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Archive for the ‘Opinion Piece’ Category

Lawrence Donegan, writing about the Dubai Desert Classic, and the hype-fuelled, crowd-pleasing, three-ball of Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods, claims,

…if Thursday’s three-ball will inevitably fall short of expectations it should still provide a fascinating snapshot of where golf’s balance of power lies, particularly in relation to Kaymer, who many people believe is the best player in the world…

Does he have the game, and the fortitude, to withstand the scrutiny? If he does the answer is yes, and if he can go on to win the tournament on Sunday, then not even Martin Kaymer will be able to deny that Martin Kaymer is the best golfer in the world.

Well, Martin Kaymer might not deny it, but I will. Winning the Dubai Desert Classic – even if you do spend the first two rounds with Westwood and Woods, playing in front of a huge golfing galleries, the focus of all the media attention and scrutiny – does not make you the best player in the world.

Here is the current ranking,

Lee Westwood, golf’s current World Number 1. Well played Lee, you might say. Not me. How can a player who’s finished second in the last 43 major championships (or an equivalent record similar to our other recent sporting runner-up Tartan Tim) be classed as the best player in the world? Westwood even spent months on the sidelines injured. An injury that ruled him out of the final major championship of last year, the USPGA, a withdrawal that didn’t seem to have a negative impact on his charge to the top of the rankings. In fact, the injury, the six-week lay off before the end of last season (after his brief cameo at the Ryder Cup) and his consistent approach to not winning a major title, seemed to cement his place at the top of the golfing world. But how can this be I hear you cry? Well, let’s take a look at how the ranking system works,

The World Ranking Points for each player are accumulated over a two year “rolling” period with the points awarded for each event maintained for a 13-week period to place additional emphasis on recent performances – ranking points are then reduced in equal decrements (of 1/92nd of the original amount)  for the remaining 91 weeks of the two year Ranking period.  Each player is then ranked according to his average points per tournament, which is determined by dividing his total number of points by the tournaments he has played over that two-year period. There is a minimum divisor of 40 tournaments over the two year ranking period and a maximum divisor of a player’s last 58 events.

The winners of the Masters Tournament, the US Open Championship, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship are awarded 100 points (60 points for 2nd place, 40 for 3rd, 30 for 4th down to 1.50 points for a player completing the final round), and the winner of the Players Championship is awarded 80 points (points are awarded down to 1.20 points for 60th place and ties).

Pretty simple stuff? Hmmm… Ranking reward, for consistency, seems to be the jist of the above equation. A noble, but still counter-productive system that allows a player to repeatedly finish second or third, but still claim the top spot. Take a look at Westwood’s 2010 record for yourself,

You can’t beat the Nedbank or the St Jude. A barrage of top five finishes. However, the true test of golfing superiority has to be the major championships, and Westwood throughout his whole career, hasn’t won a single one. But as the world rankings suggest, is still considered to be the best player in the world.

I’m a huge fan of Lee Westwood. His first Ryder Cup outing with Nick Faldo in 1997, his incredibly successful pairing with Sergio Garcia in 2002 at the Belfry, his recent performance in helping the Europeans defeat the Yanks in Wales at the Celtic Manor (again after a period off with a calf injury) all contribute to my support. But what has always struck me, and I hope I’m proved wrong this season, is his ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Go over the number of  ‘close run things’ that have contributed to Westwood’s ranking success. In the majority of his runner-up major championship finishes, he’s had the chance to win. A steady back nine or a decent 18th hole tee shot. A regulation par, a cool head or a five iron straight down the middle would have secured victory. He didn’t. He found a way not to win. Because, as the rankings suggest, winning major titles isn’t everything in golf.

Am I being too harsh on Westwood? Maybe, and like I said above, I hope I’m proved embarrassingly wrong this season (and I’ll be the first person to print off this article, put it between two slices of wholemeal bread, and eat it, if he does claim a major victory.) Let’s consider tennis for moment, do you think it would ever happen that a player could climb to the top of the world rankings without winning one of the four major titles? No. So am I being harsh? Probably not.

As for Kaymer, he actually won a major championship, the USPGA title last August, so he would have more of a valid claim at being the best player in the world than Westwood. However, a bizarre sequence of events led to his victory.

The finale will be remembered for the controversy that befell Dustin Johnson.

Leading by one going down the last, the 26-year-old carved his tee shot into the crowd on the right, before grounding his club as he addressed his second shot on a patch of trampled sand.

Johnson explains the misdemeanour in more detail,

It never once crossed my mind I was in a sand trap, said Johnson, who led the US Open by three shots going into the final round at Pebble Beach in June, only to crash to a round of 82.

The only worse thing that could have happened is if I had made that putt on the final hole.

I just thought I was on a piece of dirt where the crowd had trampled it down. Obviously I know I can’t ground my club in a bunker but I should have looked at the rules sheet a little closer.

Stupid or naive? Well, considering

…the PGA of America put a notice in the locker room all week to remind players that every patch of sand was to be treated as a bunker regardless of its location

I’d say idiotic.

So Kaymer won his only major title by way of Mr Dustbinhead Johnson forgetting the rules? Not quite, but if a player can’t judge between a grassy patch of dirt that looks like sand or a sandy patch of grass that looks like dirt – then I for one would be claiming it the United States Professional Golf Association Major Default Championship #1. So that rules Kaymer out of world number one reckoning.

Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer I’ve ever seen. Will we ever see him rise to great heights of holding all four major championships at once, a feat referred to as the ‘Tiger Slam’ (insert your infidelity jokes as you please), I’m not so sure. I heard him on the radio today stating he no longer spends as much time on the practice ground – and that what time he does, is ‘focused’ and ‘more intense’ than his old sessions. That worries me. He now spends the majority of his time, since his new found love of all things moral, with his children. Good on Tiger. If he quits now, he’ll be regarded as the second best player of all-time. I can’t, with the drive and desire, the sheer single-minded domination and breathtaking skill the man has shown over the last 15 years, believe that he will quit until he’s overturned or equalled Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship wins. The only thing stopping Tiger from completing his dream, is Tiger himself. If any sporting legend can spend less time practicing and still succeed, I dare to say it’s Tiger Woods. He is golf’s real number one.

*On a side note, if Tiger returns to the porn scene and forgets all about the game of golf, there are a few (other than Westwood and Kaymer) who could challenge this season.

Ricky Fowler was impressive in the Ryder Cup and on the US Tour last year, and as an outside pick, is one to watch.

Graeme McDowell, who had the bottle to sink the winning putt at The Ryder Cup, and claim the first European victory at the US Open since 1740, deserves a special mention.

Only an idiot would discount Phil Mickleson from being ranked number one at the end of 2011, so I’ll say he’s got no chance.

But if I had £10 to spare and I wasn’t allowed to pick Tiger Woods, I’d spend my hard-earned currency on Rory McIlroy to be World Number 1 at the end of the season. He’s probably the only player, ability-wise, who worries Tiger. He’s got it all, he can construct shots from nowhere, shape the ball both ways, brilliant touch around the greens – but has he got the bottle? The upcoming 2011 golf season will certainly give us the evidence to decide whether he’s the next Tiger Woods or the new Lee Westwood.

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-GUEST POST-

Being a lifelong Liverpool fan it’s been heart breaking watching their recent demise. I have spent many a sleepless night analysing the reasons of this dramatic fall from grace, and I know most of you reading this will be thinking one of three things, the sale of the club to the money hungry Americans, the crazy philosophies of Rafa Benitez or the unfortunate appointment of ‘Mr Nice Guy’ Roy Hodgson. All plausible and possible reasons, but I have looked deeper than this. Think back to the great Liverpool teams of the 70’s and 80’s. Picture these Liverpool greats; Keegan, Toshack, Rush, Souness, McDermott, Johnston, Lawrenson and Dalglish. Maybe not that much in common you may think! But now picture these current Liverpool players; Reina, Konchesky, Skrtel, Shelvey, Spearing, Meireles, Ngog and Babel. For those of your who haven’t realised the significant difference between these two groups of people it is very simple….. HAIR!

Not in my memory has a Liverpool team been so low down in the league. Is it a coincidence that I have also not seen a Liverpool team with so little hair? I think not! The awesomeness of Keegan’s perm, the sheer brilliance of McDermott and Sourness’s hair ‘tache combo were simply sublime! Rushies moustache was magical(RIP) and Dalglish’s flowing locks…. Just magnificent!

If you need more proof look back to the mid 90’s. The dark days of the Souness era, very tough times I’m sure you’ll agree. Yes Souness still had his spellbinding combo but look at the players we had; Dicks, Thomas, Grobelaar (began receding the 90’s), Wright, Matteo, Babb and Ruddock, all bald or balding and all part of a desperately mediocre tenure. When things started looking during the Houllier days he brought in players such as Hyypia, Smicer, Barmby and Berger. Unfortunately there was also Camara, Diouf, Traore and Heskey, and although things were looking up it was always going to be a roller-coasterster ride. Then Benitez came in and brought in the likes of Garcia, Alonso and Kewell, all with beautiful heads of hair. We then went on to win the Champions League and come the closest to winning the Premiership since its incarnation.

Yes it would be simple and easy to blame Hodgson and his overly polite manner but I would ask you to take a deeper look at the signings and selections he made during his short time at the helm. Was there ever enough hair in his team? No. Could he have given chances to players with more hair (Pacheco and Kelly sooner than he did). Yes. Please do not think for one second that I believe Poulsen should be playing, how he has made a career as a footballer amazes me!

Its no coincidence that, when Fernando Torres* cut his hair short that the goals began to dry up and he seems to be getting better and better with every game that goes by without a haircut. Nor is it just by chance that when Gerrard stopped shaving his head and left it as a nice sensible crew cut that he became one of the best midfielders in the world!

Fortunately for us suffering Reds fans the king is back where he belongs, if anyone knows how important having enough hair per player is then it is Mr Dalglish. With Konchesky dropped and soon to be shipped out and Babel gone expect players with hair to be signed and the good times to return (Hooray!)

I predict a bright future under Dalglish. I am already hearing whispers of Fellaini crossing Stanley Park,Yossi making a return and Gattuso perhaps in a player coach role. Oh and expect Lucas to start growing a moustache! Just as soon as he starts puberty!

Written by Shaun ‘the newest Special guest of the Podcast Four’ Hurley. Or as I (George) have always known him Mr “Bear”.

*As this article was written before Fernando sought alternative employment, I hope he goes for the EDL-Paul-Konchesky-style-bald-man look.

**Andy Fucking Plenty of Hair King Carroll has signed. So this theory clearly has been listened to by the LFC hierarchy.

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As Ryan Babel is preparing himself for his move to Hoffenheim in Germany, I find myself asking the question…

What went wrong?

At the tender age of 20 he signed for Liverpool for a fee in the region of £12m (varying reports suggest somewhere between £11m and £13m) which is a lot of money to put on such young shoulders. But seeing the performances that he had been putting in for Ajax Amsterdam and the Dutch national side it seemed he would hit the ground running and be an excellent acquisition for LFC.

Added to that he joined the club only 10 days after a certain Fernando Torres had signed, so the pressure was very much on the Spaniard to succeed taking the focus off Babel.

Before Babel joined Liverpool he was linked heavily with Arsenal as the long term replacement for Thierry Henry and you can see why, he is a player very much in the same mould, lightning quick, powerful, can take a man on and score goals, but Liverpool beat Arsenal to the punch and signed the Dutchman up.

If we had a machine that could create an alternative reality I would love to see what would have happened to Babel had he been bought by Arsenal instead, if he had been under the wing of Arsene Wenger, who is so revered for his nurturing of young talent.

I may be ridiculed for this opinion but I think that if Babel had signed for Arsenal, or indeed Chelsea with Mourinho or Manchester Utd with Ferguson, he might very well be one of the top players in the Premiership now, dare I say even the world. To go back to my description before, he has lightning pace, ask any defender in the world what he is scared of most, I guarantee he will say pace. He is physically strong yet surprisingly agile and can trick his way past players with ease. He can shoot from just about anywhere with terrific power, I can recall a couple of Champions League goals in particular that were outstanding strikes. Put all of this together and you will find yourself with one hell of a player, yet somehow his amazing lack of consistency meant he only made 90 appearances in over 3 and a half years and most of them were from the bench.

This is not a criticism of Rafa Benitez, far from it, I was a big fan of Rafa and thought he brought some players on really well, Alonso, Torres and Reina all became world class footballers under the tutelage of Rafa. The problem is, that for every success with Benitez there was a failure to go with it, and sadly for Babel he has to put in the failure column.

So off to Germany he goes for a fresh start, at still only 24 he has plenty of time to rediscover his talent and I’m certain that this will be a stepping stone to bigger and better things, I’m just disappointed that he couldn’t make it at Liverpool, because in today’s market getting a world class player for £12m would seem very good business, instead they take a £6m loss and wonder what could have been if only that amazing talent had been realised.

Good luck Ryan.

Marcus J Mitchell.

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In the last few weeks I have been to three Wrexham FC league games and have loved every minute of it, first up was Bath City on January 3rd at home (The Racecourse Ground), I actually wrote an article about this match, or more precisely about Mathias Pogba, Wrexham overcame good opposition to win 2-0 and start a mini charge up the league.

Next up on the following Saturday was another home game, this time it was Grimsby Town who were the visitors, Grimsby came into this game having scored no less than 16 goals in their previous 3 matches so would provide some serious opposition. Wrexham continued with the enigmatic Pogba up front and Mark Creighton making his first start at centre back after signing permanently for the dragons, he had previously been on loan from Oxford Utd but fancied the move north.

Wrexham controlled the match but couldn’t find the breakthrough until the 70th minute when the brilliant Jay Harris struck a powerful shot from 20 yards into the bottom corner.  I am not a scout nor a manager and there are reasons both those things are true, but in the last few games Harris has stood head and shoulders above his team-mates and should be alerting managers from the league above with his displays.  I am sure nobody from Wrexham nor their fans would like to see him go, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see him move up the leagues.

Andy Morrell sealed the win with a neat finish 6 minutes later and that made it two wins from two, I spoke to Neil Woods (Grimsby Manager) after the game and he simply said..

Dean’s (Saunders) system was better than mine and no matter how we changed it, we couldn’t create a chance.

It was bitterly cold at the ground that day but still over 3,000 turned up to watch the game, the Racecourse can hold around 11 – 12,000 so there were plenty of empty seats, clubs like Wrexham need these seats filled in order to create the revenue which is vital to survive.

This was no more apparent than the last match of my trilogy, away at Southport on Tuesday 18th January. It was another freezing night and in the bar before the game I hardly saw any home fans at all, we got into the stadium at the away end and took our places, looking across the ground the home support was almost non-existent, the attendance was officially 1,500 of which I’m certain two thirds was from Wrexham, it genuinely felt like a home game.

The game itself wasn’t the classiest of affairs, Wrexham were the better side and deservedly took the lead after 24 minutes when Andy Morrell knocked the rebound from an Andy Mangan shot and held on for the remainder of the match, one thing of note is the food situation at Southport, we went for a half-time pie and they had run out of everything except Hot-Dogs, the stadium wasn’t exactly overflowing but they still hadn’t prepared for how many turned up.

My point to all of this is that if you, like me, are a football fan but aren’t able or cannot afford to go to Anfield, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge or the Emirates, then make your way down to The Racecourse Ground, Haig Avenue, Aggborough or Church Road, I have found the atmosphere to be just as electric as the big grounds, the standard of football might not be as good but the commitment remains the same. The worst thing is that none of these teams have billionaire Sheikhs, Yanks or Russians funding them, they have you and me, so if you can’t go and watch the Barclays Premier League then try the Blue Square Premier League instead, for a fraction of the price you will have just as much fun.

Marcus J Mitchell.

P.S. You can always Sky+ Match of the Day anyway!

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Kenny Dalglish, the player and manager who won every trophy available, numerous times, has returned to Liverpool Football Club after a 20 year sabbatical. The air of optimism has returned to a club beset by negativity, player power, boardroom bust-ups, crippling debt and even worse results. Two managers sacked in six months, unheard of at Liverpool. Relative quiet on the Kop. The game has changed, tactics have changed, the pace of game, the fitness of players, the press are more intrusive and, by the standards set by the previous incumbent Roy Hodgson, the time you have is limited. But can King Kenny bring back success, or in the short-term, stability to the most successful club in English footballing history?

If Robbie Fowler is God, then Kenny Dalglish is Darwin. One requires a certain degree of faith, a look past the failure and frailties. You’re required to ignore the inconsistencies and irrationality. The other is the leading light. The best of his generation. A true genius. A natural. He did things no one else could do. He brought out a beauty in things you didn’t see before. He was right.

Listening to a radio debate yesterday about Liverpool’s new caretaker manager I was intrigued to hear the ‘News’ of the World’s Andy Dunn claiming that Dalglish felt he never gets the recognition he deserved for his achievements as a manager. So what did he achieve? Four league titles (3 at Liverpool and 1 at Blackburn), two F.A. Cups (at Liverpool), one F.A. Cup final appearance with Newcastle, and perhaps often overlooked, a runners-up spot in the Premiership with the Toon. No mean feat at that club. He also failed at Celtic, finishing second which is basically the same as relegation in the SPL (although he was only manager for 18 games). The difference, in relative terms, is second place just isn’t good enough for Dalglish. He won’t want recognition for a F.A. Cup final appearance, or two runners-up spots in the Premiership. That kind of recognition doesn’t appeal to winners. He won four league titles in eleven seasons in the top division (36% of the time). His teams have finished runner-up five times (45%). So, with three different clubs, he finished in the top two 81% of the time. Not bad. In percentage terms, I’d suggest he’s up there with the very best of all-time? He is also the only manager in the last 30 years to win the league with two different clubs. Again, not too shabby.

“But he’s outdated, and has been out of the game too long”

That has been said, including a hint of it here by the author and journalist Jonathan Wilson. Although Paul Tomkins here, with slightly more detail and analysis, outlines

It’s easy to paint Dalglish as someone who has been out of the game for too long (and back in the summer I shared some of those concerns), but since then, having spoken to those closest to him, I’ve come to see things differently. I appreciate that his work at the Academy since 2009 has acted as a refresher course (as were his discussions with Rafa Benítez), and if you have a great footballing mind, you can adapt. Dalglish was always a thinker. And with his son, Paul (who has managed in Major League Soccer), a big fan of the fast-pressing game of Pep Guardiola, the family is very much in touch with the modern game.

The article goes on to analyse his record at Blackburn and during his first spell as player/manager with Liverpool. It’s well worth the time to read the whole thing.

He hasn’t got the funds he had previously. He hasn’t got the players according to the majority of the footballing press. The squad is poor, and the club is heading for disaster by appointing a man based on romance and history. But Dalglish demands more, and taking his record into account, usually gets his own way.

Liverpool FC were on the verge of administration only three months ago. The team was playing long ball. They couldn’t scrape together consecutive victories with any regularity, they couldn’t even score when they played away from home. Humiliating cup defeats, sulking players, no new stadium, strange new owners, alien new directors of football (common, popular and effective everywhere else in the world, just ask Pep Guardiola), but, and this is the fundamental point, the crowds started to drop. The fans couldn’t take anymore. They had no belief, no hope, no vision and no future. Until the return of Dalglish?

He might not bring about miracles, but he has brought unity. Something Liverpool have not had since Hicks and Gillett started arguing. Since they started undermining the manager at the time (Rafa Benitez) by approaching Jurgen Klinsmann. The list continues until Hodgson was sacked. He was brought in by the old regime, the results were the worst since 29BC or BF(owler) or 1956. He was the wrong man, with the wrong tactics, at the wrong club, at the wrong time. A bad mix.

Now the club has a fresh start; new owners with a new long-term vision (read ‘Moneyball’ by Micheal Lewis for a rundown on their methods), a ‘new’ manager who understands the club, and a new assistant in Steve Clarke. Clarke worked under Mourinho, he’s ambitious, will know the ‘modern game’ and has had success in the Premier League. Is he being groomed to takeover and work under Commoli in a couple of years? He’s worked around another up and coming manager (now Porto manager) at Chelsea in Andre Villas-Boas (Jose M’s chief scout) and like this article suggests, certainly wants a crack at management. Remember who took over from a legend, with no managerial experience, and went on to lift trophies at a rate comparable with Ferguson, Wenger and Paisley, oh yes… King Kenny. I’m not sure about Clarke as future manager, but that has to be the mould. Young, talented and with a vision. Ferguson had a vision, to restore United to former glories. Wenger had a vision, to play attractive football, live within a viable financial structure and promote young players from within. If Dalglish, Clarke and J. W. Henry can create a mix of the two visions above, then nevermind a Darwin, God or the King, he will have done something no manager has ever achieved. Remove Alex Ferguson from that ‘fucking perch’. The impossible. Just ask God (or Dalglish with Blackburn) how hard that is.

(There may have been a little bias in this article)

George Allwell

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Please let this be the end of Woy!

Now as I’m sure you are all aware both myself and George are Liverpool FC fans, we have been very careful not to make this an LFC blog or to impose our opinions on the fortunes of Liverpool Football Club too much. However tonight was the last straw for me, and without any consultation with my partner in crime I will (for one night only) impose my opinion.

When I first heard that Rafa was leaving in the summer I was relieved, I know a lot of people still liked him and wanted him to continue but for me he had taken the squad as far as he could and a change was needed. I know the struggles in the boardroom made his tenure difficult but even so, I was still happy he left.

So that opened the door to any number of managerial candidates, we were hearing the possibility of Klinsmann, Deschamp, Rijkaard, Hiddink and even a feint rumour of Mourinho, but Hodgson was the “outstanding candidate” according to then LFC chairman, Martin Broughton.

This is the first press conference that Hodgson gave, I was impressed, as were a number of people with the way he presented himself and calmly answered questions as our new manager. When his name was first mooted as a potential candidate for the job I will admit that I liked the idea, I thought ‘English, experienced and recent premier league success (relative success being as it was Fulham) so why not?’

After literally 3 games I realised why not… he is a man who is perfect for Fulham, in fact right this minute Blackburn should think about re-hiring him (alright, maybe not!) because he knows exactly how to play against teams who take the game to you, he knows what to do when being attacked and he knows counter attacking very well. So at Fulham it is acceptable to soak up pressure and counter attack, last season they did it much better than was expected and Hodgson was named LMA manager of the year for it.

This is the reason we have done reasonably well against the “better teams” (except Man City where we got battered!), an unlucky 1-1 with Arsenal at home, an unlucky 3-2 defeat to Man Utd away and of course a fantastic 2-0 win over Chelsea at Anfield, these teams control the game, so we soak up the pressure and counter, when we played Wigan 3 days after the Chelsea win, we took the lead after 7 minutes and then were fundamentally outplayed for the next 83 minutes, we escaped with a very fortunate 1-1 draw. We should be dictating the game to Wigan but instead found ourselves struggling to work out what it is we should be controlling.

Time and time again I gear myself up to watch Liverpool on TV and I am constantly disappointed by what I see, tonight was the worst I have seen us all season though (and that is really saying something), credit to Wolves who had a plan and stuck to it, they deserved their win.

Before I finish I would like to point something out, I quite like Roy Hodgson the man, he is obviously a student of the game and he speaks very well about football (speech impediment aside), had he not ever come to Liverpool I’m sure we would all still be waxing lyrical about how amazing a job he has done at Fulham and that he would still be everybody’s second choice for England manager (after Redknapp of course). Nobody can criticise ambition, so when Liverpool came calling, how could he possibly say no.

But a Premiership record of played 18, won 6, drawn 4 and lost 8 (including home losses to Blackpool and Wolves) means I am struggling to think of a reason why he should be given the chance to turn it around. It could take literally years to put Liverpool back where they belong…

This is because we cannot play football anymore, this is because we don’t consider ourselves a top 4 club anymore, this is because we have no encouragement or enthusiasm coming from the bench anymore, this is because the tradition of Liverpool doesn’t exist anymore, this is because Anfield isn’t a fortress anymore…..And all of this, is because of Hodgson.

Marcus J Mitchell.

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The two captains shake hands. The umpire flips the coin. The coin lands… The game is decided. According to cricket, according to some analysts, according to many fans, the game is over. Whoever wins the toss, wins the match. This may, in hindsight, be wishful thinking while Australia are 50-odd for 4 in the all-important 4th Test, but England have won the coin toss, bowled first, with only four bowlers, and done very well.

So is it crucial? It does give the winning captain a choice. Bowl; or, usually, bat first. ‘Get some runs on the board.’ Set the other team a target. Compared to football, compared to tossing for which ‘end’ to play toward; compared to who serves first in tennis, the flipping of a coin has a direct impact on how a cricket match develops. The captain is in control. Or is he?

It’s a tough choice. If the wicket is flat, then the batsmen are jumping for joy. If it’s green, then the bowler is chomping at the bit trying to pick up early wickets. If it’s in between, a bit green, a bit flat, who knows? The skill of the captain.

I’m not overly convinced the toss has such a great impact. Many commentators claim it’s crucial. I believe if your team is good enough, if your batsmen are better, if your bowlers are better, if your fielders are better, you’ll win. If it’s close, again, it’s the skill and ability that’ll decide the game, not who wins the toss of the coin (unless you’re playing in Sri Lanka or Leeds ;o))

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The Premiership season has so far been a classic for the neutral. Every team has claimed a scalp, every team has lost – apart from Man United who’ve only won once away from home – and there is no predictability. Perhaps the most telling aspect of this new-found competition has been the lack of managerial sackings. Until the end of Hughton, surprisingly sacked by Newcastle on Monday 6th December, every manager that had started the season was still in place.

The small points gap between the top six and the bottom six allows each manager to lay credible claim to “only needing a couple of victories” and they would fly up the table. They’d be right. Roy Hodgson, Avram Grant, Roberto Mancini, and more recently Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti (who won the double last year), are managers who have been on the brink at one time or another. Chris Hughton was the man appointed at Newcastle after they had been relegated from the Premiership in a season of three managers. Keegan, Kinnear and Shearer were all at the helm, they all failed to keep the club in the top division and they all struggled against the man in charge and chairman Mike Ashley (Shearer left the club and had been assured the job would still be his in the championship until it was announced Hughton would be the new manager, Kinnear left for health reasons and Keegan left citing a lack of control over transfers). In the stakes of bad treatment, in a competition that involved a topless fat chairman downing pints of warm lager, eating a rank kebab and doing his worst stinking turd all over the managers head, then Chris Hughton would be the bookies favourite. Hughton’s sacking demonstrates a total lack of logic. On any level. Even on the level stated by the club after the sacking,

“Regrettably, the board now feels that an individual with more managerial experience is needed to take the club forward. The task of appointing a new manager now begins. An announcement will be made shortly regarding transitional arrangements pending the appointment of a successor.”

So let’s break that down.

“Regrettably…”

I’ll refrain from swearing, but I’m thinking of something that rhymes with duck and cloth. If you’re going to make a change, don’t patronise the guy you’re sacking by saying it’s regrettable. The fans know you don’t regret what you’re doing. The press know the same and the outgoing manager – who you’ve not adequately rewarded for regaining promotion at the first attempt – certainly knows you don’t regret it. The Newcastle board (or probably Mike Ashley in a dictatorial ‘this is my version of championship manager and I’ll do what I want to’ type way) refused to give Hughton a contract. He doesn’t even get a pay-off. His managerial record reads: played one full season = one promotion.

Hughton was eventually handed the position as manager permanently and took Newcastle to the top of the Championship. They rarely looked back, securing promotion before the final day with 102 points – 11 more than West Brom in the second automatic spot.

Played nearly half a season in the Premiership and he’s beat Arsenal at the Emirates, thumped Aston Villa 6-0 and fierce rivals Sunderland 5-1, drew with Chelsea (after beating them at Stamford Bridge in a 4-3 thriller in the Coca-Carling-Worthington Cup Challenge) and got 3 points at Goodison Park. On the less memorable side, they’ve lost to West Brom away, Blackpool at home and got thumped 5-1 themselves away at Bolton = Better than their wildest dreams might be a bit over the top, but some memorable moments nevertheless (13 points off the top and 4 points of the relegation zone in 12th position with 19 points after 16 games).

So it’s not regrettable. What about the next line,

“…the board now feels that an individual with more managerial experience is needed to take the club forward. The task of appointing a new manager now begins.”

They weren’t joking. The man they’ve selected to replace him certainly has more managerial experience. Quite a bit of the time it’s been ‘bad’ managerial experience though.

He got off to a good start at Reading, before being poached by West Ham. He then got promoted, like Hughton, and managed to reach the F.A. Cup Final, another fine achievement – before it all started to go a bit pear-shaped.

In the 2006–07 season Pardew was criticised after seeing West Ham through their worst run of defeats in over 70 years which included a League Cup defeat to Chesterfield.

Then he went to Charlton Athletic.

He took over with Charlton in 19th place in the Premier League, with just 12 points and a –20 goal difference, the lowest in the league. Although Charlton’s form improved under Pardew,[14] he was unable to keep Charlton up, resulting in the first relegation of his career, both as a player and manager.[15]After an inept display in a 5-2 home defeat to Sheffield United hundreds of supporters remained for more than an hour to condemn their manager, chanting, “We want Pardew out” and “We want our club back” after Charlton had slipped into the Championship’s bottom three.[16][17] On 22 November 2008, Pardew parted company with Charlton by mutual consent.[18]

Not looking too good at the moment. Next up was Southampton.

Pardew led Southampton to the 2010 Football League Trophy Final at Wembley, where they won 4–1 against Carlisle United. The win gave the club their first trophy since 1976. Five months later Pardew was dismissed by the club[20][21] amidst reports of low staff morale and conflicts between Pardew and club chairman, Nicola Cortese.[22][23]

The phrase “low staff morale” and “conflicts between Pardew and club chairman” must’ve been the clincher for Mike Ashley when he was glancing over the list of potential candidates. Or maybe it was this chart explaining his win/loss record at a number of clubs.

Hardly gets the juices flowing. The apathy, or maybe deep-seated anger will fall upon Ashley first and then Pardew if the results don’t come. The 5 year contract is just the icing on the piss-taking cake. The Geordie fans will be clear, and maybe this could be the last act in the Mike Ashley/Newcastle United’s ownership soap opera. Here’s Steve Wraith, editor of the Toon Talk fanzine, who says it best…

“He will be facing the wrath of 52,000 fans at the weekend. It’s not his fault but let’s hope he can do what people don’t expect him to do, as his CV doesn’t make for good reading.”

Or have Sky Sports summed it up even better?

Sky Sports reported that of 40,000 fans taking part in a poll on who should become the next manager, Pardew only received the backing of 5.5% of voters.

That kind of non-support is going to be a challenge of the highest order. I just suspect that if Pardew doesn’t make a success of it, and quickly, Mike Ashley will be following the new manager out of St James’ Park at the same time. If not by mini-Geordie revolution, then having – at long last – sold the club, probably at a loss and after discovering it’s very expensive to play fantasy football games at the country’s real life top football clubs.

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I found myself watching the Liverpool vs Aston Villa match and pleasantly enjoying the Sky coverage of the Premiership – including Andy Gray’s tactical analysis of some of this weekends matches. I say pleasantly, because usually I’d rather poke my eyes out with the sharp wit of Lawro or sand down my scrotum till it’s as smooth as Richard Keys’ newly waxed hands. You may have guessed this is a bit of a set up, lulling you into thinking I’m a fan of the balding Scottish ignorant ex-bluenose twat. It’s like he’s on a mission to report the situation at Liverpool with as many lies as possible. You’d like to think he’s got a Sky researcher who could feed him some info before he goes off on one of his improvised thought-rants. I’m not even going to bore you with a breakdown of the individual positions or relative strengths and weaknesses. I don’t need to. It’s player for player apart from the players who appear in both teams. Andy Gray was so badly wrong when he claimed after this game (and many other times this season) that the squad Roy Hodgson’s inherited is weaker than the squad Houllier left for Rafa Benitez. Just look at it. It’s not even close.

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The wicket of the future Australian test captain Michael Clarke at the end of the 4th days play was another example in a list of players who knew they were out, but stayed around and waited for the umpire to give them out. Of course they should. Umpires need to be left to do their jobs. That’s what they’re there for after all. Not in cricket. Since cricket began, players have been encouraged to walk off the field if they know they’re out.

“If you nick it to the keeper, walk off the field, don’t wait for the umpire to give you out – you know you’ve hit it. It’s cheating otherwise.”

I heard those words at the first two junior clubs I played for, from both the captain and the coach. Once I started playing adult cricket I found the rules had changed. I was informed it was bad for the team, by the same coach – who claimed they had to encourage ‘the spirit of cricket’ to junior players. Now, I knew many players in the junior ranks, including myself who never walked. Ever. I’m a wicket keeper and I’ve caught batsman after batsman, who’ve hit the ball but haven’t been given out by the umpire. They didn’t walk and I don’t blame them. So what’s with the apology from Clarke? Either admit you theoretically cheat, like most players; or walk. Don’t bloody apologise afterwards on a social network.

There has been a famous example of an Australian legend, and the best wicket keeper I’ve ever seen, Adam Gilchrist – who in the last few years of his career was known to walk off the field if he hit it. The idealist in me loved it. On the big stage, under the intense pressure, he still decided to set an example. Other players were not so keen. You can’t win.

As I’ve got older, I’m leaning toward the Gilchrist way of thinking. Another famous name within cricketing circles, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, explains it better than me,

That is the way I was taught to play cricket. I believe it to be in the true spirit of the game and that what one might call the Southern Hemisphere view – that the umpire is there to decide if a batsman is out or not – is rubbish and has been responsible for a demeaning of that spirit. I give you simple evidence. When a batsman is bowled; he walks; when a batsman hits the ball in the air to mid-off and is caught; he walks. When a batsman snicks Monty Panesar to slip via the wicket-keeper’s glove and is caught by slip; he walks. But when a batsman snicks it into the keeper’s gloves only – and not into a fielder’s hands – he doesn’t walk – in the hope that the umpire might not be certain… Where is the logic, or the honour in that?

Umpires need the help of players because there can be no organized game without umpires. Walking helps them. It used to be the convention in England, still is for most county players and it should be again, here and everywhere, because is the honest and decent thing to do. Not walking when you know you are out is dishonest. I did it only once – for a good reason it seemed at the time, but still the wrong one. I felt so guilty that I got out immediately afterwards.

Cricket would instantly become a better game if young cricketers in every country were to be taught from now onwards that walking is the right thing to do when they know they are genuinely out. Most wickets fall, after all, to catches. Essentially it would reduce the umpires’ contentious decision-making to lbws, run-outs, stumpings and those rare occasions when it is not clear whether or not a fair catch has been made.

If you’ve got time, read the whole speech. It’s a spirited and passionate plea that I hope becomes the norm, although I’m not convinced that it will. I went to play cricket again this year for the first time in 10 years. I had this exact conversation. I then batted 2 weeks later, and walked. My captain was furious. I explained why, and he seemed okay but we’ll see what happens next time it happens. Thankfully, he’s given me out LBW twice since when the ball hit me outside the line of off stump. I’m not too sure what his logic is, but he’s not the captain (or if I’ve got anything to do with it, umpire either!) next season so swings and roundabouts…

Yorkshire broadcasting great and avid cricket fan Parky also makes the case for walking here in The Telegraph.

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