Monday, September 29, 2008

Profiles of the Great and Good: Robin Friday, the Greatest Player You Never Saw

Robin Friday's career lasted only four years. He never played for England and he never played in the top tier of English football. But for those who saw him play he was the greatest player ever to walk the Earth. Unfortunately he also had a wild side that even made even George Best look tame...

Robin Friday was born in London in 1952. He spent most of his chaotic young life in and out of borstal homes. But it was his god given talent that would eventually make him stand out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Profiles of the Great and Good: Francis Benali

Every team has a "water carrier". The phrase was made famous when Eric Cantona described French team mate Didier Deschamps. A water carrier, for those who don't know, is the player who does the insignificant—but extremely important—things on the pitch.

He makes little tackles, takes the easy pass, covers for others when they go forward. To the general public he doesn't do a lot. To the manager he's priceless. Every team needs a water carrier.

Francis Benali was almost certainly one of the least gifted players ever to play top level football in England. He made his debut for Southampton in 1988 and went on to play 389 times for the Saints over 16 years.

Juande or Another Tottenham Hotspur Will Get it Right...Maybe

Tottenham Hotspur have had their worst start to a league campaign in 34 years. They sit at the bottom of the table. And the only domestic match that Spurs have won this season was against a dismal Newcastle in the Carling Cup on Wednesday.

Surprisingly, the only club in a worse off state than Spurs are Newcastle. And over the last 10 years the clubs have a remarkably similar record...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can Rafael Benitez Lead Liverpool To This Seasons EPL Title?

Liverpool beat Everton 2-0 to give them 14pts from six games and their best ever start to a Premier League season. But does this good run make Liverpool serious contenders for Manchester United's crown?
We wrote this version when Jol was manager, but it's still apt...

Kevin Nash Signs a New Deal at TNA

Kevin Nash, who had been telling anyone who would listen that he was going to WWE for one last hurrah, has reportedly signed a new deal keeping him at TNA for the next few years...

Stephane Mbia Issues a Come and Get Me and Other Quotes From EPL Week 5

We've all read come and get me pleas at one stage or another. But Rennes midfielder Stephane Mbia takes the biscuit.

"I want Everton- It's my dream. Everton want me, and Arsenal do too, so I'm waiting. I want to play for Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. Chelsea is my favourite. If Manchester, Everton or Arsenal come for me I will go. It's all very very good. Manchester is my dream: I'd like to join them. And I like Everton. So I'm waiting."

No Spurs?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Some Of The Best Sports Books Ever Written

Well September is almost over. And if where you live is anything like where I live, then Christmas ad's on radio and tv have started already. Actually the first ad I heard for Christmas was back in July so I guess the Christmas market never really goes, or is that just my little corner of the world.

Anyway, here's a list of books that I've read over the last few years and one or two that were recommended to me, Cricket isn't my favorite sport but it's highly recommended by Sanjeev if you're interested.

I'd recommend any of these books to fans of any sport. Some let you inside the game, some let you inside the mind of a professional athlete and basically they're just good reads.

Hope you enjoy them.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

TNA's Biggest Enemy Is Themselves

I've watched TNA for some time now. Alot of what it does is great, no doubt about it. The six-sided ring was a novelty when I first saw it. Now I really like it. It's quite conducive for fast high flying matches and The X-Division has been a revelation.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Ryder Cup: Fairways, Fans and Greens Oh My! Why This Should Be USA's Year

The Ryder Cup is upon us once more. Over the last decade the competition has really captured the public imagination, and is now firmly entrenched as one of the greatest team competitions in the world.

What makes the Ryder Cup so special?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blind Paralympian Wins 100m & 200m Double, In Soccer Malone Stays Expelled...

Jason Smyth pulled of a remarkable double at the Paralympic Games in Beijing today. After winning gold in the 100m, Smyth completed his double by winning the 200m in a new world record time of 21.43 seconds.

Smyth from Co. Derry in Ireland emulated his Usain Bolt in not only winning the double but also in the way he dominated the field in both events.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

You Got Robinho, Pool Beat Man Utd and Other Stories From Matchday 4 of the EPL

Matchday 4 of the 2008/09 EPL season produced a great stories up and down the league this weekend. From Chelsea trumping City in Manchester to Liverpool getting one over Manchester United at Anfield.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Match Of The Day: Liverpool Vs Man Utd and Spirit Of Shankly Vs Gillett & Hicks

Before Liverpool take on Manchester United at 12.30 tomorrow a battle will take place at the famed Shankly Gates.

The Spirit of Shankly (SOS) are staging a protest against American owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks. The American's inability to raise cash for a new stadium and with Manchester City taken over by Sheikh Mansour recently, the fans wish to vent their frustrations at DIC (Dubai International Corporation) not being allowed to buy the club.

Irish Paralympian Told He's Not Disabled Enough for Paralympic Games

Derek Malone spoke last night of his "bitter disappointment" after being told he would not be allowed to compete at the Beijing Paralympic Games because he was not sufficiently disabled to compete.

WWE: A Star is Bourne?

For WWE wrestling fans, something great happened on Monday night's RAW. It wasn't seeing Chris Jericho as champion, nor was it Batista's two-on-one confrontation with JBL and Jericho. And it wasn't the beginning of a "Young Guns" style stable for Orton, Dibiase, and Rhodes.

No, look away and you would have missed it. If you didn't pay attention, and it would have seemed like a nothing bout, but last Monday night marked the debut of Evan Bourne on RAW.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The All-Ireland Hurling Final, The Most Important Fixture in the World This Week

In Croke Park tomorrow, Kilkenny will take on Waterford, in what is perhaps the most important sporting fixture in the world.

For those who don't know what hurling is, and let's face it, that's just about everybody who's not Irish, hurling is the fastest field sport in the world. It's faster than soccer, faster than rugby, and even faster than ice hockey...

Ireland vs. Georgia : Game Preview For Trappatoni's Debut

After seven months and three friendlies the Giovanni Trappatoni regime finally get to savour a competitive match.

Ireland take on Georgia tonight in FSV Mainz's stadium in Germany tonight. The match originally due to take place in Georgia was moved after the Football Association of Ireland and FIFA had reservations about the Ireland side travelling to the war torn region.

Fabio Capello Won't Succeed Until the English Footballing Culture Changes

Fabio Capello's England team began their World Cup Qualifying campaign against Andorra with a 2-0 victory, and will then take on Croatia in Zagreb on Wednesday night in what already looks like being a crucial match.

But Capello faces a difficult task to bring this team to the World Cup. At the moment there is a split between the England manager and the club managers, a split between the fans and the players, and with some players still questioning the manager's methods this qualifying campaign is already set up to be a hard one—and a ball hasn't been kicked yet...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Kevin Keegan Resigns: A Brief History To Understand Why He Left

The transfer deadline closed last night at midnight, with possibly Newcastle's chances of ever reaching the top four closing too.

The big losers in the amazing sale of Manchester City weren't Liverpool or even Chelsea. No, the big losers were Spurs, Aston Villa, Everton, and Newcastle.

How the managers, chairmen, and supporters of these clubs feel after the revelation that now City are a power to be reckoned with will only be seen in the next few weeks, as the slow realisation dawns on them that not only are the top four positions out of reach, but now the fifth position is gone too.

Kevin Keegan awoke this morning...
, looked at himself in the mirror, the hair that was once his famous trademark now gray with age. He saw the pronounced lines of age on his face where laughter lines should be, and realised that the club he loves so much had not only taken a step back in their transfers over the summer, but now the land that he dreamed he'd bring to the Geordie hoards was just that, a dream.

Kevin Keegan, once the most optimistic man in football, had been broken, again. But to fully understand why he resigned, we must first understand the man.

Keegan's first professional club was Scunthorpe, he signed his first professional deal at 15 but was quickly dismissed as being too small to play professionally. This only served to make Keegan train even harder, putting in double sessions every day and then training by himself at home.

Keegan eventually broke into the first team at 17 and went on to play over 124 games across three seasons in the old Division 4.

What was remarkable about this feat was Keegan's young age in such a tough league. In English football during the late 60's prisoners weren't taken on the pitch, especially in the lower leagues. The fact that Keegan played 124 times at such a young age in such a tough league marked him out as a player to take notice of.

In 1971 Bill Shankley did just that. Shankley had been monitoring Keegan for some time and, impressed by his work rate and superior fitness, he brought Keegan to Liverpool for a fee of £35,000 (this wouldn't happen today, div 4 to div 1).

Shankley immersed Keegan in all that was Liverpool during his first summer there. Training was done right, eating meals was done right—nothing was left to chance.

So impressed with his new signing from Division 4 was Shankly that he put him straight into the opening game of the new Division 1 season against Nottingham Forest. Keegan duly responded, returning the favour by scoring after 12 minutes of his debut.

Kevin Keegan had reached Division 1 at the age of 20. He had been rejected twice as a teen, and had worked harder, and trained harder than anyone else to achieve his dream.

But instead of being satisfied with Liverpool and playing in Division 1, now Keegan wanted to win the league and to play for England. To achieve this he knew he would have to be fitter, faster, and stronger than his rivals, so Keegan again took extra training to try to fulfill his new dream.

The extra work and playing regularly for Liverpool soon payed off, as Keegan made his debut for England U-23s in the old Home Nation Tournament.

Over the next six trophy-laden seasons at Liverpool, Keegan established himself as not only Liverpool's most important player, but quite possibly England's as well. During this golden period for Keegan he won the league three times, the FA Cup once, the UEFA Cup twice and the European Cup once.

In the 1976-77 season Liverpool won the league, Charity Shield, European Cup and it was only Manchester United's victory against them in the FA Cup final that stopped the team from winning the first treble in English Football.

Keegan was pivotal for club and country throughout. And at this stage of his career, ten years after starting his apprenticeship with Scunthorpe in Division 4, Keegan was perhaps the best if not most important player in Britain.

Then, after scoring 100 goals in 323 games, Kevin Keegan shook English football to its foundations by signing for German side Hamburg. He had achieved everything English club football had to offer. He dined at the table of greats and decided that what he had achieved wasn't enough.

In choosing Hamburg, Keegan turned down Spanish and Italian sides. He wanted to win trophies in Europe but he wanted to do it the hard way.

Initially Keegan failed to settle in Hamburg, his grasp of the language was poor and many felt he was a big name player taking it easy and earning huge wages. Hamburg were beaten by Liverpool in the European Super Cup—with Keegan's replacement Kenny Dalglish showing that Keegan wasn't missed.

Keegan's frustration's in Germany began to get the better of him, and he was sent off against Lubeck for punching a player. This, ironically, was perhaps the message he needed because after this lowest period in his career he began to knuckle down and although Hamburg finished 10th, Keegan went on to score 12 goals and win the European Footballer of the Year.

The following season, Hamburg won the Bundesliga with a settled Keegan instrumental throughout the season, he also won the European Footballer of the year award for the second time. The following season, Keegan's last at Hamburg, they were beaten by Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in the final of the European Cup.

At the age of 29, Keegan announced he was leaving Hamburg, and sides around Europe courted the English star. But instead of choosing to see out his playing days in the sun, Keegan sent shockwaves through the football world by signing for Southampton.

This period at Southampton was perhaps what shaped Keegan's managerial style and football philosophy. The hardest working player in England was now part of the most flamboyant side in Britain.

The names just roll off the tongue, even now: Mick Channon, Alan Ball, Phil Boyer, and the majestic Charlie George entertained their way to title contenders.

The following season, a happy Keegan had gelled with his team mates and they were challenging for the title right up until March. But a poor run of form, resulting in only two wins in their last ten games, saw Southampton fall away.

This pattern was to be repeated at Newcastle, some 20 years later.

The 1982 season finished badly for Keegan. Carrying injuries and playing through the pain barrier began to take its toll physically, as England and Keegan wilted at Espana 82.

Mentally, Keegan was pre-occupied with next season and whether Southampton would make some defensive signings to strengthen the side. This would eventually lead to a massive split between Keegan and the manager, which ultimately resulted in Keegan leaving to join Newcastle Utd.

The Newcastle fans took to Keegan immediately, and considered it an honour that one of the greats of English football would choose them to finish his career with. Keegan helped Newcastle gain promotion to Division 1 in a side that played their way to victory.

Veterans Keegan and Terry McDermott were joined by a young Peter Beardsley and a new recruit who went by the name of Chris Waddle.

By this stage Keegan, although he loved Newcastle, was beginning to fall out of love with the game. At the end of the 1983-84 season and after a 18-year career, Keegan retired from football, vowing he would never return to the game to coach or manage.

Neverthelees, on February fifth, 1992, Kevin Keegan entered football management at Newcastle. He took over from Ossie Ardilles, who had steered Newcastle towards relegation from Division 3.

He was given the task to save Newcastle.

Survival was achieved, on the last day of the season. And with the Premier League being created, Newcastle and Keegan found themselves in Division 1, uninvited to the biggest football party English football had ever seen.

Newcastle started the season as one of the favorite's for relegation, but after winning their first 11 games that was quickly revised. Newcastle led the league from start to finish and were promoted to the Premier League as champions.

Keegan proved he had a ruthless streak, selling top scorer David Kelly and Division 1's best midfielder Liam O'Brien. He recruited Peter Beardsley and Andy Cole for Newcastle's first season in the big time.

Again they started the season as one of the favorites to go back down, but Newcastle finished third in their first season up. Between '93 and '96 Newcastle challenged for the title every year.

Their players included David Ginola, Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Phillipe Albert, Faustino Asprilla, and David Batty. Keegan's philosophy was entertaining their way to the title and Newcastle literally hit the cross bar.

It was during this '96 season that Keegan famously lost it after a match, after he had been psyched out by Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson. "I'd love it if we beat them", will follow Keegan to the grave.

Newcastle's run towards the end of the season mirrored Southampton's in 1982, leaving Newcastle a distant second after leading for so long. Keegan took this disappointment personally and struggled to overcome it before the new season.

Then, on January seventh, 1997, at the height of their powers, as another title challenge won the way, Keegan resigned as manager. Feeling he had nothing left to offer Newcastle and that he had taken them as far as he could, he walked away.

Again, he vowed to stay away from football.

But again the lure of football was too much, and in September 1997 Keegan returned to manage Fulham in Division 2. Keegan stayed in charge at Craven Cottage until 1999, when he became the national choice as England Manager.

After an initial period in charge where everything went right, the wheels started to come off in the Euro 2000 campaign. England beat rivals Germany 1-0 but were beaten by both Romania and Portugal and failed to qualify for the knockout stages.

The English media, as famously harsh as they are fickle, turned on Keegan for England's poor displays.

The final straw for Keegan occured at the final match at the old Wembley, as Germany won 1-0. With the media calling for his head and Keegan under severe pressure, he resigned.

Keegan again said he was walking away from the game and needed time to re-charge after his England ordeal. But the rest period only lasted seven months, with Keegan once again surprising everyone by taking over at Manchester City.

The four years in charge of Man City were largely fruitless, but Keegan showed he could be a shrewed manager guiding City to mid table safety on a shoe string budget.

In 2005 Kevin Keegan retired from football completely.

He was burnt out, and the game had changed massively from his time as a player. Keegan didn't like the direction football seemed to be taking, and stepped away from the competitive game. He set up the Soccer Circus roadshow in the hope of training young players and passing on some of his vast knowledge.

Then, on the 16th of January 2008, after three years away from the game, Keegan returned to the his spiritual home as manager of Newcastle.

Yet after just one month in charge Keegan had to be talked out of resigning by owner Mike Ashley. Keegan felt undermined after Ashley had appointed Dennis Wise as Director of Football.

Wise would take charge of the transfer dealings both in and out of the club, and Keegan wasn't happy with this. Ashley eventually talked Keegan around, suggesting that it would give Keegan more time on the pitch and that it was the best way forward.

Keegan chose to stay, perhaps because the size of the challenge ahead of him enthralled him. And after an initially poor start, losing his first eight games in charge, Keegan guided Newcastle to safety.

Strangely for the ever optimistic Keegan, after a defeat to Chelsea he told a press conference that Newcastle would never challenge for major honours again. Ashley was furious, but Keegan had drawn attention to the lack of ambition at the club.

Throughout the summer rumours of Keegan's unhappiness under the Ashley regime persisted. Ashley made little or no money available, and players were offered around the Premiership.

James Milner was sold without Keegan's knowledge, and rumour has it that Michael Owen being offered around was the straw that broke the camel's back.

If you've lasted this long and read this much I hope I've shown that as a player Keegan never gave up. If he wanted to achieve something it was up to himself and he worked hard to attain it.

His career as a player is spectacular, but it was all down to him. He shaped his own destiny.

This is perhaps Keegan's downfall as a manager, because no matter how hard you try. and no matter how well you organise, you cannot foresee every outcome.

During his first term as Newcastle manager, Keegan signed who he wanted and played the way he wanted—but he just couldn't win the title no matter how hard he tried.

Something always conspired against him. It was this that eventually led him to walk away the first time.

At England, blind optimism carried him on. He really believed his approach could carry England forward, and when it couldn't again he resigned.

During his charge at City, Keegan actually seemed at peace with himself. But during this period they never challenged and this going with the flow was never going to be good enough for Keegan.

And now, back in charge of Newcastle, Keegan finds his authority eroded, his responsibility diminished, and once again he sees all the outside influences he can't control sniping at his heels, driving him mad.

As I write this, depending on which media source you listen to, Keegan is either still in charge or has resigned. Personally, I hope he resigns. Mike Ashley doesn't know what he's doing and Keegan is too good for him.

But if Keegan does go, a little bit of every supporter goes with him.

We'll all miss his optimism.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Manchester City and Spurs Dominate Transfer Deadline Day, Robinho to City, Berbatov to Utd

As the transfer deadline came to a close, the biggest transfer of the day took place at The City of Manchester Stadium. In an age where the media have sources in every corner, Manchester City pulled off perhaps the biggest move of the day.

It wasn't for a player of course, it was for the club!