Archive for April, 2011

Does football overvalue the big fish in the small pond?

April 26, 2011 6 comments

“You were a big fish in a small pond, but this here is the ocean and you’re drowning”
Last week, Scott Parker was crowned the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year. It was met with glee from the masses who felt the award was wholly merited.
Parker’s ability to singlehandedly try and keep West Ham United afloat this term earned him the award. In what has been a peculiar Premier League season, Parker’s efforts could ultimately be in vain in a collective sense despite his personal glory. There’s also been widespread appreciation of Blackpool’s Charlie Adam in his first year in the Premier League.
The two represent big fishes in small ponds. The two brightest stars in an otherwise crystal clear sky. The question then, is would they be so highly regarded were they plying their trades at the other end of the league table? After all, Parker was deemed expendable during Chelsea’s initial revolution under Roman Abramovich and Adam was surplus to requirements at Rangers.
The issue can be translated to a continental level when you consider the career of Schalke striker Raúl González. Raúl spent 16 years at Real Madrid winning a plethora of leagues and cups. He holds the record for most appearances and goals at Madrid and in the Champions League. He is Spain’s most capped outfield player and until recently he was also the country’s all-time top scorer. Not only is he a gifted striker with an impressive scoring record, he is a Madridista and for many years, was the captain of the European giants. By all accounts he should be recognised as one of if not the greatest striker of the last two decades.

But Raúl has never acquired the personal accolades to match his statistics. He has, for example, never won a Ballon d’Or (coming second once in 2001).

Parker has shone despite West Ham's poor season

His love affair with Madrid ended in 2010 when he opted for a new challenge rather than witness his career fade out on Real’s bench. Since his move to Schalke, Raúl’s name has risen to prominence once again. His goal scoring record in Germany is decent but still some way short of the figures he produced in his prime at Madrid.

When looking for an attribution factor, football’s penchant for overvaluing the big fish in the small pond seems like the logical explanation. At Madrid, Raul was overshadowed by two eras of Galacticos. To strive for recognition he had to outmuscle Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham, Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká. At Schalke he is by far and away the biggest pull.

If you need more evidence that we overvalue the big fish in the small pond take the career of Matt Le Tissier. He was a midfield maestro with magnificent technical attributes who spent his whole career at Southampton. Yet Le Tissier only amassed eight England caps. His talent surely deserved more but are we right to hold him such high esteem when reflecting on his career? Would Le Tissier still be as revered had he played for Manchester United or Arsenal?

Just like the scouts who scour this country’s playing fields for prospective talents, it is the diamonds in the rough that come to the fore.

When the media hype up the next generation, we hear just as much, if not more, about talents like Ipswich’s Connor Wickham and Southampton’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. They are young men of unquestionable ability but we forget that like Le Tissier, Parker and Adam, they are still making large splashes in small pools.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

Do you think that football overvalues the big fish in the small pond too? Let me know in the comments section.


Uncertainty over NFL future quells 2011 draft hype

April 22, 2011 1 comment

“To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is ridiculous”
In 6 days time, the 76th annual NFL Draft will take place in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. It is the league’s great equaliser. The event which provides fans of struggling teams with hope that next year will be entirely different and history proves there’s a very good chance of exactly that happening. 

As ever, there are many plots which carry significant interest. Which quarterback, Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton will be taken first? Will they go first overall? Will the attitude of Nick Fairley greatly damage his stock? Will concerns over Da’Quan Bowers’ knee dissuade many of the teams picking early on in the first round? Then there are the inevitable trade ups and trade downs to factor in. As usual everyone will be monitoring the New England Patriots who have a wealth of picks to work with.

But four of the NFL’s Network’s top analysts all chose the same top 5 except for Steve Wyche who has Bowers going to the Bengals instead of A.J. Green. Barring this, they all seem convinced it will be Newton, Marcell Dareus, Von Miller, Green and Gabbert winding up in Carolina, Denver, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Arizona respectively.

Cam Newton is expected to go first overall

So is predictability the reason this draft has largely failed to lure me in like previous years? No. At this stage, the consensus about who will land where is fairly unanimous. Last year’s top three picks were called by anybody with a passing interest in the league. Where Carolina will go with that first pick this year is actually more difficult to predict.  

The uncertainty of the draft is one of its great allures. But the uncertainty of the league’s future is an irritant for everyone.

The reasoning behind my apathy to this draft is to do with the lockout which continues to cast a shadow over the league. Without the free agency period, something seems to be missing.

We’ve not had every team bend over backwards to try and accommodate Nnamdi Asomugha as the NBA did last summer with LeBron James. There’s been relatively little talk about whether Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Antonio Cromartie and Brad Smith will remain with the Jets next year.

Then there’s Carson Palmer who, despite threatening to retire should he not get a ticket out of Cincinnati, hasn’t really got the attention he probably thinks he merits. Perhaps we’re all sick of too many instalments of Favre Watch to cast more than a sideways glance at Palmer’s threats.

Instead all the chatter has been focused on if and when a new Creative Bargaining Agreement will be reached. The prolonged sense of uncertainty has left other issues like the draft seem irrelevant in contrast.  

This week the NFL announced its schedule which was an encouraging sign that the off-field issues will thankfully subside and a new CBA can be reached. But only then will it truly to start to feel like football’s just around the corner once again.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

Are you excited about the 2011 NFL Draft? Who do you think your team will select in the first round? Let me know in the comments section.

Premier League’s alternative Team of the Year

April 18, 2011 4 comments

“I’d rather be the underdogs. I’d rather people not know my name when I come out and do this stuff. Then they’ll say ‘Who was that?'”

Yesterday the PFA Team of the Year was announced. Whilst the team conjured up is an acknowledgement of the very best, this Premier League season has featured plenty of underdogs coming to the fore. The PFA Team of the Year consists entirely of players the league’s top five clubs. This alternative team doesn’t feature any players from those teams. Furthermore, those who’ve received plenty of praise, such as Charlie Adam, Scott Parker, Andy Carroll and Leighton Baines, are excluded. So here are the unsung heroes, those who’ve quietly impressed:

Goalkeeper: Ben Foster (Birmingham City)

This season could have gone very differently for Ben Foster. He may have continued to play understudy to Edwin Van der Sar before being passed the baton at Manchester United this August. Instead, Foster opted for Birmingham City. The Midlands club have had a difficult year in the league but Foster has slotted in well behind Alex McLeish’s typically sturdy defence. He was also pivotal to Birmingham’s Carling Cup success.

Huth and Foster have impressed in league and cup

Left Back: José Enrique (Newcastle United)

José Enrique has been virtually ever-present in Newcastle’s team this year and has featured in every one of their eight clean sheets. Newcastle have had plenty of defensive troubles over the year but they seem to have found a very solid full-back in José Enrique. That may be about to change though as his name continues to be heavily linked with a move to Anfield this summer.

Centre Back: Robert Huth (Stoke City)

Huth may not be a popular player but he has excelled at Stoke this year. They’ve garnered a reputation as a difficult team to score against ever since they won promotion and Huth has enhanced their status. But he has also proved a legitimate threat at the other end of the pitch too. Huth’s bagged six goals in the league making him Stoke’s joint highest scorer.

Centre Back: Gary Cahill (Bolton Wanderers)

Speak to those who regularly go to the Reebok this year and they’ll tell you how good Cahill has been. Owen Coyle has transformed the ethos of Bolton Wanderers and the classy Cahill has flourished in the new style. He started the season with his first England cap and has ended it with his first England start. Expect him to remain very much in Fabio Capello’s thoughts in the future.

Right Back: Stephen Carr (Birmingham City)

Stephen Carr’s played in every minute of the nine clean sheets Birmingham have forged out. In fact, Carr has only missed 47 of the 2880 minutes Birmingham have played this year. Not bad for a 34-year-old man who announced his retirement in 2008. He has been somewhat of an unsung hero but pundits rightly cooed over his Carling Cup final performance against Arsenal.

Left Wing: Matthew Etherington (Stoke City)

It must be hard for a crafty, clever midfield technician to shine at Stoke City but Etherington continues to impress. Stoke’s long, missile balls can often bypass their midfield but Etherington does plenty of good work from wide positions. He remains a vital cog for Stoke with his deliveries from corners and free-kicks. Matt Jarvis could also be considered for this position after a bright season at Wolves.

Centre Midfield: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United)

Last year Nolan was award the Championship Player of the Year award and he’s carried that form with him as Newcastle look set to cement their Premier League status. He’s helped himself to 12 league goals making him the division’s highest scoring midfielder. Newcastle have recorded several goal gluts and Nolan has been inspired in all of them. His finest hour was a hat-trick in the 5-0 drubbing of local rivals Sunderland. Honourable mentions for this position must go to Nolan’s Newcastle teammates Joey Barton and Chiek Tioté.

Centre Midfield: Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)

Lucas was derided for so long by football fans in this country but his turnaround this year has been magnificent. Finally we’ve started to see why he has merited inclusion for both Liverpool and Brazil. In a tough season for Liverpool, he has been their most consistent performer. Lucas saved his best performances for the bigger games with typically destructive outings in wins against Chelsea and Manchester United.

Right Wing: Clint Dempsey (Fulham)

This season was always going to be a dull one for Fulham after their heroics last year. An early injury to Bobby Zamora only confirmed that. But Dempsey has had a steady season which has gone largely under the radar. He’s weighed in with a respectable ten goals with only Kevin Nolan bagging more from midfield.

Forward: D.J. Campbell (Blackpool)

So many strikers have failed to make the colossal leap up to the top tier of football so reaching double figures for the season is a great achievement for Campbell. He had an unsuccessful crack at the big time before with Birmingham but looks to have found his feet at Blackpool. Campbell has scored against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham proving he steps up against the league’s best.

Forward: Peter Odemwingie (West Bromwich Albion)

West Brom’s inability to stay in the Premier League in previous years had been blamed on the absence of a renowned goal scorer. In Peter Odemwingie, they now have a man to provide a finishing touch to their midfield guile. No side have scored more goals in the bottom half of the league. In his first season in English football, Odemwingie has bagged 12 goals and he also has eight assists. If West Brom stay up, he may be the signing of the season.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

Do you agree or disagree with my selections? Let me know in the comments section.

Wayne Rooney’s swearing isn’t the problem, reaction of TV generation is

April 3, 2011 9 comments

“Today, watching TV often means fighting, violence and foul language – and that’s just deciding who gets to hold the remote control”

This blog isn’t a defence of Wayne Rooney. Discussing his decision to adopt an angry and bitter tone is also not the issue here. Rather, this post is one big exasperated sigh at the reaction to swearing on a football field.

Sport invokes emotion, it invokes feeling. At the highest level, where the margins between winning and losing are so small yet their value is so great, it creates an intense pressure. So if you choose to shove a camera in someone’s face, especially a volatile character like Rooney, don’t be shocked at the results.  

Rooney shouldn’t be using that type of vile language they cried, it’ll set a bad example to kids. Now were these same kids subjected to the sights and sounds of any football ground on a Saturday afternoon they’d soon realise Rooney’s verbal repertoire is far from outlandish.  

Scene of the crime

But here lies the problem. This generation is the TV generation. They consume football through a rectangular shaped box, in high pixelated glory and with Martin Tyler narrating the performance they see before them. So footballers in turn are expected to adhere to the 9 o’clock watershed and perform as though they were extras on a soap opera.

The reality of what the atmosphere at a football ground is really like passes most people by. They are blissfully unaware of the verbal jousting between opposition fans and of players’ use of choice language at almost every moment in play. They have never witnessed the one ardent supporter (every club has one) who will spew outrageous statements about a player’s other half or fans’ nocturnal habits involving incest. It’s a rather different education to the one Martin Tyler offers.   

Will it make kids swear more? Possibly, but then if they have strong parents who disapprove of such language, they’ll soon stop. I’ve blogged already on how I think elevating footballers into role models is wrong. If a parent or a peer regularly swears that kid is more likely to copy, if they don’t, they won’t. Whether Wayne Rooney does it or not is ultimately inconsequential.

This was not a case of Rooney disrespecting anyone so to drag up the importance of the Respect campaign is wrong. He was, most probably, addressing his critics. His choice of medium and language were bizarre. That he had just scored a hat-trick of utmost importance said far more.

But this is not about Wayne Rooney; this is about the TV generation who believe they can make judgements from the sanctuary of their sofas. Bringing football to the masses with multiple camera angles, in HD and in 3D is a wonderful thing. But we must remember this is a game. A game played for many years by millions of people. It is not a television drama; it is played by real people not actors. Television records the action, it should not dictate it.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn