill, but exceeded them in teamwork. Total Football isn’t just about flair as Brazillian football traditionally was, it was about the unit, interchangeability, defending as a unit, attacking as a unit, you did not have 5 defenders and 6 attackers, you had 11 attackers and 11 defenders, games were not won by individual brilliance but by greater mastery of the ball and of the space. Netherlands won 2-0 in a victory even more symbolic than Ajax’s over Inter. Netherlands had outplayed the nation that made the game beautiful, it was a game that would arguably kill off Brazil’s free-flowing unrestricted style. In Brazil they soul-searched eventually concluding that it was required to introduce the discipline of Total Football (while also sacrificing flair whereas Total Football harnesses it) into their own game and their 1994 World Cup winning side was the result of this, rigid, defensive, organised, yet dull. Rather than embrace Total Football, Brazil regressed to the European style that existed before Total Football, and while it brought them success, it is sad that we shall perhaps never see a Brazil side play with the freedom and recklessness of the ’70 side. Total Football was beautiful but it had victims.

The final was against West Germany, the Netherlands greatest rivals not solely because they are neighbours but because of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during WW2. A great deal of fans had lived through the war and the wounds were still deep etched in the national conciousness, this was a chance to regain pride on a sporting scale. Nobody doubted the Netherlands would win, it was a foregone conclusion, they were perhaps the greatest side ever to grace the competition, another result wasn’t possible and right to script within 2 minutes Netherlands were ahead, Cruyff picked the ball up in midfield, ran thru the German defence like they weren’t there and was brought down in the box. Penalty, which Neeskens duly dispatched. It was exactly what was supposed to happen. Except the Dutch stopped. They did not want to simply beat West Germany, this was a derby, this was the biggest stage in football. They wanted to humiliate them. So they played with the Germans, toyed with them, playing keep ball, but not causing any further damage, never threatening a 2nd goal, they had become arrogant, they had taken the foot off the gas. The other problem was that Germany hadn’t read the script this was their World Cup, their showcase, their fans, their stadium, they didn’t believe the hype, they believed in themselves, their side included Beckenbauer, the greatest centre back ever, Muller one of the greatest goalscorers in history, they were no mugs and sure enough they punished the Netherlands, they equalised with a penalty of their own half way through the first half, before adding a second before the half-time whistle through the dangerous Muller. The Netherlands were in shell shock. They tried to turn it on again in the 2nd half but it was too late once the intensity dips it’s almost impossible to regain. The Germans were typically German, stout and resolute. Impenetrable. Cruyff and the Netherlands had lost. Forever to be remembered as the greatest side to never win the World Cup. This was to be Cruyff’s only World Cup but his mark on the competition is eternal. The defeat would stay with him for ever. It taught him it was not enough to simply play beautifully, you also had to win or it means nothing.

Cruyff won the Golden Ball for his majestic World Cup performances. Back at Barca Cruyff won a Copa Del Rey in 1978 before moving to the ill-fated North American Soccer League as all the greats did in the 70s. He retired from the national team after helping them qualifying for the ’78 World Cup in Argentina, Cruyff refused to play in a country ruled by a military junta, his principles were more important to him than sport. In 1981 he returned “home” to Ajax after his American escapades and a brief spell in Spain’s Second Division with Levante. He won 2 more league titles and famously passed a penalty, which current Barca stars, Messi and Suarez, recently honoured, but Cruyff as with so many things, did it best. After the 82-83 season, Cruyff was refused a new Ajax contract because at 36 he was deemed too old. Cruyff disagreed, signed for Ajax’s rivals Feyenoord, and in a deep-lying playmaker role helped them win the double, even scoring against Ajax in the process, celebrating emphatically, Cruyff had produced one last miracle in his playing career. He went out on top with a 5th Dutch Footballer of the Year, and in typical Cruyff fashion, he went out proving a point. Influential, outspoken and brilliant. A genius in every sense. He was an artist whose brush was his boot, and his canvas was the pitch. If Cruyff had done nothing else after his last game he would never of been forgotten. However he did do something else he signed a contract to be Ajax manager in 1985.

405gls in 711 club games

369gls in 661 club games

33gls in 48 games for the Netherlands

The Netherlands never lost a game when Cruyff scored

3 Ballon D’Ors

3 European Cups

9 Eredivisie Titles

1 La Liga

Simply the most influential man in the history of football.

Heavyweight boxing is dead!

klitschko-furyOnce upon a time the heavyweight division was the blue riband event of boxing. You had champions that excited and inspired: Johnson, Louis, Marciano, Patterson, Liston, Frazier, Foreman, Holmes, Tyson, Lewis, Holyfield and of course the greatest of them all Muhammad Ali. You had golden eras like the 70s with Ali, Frazier,  Foreman, Norton and others producing some of the greatest fights in history.

Until a few minutes ago the post 2000 heavyweight seen has been dominated by one name, two brothers. The elder has now retired, the other has just lost his 3 world titles to Tyson Fury who we’ll discuss later. Now Wladimir the younger of the brothers, on numbers alone is one of the greats, no question. He was 2nd on the longest reigning heavyweight champs list sandwiched between Louis and Holmes. He’s beaten allcomers for his title. He’s dominated for a decade. He’s also robotic, boring, lacks charisma and  the wow factor that made people pay attention to guys like Ali and Tyson. But that was fine. He can go only beat who’s in front of him, right. Wasn’t his fault there was no Frazier or Foreman in this era, Peter, Ruiz and Haye was the best out there right. Right.

Today Klitchsko the king of the division, unbeaten in 10 years, legend of the sport faced Fury. A guy who’d fought absolutely nobody. A guy with no credentials. A guy with no pedigree. If Klitchsko was as great as his numbers suggest he’d of dispatched the arrogant, cocky, controversial Briton. Did that happen? Nope instead what transpired was one of the worst exhibitions of boxing I have ever witnessed. It was scrappy. It was poor. There were hardly any shots landed. And the great Klitchsko appeared scared to throw a punch. It was a disgraceful performance by such an esteemed champ and while Fury was certainly the best fighter on the night, he didn’t seem like the best in the world. However that is exactly what his newly gained titles suggest and I think that’s a sad indictment of the state of the division. Some argued that it died with the Klitchsko dominance and that may be true but the ease they have been toppled today it has definitely died now.

On a personal note I’m not a fan of Fury’s antics at all. I find his tendency to compare himself to Ali sickening and disrespectful. But even as a boxer I don’t rate him. He doesn’t seem to have much technique. He doesn’t have much power. And he’s never been tested. How do you become world heavyweight champ without being tested. And why was such a great champ so poor. The division is dead. I suspect Fury’s reign will be short but with such as dearth of talent who’s actually gonna beat him. It appears if you’re big and awkward you can be the best these days. I miss the days when you needed talent.

Why are Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slams forgotten?

This is Margaret Court.  She was an Australian tennis player between 1960 and 1973 she amassed 24 slams more than any other player, she has a career win percentage better than any other player, a better slam win percentage than every other player. She has won every slam multiple times and completed a calendar slam. Yet as Serena moves closer to a 21st slam all that is mentioned is Steffi Graf’s “record” of 22 slams. Now this isn’t a debate about who’s the greatest female player that’s for people far more qualified than myself to argue. Instead this is simply a pedantic argument about the grand slam record and why Graf’s record shouldn’t be regarded as a record at all.

Ok so firstly we need to investigate Graf’s record and why it is seen as the target for Serena. Steffi Graf won 22 Grand Slams between 1987 and 1996. So why is it a record despite being 2 less than Court because Graf played in “the Open Era”. Ie the period after 1968 when professionals were allowed to play the slams. Court’s career happens to span both eras therefore here Open Era tally is only 11 slams. So if Court wasn’t up against the very best players prior to 1968 it is only fair that Graf’s tally is the “record” and Court is a victim of circumstance like Rod Laver her male counterpart BUT Court was playing the best players prior to 68 as there was no professional women’s tour. All the women players were amateurs. For example Billie Jean King was her main rival pre-68 and post-68 there was no change. So my argument is that while you can instill the arbitrary open Era starting point on men’s tennis records it’s not fair to instill it on women’s tennis records.

F1 without the German GP just isn’t right

There are some Grand Prixs that are just sacred, because of the history and tradition they represent: Belgian, British, Italian and of course Monaco. The German GP is another, since 1926 it has been held every year except one, now make that two. Money shouldn’t even come into it, I hear the argument that F1 need to expand to new markets and audiences, I hear the argument that the oil-rich countries, pay a lot of money to attract F1, and that’s fine, but that shouldn’t be at the expense of classic races. The core base of F1 fans is still in Europe, if the sport descends into a procession of plastic, lifeless races in countries only interested in the bottom line of F1, they will switch off. F1 as a sport celebrates change and progress, and there are now very few similarities between modern-day F1 and that of yesteryear, the cars obviously are unrecognisable, but look back at some of the circuits of the first F1 season in 1950: Silverstone, Spa, Monza, Monaco, tracks like these link every era of F1 and should continue to do so. Ask every F1 driver, their favourite Grand Prix or circuit and ask any up and coming driver where they dream to drive, and I guarantee none would say Yas Marina, or that they’d dreamt of winning the Bahrain Grand Prix, Nurburgring and Hockenheim I suggest would be far more likely choices. The German GP is intwined with the history of F1, greats such as Senna, Schumacher, Prost drove and won it, F1 should always maintain that link to its past. History is the foundation of any sport, in 50 years time, no one will look at how much money F1 made. Without historic tracks and historic teams, F1 isn’t F1, the German Grand Prix should take place this year and all following years, F1’s legacy must be protected not threatened. If the land that produced Schumacher and Vettel leaves the calendar, as predicted, Bernie Ecclestone would have signalled the beginning of the end of this sport we love. These are sad times we live in.