Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Game Made Beautiful Again - Zenith2k

The red tide is washing in again. Manchester United has found a new belief in itself because of one man. Paul Scholes' reawakened genius has invigorated a squad which was in danger of slumbering through another season without achieving its obvious potential. Scholes has allowed the Old Trafford faithful to dream again. Without him the unfolding United fairytale would have no animator.

But the diminutive ginger master is not the only individual to have drawn enthused responses from the Stretford End this season. Christiano Ronaldo, Patrice Evra, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and even the previously maligned Michael Carrick have shown the ability that a side destined for greatness must exhibit. Coupled with an unyielding back line including the ferocious Nemanja Vidic and the sublime Rio Ferdinand, this makes for an imperious side with a solid foundation. So far this season, Manchester United's pursuit of the title has been relentless.

Scholes' hunger to distribute possession together with an unparalleled vision for incisive passing has made him United's player of the season. Whilst Ronaldo has been the protagonist, Scholes has been the director; the reason for the growing belief of the players and the fans. The fervour with which he has set about demolishing opposing teams has instilled in his compatriots a will to win missing since Roy Keane was in his prime at the club.

In fact Scholes' recent resurgence has been partly due to the emergence of Michael Carrick as the hub of the team. Carrick isn't a player with the raw emotion characteristic of past United midfielders, but his neat, intelligent play has led to a previously lacking assuredness in the centre. Carrick's constant supply of possession to Scholes has been a major factor in the midfield renaissance.

Key signings Vidic, Evra and Park have proved their worth. Along with the maturation of Rooney and Ronaldo they have banished the demons of a transfer record which had been, in recent seasons, an embarrassment to Ferguson. The new squad he has nurtured may now be nearing its peak.

This mixture of experience and youth is reminiscent of the '99 treble-winning side and of Ferguson's first great team born in the early nineties. The shrewdness of Scholes and Giggs is the foil to the raw desire of Ronaldo and Rooney. Where Ronaldo has been the virtuoso of the team, Rooney has been the essence. Rooney's refusal to let a game pass him by has been the beating heart of the United collective. He gives his all for the side in every game and possesses a hunger for his trade which makes him the model professional. But it is to Scholes they should both pay homage, for this duo has enjoyed a new lease of life under the cohesion he has brought back to the team.

Scholes is heading towards a number of awards and should receive the global recognition he rightly deserves. There is no single man to whom one team has owed so much this season.

How much do I care about cycling? mimitig

Growing up, sport was all around me. I played netball and hockey in the winter. In summer there was swimming, tennis, even athletics. As a spectator and fan, I had first-class cricket to watch in the Parks in the summer; in the winter: lacrosse, hockey and rugby. Sport was on my doorstep. We got free tickets for rugby matches at Twickenham and the Blues hockey match at Lords.

No wonder I thought sport was important. I played and swam for my county I trained alongside future Olympic sportsmen and women and could do nothing but admire their dedication and skill.

Ultimately I was not in their league, and in my late teens I abandoned sports for the fun of boys and parties. There were good times, but I felt a failure in those years because I had not come up to scratch in the sporting league.

Time passes and you understand that you don't have to represent your county or country to have fun with sports. I took up city time-trialling cycling. An evil and totally unregulated sport, but wow, what fun we had. We used to set out on a 3 mile route in central London which started at the south side of Lambeth Bridge. We rode the Embankment, over Waterloo Bridge, up Aldwych and round Soho, back into the Strand and along to Trafalgar Square. The only way you could break the time record was to ride like a fiend down Whitehall and take a complete flyer round the Westminster Bridge Roundabout. Ignore traffic, ignore any lights, just take that downhill acceleration and ride for your life across one of the busiest traffic crossings in London. We used to do it at about 6am when there was minimal traffic. All the same, each and every time you raced towards that line, you knew you risked death.

Why did we do it? Well, we'd all failed at other competitive sports and this was one we knew how to do and enjoyed. Every morning when you knocked a tenth of a second off your circuit, you went to your job feeling confident. After all, you'd just broken either your own or someone else's record. It makes it much harder for the office bully to intimidate when you're riding high on success.

I'd always followed professional road cycling. When I was out there on the streets of London, I was Cipollini, Pantani or Richard Virenque. I imagined the polka dots or the Maillot Jaune on my shoulders.

Then, to my disgust, cycling became the devil of all sports. First the Festina affair, then the drip, drip, drip of more scandal. Finally last year Operation Puerto threatened to, and did, overwhelm Le Tour. Big names were withdrawn, it all looked shadey, and shamefully it ended with the Landis fiasco.

But that was then. Trust the new bosses.

Cycle and love it. It's starting to be clean now.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Welcome to the Hotel California, TW1 - jonnyboy71

Back in those unheady days of the Autumn rugby internationals, Sky Sports carried an interview with Martin Johnson in which the big man laid waste to the notion that Andy Robinson was solely responsible for England bumping along the bottom of the global rugby scene. For Johnson, the idea was that the rugby buck stops at the top with the RFU’s Chief Executive, Francis Baron, and his management board. “If you are going to start saying you have not done your job properly, he [Baron] is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the business, so far as I am aware. Maybe the management board, or whatever, had some control as well.” From England’s ex-captain, a man who is less prone to media punditry than Colin Meads with lockjaw, that was a big statement. A cry for help.

Take Johnno at his word and have a look at just what the top echelon of the RFU’s 447 salaried staff has been up to while England have disappeared down the plug hole. How have they responded?

For one thing, they made it impossible to sack Andy Robinson and replace him with anyone whose CV had anything better than ‘won Allied Dunbar Premiership in 1998’ on it. Rob Andrew’s position as über-prefect effectively meant that the RFU had to look within the coaching ranks and there was only one man there who could do the job, Brian Ashton.

What about Chief Executive Baron himself? Has he registered how bad the situation has become? Certainly. In the RFU’s 2006 Annual Report, after the bufterish “didn’t we all do well” sections by the President and Chairman (whose job it is to make sure that the Gentleman’s Relish is spread evenly on the toast in the committee boxes at home games), England’s CEO got straight to the heart of the issue: the poor performance of the England team over the last two years was the principal reason for last year’s £1.7m pre-tax loss. England has done badly and this is now bankrupting the RFU. As Baron himself says, coming 4th instead of 1st in the Six Nations cost £1.2 million. Something must be done!

The only problem with Baron’s analysis is that it’s wildly inaccurate. Not to imply that Baron is lying – he could well have as good a handle on figures as the England pack have on rucking.

This is the way it stacks up: turnover was down just £3.9m in 2006 to £82.7m. Costs were up slightly. But operating profit was still well in the black at £16.2m. That’s a highly respectable profit margin of 19.6%. So how could the RFU achieve an impressive net loss of £3.4 million?

Cherchez le huge stand, hotel and conference centre development. This cost £39.2m. £21.6m was raised from selling debentures but, as no other sources of finance were used to fund development, £17.6m had to be found from somewhere. The only other source of cash to tap was the £31.3m of operating income.

In other words, the RFU have taken the huge profits from its main business – rugby – and used them to get into another business – hotels and event management. They’re pushing their rugby business into the red to do so. Read Francis Baron’s diagnosis again. Sound accurate?

Put this into the context of the key issue in the Way Forward inquiry, player release from club to country. In football terms, £18 million is close to what Craig Bellamy spends on golf clubs every 6 months. But in rugby terms, it’s a fortune. Brian O’Driscoll is reputed to be on €400,000 a year, and he’s good. But even the average England player (and there are quite a few of those about) costs over £200,000 to sign. If they were serious about competing with New Zealand or Ireland, the RFU could have bought a squad of 50 and got a fair chunk of change for what it cost to pay off building the Marriott Twickenham within a year. Or at least offer the clubs marginally more than a paltry £30,000 for player release, and buy enough goodwill for them to release players without complaining, once and for all.

Hotels it is, then.

Last word: the RFU’s new hospitality company is called ‘Twickenham Experience Limited’. Martin Johnson would probably think it was the job description for Chief Executive.

Who you gonna call? Ghost Busters - 50KaWeekSub

In the news recently Carlton Cole was identified as taking a brave stand against Ken Livingstone in refusing to pay his congestion charge penalties. Michael Ballack is similarly vocal in his opposition to stamp duty, council tax and wide-boy gazumping Estate Agents. Glen Johnson’s recent adventure at B&Q is similar to that old schoolboy money-saving favourite known as the “Razzle move.” Instead of stuffing a mucky-mag into a less expensive newspaper before heading innocently to the checkout, Johnson took the game one step further by concealing some tap fittings and a toilet seat in a box with a cheaper price. Johnson is said to be privately fuming that the spotty, gum chewing teenager who couldn’t even point him to the correct aisle then raised the alarm at his ingenious slight of hand. He is currently in dispute over the £80 penalty and may be forced to take legal aid.'s+disgrace+and+summer+holiday&channel=

Footballers are becoming more financially astute with Gary Neville recently attacking agents taking money out of the game: Gary and younger brother Phil famously use their father’s services in all transfer negotiations; Neville (Neville) holding an HND in accountancy from Salford College of further education. A family friend explained, “Gary and Phil employ Neville on account of his book-keeping skills primarily and his parenting skills second.” The two are not mutually exclusive and unsurprisingly “Neville theory” is based around simple family-home-economics, the boys repaying Neville senior for the large sums of money invested in fish-fingers, alphabet spaghetti and Arial all-in-one liquid for those really stubborn grassy stains. When Mr Neville waves goodbye to this world the money will be redistributed back to the game in the form of an inheritance for Gary and Phillip. Genius.

Neville, Cole and countless others in the game are livid that Frank Lampard recently gave away two French Mastiff pedigree puppies to the non-footballing community. The big-boned dogs need plenty of training and are expensive to maintain as well as requiring lots of open space to run around in. A close source who doesn’t wish to be named on account that it may harm his England chances said, “Who does he think he is, Ian Botham? What next, dog blankets, anti-worming agents, dog kennels?” Lampard should understand more than most the need for supplementary income rather than hopeless charity with footballers having to resort to maximising commercial activities more than ever before. Many in the game are demoralised, citing the fact that Sky TV money is escaping not only to agents but also to ex-footballers turned pundits.

One notch further down from agents are the dreaded ghost writers bleeding the game dry with their lazy writing skills and lame no-stories. A handful of World-Cup stars who felt that they performed perfectly well when interviewed for their books now feel bitter and let down by their respective damp squibs. Interestingly, the makers of Prozone are teaming up with Steve Mclaren and Sir Clive Woodward to build the Pro2-pod; the benefits of which include a ghost writing service as well as doing all the normal things that Prozone does. Despite being in the early stages pre-sales are looking good; watch out Mr 10-per-centers everywhere.

Pirates march on Premiership - Ebren

Public schools might have been the birthplace of English rugby, and Twickenham its head, but its beating heart is in Cornwall.

Camborne, Newlyn, Launceston, Redruth. Not places you see on tourist brochures but games between these sides have produced attendances to rival the top flight almost anywhere in the world.

And local rivalries are just the start.

The Cornish are more than a county, they are a nation. A nation with two symbols, two rallying cries - the St Piran's cross and the black and gold of the county rugby team.

Barcelona, Dynamo Kiev, Red Star Belgrade, and Croatia Zagreb have all been symbols of nationality in a wider state. Cornwall doesn't have a league football team to represent them – there is no need – they have

On April 20th, 1991 some 40,000 Cornishmen and women marched on south-west London, twice the population of the county capital Truro, and returned home as English champions for the first time since 1908.

This was a golden period for the county – reaching five Twickenham finals in 10 years – and there is movement in the south-west again.

A decade ago Richard 'Dicky' Evans took control of Penzance and Newlyn RFC – the Pirates.

He embraced professionalism and - drawing on a fortune earned largely in Kenya - he drove the club through the Western Counties League, the Nationwide Leagues, and to the brink of the Premiership.

Talent from Africa and the Southern Hemisphere has been on show at the Mennaye ground and attendances swelled.

But the ground is now holding the club back, Premiership stadia must hold 15,000 and there is no room for this 1930s site to expand.

The Pirates of Penzance and Newlyn moved to Truro – an hour away from their traditional fanbase – and re-branded themselves as the Cornish Pirates.

Last season attendances rose and the club finished third, but this experiment to unite Cornwall behind one club that plays in the Premiership is controversial and uncertain.

The high cost of renting the new ground, not to mention the expense and inconvenience of shipping fans across the county, has now seen the Pirates abandon their central-Cornwall base and move in with traditional rivals Camborne.

There have been mutterings of discontent among the faithful, that their club has been given to others, their team moved and them inconvenienced by an owner's ambition.

And opposing fans have been far from universal in accepting they should support their ancient rivals and a team they have no links to.

But despite uncertainties, the dream of Premiership rugby in Cornwall is still alive.

"Ten years ago I asked you to support me in taking this club into the professional era. At that time there were those who were totally against this move, there are people that are against this latest move," Evans said when the Truro move was announced.

"However, it is my belief that we must try this . . . Cornwall deserves a Premiership rugby club and it is our aim to bring that to them."

Is Arsene Wenger the "My Uncle" of English football? - miro

Eleven reasons why legend-to-be football manager Arsene Wenger appears very much like legendary French film comic genius Jacques Tati:

1. Because JT and AW had and have been doing the same job.

2. Because JT’s early films evoke a world of unspoiled leisure: a France where gangly postmen deliver the mail on bicycles, where kids are always up to mischief, and where there is at least the illusion of community. Isn’t this a world AW experiences nowadays on the edge of a picturesque village called London Colney?
3. Because AW on the sideline often looks like the Mr. Bean of English football. Rowan Atkinson once noted that Tati’s characters had been a source of inspiration for the creation of the ‘British Mr. Bean’.

4. JT, just like AW, was never the type to chase after or flatter the audience.

5. Because JT’s famous movie My Uncle, like Arsenal, was seen in Britain as more annoying than funny.

6. In 1978, JT began filming a documentary on the Corsican football team, Forca Bastia, which he never completed - something which AW has been doing from 1996.

7. JT was an actor too, but nowhere near as good as a film director. AW did play football but not many were aware of that.

8. JT had recurring themes – the leisure class, modernization, children at play, mass entertainment – and his compositions seemed mathematically calculated yet somehow spontaneous and vibrant. Has AW been doing the same?

9. Because JT once built an entire glass and steel futuristic mini-city nicknamed Tativille, for the movie which took years to make and left him mired in debt. AW recently saw The Emirates finished too.

10. JT’s Playtime film, the epic of the modern world - just like the Arsenal side nowadays - happened to be the most thoroughgoing realization of mise-en-scene principles: everything is always in focus, and every square inch crackles with action.

11. Because JT was a victim of the future, which is what AW has yet to become.

Brave New Game - tonyellis

Many years ago, channel-hopping was actually considered for the Olympics as a kind of triathlon, involving as it did the skills of jumping the dog, sprinting to the set and beating up your little sister. At least it did in my house; whether because of my parents’ foresight in recognising the dangers of childhood obesity represented by the remote control or the latter’s stubborn resistance to having been invented, I’m not sure. Sadly, my sister grew bigger and more aggressive, which is how I came to watch Korfball.

It was on Channel 4, of course, late one night. The ‘philosophy’ of this combination of team chess, netball and rambling, apart from emphasising co-operation over individual flair, means that teams are made up of an equal number of men and women.

You may be surprised to hear that, far from being the invention of a 1980s left wing council committee meeting charged with involving young people through non-sexist, not-too-threateningly competitive sport, the game dates back to the year 1902. What is not surprising is that it fails to attract huge crowds or juicy broadcasting packages.

I suppose that morally we ought to prefer the world of Korfball and if it came to hosting a training camp or giving my blessing on my daughter’s marriage plans, there would be no contest. I might change my allegiance to Korfball tomorrow, if only it could be imbued with a little of the excitement of football. Yet this is an impossible dream: to add to korfball the elements that attract me to football would make it, well, football.

So why not try to introduce the ethos of Korf to Foot? After all, this is a nice game; the Woodcraft Folk could play it without risking too many parental complaints. Of course, that’s hardly an original idea; commentators and newspaper columnists have been involved in this project for years.

Up until now, these warriors for decent behaviour have largely restricted themselves to an internecine battle for hyperbolic supremacy, as reprehensible cuts down disgraceful, only to be crushed in its turn by despicable. I suspect that most would be happy to leave it at that, yet what if they banded together and actually began to have an effect? Would those digital revisionists be turning their attention from cleaning Bogart’s grimace of fags to leaving Cantona’s kick hanging safely in mid-air? Would a host of potential Zidanes, Bellamys and Fowlers be banned for life for sulking whilst representing a cubs’ eleven? I fear so.

Then what are we to do? Accept the kind of behaviour which spoils (BIFF!), mars (POW!!) and sullies (KERSPLATT!!!) the game? Even applaud it, perhaps? Maybe the status quo is the ideal situation: we can shake our heads over the latest example of how the game is going to the dogs and then download it on youtube to enjoy it in guilty secrecy.

The diving; the headbutts; the shirt-pulling; the outrageous celebrations; the time-wasting? In the words of Huxley’s savage, "I claim them all".

Falling ticket prices – 2-1 to the righteous? - Margin

So far in the battle of the season tickets, two clubs have announced price cuts, while one has announced price hikes.

Blackburn today joined Bolton in the moral crusade against high ticket prices led by Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper. Lined up against them are Arsenal, who have set a March deadline for season ticket renewals, price rises included.

The arguments are well rehearsed. The Premiership is beset by falling attendances, boring football, more TV coverage, and new television rights money. So the moral case for helping the poor downtrodden hard working supporter of old is seemingly clear. After all, these are not the scummy, Neanderthal, racist, hooligans that the same Sun exposed ‘The Truth’ about all those years ago.

So what could possibly have possessed the snarling, cup-final wrecking, petulant young Arsenal to rip off their fans following another trophy-less season.

Well part of the answer to that can be found in the deliberately phrased question. This is probably a trophy-less season for Arsenal, just as it is likely to be for anyone other than Chelsea, Manchester United, and maybe Tottenham if they sneak a Uefa Cup home while no one is watching.

And fundamentally, that’s not good enough for Arsenal. It isn’t good enough for their fans. It isn’t good enough for their players. It isn’t good enough for their owners. And it isn’t good enough for their manager.

It is therefore safe to assume a degree of consensus at the Emirates that things need to improve. That consensus will also be found at Stamford Bridge when Manchester United claim the title a few weeks from now. And I expect it will be found at Anfield, White Hart Lane, and Parks Goodison, Villa and St James’.

So if Arsenal feel they need to improve, how will they set about it. The only way, if we rule out gambling on a new manager, will be to buy new players while keeping their best existing players.

That costs money.

Now some might say that boosted funds from the new TV deal should provide enough money and more. But that money does not all go to Arsenal. Indeed more of it will go to Manchester United and Chelsea – the very teams that the Gunners wish to catch.

Arsenal therefore need more cash to make up that difference and overcome it. Sure shrewd buys rather than wasteful spending can make a difference. But Arsenal and Manchester United have broadly similar records on such things. Both have managed some stunning signings for reasonable or sometimes very high fees. And both have wasted fortunes on flops.

So if Arsenal want to make up the difference, more money must be found. And that can only come from the fans. Expect Spurs, Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton to arrive at the same conclusion when their season ticket renewals take place at a more dignified time… such as the end of the season.

So do Blackburn and Bolton simply not want to compete? Well no. But far from a magnanimous gesture their price cutting is about money too.

Unlike the North London or Liverpool based clubs mentioned, both cost cutting clubs are beset by falling crowds and empty seats. Higher prices would probably yield no more money for them. Just more empty seats.

However, a cut in prices should raise attendances and improve shirt, pie and programme sales. These price cuts are about milking fans too. It’s just that both clubs are blessed with grounds far too big for their support, and so look kind hearted in their business.

Pity for fans who pay high prices is misplaced. Save it for those who can’t get a ticket, and those whose clubs don’t want to compete.

Has Harmison been a bit too cocky? - LeeRoycal

Whilst watching the opening matches of the CB Series from the comfort of his favourite armchair in the family home in Ashington, Steve Harmison must have found a small part of himself feeling pleased. Not pleased that England were losing, he is far too much of a patriot and a decent bloke for that; but that the bowlers his voluntary retirement had ushered into the side were not exactly ripping up trees or more importantly stumps. I doubt he is feeling quite so content now.

Only a fool would suggest that Harmison did not retire from the limited overs game this winter without the thought that his test place was secure. He has been England's main strike bowler for the best part of 5 years and has always looked worthy of that position; until last year that is.

2006 was an awful year for Harmison, he lost his rhythm, his rudder, and finally in the 2007 Ashes came the final humiliation as the responsibility of the new ball was taken away from him. He took this on the chin as a decision for the team, but deep down it must have hurt and angered him. Ambrose, Donald, Walsh, McGrath, Vaas, Gough - great and even just good fast bowlers simply do not lose the new ball. Ever.

The latter part of the CB Series saw a massive improvement in the bowling of England's young pretenders which no doubt caused Harmison to shift in his armchair. Anderson was finally shaping the ball before injury took him out of the reckoning. Liam Plunkett drew praise from the likes of Ian Chappell, Saj Mahmood continued to show the immense promise which we all know he has, and Stuart Broad is currently bowling very well on the A tour.

The one thing all of these young bowlers have shown is a strength of character to keep plugging away and applying themselves to the basics in testing circumstances, something that Harmison has shown very little of for eighteen months. One wide ball at the beginning of a test match was all it took to turn Harmison into a frankly terrible bowler, which is not good enough at even at club level.

If England by some miracle have a good World Cup (or even an average one) and these bowlers show up well, questions may well be asked about just what Harmison brings to the team. A seam up pace bowler is only any good when they are bowling with ferocious pace and consistently into the correct areas. Should Mahmood do this in the Caribbean it will cause Harmison and indeed the selectors to shift even more uncomfortably in their respective thrones.

Harmison is 30 this year, he does not have the time to learn his art again and so needs to find form and attitude again very quickly. For his sake I hope the time spent at home this winter has been more productive than getting overs in against the best batsmen in the world. If not, come the summer he may find himself contemplating another retirement decision.

100 years of the TT - MouthoftheMersey

7.00am Midsummer’s Day 2006 – the sun is already high in the bluest of skies and I am pointing my motorcycle between the dry stone walls to my left and right. The overnight storm has lent a sheen to the tarmac, vision isn’t good and I’m struggling to keep the wheels in line. The speedo tells me I’m on the legal limit. I let loose an involuntary cheer - immediately lost in the hurtling wind blast - for the sheer craziness of this legal pleasure: the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

That rush lasted for 10 miles or so at 60mph. What must it be like to feel that for 37 miles at 125mph average speed, lap after lap, day after day, on The Island.

This year marks the centenary of the Isle of Man TT, the annual week of motorcycle racing through the streets of its small towns and over its brooding mountain, where speeds can reach 200mph. It is a week that exists in a bubble, separated geographically from mainland Britain, separated from the mainstream motorcycle championships and separated from the sanity of self-preservation.

Well over 200 riders have lost their lives at the TT and unlike other areas of motorsport, it’s not getting any safer. The open-roads course claims all-time Greats like Big Dave Jefferies, along with scores of weekend racers. 25 years on, I can still recall the shock in a race commentator’s voice as he described a rider’s fatal collision with a horse that had wandered on to the road. On-board cameras capture the seductive danger of the event, but also show how it exacts its random culling of those willing to face down the monster. gives us a rider’s eye view and that’s close enough for me!

The TT can’t attract the sport’s superstars any longer – Agostini led the charge away from the Island in the early seventies, and no MotoGP team would ever risk its investment by allowing its riders to dance with this green and grey devil. The compensation is a pleasing lack of corporatism. You can still get close to the competitors – even with 26 TT wins under his helmet, Joey Dunlop was there in the pits, a woodbine wedged under his lip, getting his hands dirty.

Soon the boats from Belfast and Liverpool will be laden with bikes as they have been every May for 100 years excepting war, and it’s a fair bet that not all of them will come back. Should the TT’s death toll be allowed to build still higher? Probably. Everyone swinging a leg over the saddle, gunning the engine and hearing it scream, stares down Bray Hill knowing what awaits, knowing that the course’s bite is so much worse than its bark, knowing that more skilled riders than them have failed to return to the pits. But they also know that as the shadow of death draws closer, they will never feel as alive again.

Want to kick the old possum skin around? - levremance

I saw Australian Rules Football described as a “Redneck” game in the hurly-burly of the Ashes cricket blogs. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is really not a white mans game at all, but an adaptation of the black mans game of Marngrook. Marngrook, meaning game ball, was observed by white settlers in western Victoria in the 1840’s who described it thus:

"The men and boys joyfully assemble when this game is to be played. One makes a ball of possum skin, somewhat elastic, but firm and strong. The players of this game do not throw the ball as a white man might do, but drop it and at the same time kicks it with his foot. The tallest men have the best chances in this game. Some of them will leap as high as five feet from the ground to catch the ball. The person who secures the ball kicks it. This continues for hours and the natives never seem to tire of the exercise."

Tom Wills, who in 1858 proposed the radical concept of “a game of our own”, spent his formative years in western Victoria. He was friends with the local indigenous kids, learnt their language and played their games. At 14, his father sent him to Rugby School for an education. However, his passion was for sport and he would go on to captain the school at Rugby and Cricket. On his return to Victoria, Wills became a champion of the colony at Cricket and Australian Rules and would later coach the Aboriginal Cricket side that toured England in 1868. These were Djabwurrung men from western Victoria too.

Wills crossed over between white and black Australia like few did at the time. When others were rounding up the indigenous population into reserves and worse, Tom Wills was teaching them a whitefella game in their own language and adapting a blackfella game which serves as his and their legacy today.

Some historians say there is no evidence to support the view that Marngrook spawned Australian Rules, and point to some written evidence that Australian Rules derived from a Rugby heritage. Wills himself referred to his Rugby football influences in the early rules committee meetings, but the rules he drew up were not Rugby’s rules. The rules Tom Wills wrote allowed for no offside rule, no throwing of the ball, and the ball could be picked up, kicked in the air and marked. All this in the name of following Rugby’s rules? Or a gentle subversion to create a game of our own.

In 2008, the rules Wills wrote will be 150 years old, but the game that is played is much older than that. The indigenous representation in the Australian Football League is around 12% as against 2% of the Australian population. Adam Goodes, a star indigenous player with the Sydney Swans, summed it up best for me when he said that he felt it was “our game”.

Istanbul or bust - Ebren

I have a problem. It's called football.

You think you have it beat - you head overseas in the middle of the run-in, to a country filled with culture, more history than the average Liverpool fan can shake a wad of dollars at, and a couple of mates.

But, like a not-forgotten lover you meet after midnight in a Stockwell sweat-pit, football finds a way to lure you back to a morning of regret.

In this case, it was less than 24-hours between me arriving in Istanbul and finding a Fenerbahce pub in Sultanahmet to watch the Yellow Canaries throw away a two-goal lead to crash out of the Uefa Cup. I don't care about the Uefa Cup.

The next day, I bother the tour guide to find out whether Istanbulspor are still in the Turkish top flight (they're not) and missed the entrance of the Dolmabahce Palace because it was opposite the Besiktas ground.

Heading to the spice market - where there are full sacks filled with saffron selling at £55 a gram wholesale - I seriously considered buying a Fenerbahce shirt for £18. I miss the saffron.

But second-rate European trophies, stadiums and shirts will only do for so long.

Fortunately, the splendid work done by Richard Scudamore over at the Premiership means that I can now sit in a bar by the Bosphorus and watch Fulham lose to a deflected goal and see Watford and Everton compete for the attention of the French couple and their overweight son on the table next to me.

But that isn't enough, even live football on the shores of Asia isn't enough any more.

The world has changed.

It used to be the case that you would watch a game every other week at home for eight months of the year, with newspaper reports, radio commentary and monthly magazines coming on later.

These days we need rolling 24-hour news to tell us every hour that the major stories haven't changed since the last bulletin, internet sites so we can talk to like-minded addicts, emails to mates, support groups run by newspapers we can disguise as work, text-message alerts, and much much more.

I end up in a bar watching Palermo-Atalanta, trying to find out if Palermo are good enough to justify their position third in Serie A while the owner tells me he supports Liverpool and refers to everyone as "my brother from another mother". I find a new bar to see the Madrid derby.

I think the nadir came when touring Hagia Sophia.

This wonder of the ancient world was built by Emperor Justinian between 532 and 537 AD. It is the world's oldest working temple, with a dome that stands 56 metres high and 36 metres across.

And all I can think is "this took less time to build than Wembley".

But it could be worse. One of the two people I travelled with flew back a day early to catch the Carling cup final.

The World's Greatest TV Channel - dogfacedboy

Bored of Wild Spirits?

Tired of Thinking Tackle?

Not sure if you can face another Super Sunday?

Can't afford to shell out an extra £15 a month for a Setanta subscription?

Then, my friend, I am afraid that if you like to watch on TV is sport you are quickly running out of options.

Sure, you can watch Six Nations on BBC and Champions League on ITV, you can even watch pre-season friendly tournaments on Five. But what do you do at 3 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon or 10am on a Thursday?

You won't find any badminton highlights on BBC at that time and we all know that Five's exciting package of foreign football doesn't air till gone midnight. Sky Sports will still be showing endless repeats of a golf tournament that ended three days ago or a Superleague game from last Saturday.

After a desultory ten minutes watching Boxing's Greatest KOs on ESPN Classic you might even consider watching World of Sport on TWC Fight!, trust me, don't go there, it's not a pretty place.

Desperately you continue flicking, Real Madrid TV is showing Maths with Beckham, 'that could be interesting' you think. Think again, it's actually worse than watching the subscription screen for MUTV.

Well that's it, only one place left to turn. The haven for the forgotten and the ignored, home of the unloved and the plain boring, champion of the underfunded and unglamorous, the one and only British Eurosport.

From handball to ski jumping via tennis and poker, Eurosport has something for everyone.

Let me tell you, if you haven't yet discovered the joys of handball then change channels now. My only wish is that I had played sport at a county level so that I too might go to the 2012 Olympics as a member of the inaugural Great Britain handball team (,,1970949,00.html).

Watching Viborg HK snatch a last minute 32-31 victory over Larvik HK in the champions' league was more exciting than any Grand Slam Sunday match that I have seen in a long while.

Eurosport also has a few standout highlights if strongman contests aren't your thing. You could have watched Andy Murray in the Australian Open, Welsh Open snooker or the Paris-Dakar rally. If you still fancy some football highlights, then why not watch the enthusiastically named GOALS GOALS GOALS for highlights of anything that Sky or Five don't have the rights too.

Don't be distracted by Lineker, Keys or Barnes, turn over from the horse racing on Channel 4 and give choice a chance.

Sure, it doesn't have many of the big events and you won't be able to watch all 51 Cricket World Cup games exclusively live, yes, even Netherlands v Scotland, but you may discover something that you have never even heard of before and trust me, you never know, you may well like it.

So close you can smell it

The latest edition of Big Blogger is out in the next few minutes/hours - and I would just like to remind anyone that didn't make the published three that they can read/post/comment on articles here.

send entries to:

I will put them up over the afternoon.



Thursday, March 1, 2007

Tahiti Nui Va'a – White guys finish last, offsideintahiti

By offsideintahiti

Over a thousand and a half years ago, in a series of navigational feats so daring they bordered on the insane, the Ma'ohi people conquered the Pacific ocean and populated its islands, travelling in outrigger canoes called Va'a.

In 1769, Captain James Cook could probably see some of these fine craft as he was setting up his astronomical observatory on Tahiti's Pointe Vénus, now a fashionable sun-bathing and surfing spot. Today is day one of the Tahiti Nui Va'a race. Over a hundred six-men outrigger canoes are preparing to do battle in a high-sea rowing race around Tahiti, in three days and as many stages. In Polynesia, Va'a racing was once the sport of warriors and kings. Today, it's definitely the king of sports and this is its main event.

Shell Va'a, an outfit whose oarsmen all officially work for the oil company but in fact spend their working hours training, are the clear favourites. They will be kept on their toes by Pirae Va'a Mobil (oil again!), and a handful of heavily sponsored teams. The rest, all complete amateurs, will battle it out for honour, knowing that the podium is but a distant dream. They come from all over the Pacific: the "nearby" Marquesas, Tuamotu, Gambier, Australes and Leeward Islands of French Polynesia, but also from as far as New Zealand and Hawaii. They have one thing in common, they are incredible athletes with muscles of bronze and outlandish tattoos, descended from a long and dignified line of seafaring peoples. They are Sun Gods in the prime of youth.

At 7 am, as the craft jostle for position on the starting line in a feast of bright colours, the sun is already murderously high. The beach at Pointe Vénus is thronged with tourists and locals. The huge fleet of back-up boats has moved out to the open sea to clear the way. When the starter raises the red flag, silence descends. Hands tighten on paddles, concentration is intense, everyone is ready - including us.

Us? Canoe no. 36, the blue one with the yellow strip, Team Arevareva. A motley crew of white guys with sporting backgrounds as varied as windsurfing, long distance running, triathlon, football, scuba diving, and recreational drugs. Two teachers, a chef, a physio, a pedal-boat rental clerk, a barman, a free-lance chancer, and a couple of less easily defined characters. All white: Popa'a is the local word for it. Literally, it means "grilled". That's what the Polynesian sun does to your skin if your ancestry hails from anywhere north of the mediterranean. But that's the beauty of this race, as long as you can raise the money and all rowers are licensed with the federation, any team can take part and mix it with the big boys on a level (though seriously undulating!) field of play. We're the small, unheard-of outfit from Moorea, we're white and we're attracting many incredulous gazes and a few wry smiles.

Soon after a furious, water-churning start, we have the ocean to ourselves as the leaders vanish and the back of the chasing pack disappears in the hazy distance. Plenty of time to work on that smooth synchronised stroke and to make friends with the nurses on the medical boat that brings up the rear of the race: that is, right behind us.

Thankfully, it's a relay. After an hour, the first changes are allowed, and are at the team's discretion for the remainder of the day. The process is fairly straightforward. The back-up boat races ahead of the canoe, the substitute crew jumps into the water, aligned in reverse order from the positions they will take on board. In the canoe, the helmsman lines them up in his sights and pulls alongside, they grip the gunwale, the rowers eject themselves overboard on the other side, up come the fresh subs, hoisting themselves effortlessly, sliding into place and slipping into the groove before the canoe even slows down, and they're off again. At least, that's what it's supposed to look like.

We look like a train pulling up at a summer resort's station: bodies all over the place, the canoe grinding to a halt, passengers clambering on (some needing several attempts) and the restart so slow that a late-comer with a couple of suitcases could still jump aboard. That is if the canoe doesn't actually completely miss the floating substitutes, leaving them to bob up and down, waiting for the boat to come around again.

The black-tipped sharks are small and shy enough. The grey sharks are more vicious but stick to very specific spots. The lemon sharks are much bigger but debonair. The tiger sharks? Well, they live way down below 300 feet and only ever come up after nightfall (according to the latest research). So we don't really linger in the cooling waters of this great ocean but hop on board rather hurriedly.

The great thing about a relay is that you can spend about half of it resting. Stretching your legs on the back-up boat, refuelling on fruit juice and cereal bars while you watch your teammates paddle along the reef, against the magnificent backdrop of Tahiti's jagged green peaks. That is, of course, if there are enough of you.

Unfortunately, a good few of our faithful partners, who have never missed one of our daily training sessions, suddenly found themselves caught up in all kinds of professional obligations on this long weekend. And so, instead of the twelve required to do a full change of personnel, there are only nine of us. After three hours of rowing in the scorching heat, I have been at it for two and a half, which is already longer than I've ever done before - and we aren't even close to being halfway there.

The thirst is constant. The sun is molten lava on your back. Your muscles seize up. The salt in your eyes blinds you. All sorts of pains pop up everywhere as you discover muscles you never knew you had. Your shoulder joints refuse to rotate properly. The irony of dehydrating in the middle of all this water hits you hard. The thought of a hammock in the cool shade by the waterfall hits you harder. A giant glass of ice-cold lager floats by in front of your eyes. You realise the salt in your eyes is actually from tears. Tears of pain, tears of exhaustion, tears of despair, tears of anger. How could you be so stupid?

You're a sensible, well-rounded individual. What on earth made you think you could do something like this? You bloody idiot, what's the point of damaging your health? What for? You certainly can't think of a reason now, can you? All you can think of is throwing yourself overboard to make it stop. The only thing that's keeping you from doing just that is knowing that you don't have long to wait for the next substitution. Do you? Well, do you? You look imploringly at the lads on the boat - and they finally call it. You throw yourself into the water with relish, not even thinking of the sharks now.

Just hoisting yourself back on the boat is a superhuman effort. Or would be, if you could manage it. They have to pull you up. You collapse on the deck, gasping like a speared fish. You can't relax, your mind won't let you. You know you have to go again soon and that thought spoils your moment of rest. As you steady yourself and get your breathing under control, the sound and smell of the diesel engine take effect. You retch. You try to drink. You retch again. Some kind person puts a cold, wet towel on the back of your neck. You pull it over your head and wish you could lose consciousness. Those nurses on the medical boat could probably sort you out. After all, we're on first name terms by now...

A tap on the shoulder. Time to go again.

Back on the canoe, the first series of strokes are pretty smooth. It's a relief to get away from that diesel engine. But the merry-go-round of pain starts all over again - only worse. You try and focus on a fixed point on land, way up ahead, which could be your landing place. You concentrate on the rhythm and the all important synchronicity. Next time you look up, that point on land has actually receded. Now you're going insane. You begin to lose your grip on the oar. You hands feel like they're made of wood. And your backside... oh sweet Lord!

When we pull into Vairao, the officials' tent is being dismantled. The winners have had their shower, their lunch, and are probably enjoying a massage before drifting off to sleep. Their time: 6 hours and 15 minutes. Our time? Over 8 hours and 30 minutes. We still attract smiles, but no sniggering. They've all been through exactly the same thing. "C'est bien, les popa'a," and a pat on the back. Not condescending either, just recognition. Nearly worth it, too.

That was the first day. There were two more to go. More of the same, except the ocean decided it would be more fun with a ten-foot swell. Predictably, Shell Va'a won all three stages and the race. Did we finish last? Well, only if you don't count the three teams that gave up and the two that lost their canoe to the battering of the waves...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Human Manager under stress vs Machine - miro

Chris Coleman admits he’s beginning to feel the strain of being a Premiership manager and that the job is affecting his health: “It is all stress, nerves and anxiety. It is the same for every manager. I’ve been speaking with Sammy Allardyce and David Moyes and they all say their blood pressure is up and they’ve all been suffering from lack of sleep.”

Football management is, without any doubt, a tremendously stressful occupation. The manager has to cope with constant demands from above and below – starting with the board of directors, the obscenely wealthy but mysterious new club owner who’s just landed from the Middle East, the Arctic, Florida or Siberia; not to forget his not too often incredibly loyal playing and coaching staff. If he somehow survives, there are the media around a corner, telling him on Friday he’s the best man in the business, but writing on Sunday that he’s a dreadfully crap tactician and an equally bad psychologist.

This is how we come to psychology, or to be more specific, to psychotherapy.

Some experts would suggest to the top managers a “keep it simple” technique: identify and write down the problem and then look at ways of coping with it. If you get stressed over the idea of going upstairs to have a drink with the board, keep a diary, writing down which of the new club kit designs you prefer or which incidents make you agitated. One psychologist gave Gerard Houllier some straight advice: ”If you feel palpitations during a game, breathe deeply and take some practical exercises…”. We all know what happened then: Gerard recovered after 11 hours of open heart surgery but left Liverpool and the Premiership for good, supposedly on the advice of his psychologist.

This is the age of the internet. For those managers who are reluctant or have no time to spend talking about their problems with mental health professionals, there are alternative methods of conducting psychotherapy in cyberspace: counselling via e-mail or through real time-chat. Here are a few examples of a reasonable exchange, looking like a therapy session, with an interactive psychotherapy program known as Eliza.

Eliza: Hello, I am Eliza. Please tell me your problem.

Mourinho: I’m having trouble at work. Everything is going wrong.

E: You seem quite positive.

M: I might lose my job. I have to do better.

E: Why do you need to tell me that you might lose your job?

M: It’s important for me to do well but I have doubts about myself.

E: I’m not sure I understand you fully. Is your having doubts about yourself why you came to me?

M: I have to do well. I don’t want to disappoint our supporters, directors, my club owner, my wife and children.

E: Can you elaborate on that?

M: I know the club owner and my wife will be angry if I fail.

E: Do you think it likely you will fail?

M: I already lost two games in a row.

E: Is that so bad?

M: I definitely tried as hard as I could.

E: That’s quite interesting.

M: So I don’t know why I failed.

E: Don’t you really know why you failed.

M: You sound like my father.

E: Tell me about your family.

M: My parents always expected too much of me. It made me angry.

E: Your parents expected too much of you?

M: They wanted me to be an engineer or a doctor.

E: That’s interesting.

M: Do you think it was right for them to expect so much?

E: We are discussing you, not me.

Not ideal but not too bad too for a computerised therapist. A dash of confrontation, a few good reflections and even some genetic work could well help the manager under stress to feel a bit better, more relaxed and positive. At least, he spoke with somebody prepared to listen without asking unnecessary or stupid questions.

But Eliza often screws up. This is why some researches didn’t intend it as serious psychotherapy, but rather as an experiment in artificial intelligence. Here’s an example of how wrong Eliza and the top division football manager can go:

Eliza: How do you do. Tell me your problem.

Mourinho: I am failing in my season project.

E: Your season project. That’s interesting.

M: Are you going to help me?

E: Why you are interested in whether I am going to help you or not?

M: Why else would I be talking to you?

E: Why do you ask?

M: Why do you always answer my question with a question?

E: Why do you always say your question with a question?

M: You are not making any sense.

E: Is that the real reason?

M: Because you’re just a dumb computer.

E: Do computers worry you?

M: I hate computers. And I think I hate you.

E: Why do you mention computers?

M: I’m leaving. I can’t stand any more.

E: Is it because you’re leaving that you came to me?

M: You really are a stupid shit!

E: My, my, such language!

M: Goodbye!

E: Does that have anything to do with the fact that your season project failed?

M: Before I go, I’m pulling your plug!

E: Why do you need to tell me before you go you’re pulling my plug!

Why did this therapy session go wrong? Many were quick to point out Eliza’s deficiencies as a clinician. Others thought that the managers were attempting a serious conversation with Eliza, but felt frustrated and misunderstood because of her ineptitude. She simply did not appear warm and empathetic. The manager wanted more concrete advice from Eliza, but experienced “her” as confused, unemotional and non-directive. He tended to think of Eliza as a “female” (because of the program’s name), more humanlike and sympathetic, but found it as “just a computer”.

The manager under stress could hardly have been feeling better after this sort of therapy session, but imagine if Eliza had a personality like a human, with some users’ introductions held in memory and edited into “her” answers:

Eliza: I’m not sure about anything today. I lost all the important matches this season and I’m losing control of things.

Mourinho: Tell me more.

E: One of my patients committed suicide. Another stripped in front of me. Another is crazier than a loon. And to top it all off, my wife left me for the cyber-love rat club chairman.

Lack of charisma has been Hernan Crespo’s main handicap - Pipita

Hernan Crespo has sustained high level performances and ratio of goals at the six top level clubs he has played for in Argentina, Italy and England. Furthermore, having recently turned 31, last year alone Crespo obtained a championship medal at Chelsea, a silver boot award at the last World Cup, and also became one of the new signings of current Serie A leaders Internazionale. He is the Argentine national team’s third all-time top scorer behind Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Maradona, yet, in spite of his achievements and acceptable levels of world-wide recognition, he is not precisely revered as an “idol” either in his home country or abroad.

I witnessed Crespo’s first division debut for River Plate in late 1993. He came on as a sub for the last twenty minutes of an emphatic 4-1 win against Newels Old Boys. This scoreline was already sealed by the time he was on the pitch, but a couple of surging runs towards the penalty area by this eighteen year old striker were enough to attract the attention of the River fans present that day. This particular match had in fact been awaited with high expectation, not only because River where the then current argentine league leaders, but primarily because Maradona had been recently signed by Newels and was supposedly going to feature in this game. In the event he was ruled out because of injury, and Crespo’s emergence into professional football is probably what is now most remembered about that match.

Crespo rapidly became one of coach Daniel Passarella’s favorites alongside other youth players also promoted to the River Plate first team by the former Argentine World Cup captain, such as Ariel Ortega, Matías Almeyda and Marcelo Gallardo. Crespo spent three very successful years at the club, and crowned his career there when he scored the two decisive goals by which River beat America de Cali in the Libertadores cup final of 1996. This was to be his last match for River, which I also had the honor to attend, as he was immediately sold to Parma at the age of twenty for the now laughable sum of 4 million dollars.

His legacy as one of the club’s historic icons, can nowadays occasionally be witnessed amongst River fans sporting shirts, with his name inscribed at the back, of any of the European teams he starred for. However, it is revealing that in spite of having played such a vital role in River’s last significant international success, his successor as number nine, the Chilean Marcelo Salas and, later on, Javier Saviola, have both enjoyed superior levels of idolatry than Crespo at that club.

Four seasons at Parma were enough to transform Crespo in the club’s highest ever Serie A goalscorer. Sold to Lazio in 2000-2001, he immediately repaid the astronomic sum paid by the then reigning Italian champions by becoming capocannoniere with 26 goals in his first season. His first spells at Inter and Chelsea were partially marred by persistent injuries, however this did not necessarily imply a significant decline in his goal ratio. Although he did not manage to win any titles during his loan spell at Milan in 2004-2005, he proved an ideal complement to Andrej Shevchenko in attack, and of course scored two goals against Liverpool in the bizarre Champions League final in Istanbul, becoming in this way the first ever player to score in both Libertadores and Champions League cup finals. On his return to Chelsea last season, he obtained his first championship medal since arriving to Europe, and this season he seems destined to achieve his first Serie A championship medal in his second spell at Inter.

His career with the Argentine national team has been one of mixed emotions. In spite of boasting a ratio of one goal every two matches, he will most likely be remembered as the striker who was permanently in the shadow of Batistuta. He also competed, and lost, with “Bati” for the distinction of “best looking player” in the polls that appeared in female teenage magazines whenever Argentina was competing in a World Cup. However, when it comes to nicknames he is simply referred to as “Crespito” or “Valdanito” compared with Batistuta’s more striking labeling of “Lion King” or “Batigol”.

Crespo’s apparent lack of charisma does not necessarily obey to lack of personality. He is neither shy nor soft-spoken, on the contrary, he usually comes across as very articulate and always keen to express his opinions. The question of his lack of charisma seems to lie elsewhere. Maybe his career has not been controversial enough: he has never been sent off in almost fourteen years, and is not known to have had the slightest of rifts with coaches, team mates or adversaries either on or of the pitch. He is not known to have had confrontations with the press either, and details of his private life barely transcend in the media. These factors, more than any other, probably explain why Crespo has not reached the category of "idol" yet.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Don't cry for me Argentina - dogfacedboy

“I am glad that Goran Gavrančić is the part of national team, because I think it is the most significant part in the history of every football player in the world.”

Going into last year’s World Cup Goran Gavrančić was looking forward to a bright future. His Serbia & Montenegro team had leaked just one goal in ten qualifying games, going 649 minutes without conceding at one stage, and he had already been linked to AC Milan and Arsenal.

This defence went down in legend as the "famous four", but one infamous night in Gelsenkirchen saw his reputation shattered.

And Gavrančić has particular reason to cry, as he has been left behind as the rest of the watertight defence goes on to greater things. Nemanja Vidić tops the Premiership with Manchester United, Mladen Krstajić tops the Bundesliga with Schalke 04, and Ivica Dragutinović at Sevilla is tied on points with Barcelona at the top of La Liga.

But it all looked so different in June, when the man with the greatest footballer website ever ( arrived in Germany.

After being passed over by the major Belgrade clubs, Red Star and Partizan, it was legendary Ukrainian manager Valeriy Lobanovski who first recognised Gavrančić's potential and brought him to Dynamo Kyiv in 2002. He was voted the best defender in Ukraine the following year.

The move to Kyiv also led to his first international cap - against Mexico in 2002 - and by the time 2006 came round he was one of the cornerstones of the "famous four".

This group, coupled with the in-the-box prowess of Nikola Žigić and Mateja Kežman, relegated Spain to the play offs in qualifying and Gavrančić was looking forward to playing for a major western European team like the rest of his defensive teammates. For a man who confessed that “At this time, my only hobby is collecting jerseys from my opponents” the opportunity to increase his collection in the Premiership or Serie A must have been a dream.

Problems started before the team even reached their training base when Nemanja Vidić was injured and had to pull out of the squad. A loss of form also meant Ivica Dragutinović had been relegated to the bench.

Drawn in the group of death, Serbia & Montenegro’s first match was against the Netherlands and whilst losing one nil to an Arjen Robben goal was no disgrace it was in no way the start that the team had been hoping for.

All the pressure now went on the Argentina result, with a loss meaning Serbia & Montenegro would be out of the World Cup.

I think we all know what happened next, a six-goal demolition meant Serbia & Montenegro were going home and a 3-2 defeat to the Ivory Coast meant they returned without a point to their name.

But while Argentina’s 6-0 victory highlighted the limitations in Serbia & Montenegro's defence - it was not as abject as the scoreline suggests.

That night Argentina gave the best performance of any team at the World Cup and almost every chance they had went in, they only had nine shots on target in the whole match.

Additionally, three of their goals came after Mateja Kežman had been sent off and while Argentina had more possession (58%-42%) Serbia & Montenegro won more corners, 4-3.

Going into the World Cup Gavrančić was at the top of his game. 27 goals in 190 games for Kyiv had given him a reputation as a dangerous set piece attacker which coupled with his defensive qualities had seen him frequently linked to a move to one of Europe’s leading clubs.

However, in this fickle game that is football all it took was one poor performance where the rest of his team didn’t pick up the slack for this player to merely go back to dreaming about winning a major European league as the rest of the “famous four” may do this year.

His stock has even fallen so low, that in January this year, Glen Roeder announced: "I have been told by people I respect, and who know what they are talking about, that he is no better than the defenders we already have at St James' Park."

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