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Posts Tagged ‘George Allwell’

It all started with a tweet.

A harmless tweet, or so I thought, reacting to the running cricket story being played out on BBC Radio Five claiming Graeme Swann (and this is the sport headline)

has attacked some of the tournament commentators for their scathing criticism after yesterdays defeat against Ireland, accusing some of them of short memories.

Now, having seen Michael Vaughan analysing the bowling performance after the India game, I, perhaps wrongly, assumed the “short memories” accusation referred to either Vaughan or Nasser Hussain (The two most recent converts to the commentary box; in fact, Vaughan, Nasser and Swann may have been on the first tour to South Africa under Duncan Fletcher, although I’m not sure.)

I can’t believe the interview the BBC are using, which is here is referring to the ridiculously negative Boycott or Botham (these two have been saying the same thing, over and over again, for years.)

And I was very surprised when the 2005 Ashes winning captain, and brilliant test match batsman Michael Vaughan, responded to the tweet with the type of biting fury usually reserved by Man Utd fans/manager after a dodgy penalty at Stamford Bridge. Here is the response,

Now before the pedants out there bombard the comments section referring to the lack of correct capitalisation or the missing “please” or “me”, imagine my initial delight when the smiling forehead (nothing wrong with that!) that is Michael Vaughan responds to my tweet; however, the delight soon turned to amused confusion when I re-read the tweet for a second time. Shit, I’ve been set up by the BBC and my knack of mis-assumption. VaughanCricket would never say anything bad about the England cricket team would he? It must have been Nasser! The traitor.

I’m quite rightly put in my place when MV responds again,

Fair point. I can’t argue with that, can I? Well, if you look a little further down Vaughan’s timeline, you find this photo of Bob Willis (arguably the worst reactionary cricket analyst I’ve ever seen, even worse than Beefy)

Now he might not have been in the commentary box, but he is in the studio, analysing the England vs Ireland match. This tweet from the cricket stat-man at Sky Sports confirms it,

So I’m not sure if Vaughan was himself being slightly pedantic, okay he wasn’t in the box, commentating on every ball, but he was still being critical of the bowling and fielding in the studio.

Now, my initial tweet was clearly praising the players (and Swann in particular)  for responding to the barrage of criticism that comes with a World Cup defeat. Especially when that negativity comes from ex-players who have only just removed their pads and packed up their bowling boots.

Here is a little CricInfo quote on Vaughan,

Vaughan was duly recalled, as captain, for the one-day series and retained for the World Cup in spite of a debilitating hamstring strain that reduced him to just three appearances out of ten in a victorious CB Series campaign. He limped his way through the World Cup (in 2007/8), in every sense of the word, becoming an increasing liability in the top order. Two months later he quit the limited-overs captaincy

So although playing through the pain is admirable, it doesn’t benefit the team when you become “an increasing liability in the top order”. Now like I said above, Vaughan was a wonderful batsman with the best cover drive you’re ever likely to see, but jumping ship from the field of play into the pundit’s chair and reverting to easy clichés, reacting to individual games without a broad sense of the bigger picture and then denying he’d made any such comments is disappointing coming from a captain famed for his innovative field settings and tactical captaincy. His record as England captain is second to none. I just wish, like Swanny, that some of the ex-players would remember what it was like when they were playing instead of reverting to lazy clichés.

Swann says it best in this tweet, and also the interview that was being repeated on the BBC Sport website and Radio Five,

Yet, the banter/putting in place/twitter spat, with Vaughan was to continue when he said this,

Again, pedants, I’m not a multi-seat vehicle used by teams to travel to away games or, thankfully, am I the coach of the England cricket team. That is my point though; England are the current World 20/20 champions, we’ve just trampled all over the Australian’s for the first time since I was born during the Ashes victory in Australia and we’ve already got a fantastic coach and captain.

Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have overseen a radical overhaul of the cricket team. They are renowned for the detailed batting plans, bowling strategy and improving fielding standards. This may be hard to remember based on the recent performance against Ireland, Holland and India; our fielding has been rubbish and the bowling has been poor. I never once claimed I was “happy” with the England bowling during the Ireland game, nor did Swann – he admitted mistakes were made. Swann said they could have “bowled wider of off stump or more yorkers” and I’m sure there will be plenty of analysis by the England management/coaching team. However, reactionary media pundits clamour for selection changes, and when you take into account the bowling averages of the England attack it becomes obvious that the players are capable, so maybe there are other explanations.

Anderson:

Broad:

Bresnan:

Swann:

Yardy:

Looking at these figures, especially the overall ODI strike rates/averages shows that this England bowling attack has the capability to perform at this level.

Anderson, who has a reputation of conceding runs, especially on flat tracks like the one England played on versus India and Ireland, is also considered by the team management as an all rounder. Not because of his batting but because he’s the best fast-bowling fielder the world has ever seen. Broad, a brilliant three-pronged cricketer, with a strike rate in ODI’s better than most; is still only 24 and should be fresh after his two month break while Anderson and the others were finishing off the Aussies in the Ashes before losing the needless 7 match one day series. Bresnan, the star who replaced Broad (or Finn) in the test side, took five wickets against India on the flat track at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, including Sehwag. Swann is the highest ranked English bowler in ODI and test cricket, enough said. The only weak link seems to be Yardy – his stats don’t look that impressive, but his contribution to the 20/20 victory should be remembered.

Anyway, the main point I made to Vaughan was that credit must go to Kevin O’Brien, his innings was the best I’ve seen at a World Cup.

Taking apart the English attack,

Scoring his 100 off only 50 balls, a World Cup world record for the fastest ever 100,Enabling Ireland to recover from 111/5 and chase 215 off 150 balls scoring at more than 8 an over for half the innings. So, the bowlers were good enough to reduce the Irish to 111/5? Can we not give credit to a brilliant exhibition of batting? Or are the Irish minnows, meaning they get no respect because they don’t play test cricket?

The stats editor at CricInfo writes in more detail,

S Rajesh explains,

What transpired in the last 25 was truly incredible, as Ireland scored at a run rate of 8.93, and lost only two wickets while doing so, in the process achieving the highest successful run-chase in World Cup history. In the batting Powerplay, Ireland scored 62 without losing a wicket, which is the second-highest score in batting Powerplays in this World Cup, next to Pakistan’s 70 for 1 in their one-sided match against Kenya.

Kevin O’Brien blasted the fastest World Cup century, and he didn’t just edge past the earlier record; he utterly demolished it, bettering Matthew Hayden’s mark by 16 deliveries. In fact, only five batsmen have scored a quicker century in the entire history of one-day internationals.

And that is my point, which I made to Mr Vaughan after his claims of my delight with the England bowling,

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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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When we started this blog we wanted it to be a sports blog covering lots of different sports, so far we have covered football, tennis, snooker and cricket, there are other sports we intend to write about to keep this as varied as possible. We were also very careful to make sure this does not become a blog about Liverpool FC, there are plenty of LFC blogs out there and even we don’t want to have another one, however myself and George are both fans of Liverpool so it is inevitable that we are sometimes going to write about the club that we love (even our one guest post was by a Liverpool fan about Liverpool FC).

But at least this is a positive post as opposed to my last article about the Liverpool management which was posted on December 30. I wrote it in the aftermath of a 1-0 home loss to Wolves and begged for Roy Hodgson to either resign or be fired, Liverpool were languishing in 12th place and a relegation battle was a very real possibly, the league table tells it’s own story…

Then on 8th January every LFC fan got their wish, Roy Hodgson was sacked, to make the news even sweeter Kenny Dalglish was handed the task of turning this dismal season around. His first game in charge was the small matter of Manchester United at old Trafford in The F.A Cup, we lost 1-0 but the signs were encouraging. Then it was a trip to Blackpool who had turned us over at Anfield 2-1, a great start by LFC was rewarded with a brilliant Torres goal after 2 minutes, things were looking good for about another 5 minutes before the inevitable happened, LFC couldn’t take the game to the opposition and Blackpool capitalised, scoring twice before half time and holding on for their second 2-1 victory over Liverpool this season.

Were things changing though? Was Kenny’s influence starting to show? Were Liverpool beyond help? All good questions and you felt some would be answered at Anfield on Sunday 16th January (my 32nd birthday incidentally) when we faced Everton.

Only 10 minutes in I knew I was watching a different team, aesthetically they were the same as before but you could feel something different, it was like they had a new focus, a new enthusiasm, a new mentality, Kenny’s presence was starting to be a factor. Liverpool took the lead mid-way through the first half with a great strike by Meireles, his first LFC goal. It looked as though a victory was a formality but 1 minute into the 2nd half Distin scored from a corner, 6 minutes later Beckford scored (which was Ben Thornley’s fault!) and that gave Everton the lead, fortunately we were awarded a penalty from which Kuyt made it 2-2 and that is how it stayed. I said after the game that I would still have been happy even if Liverpool had lost as it was just so nice to see them playing well again.

Now what Kenny needed was a win and that was delivered only 6 days later with a very comfortable victory over Wolves at Molineux, it was a fantastic performance with one of the goals of the season from the ever improving Meireles. The game was overshadowed somewhat by the controversy surrounding the female assistant referee, Sian Massey and the comments made by Sky Sports presenter and commentator, Richard Keys and Andy Gray, I am not commenting on it,  just making reference to the fact it was at that game where the incident occurred.

Suddenly the table started to make better reading…

 

Obviously 10th is unacceptable, but it was unthinkable 3 weeks earlier.

Next game was home to Fulham, it wasn’t a great performance but enough was done to secure a 1-0 win, back to back victories and back to back clean sheets, the Steve Clarke effect was being felt as much as the Kenny Dalglish effect.

In between the Fulham match and the upcoming Stoke match was the end of the transfer window, I have already posted about it before so won’t go into it again, highlights were…Torres went to Chelsea, we got Carroll and Suarez, I am happy with it as are plenty of LFC fans.

Back to Stoke, we had been fundamently outplayed by Stoke in November and needed to keep this run going to banish the memories of that defeat, another goal from Meireles and a debut goal from Suarez coming off the bench meant a 2-0 win for LFC and another clean sheet.

This brings us to our last game before this post was written, Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the hype surrounding Torres was crazy, will he play? Won’t he play? Will he score? Will Carragher try to break his legs? In the end only one of these things happened, he played, well…sort of, 65 minutes of anonymity and he was substituted. Meireles was the hero once again as he pounced on a Cech error to score and Liverpool held on for a fantastic 1-0 win.

For the record that is now four wins from four, two home and two away, with no goals conceded, the instant impact that Dalglish is having is in such contrast to the negative, boring football employed by Hodgson, I like Hodgson the man, but he was the wrong man for this job and proved it so.

So exactly one month after Daglish was appointed and was asked “Do you think you can get Liverpool out of this relegation battle they are heading for?” he now gets asked the question “Do you think you can make the Champions league places?” Here is the current league table that proves the impact Kenny has had…

More enjoyable though than moving up the table and keeping clean sheets is the way LFC are playing, I have spent a long, long time watching Liverpool matches on TV and thinking ‘this is awful, I want to change the channel’ I never do and just endure the boredom. Not now though, now watching Liverpool is fun again, you can see how much the players are enjoying it, how much the Anfield faithful are enjoying it, you can even see how much Kenny Dalglish is enjoying it, and all of this has happened in just…. one month.

Roy Hodgson said during one of the darker times of his tenure that you need “plenty of time to get a new managers methods across”

No you don’t, you need to understand the club, understand how to handle the players, be tactically astute against other clubs, know how to speak to the media, know how to buy a player that will enhance the squad (that is not a dig at Konchesky, he always tried his best, its just his best wasn’t enough) but most importantly, you need to know you are manager of Liverpool Football Club…

…and that is something Kenny Dalglish definitely understands.

Marcus J Mitchell.

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I think my favourite January transfer window cliché is…

It’s silly season

…It is said because clubs will only sell players for crazy amounts of money, but it never actually happens, as Sky Sports News have repeatedly said, last year’s total for the entire window was just over £29m.

However, there must have been something in the water at this year’s LMA Xmas do because it has gone….well…silly.

This is what was so silly…

January 7th – Manchester City sign Edin Dzeko for £27m, this wasn’t a crazy price considering he was one of the most sought after strikers in Europe but his transfer fee almost covered the entire expenditure of last years window.

 

January 19th – Aston Villa pay massively over the odds for Darren Bent completing the transfer for an astonishing £24m.

Not a lot happened until January 30th, when Spurs put in a number of bids for a series of unobtainable Spain based players, making offers for Aguero, Negredo, Rossi and Llorente, none of these bids were accepted and Spurs finished up with nobody. But the rumour mill involving Fernando Torres started up and media reports suggested Chelsea had put a bid of around £35m in which was rejected out of hand by Liverpool. However some journalists suggested that Torres was keen for this transfer to happen.

So we move onto January 31st, transfer deadline day, It started with Newcastle claiming they had rejected a £30m bid from an unnamed club, although ‘Sky Sources’ suggested it was Liverpool, seemingly getting ready for life without Torres. Liverpool also were just awaiting the formalities to seal the deal to sign Luis Suarez.

A lot of faffing around was followed by this amazing series of events…

…Liverpool confirmed the signing of Suarez for £23m, breaking their transfer record (Torres’ transfer was £20m)…

 

…Then also confirmed the new British record transfer of Andy Carroll for £35m, a staggering amount of money for a player who has only scored 34 goals in his professional career, this also meant that Liverpool had broken their own transfer record for the second time in 2 hours, oh and it is the 7th largest transfer in the history of football…

 

…Carroll’s transfer would have been the 6th highest transfer in world football but just 3 minutes later, Chelsea confirmed the signing of Fernando Torres for £50m, the highest fee ever paid in British football and the 4th highest fee in the world behind Ronaldo (£80m), Ibrahimovic (£60m) and Kaka (£56m)…

 

…the total spent is just over £215m, that is nearly ten times what was spent 12 months ago.

Now there are a lot of “experts” saying that the money spent is simply ludicrous, I have a different opinion on this, if a club offers a certain amount of money for a player and the other club accept this offer then the player can move between the clubs, why should the value be any issue of yours or mine, I won’t be poorer because Liverpool have spent £35m on Carroll, I think Carroll is an excellent player and I am truly excited by the prospect of him and Suarez linking up, so the cost is irrelevant, they needed players to replace Torres and Babel and have bought them.

Let me say this, as a Liverpool fan I have never been so excited watching transfer deadline day unfold, I’m devastated Torres has left but that chapter is over and a new one is about to begin.

But it has been a bit silly though.

Marcus J Mitchell.

P.s. I feel like an idiot for forgetting to mention Apostolos Vellios, Evertons ‘nominal fee’ signing, so here he is (thanks to KevCeeJay for the reminder)…

…This is also the only time Everton fans will see him for the next three years before he is farmed out on loan to Swindon before being released.

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We recorded a Sportscast last September when both me and Marcus predicted Andy Murray would win the Australian Open 2011. A bold prediction? Maybe. Nadal had just won Wimbledon, Murray was struggling for form, and Federer was, well Roger Federer. Other players, like Soderling, Berdych and Djokovic were all winning matches and climbing the rankings, so why the confidence in Andy Murray? Well, he lost in the final of last year’s Aussie Open, and is on record as saying the hard court surface suits his game. However, my main reason was Nadal’s dominance at Roland Garros, and Federer at Wimbledon. Meaning if he was going to win any, this would be his best opportunity.

I’ve been following Murray’s career since he burst on to the scene as a gangly teenager by winning the US Open junior title. Predictable hype followed his success, and after replacing Tim Henman as British number one within 2 years of turning professional certainly increased the anticipation that Murray might be the next Fred Perry.

He was coached in Spain, his Mum refusing to let him enter the LTA’s youth coaching set up fearing they would turn his undoubted potential into the next Jeremy Bates (and I’m not knocking Batesy, I remember the delight I used to feel when a British player reached the second round at Wimbledon, never mind the second week!)

He progressed quickly up the mens rankings, and secured a number of notable victories over the then invincible Federer. He won more Masters Series titles in his first five years, than Tiger Tim did in his whole career. He has also reached two grand slam finals, losing both to breathtaking performances from Federer. Finally, in August 2009, he reached number two in the world rankings, another British record. But the nagging, constant and frustrating elephant in the room still reminded us that, so far, he’s won the same amount of grand slam titles as Henman, Bates and Bogdanovic.

Murray seems to annoy a lot of British tennis fans, his aggression; his on court antics; his lack of Queens English and to the odd idiotic xenophobe, the fact he’s Scottish. His attitude toward Brad Gilbert was questioned, although that partnership was somewhat forced on him by the inspirational LTA (assuming a mens grand slam title would reduce the focus on the depth and quality of the overall British tennis standards). His fitness levels, his serve, his tactics and his commitment have all been called into question at one time or another. His occasional decision to miss the Davis Cup has led to calls of selfishness and betrayal. The vast majority of these criticisms, in my opinion, are way off the mark.

He needs to be selfish. He needs to put himself first. You don’t play for your country very often in tennis, you play for yourself. When he starts taking the weight of a nations expectation on his shoulders, he’s doomed. Just like Henman, you could see him wilting under the pressure. Murray goes for shots. Murray sits back and defends. Murray comes into the net after his big booming serve. He’s got the whole package. He’s equally strong on his forehand and his backhand. No, he’s not got the extreme power of Nadal or the finesse, perfect technique and genius of Federer; but as he gets older, he regularly dispatches the rest of the field with relative ease. The only question left for him to answer is a victory in a grand slam event. Me and Marcus predicted the Australian Open would be the one. Let’s hope we’re right…

*(This is a funny little bonus from the ever brilliant Anton Vowl – Andy Murray’s ‘Grace Jones Face’

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As we approach the end of the transfer window, the stakes start to rise. Who will break first? Players handing in transfer requests; agents releasing statements to the rumour-mongering ever-knowledgable gossip columnists and managers singing club anthems.

In past seasons, we’ve even had players refusing to play

The Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, has revealed the moody Bulgarian refused to play in games against Sunderland and Chelsea, in which the team dropped five points during their worst-ever start to a season, culminating in Juande Ramos being sacked last weekend. Talking about Berbatov agitating for a move to United over the course of more than a year, Levy said: “We had a player that had refused to play two Premier League games for us, was having a detrimental impact on the dressing room and we’d known for a year that this player wanted out of this club.” Levy added: “I don’t think he treated the club with the respect we deserved. We put him on the map. He signed a long-term contract with this club and I think he should have stayed.”

Is it simply a case of expressing your interest in a player by making a formal bid to the club or do clubs contact the player’s agent – declare an interest – and hope this will unsettle the player? Or is it even more complicated? Damian Commoli has recently been appointed to oversee the transfers at Liverpool, and according to Kevin McCarra is a keen advocate of

Moneyball, the renowned book by Michael Lewis that was published in 2003. Its subject was the Oakland Athletics and, specifically, the general manager Billy Beane.Every manager hopes to crow over an outstanding player he secured for next to nothing. Beane was different because he was not following a hunch so much as questioning traditional attitudes about what it was that truly made the difference in a game. He also has a passion for football and, specifically, an allegiance to Tottenham Hotspur. Comolli, of course, worked at White Hart Lane as director of football for three years and during that period he came to know Beane. “We have been talking at length since 2006 about data application in both football and baseball,” said Comolli. “Everything I’ve been doing has come from what the A’s have been doing in terms of collecting and using data.”

One of the reasons for the Oakland ‘A’s’ success was that they were the first club to start questioning the traditional methods and assumptions of the Major League Baseball Draft System. They ignored the group of scouts at the club who tended to focus on physical athletes (who had the ‘look’ of a potential baseball star), select high school players instead of college players and continue with the same old tried and tested scouting philosophy. Billy Beane and his Oakland backroom team developed a computer programme that analysed specific skills, based on a large range of statistical data.

Instead, they drafted for unconventional statistical prowess: on-base percentage for hitters (rather than batting average) and strikeout/walk ratios for pitchers (rather than velocity). These undervalued stats came cheaply. With the sixth-lowest payroll in baseball in 2002, the Oakland Athletics won an American League best 103 games. They spent $41M that season, while the Yankees, who also won 103 games, spent $126M.

Beane then applied techniques in the transfer market he had learnt studying game theory, a fascinating area of applied mathematics now used in economics, political science and, I suspect, football transfers. Here is a brief explanation from Avinash Dixit, University Professor of Economics at Princeton University,

Game theory studies interactive decision-making, where the outcome for each participant or “player” depends on the actions of all. If you are a player in such a game, when choosing your course of action or “strategy” you must take into account the choices of others. But in thinking about their choices, you must recognize that they are thinking about yours, and in turn trying to take into account your thinking about their thinking, and so on.

These are exactly the kind of interactions that exist within the football transfer market. Prof. Dixit goes on to say,

…some aspects such as figuring out the true motives of rivals and recognizing complex patterns do often resist logical analysis. But many aspects of strategy can be studied and systematized into a science — game theory.

If this isn’t hurting your head yet, then you haven’t got a real head…

Similar ‘mind games’ or game theories exist in advanced poker strategy and other games or markets based on incomplete mis/information.

The football transfer market, especially in a restricted time period during the January window, is complicated by so many external forces. What other clubs perceive your budget is? What other clubs think you think they think the value of the player is? What other clubs watching the negotiation or bid think you will bid so they can ‘bluff’ bid to drive your purchase price higher. Billy Beane was an expert at playing other clubs off against each other, increasing the market by talking to newspapers about ‘the next big thing’ he had no intention of signing.

The current January transfer saga (other than Bent and Adam) has been the attempts to sign Luis Suarez. Here are a few examples of the rumours and factors relating to the potential sale of Suarez.

The level of truth in any of the reports needs to be questioned because the source is rarely, if ever, named. The other problem is the loose valuation of the player. The range is £15-£35 million. Liverpool were ‘reported’ to have offered £12.5 million and Ryan Babel (who has just moved to another club for £6 million) taking the total cash value to £18.5 million. This seems to be a fair initial offer, on the lower end of the price range, adding a player who had previously played for Ajax, would not need to acclimatize, whilst remembering that Ajax have got major financial problems and need to cash in on some of their assets. As with any negotiation, the first offer is usually rejected. Both Ajax and Liverpool will be aware that Liverpool expect the first offer to be rejected, but it does offer a slight insight into the maximum bid Liverpool are likely to make.

A mind game of imperfect information, negotiations carried out in public as well as private, under the glare of expectant fans desperate for a ‘major’ signing. The complex nature of transfer negotiations are often ignored in the football press with tiny soundbites and flashing yellow tickers reporting an estimated figure, the contract length and press conference clichés stating the player ‘wants to be at the club for a very long time’ and confirming ‘it had always been his dream to play for the club’. Liverpool might have someone attempting to apply complex theories to select a pool of players the manager can choose from, but they won’t have the success Billy Beane had, he was the first to try it, and we must remember

The main focus of a “Moneyball” approach is about maximizing use of whatever resources you have, and while the methods can be of great help to clubs with limited resources, they can be champions-winners for affluent ones. Chelsea and Arsenal, two of the top four spenders in the Premier League, already use them. It seems unlikely that Manchester United has thrived without them.

Not quite the simple game described here by the right-wing libertarian enlightened-one Old Holborn. We were discussing Andy Gray and Richard Keys,  two popular cavemen who once drove the Premiership brand forward.
Clearly he’s too intelligent to waste his time ‘pointing at pretty colours’. He’s evolved. Just (don’t) check his blog, you wouldn’t know it.
George Allwell

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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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