Monday, January 23, 2012

Do I still write a sports blog???

I ran into an old friend from the desert a couple of week ago who reminded me that I used to write a sports blog! He also asked me what my thoughts are on the Parramatta Eels hopes for 2012. I cringed while offering up some lame excuses about not having the time to sit down and knock out a few hundred words. Who am I kidding? I’ve just been a lazy bastard.
On point two I had to laugh out loud. Unlike many of my blue and gold brethren who dream of a return to the finals, I’m a realist…the Eels are looking down the barrel of another disappointing season. I recently saw a photo of Chris Sandow in his new Eels jersey, and much to my dismay, his body shape looked a little like my two year old. All arse and gut, which is fine if you’re a physical freak of nature like Nathan Hindmarsh 9or a chubby two year old), but extremely worrisome if you’re a short, stubby, quick (supposedly) halfback who’s meant to be the club savior. Not a good sign.
With that in mind, here is a random throw up of ideas. Something between a review of 2011 and preview of 2012.
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR: I had to go with two winners of this award. Novak Djokovic and Cadel Evans. 
The shame of Cadel’s amazing victory in Le Tour is the lack of real appreciation he received down under. Sure there was a bit of fanfare during and post tour, but there doesn’t seem to be a real appreciation of how big this achievement really is. Forget Michael Clarke’s 300 plus or Warnie’s flipper, ignore Cathy Freeman’s Sydney gold, put down Black Caviar (I mean that metaphorically…I love horses…really!). Winning the Tour De France is perhaps Australia’s greatest ever sporting achievement. Cycling is a big enough sport in Australia that the significance of Cadel’s win should resonate for generations. Let’s hope it does.
And Nole. What more can be said about the best season in the modern era? I know his end of year record was tainted with a couple of loses when he was carrying injury, but that should not take away from the fact that he started the year at number 3, and proceeded to completely tear apart the dominance of Nadal and Federer on his way to three Grand Slams and the number one ranking. Federer is arguably the greatest of all time. Nadal is in his absolute prime, and has 10 Slams to his name at 25 years of age. Simply awesome. And Nole tore their hearts out in establishing himself on top of the throne. Can he repeat in 2012? Unlikely. He’ll be defending a shitload of points in the first half of the year, so it isn’t inconceivable that he loses the number one ranking should he not defend his titles. Regardless, 2011 was historic for the Djoker.
MISPLACED NOSTALGIA: The return of Paul Scholes and Thierry Henry to Man U and Arsenal respectively has been met with mixed reactions from the fans of each club. Both players were amazing stalwarts for their clubs, leading their teams to silverware and dominating the EPL landscape for the best part of the 90’s and 00’s. For Man United the message is clear. The team lacks depth in the middle of the park. Fletcher out with illness. Anderson out injured. Cleverly also. Carrick still crap. Giggs – God bless Ryan Giggs – is a club legend but isn’t able to lead the line regularly, especially in the big games. In my mind a midfield of Fletcher and Cleverly with Nani and Valencia/Young on the wings would be quality. Nani, Valencia and Young offer amazing pace on the wings and Fletcher and Cleverly are a nice combination of enthusiasm, possession, grit and determination in the middle of the park. That leaves Giggs, Carrick, Anderson and either Valencia or Young on the bench. Nice. The bench offers good options and a nice blend of experience and youth. However, with the sick and injured list as long as it is, Fergie has been forced to tinker with his line-ups. Phil Jones has made several appearance in midfield, and even one of the Brazilian Da Silva twins (are they twins, or are they really the same person???) featured in a midfield cameo appearance. After a run of poor form culminating in horrid performances against Blackburn and Newcastle, Fergie picked up the Batphone and dialed the Ginger Ninja Paul Scholes with an SOS to come out of retirement. Scholesy, never one to shirk from a challenge, laced up the boots, and in his second appearance, scored the opening goal. Scholes scores goals. 
Not to be outdone, Fergie’s longtime nemesis Arsene Wenger put in a similar call to Thierry Henry, pulling him away from semi-retirement in the United States. And Henry’s impact was far more immediate than Scholesy, scoring a winning FA Cup goal in his first game back.
Whilst I’m all for a stroll down memory lane and the sights of Scholes and Henry celebrating success evokes fond memories, the return of both players doesn’t bode well for either team. For Man U it’s testament to the fact that despite their winning ways, first class facilities, global brand etc. they don’t have the financial clout to buy whoever they want. Despite Fergie’s regular assertions that he does have money to spend, the reality is the team is so in debt that splurging on another player is simply not an option. 
For Arsenal fans, who have long known that Wenger is as tight with the club’s funds as a dolphins arse, the message is clear. Wenger doesn’t know how to reinvigorate his club. The exodus of players over the summer, and a glut of injuries, has gutted the team and left them on the outskirts of Champions League qualification. Recalling Henry might placate a small cohort of fans, but the vast majority will see through the facade. I have a lot of respect for Wenger, but his blind devotion to buying cheap and young cannot bring success now that teams like Chelsea and Man City have unlimited funds. 
MUFC19: One of the highlights for 2011…Manchester United Football Club securing a record 19th English League Championship. Glory, glory Man United
MUFC LOWLIGHTS: The drubbing received at the hands of Barca in the Champions League final was a lowlight, albeit an expected one. Man U might match up well against their EPL counterparts, but against Barca the likes of Carrick, Anderson and pensioners Giggs and Scholes, are severely outclassed. The 6-1 drubbing against Man City on the other hand was both unexpected and unacceptable. Two results that I’m happy to wipe from memory. On the positive side, at least we didn’t pay 35 million for Andy Carroll!!! 
RIDIRKULOUS: The 2011 NBA Finals were outstanding, led by Ze German Dirk Nowitzki. His clutch performances in carrying the Dallas Mavericks past the hated Heatles to their maiden title was Hall of Fame esque. Game winners, crazy comebacks, Le Bron choking and a 7 foot German in tears. It had it all!
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY: The NBA – league, owners, and players alike – followed up one of the greatest seasons in history by letting greed take over and partaking in a 161 lockout which reduced the regular season from 82 to 66 games. When the world is in global crisis, billionaires and millionaires should count themselves lucky and just do their jobs, which is to play basketball and to manage basketball teams. When Joe Average has to read about whether or not Player X is getting paid 8 million or 9.4 million while he’s eating no name rice bubbles, sweating over his next pay cheque, it should put things into a little perspective. 
GOODBYE and GOOD RIDDANCE: I was really looking forward to the summer of cricket. Australia, still smarting from getting whipped in the Ashes, would be looking to re-establish themselves as the premier Test cricketing nation. The Indian’s, with their famous batting lineup (Sachin, Dravid, Laxman, and Sewag) nearing the end of their illustrious careers, headed down under looking for that elusive win away from home to restore themselves to the number one ranking. Heading into the first Test the Aussie’s named a mix of debutants and out of form veteran’s, giving the Indian’s some hope of being competitive. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Indian greats offered little resistance, and pathetic performances have been followed by even more pathetic performance. Whilst Australia’s young quicks have been a revelation, and Michael Clarke re-wrote the record books with his triple century at the SCG, the Indian’s have been horrible. IMHO, it’s time to pull the plug on the careers of big four. This might seem like sacrilege on the sub-continent, but in a country of over a billion cricket players, surely they’ve got some young talent ready to step into the fold? And this whole business about Sachin getting 100 international centuries. It’s ridiculous, and just goes to show that elements of the Indian cricket community are more worried and statistics than results. Test cricket and one day cricket are two different games. Lumping together his number of centuries across both forms of the game is like counting Cliffy Lyon’s total tries from league and touch footy (which would probably be in the thousands). Drop the hundred 100’s bullshit and just let the man bat! 
LOOKING AHEAD: Can’t wait for the Olympics. It’s always a special time, with sport dominating print, online, radio and television coverage for a month. It’s annoying when channel 7 keeps putting on some sh#tty equestrian competition over some of the ‘bigger’ events just to showcase a little known Aussie that everyone will forget within a few weeks, but overall it’s going to be phenomenal. Five stories on my watch list:

1. Usain Bolt: will he repeat his superhuman performances from Beijing?
2. Spain versus USA in basketball. The America’s will be heading to the UK with loaded guns, but the Spanish Armada won’t be backing down
3. Aussie superfish – we tend to uncover a new swim star every four years at the games. Who’ll step up to the plate?
4. Nole going for Gold. He’s already got an Olympic medal but it isn’t the right colour (bronze). Many have attributed Nole’s amazing run of form to winning the Davis Cup for Serbia in 2010. How about winning an Olympic Gold for his country???
5. Team GB: I’ve always been puzzled as to why the countries of the United Kingdom compete as separate entities in sports, yet join forces as Great Britain for the Olympics. For the first time GB will be fielding a football team, which looks to be led by a little known footballer by the name of David Beckham. You may have heard of him before. It’ll be interesting to see who gets picked and how the team gels. Who knows…if they medal maybe England lobbies FIFA for a change to GB??? Might be their only chance for footballing glory!
INDEPENDENCE DAY: The Eastern seaboard has been waiting for baited breath for the implementation of the new independent commission to run the National Rugby League. For a couple of years now league officials, insiders, media representatives and every talk back caller from Kiama to Cairns have been talking up the commission as the second coming of Christ and the savior of league. The commission will wave their magic wand and with a flick of the wrist and shout of expelliarmus, everything that ails the NRL will magically disappear and money will fall from the sky. I’m not so optimistic. While League looks enviously at the AFL’s last TV rights deal and dreams of billions of dollars from the networks, they have to realize that: 1. The AFL is a truly national competition played and viewed in each state and capital city, and 2. The grassroots success of the AFL as a league is built upon the fact that their clubs have never been reliant on poker machines to prop them up. Income has been derived from memberships and gate receipts, two things that are fundamental to a competition with a loyal fan base. For all of leagues talk of good TV ratings and for all of the conversation that bounces around the airwaves on AM radio, league is fundamentally a poorly supported sport because the fans don’t support their clubs by purchasing memberships and tickets in the sorts of numbers that will make clubs self sufficient. It’s easy to sit at home with a pepperoni pizza and cold beer while watching Friday Night Football – I’m just a guilty as the next guy. Unfortunately this doesn’t benefit the club you support. 
AUSSIE OPEN: As we enter the business end of the first Slam of the year, the Men’s Draw looks to be offering up the tantalising prospect of the top four seeds in the semi finals. Rafa versus Roger. Nole versus Murray. Bring it on!!!
FAREWELL LLEYTON: Last night Lleyton Hewitt succumbed to the forces of Nole in a three hour four setter that should never have been that close. In what might be Hewitt’s last appearance on Centre Court at the AO, Hewitt reminded us all of his most impressive trait – he never drops his head. A polarizing figure because of his on-court antics, Hewitt carved out a successful career that includes two Slams, two Davis Cups and the youngest player to reach the world number one ranking (aged 20), squeezing every possible ounce of effort to compete night in, night out. His hyper-competitiveness and confidence in his abilities has meant that even when he is being outclassed, he continues to push, prod, poke and play to his highest capacity. Andy Murray should take note. In the first set against Djokovic, Hewitt was blasted off the court. But instead of getting down he kept plugging away and forced the match into an unlikely arm wrestle over the final two sets. In the end the gulf in talent and physical preparation told, but it’s testimony to Hewitt’s immense mental strength that he can remain competitive, even today. 
Remember if you have any comments, feedback, criticisms or great ideas, post them up or email me back.