Thursday, December 13, 2007

England FC - Ebren

It was at my first 4-hour blog training course (don't ask, just don't) that we were told that one of the secrets of successful blogging was to "post little and post often".

So - here we go - my thoughts on the assumed imminent arrival of Fabio Capello to train England's national football team.

Now most angles have been covered already by people with more time for research and more readers than I have, so I've looked for a new perspective.

Firstly, we've always wanted England to play more like a club side - so a Foreign Coach is a good first step. Secondly, if he gets one of those natty tracksuit tops with his initials on it we will have England FC on it. So looking good already.

On the language barrier - I don't think Zola would be much cop as a translator.

He'd be fine explaining what Fabio wants done to the players and at press conferences, but how on earth could he hope to explain to the new manager about the English players' drinking, gambling, nightclubbing, filming themselves, fighting and autobiography addictions?

No, what we need is someone with these experiences that can also speak Italian.

Has anyone seen Gazza recently?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

NFL Week 14 - the Velvet Bear

Who is the greatest quarterback of all time? It’s a question all fans of this game like to pose from time to time. This season, it has been even more to the front of fans’ minds, as they have revelled in the sight of three of the best ever – Favre, Brady and Manning P – battle it out. Are any of these the best ever? It is almost impossible to say.

One of the ways you can look at this is by looking at the NFL Hall of Fame, the very real institution (you get given a special ring and everything) to which between four and seven former players or officials are elected every year. To be eligible, a nominee must have been retired from the game for five years. This allows for a period of reflection upon a nominee’s career and, as the voting is done by journalists, not players, also means that most feuds that have evolved over the nominee’s career have been settled or forgotten.

It is not an easy task to get into the Hall of Fame. Only seventeen people out of the thousands who have ever played, coached or whatever in the NFL are nominated each year. Less than half of those are elected. There are currently 30 quarterbacks in there, so it is fair to assume that the best must be in there, somewhere. But how do you compare, say ‘Paddy’ Driscoll and Benny Friedman, who played in the 1920s, with Bobby Layne from the immediate post-war years, Johnny Unitas, the first of the post-merger star QBs, or someone like Dan Marino?

In an effort to bring about some sort of comparison, in 1973 the NFL introduced the ‘passer rating’ scheme. This aims to introduce a measure of the efficiency of a quarterback’s game, comparing the number of passes which they throw and the number which are caught with the strength of the teams they are playing against. It is comparable to the Duckworth-Lewis system in cricket only, frankly, even more incomprehensible.

Using this system, the best quarterback ever was the 49ers’ Steve Young, with Manning second. However, to be rated fully, you have to have thrown over 1,500 passes in your career. Which means playing for at least four seasons and therefore rules out a number of younger players like Tony Romo from the comparison. However, if you scale it down and look at ratings over the first 1,000 passes, you get a very interesting statistic. Not only does Marino leap from mid-table to first, but lying in second place is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ current triggerman, Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger has had an odd start to his career. First season was spent finding his way, as is the case with all new quarterbacks. Second season he led his team to – and won – the Superbowl. Third season, awful. A motorcycle accident in the off-season almost killed him (especially as he wasn’t wearing a helmet) and destroyed his confidence. This year, the Steelers have quietly slid up on the rails to become the ‘other’ team who could threaten the Patriots, mostly due to Roethlisberger’s fearless and determined driving of his team.

All of which made Sunday’s matchup between the Steelers and the Pats all the more interesting. Could Pittsburgh end New England’s winning run? Steelers’ safety Anthony Smith certainly thought so – and went so far as to guarantee it. Which was like a red rag to New England, who promptly trampled all over the Steelers on their way to a 34-13 win, with Smith coming in for a particularly harsh shoeing. In fact, he was left to eat a large slice of humble pie as Brady first deceived him into letting Randy Moss run free, resulting in a 63 yard touchdown, then did him again with an outrageous play which saw him swap passes with Moss before throwing more than 80 yards right over Smith’s head for a Jabar Gaffney touchdown.

It is very hard to see who can stop the Patriots from going unbeaten now. Their next two games are against the Dolphins and the Jets and their final match is against the Giants, who will probably rest key players as they will have a playoff game the following weekend, whereas the Pats have a bye that week. And given that the first two teams both seem to think that defence is what you use to surround degarden (sorry), what price Brady beating Mannings record of touchdown passes in a season (he needs five more) or Moss beating the record for touchdown catches by one receiver (he’s currently second with 19)?

- The Cowboys reaffirmed their position as the only true rivals to the Pats with a last gasp 28-27 win over the Lions, coming from behind by scoring 14 unanswered points in the last 15 minutes. Remember I said the other week that whenever Romo was in trouble, he looked for tight end Jason Witten? Seems that no-one in Detroit reads this column, as Witten not only racked up a record-equalling 15 catches in the game, but caught the winning touchdown pass;
- Brett Favre’s playing streak continues. Despite shoulder and elbow injuries, the old man played on as the Packers romped to an easy 38-7 win over the Oakland Raiders, for whom JaMarcus Russell was not even on the bench;
- The Colts quietly and efficiently moved to an 11-2 record with a 44-20 win over the Ravens;
- The Seahawks clinched their division with a 42-21 drubbing of the Cardinals, which featured three interceptions
- The Dolphins lost again. No surprise there. I feel sorry for rookie quarterback John Beck, who was pulled from the game after throwing an interception touchdown. I’m not sure what future you have in the NFL if you are too bad for the load of garbage that is the 2007 ‘Fins;
- The Vikings continue their unexpected run of form. A 27-7 win over the 49ers means they are probably just one win from a playoff place;
- At the other extreme, Chicago’s downward spiral continues as they managed to lose to the Redskins, despite them being forced to play a quarterback who hadn’t had even half a game since 1996;
- The Chargers came from behind to beat the Titans 23-17 in what was a bizarre game for them. Philip Rivers played like a dog for all but 30 seconds of the game and was very publicly cold-shouldered by star running back LaDanian Tomlinson;
- All of which means we now know 5 of the 12 teams going to the playoffs – the Packers, Colts, Cowboys, Seahawks and Patriots. The Chargers and Buccaneers will join them if they win on Sunday, as should the Vikings and Giants;
- And finally, Michael Vick got 23 months in jail. Which is either too much or too little, depending upon your perspective.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Premcorrespondent, the kepab and the neighbours

Ha! thought l'd forgotten didn't you.

No - not I. Instead your faithful scribe spent the weekend avidly glued to the porcelain throne after an ill advised trip to the local kepab (sic) palace at something o'clock on Friday left me abed and requiring the tender ministrations of Mrs Correspondent all weekend.

But fear ye not, although I was unable to take my customary place in the press boxes of the Premier League, no stone has been left unturned in my quest to find a stand in.

And my search bore fruit, because, as I raised my head from another dry heave in the direction of the U-bend - I found the following scrawled on the torn-out pages of a year-9 textbook that had been thrust under the lavatory door.

Yes! Lovingly transcribed from Match of the Day in exchange for "gi'za" fags (I assume that is a number lower than 20) and a can of Belgian's finest is next-door's teen daughter's account of the goings on in the league.

Forgive me, for I must now bid thee adieu - I have somewhat rushed my recovery and a move from the safety of dry toast and plain water in the direction of a cheese sarni has initiated a chain of events that are rather pressing.

Wot append in the futty
bi [illegible]

Cordin to the big eerd wun - this wuz the big noos this weekend. Cos, y see, theese to red teams got beet.

Wun got beet right at the start ov the games, that's Livapule - my mate Darren likes them, funni coz iz sisters mates saz he fancies Colette and she ates Livapule because this wun time she saw someone in a livapule shirt and he was well gros, and he totally fancied her, but she was like - whatever. Even tho he had a car and stuff.

Right, but, livapule got beet right. Which ain't normal, specialy as it was this shit team - Redin - wot beet them.

And this other team got beet too. Asnorl. Right, see them lot lost n all. They got beet but, it was like confisin, coz on the telly the team in red - which I rekond was Asnorl right, they scored twice. But they was full of mingers. So they weren't Asnorl right, they was anova teem in red. Called Buruh or summin. From Newcasle. Coz Arsnorl has fit players like Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg and Cesc Fabregas (god hes fit - I definately wud), but nun of them woz playin so I rekon thats why they lost. But they was still way fitter than the other teem.

But Chels wun - which is cule, coz there ace. They beet sum utha teem from Newcasle who play in red and white with that sexy irish one wot my bro saz used to pla for Man U whuse in charge. He's well fit. Since Joses gone, he's like the fittest bloke not playing (not as fit as Cesc, but like pretty fit for an old guy. Chelle reckons hes fitter than Cesc, but I meen, wots that about - hes well old - and like has she seen Cesc in that new nike ad - he's like fit AS).

An its ace Chels wun, cos now with the red teems losin, they is well close to winnin the leeg again. Like they used to in the old days. But Man U wun and that meens there still up on Chels, but not for long, coz Chels is the best. But this week Man U beet Darby, natch, coz whose herd of derby.

And even tho thats all the teams mi mates no, there woz loads of utha stuff on. And - coz I'm like respectabel like and did the deel fare and skware - I like rote stuf down bout them games to.

Rite, B'burn lost to West Ham but it woz a well shit game. With like wun goal and thats it. Wigan lost to Bolton - wich iz a bit of a joke, right, coz there both losers, gettit?

Spurs, who my mate Jef reckons are gud so must be shit, they beet Man City and Newcasle (the ones in black and wite) beet Birminninlhnim or summit 2-1.

And like, even tho there woz loads of games already there woz like still more.

And they woz well weerd names - like Action Villa and Evertun. But yeah, they woz in different games, rite, so the Action teem lost to Portsmuth 3 -1 and the Evertun wun 3 to nufink at Fulam.

Wot all that meen is the gud teems (Well Fit Asnorl, Man U, super-Chels and Liverpule) theys at the top (duh), even though like two were like losers, and the shit teems (Wigan Darby and that lot wiv the fit irish wun that lost to my Chels) there at the bottom. And theres loads of utha teems in the middle, rite, but like whatever.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The greatest - Ebren

I meant to write this a month or so back, a year ago in fact. It's an ode to a single word, a symphony in ten letters.


Sport has true greats, colossae, but almost none can say this.

Arsenal 2003/4 managed it - Man U 99 won the treble, Chelsea 04/05 got more points, but Arsenal are remembered as invincibles.

Sugar-Ray Robinson was the man for who the "pound-for-pound" title was created - but it was Rocky Marciano who retired with a zero in the loss column.

And last night two such men collided, but the true great wasn't in the ring.

Mayweather is a study in classical boxing and dancing feet, deceptive power and determined defence. Hatton is warrior with astonishing power, energy and will.

But the true great was in the audience.

Joe Calzaghe has fought 44 professional fights and lost none of them. He has stopped his opponents inside the distance 32 times.

He is the first undisputed super-middleweight champion of the world, has held his WBO title for more than a decade and successfully defended his world title more than 20 times.

No one can say that. No one on the planet has held a world title that long. Only two men in the history of boxing have successfully defended their title more times - Joe Louis and the less well-known Dariusz Michalczewski.

To put this in perspective, Calzaghe won the WBO super-middleweight in 1997 - defeating Chris Eubank (himself undefeated at middleweight, winner of world titles at two weights and considered one of the greatest British boxers of the last 30 years). In 2005 Calzaghe - who despite holding a world title for eight years was still considered untested - came up against Jeff Lacey.

Lacey has rather dropped from the scene recently, but at the time he was mentioned in the same breath as Mike Tyson. He was undefeated, a world champion, and the pundits were predicting a drubbing for this no-name Brit. Calzaghe won every round, landing more than 1,000 punches in the process. It remains to be Lacey's only defeat.

After eight years of Being disrespected by the boxing community, Calzaghe's victory was so complete that he struggled to find an opponent in the wake of it.

But he did. And there was that pesky matter of the other word boxers love to have attached to their names - undisputed.

On November 4th this year Joe Calzaghe comprehensively defeated Mikkel Kessler to become the first undisputed supermiddleweight champion of the world.

Undefeated, undisputed, a world champion for more than a decade. And as I type this Sports Personality of the year.

If Floyd Mayweather really wants to be considered the best boxer, he should do what Hatton did - step up a weight class and test himself against another undefeated world champion. But he won't - because then there would be no doubt.

Joe Calzaghe is the greatest boxer currently fighting, and anyone who wants to disagree with me can step into the ring with him and lose.

Tweet it, digg it