“Let me throw a mathematical dilemma at you – there’s 500 left, well how come the odds of you winning are a million to one?”
Interspersed with the groups of attractive women, the opera-signing grannies and the adorable teenagers are those talent contest singers whose solitary act is utter humiliation on national television. They don’t set out with this goal of course but their blinkered eyes and selective hearing mean they don’t quite hear and witness what is so bleeding obvious to the rest of us. It is not ego but disillusion which drives these people into that audition room. Because somehow, someone, somewhere has told them they have an angelic voice and a face sculpted inside heaven itself. In reality, they are the ones to blame for this country’s high precipitation rate and their boat races could only be cherished by their own mothers.
The dream is soon dashed, often quite abruptly by the ruthless judges. Outside they scream conspiracy and vow vengeance. Rather than limping away with the tail between their legs, the embarrassment is compounded as the disillusion is heightened.
Sport is of course filled with those lucky few who’ve made it to their appropriate level as a result of their talent. The pretenders and con artists have (Ali Dia aside) been wheedled out long ago.
But it seems Sam Allardyce is quickly sacrificing any dignity he may have had in order to achieve the public humiliation suffered by these talentless talent contestants.
Allardyce believes he is not just capable of managing Inter Milan and Real Madrid, he believes he would win the league and double EVERY time. Now if Sam was a rip roaring success we could say that he was egotistical in the same way that Jose Mourinho is and Brian Clough was. But Allardyce is more like those blissfully unaware X-Factor flops than Kanye West. Without success egotism is simply disillusion.
But there is an ulterior motive to Sam’s outlandish beliefs. For the English F.A. are searching for someone to save fair England from their current demise. Word has travelled through the land that the only man capable of removing the sword from the stone is English. Fair Fabio, the Italian knight wasn’t able to get England out of the rut so the pretender has to be English, apparently. Being one of the few who isn’t excluded by such a distinction, Sam has taken it upon himself to embark on a rather public two-year interview.
The biggest hindrance to Sam’s quest is that the ‘X-Factor’ in this case might be managing a big club or it might be managing teams in European competition. Whichever it is, Sam falls woefully short on both counts. It isn’t like Allardyce is the last kid to get picked; he’s just nowhere near the first. You’d pick Allardyce because he can kick the ball further than anyone else and possibly because he could beat the living daylights out of anyone who happened to be quick or skilful. At performing barbaric acts, he is effective. But for managerial pedigree, you’d look elsewhere.
Yet like those klutzes auditioning for Simon Cowell, Allardyce cries conspiracy. Overlooked for the top jobs, he shrieks. No money where I am, he laments.
He is oblivious to the fact that his style of football is akin to those window-shattering vocalists. Somehow, someone, somewhere, must have told Allardyce he’s a great manager.
“To be mature means to face, and not evade, every fresh crisis that comes”
Ten months ago it seemed Nani’s days at Manchester United were numbered. His performances were sporadic and his great potential remained largely untapped. Publically criticising Sir Alex Ferguson should have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It appeared that Nani was harbouring for a move in January but Ferguson had other ideas. Presumably Ferguson traded the hairdryer in and elected to place a shoulder around Nani’s slumped shoulders because his form soon picked up.
In fact, he excelled in the latter stages of the last campaign. From totally destroying Gaël Clichy at the Emirates, he then notched a brace against Bayern Munich before scoring with a sumptuous chip against Spurs. In 2010, the proverbial penny appeared to have dropped for Nani; few could have seen the turnaround coming.
12 months ago, United fans hoped the blow of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure would be softened by his fellow Portuguese winger. Nani is rightly keen to establish his own identity but it seems his career is destined to be tenuously linked to Ronaldo’s. By treading a similar path, throwing in multiple stepovers and using copious amounts of hair gel, Nani is emulating Ronaldo in many ways. But whilst Ronaldo evolved the predatory instincts of a striker, Nani has been finely honing his skills as a more creative winger.
In attempting to break free from the “poor-man’s Ronaldo” tag he was lumbered with, Nani needed to grow as both a player and a person. If anyone had any doubt of Nani’s maturation, they were soon silenced in the past few weeks.
It was Nani who shouldered much of the blame for the dropped points at Craven Cottage. After his missed penalty late in the game (which was ironically reminiscent of Ronaldo in its execution), Fulham grabbed an unlikely point from the jaws of defeat. The Nani of old, the one who made those ill-thought-out comments back in November, may have caved in and let it drain his confidence. Ferguson himself may have even been reluctant to pick him. But since then he turned in a man of the match performance against West Ham in the next game and followed that with a two-assist showing at Everton.
There may have been a time in the embryonic stages of his career at Old Trafford when traits such as selfishness and petulance would have defined him. But there has been an acceptance of the collective importance of a team now. Consider his celebration against West Ham as an example. Rather than resort to his trademark flip, he embraced his teammates pointing to Wayne Rooney to show his appreciation. Whilst the acrobatics display Nani’s athleticism, his reluctance to take to the air showcased a realisation. By sacrificing personal posturing for the communal embrace, Nani is discovering that it is the team which must take precedence.
In interviews too, a more mature tone has been added to his boyish vocals. He is preaching from experience when he speaks of the advice he has give Bebé:
“Sometimes you try to show everything at first and things don’t go quite right. It is important to try and keep things simple, get your confidence up, and then show your quality.”
With the furore surrounding Bebé it is uplifting to see Nani take his fellow countrymen under his wing. Nani himself knows the transition to English football is difficult and his willingness to tutor Bebé can only help the newcomer.
Meanwhile on the pitch, Nani’s bright start to the season will need to continue if United are to challenge for honours this season. With Antonio Valencia now unfortunately side-lined for a lengthy spell, Nani has the chance to shine in his favoured right-wing position. One year ago, when he was asked to step up in the absence of another he appeared to buckle under the pressure, but this is a new, more focused Nani. Now he is more likely to seize the initiative, to revel in the increased role.
The team is currently over-reliant on its elder statesmen and the future so ominously hinges on the development of its raw talent. But Nani is one of the few bridging the gap. At 23, he has plenty of time to establish himself as one of the game’s most potent attacking players. At 23, he can also aid the development of the younger players still finding their feet in England. The maturation of Nani has begun.
“I think all of the guys in the huddle knew it. We are on the verge of becoming I think a very good offense.”
Pre-season optimism is still rife in Chicago and there will be more than a sceptical eyebrow raised when quarterback Jay Cutler insists this Bears offense is on the verge of becoming very good. Racking up 463 offensive yards to the Detroit Lions’ 168, the Bears should have been out of sight even before the controversial Calvin Johnson ‘touchdown’ was annulled. But red-zone woes and turnovers plagued the Bears as they scraped past the Lions 19-14.
The arrival of offensive coordinator Mike Martz will either make or break Chicago this year and this game suggested the Bears still need to improve if they hope to secure a play-off berth. Martz is famed for instigating the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ in St Louis as his exciting offense won the Super Bowl in the 1999 season. Since then Martz has performed indifferently at Detroit and San Francisco before he shored up in Chicago. It his time in St Louis which is fondly remembered though and the Bears are hoping his arrival will kick-start Cutler’s Bears career.
Cutler’s first year in Chicago was turbulent. He led the league in interceptions and with Matt Forte struggling at running back; he was under even more pressure to produce. In his first game leading Martz’s offense, Cutler went 23/35, 372 yards with two touchdowns and a solitary interception. He led the league in interceptions last year and he threw one early on with a suicidal ball into triple coverage. There were so many Lions in close vicinity that they could afford to deflect the ball twice before intercepting. Aside from this though, Cutler had a reasonable day at the office.
But Cutler isn’t the most problematic piece of the Bears’ puzzle. Questions surrounding the offensive line, running game and receivers are still crucially unanswered after this performance against the lowly Lions. A narrow 19-14 victory would have seemed like a travesty in the past two years and this defeat marked Detroit’s 21st consecutive defeat on the road. But the Lions are markedly improved, particularly on defense and had their quarterback Matthew Stafford completed the game the Lions may have produced something of an upset.
The offensive line did little to quell the doubters. Martz has come under fire in the past for exposing his quarterbacks to defensive fronts all too often. Yesterday was no different as Cutler was sacked on four occasions and flushed out of the pocket on countless others. The sight of the Bears quarterback picking himself up from the turf was all too familiar. The Lions front four is much improved but the Bears will face even more fearsome pass rushes this season. Jared Allen and the Vikings will have been buoyed by what they saw and after watching how disruptive Clay Matthews was against the Eagles, Cutler may have slept uneasy. Thoughts of facing DeMarcus Ware next week won’t ease these fears either.
To Cutler’s credit he countered the additional pressure by scrambling and making plays with his feet. He amassed over 20 yards rushing and had another 10 yard rush called back for holding. Cutler will need to utilise his athleticism on countless occasions this year if he is to keep plays alive.
The offensive line did little to aid the running game either. Twice the Bears were within touching distance of the end zone only to be held up. After a Lance Briggs fumble recovery, the Bears were inches from the line and couldn’t punch the ball in with four chances. An indictment of the offensive line and Forte, the Lions somehow held them up on three occasions with a risky play-action call on third down not materialising.
Forte’s biggest contributions came in the passing game and he was Chicago’s star man in the receiving game. He produced an 89 yard touchdown on a screen pass, taking it to the house after some good blocking. He also caught the game winning touchdown as the astute Cutler recognised a mismatch before firing to Forte in the corner of the end zone. Martz does like to utilise his backs in the passing game and Forte’s big afternoon bodes well for the team. Chester Taylor also saw plenty of time and he is another back useful on little dump down passes. These two could yet be Cutler’s biggest weapons especially with the wide receivers having a quiet afternoon.
Cutler’s favourite target was Devin Aromashodu who he frequently looked for. Tight end Greg Olsen will not be as productive under Martz and so it proved here. Meanwhile Devin Hester continues to struggle in his quest to become an established receiver. Johnny Knox grew as the game went on but both he and Aromashodu risked incurring Martz’s wrath after failing to run the correct routes.
Ultimately this system will hinge on the productivity of the receivers. Its dependence on timing and the receiver’s adjustments are just as pivotal as the quarterback’s cerebral capabilities.