Thursday, 4 July 2013

The Week in Sports I

Welcome to the first Week in Sport! This will be a regular Thursday piece that, as the name suggests, rounds up the big headlines from the week. This week I am looking at the transfer window, Wimbledon and glancing at a few other stories from around the world of sports. Please feel free to comment at the end and if you like the blog please share it with your friend(s)! 
The Return of the Transfer Window
July 1st, as any Football Manager player will know, is the start of the summer transfer window/silly season in the premier league. It starts every year with hope and promise. The most exciting and simultaneously disgusting thing to do as a fan is estimate the amount of money your club is prepared to spend for your viewing pleasure. Your team has endless possibilities, a full war chest and a myriad of directions it could go in. Often however, it ends in disappointment and a sense of impending doom for the coming season akin to watching England in a penalty shoot-out. You know what is coming, it all seems to happen in slow motion and yet you can't do anything to stop it.
Andy Carroll is not usually this active on the pitch.
For a start, the hope you have is always tinged with the nagging doubt that your owner/chairman could, at any moment, turn into a chump. It has happened to the best of them; Man Utd’s David Gill signed Anderson for £20m in 2007. Anderson has played a mere 96 league games out of a potential 228 and his Wikipedia entry for last season relates mostly to his performances in the Capital One Cup. In 2010-11 Tom Werner of Liverpool pulled off a masterstroke, managing to rake in £50m for the empty shell of Fernando Torres and then spend half of that on the world-class Luis Suarez. [1] In a move that stunned English football he followed that up with the signing of Andy Carroll for THIRTY FIVE MILLION ENGLISH POUNDS. Werner went from genius to Muppet on the very same day.[2] Arsenal bought Antonio Reyes, Spurs have Emmanuel Adebayor and Fulham invested £11m in the “talents” of Steve Marlet.[3] All clubs have similar tales of woe and even the best chairmen make mistakes but some certainly seem to make them more often than others.
Another problem with the summer transfer window is the idea that your team could sell your favorite and/or best player. This can be a constant nagging fear in the back of your mind. As a Southampton fan this fear has not been unfounded in the last few years.[4] The constant idolizing of players by the media leaves fans in a pathetic state when they are sold. The player often then goes on to destroy any piece of goodwill that he had accumulated at his previous club by expressing his long-held, but previously unknown, desire to play for the new club. Every year, fans of a team losing a key player do everything from burning their shirts to refusing to renew their season tickets.[5]
Did he burn his shirt?
It is not only players that move on either. The summer transfer window can be a time of great upheaval and strain on football clubs and their owners. Expectation is through the roof and owner has to be convinced the manager is up to meeting those demands. Fifteen of the Premier League’s twenty managers were not in their current jobs in May 2011. Unbelievably, Newcastle’s embattled boss Alan Pardew is the second longest tenured manager in the Premier League after Arsene Wenger. Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley, has been desperate recently to force Pardew’s resignation by hiring the ridiculous Joe Kinnear over his head as director of football at St. James’s Park.[6]
Even past achievement has no bearing on managerial loyalty. All the managers that won a trophy in 2011-12 are no longer in that job.[7] Roberto Di Matteo was sacked a little over six months after his Champions League triumph to the well-documented disgust of Chelsea fans. If you are lucky the chairman, manager and scouting department are all pulling in the same direction and you end signing hidden gems like Michu. If you aren’t lucky you end up like the Toon.
Given all this, it is important for us as fans not to get too carried away with the speculation and outcome of the summer. Whether its Arsenal failing yet again to splash the cash, Southampton selling their best young starlet or Man Utd yet again failing to fix the creative hole in the centre of midfield, whatever happens to your club in the summer we should relax.[8] Shrug off that sense of impending disaster. There will always be another player. It is the summer. Nothing is decided yet. There will always be a chance to change things in January. All you have to do is just chill, watch cricket and hope your team doesn’t fall for a Geordie target man named Andy.
Laura Robson’s Breakout Wimbledon is Just the First Step
Arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time is Serena Williams. Her power game is the envy of virtually every player on the Women’s tour and is her greatest asset. At this years Wimbledon, Serena was hitting her forehand at an average of 70mph. Laura Robson was hitting hers at 74mph. Reminiscent of a young Lindsay Davenport given her heavy handed style, Robson has been tipped by many to become a quality top-10 player in near future. To achieve the desired rankings rise, what parts of Robson’s game need to improve in order to achieve this?
I refuse to make a joke about phwoarhands...
The first key improvement to be made is her movement around the court. Opponents also like to take advantage of her poor movement by bringing her into the net. Robson’s second round opponent Duque-Marino caused her all sorts of problems with drop shots and short slices. Robson was struggling to reach many of them and then, when she began to read Duque-Marino’s shot selection, unsure what to do in the unfamiliar situation leading to poor shot selection. A few times she went for an exceptionally difficult lob from her position at the net rather than the more fruitful and better percentage play of volleying down the line.
Some commentators have criticized the consistency of Robson’s shots and there is certainly some work to be done in this regard on her backhand but most of that inconsistency is a symptom of poor movement. Robson is slow to get into the right position for some shots forcing her off balance and causing some of her inconsistencies. As she stops growing and can start to focus on her fitness and body I would fully expect her to improve in this area. A key player in this will be her new coach Miles McLaggan.  As Andy Murray’s coach McLaggan was instrumental in changing Murray from a weedy teenager into the powerful athlete that he is today. Robson may never be nimble but if she is able to follow Murray’s lead then more genuine improvement may be just around the corner.
The one other area that needs work in Robson’s game is her ability to deal with pressure. Robson seems susceptible to pressure, amplified especially when she is expected to win. When playing higher ranked opponents the relative lack of pressure leads to her playing much more freely leaving her free go for lines and hit winners. As she becomes more experienced though she will have to learn to be aggressive whilst dictating play with her powerful ground strokes to overwhelm less able opponents without having to risk going for as many outright winners. The pressure often manifests itself in her serve deserting her, for example the mixed doubles final of the Olympics and serving for the 2nd set against Duque-Marino. This will come with time and experience and her performances on the centre court of Wimbledon this year will hold her in good stead. I will happily predict that the next time she comes to Wimbledon she will be a seed.

Chaos In Corsica – An eventful start to the “TDF”
With 15km to go of a fairly uneventful first stage of the Tour de France, fate intervened. The buses that accompany the cycling teams approached the finish in the sleepy town of Bastia to get set up before the arrival of their riders. Gestured to go underneath the gantry above the finishing line the bus driver of the Orica-GreenEdge team seemed hesitant. At the insistence of the local Corsican organizers that the bus would fit under gantry he went for it. It didn’t. With the bus stuck and a danger to the riders, who were fast approaching, a quick decision needed to be made. With the oozing slowness of the Mediterranean, they decided to change the finish line to a place 3km before the original planned finish. The new finish had a dangerous kink in the road no less than a couple of hundred meters from the line and it was likely to cause a crash in a sprint finish.
Piss ups and breweries spring to mind... 
However it was no easy task to inform the peloton. Some teams grasped the situation whilst others did not. Just as some teams began to gear up and attack the finish the bus was unwedged from the gantry and the old finish reconfirmed. The riders at the front, who had been attacking, slowed down in the knowledge that the old finish was back in play. The riders following behind them, in the process of accelerating to catch up, crashed into them. Major sprinter Sagan and yellow jersey contender Albert Contador were victims. However their pain can’t be compared to that of Geraint Thomas of Team Sky who fractured his pelvis and decided to continue riding!
Will the Lions Beat the Aussies in the final test match?
No. The lions have had the worst of both Tests and were lucky to come away with a win in Brisbane. By dropping the previously un- droppable Brian O’Driscoll and replacing him with a less than 100% fit Jamie Roberts, Warren Gatland has made a huge call. Gatland appears to have picked a team with strong ball carriers (Roberts, Sean O’Brien, Mike Phillips and Manu Tuilagi on the bench) in order to get over the gain line and force the Aussies to go backwards. Without the injured Sam Warburton to secure the ball at the breakdowns however I see the Lions will turning over the ball cheaply leading to penalties for holding on and the loss of field position. My prediction is Australia to win by 9 points.
Did a drunk Sri Lankan Cricketer try and open a aeroplane door at 35,000 feet?
Yes. Priceless.

[1] Were his early performances at Liverpool a sign of permanent class or an extended run of exceptional form?
[2] This years chumps are West Ham! Cumulative transfer fees paid for Andy Carroll now exceed £52m…
[3] Though Adebayor “only” cost £5m, his wages, estimated to cost £100,000 a week, (a sum of almost criminal robbery given last season’s performances), are crippling Spurs wage bill.
[4] Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Oxlade Chamberlain. Sold for a total of £34m. That would just about get you Bale’s right leg at the moment. Can you imagine them all in the same side?
[5] Not all sales are a bad thing. QPR’s sale of the monstrously overpaid and overpriced Chris Samba for a whopping £12m is by far the sale of the summer, giving QPR the financial room and flexibility to fire them back into the premier league next season.
[6] Why don’t they just sack Pardew? Due to the horrific expense (£10m) of getting themselves out from underneath the remaining years of the EIGHT-year deal he signed last September.
[7] Di Matteo at Chelsea won the FA Cup and Champions League, Mancini at Man City won the Premiership, Dalglish at Liverpool won the League Cup
[8] Arsenal appear to be about to spend their money, £23m, on Gonzalo Higuain.