Thursday, 2 February 2012

Transfer Deadline Round-Up

The 2012 January transfer window was a rather more sedate affair than it's 2011 predecessor. Money was spent much more sensibly this time around as opposed to being thrown around like a compulsive gambler who had hacked into a free bets website.

Last season's £35 million man, Liverpool striker Andy Carroll, was not on the move again despite reports of an audacious swap deal involving Manchester City's wantaway Carlos Tevez. The Argentinian striker could not engineer a move away from the Etihad and his Manchester misery is set to continue.

Here is a round-up of 10 transfers that took place in January:

Papiss Demba Cisse
Freiburg to Newcastle United for £10 million

Cisse joins up with his international strike partner Demba Ba following a big-money move from Germany.

Cisse scored 22 league goals in his first full season at Freiburg and finished second in the Bundesliga goal scoring charts. He set a single-season goal record by a SC Freiburg player and also for the most goals scored by an African player in a single Bundesliga season.

Magpies fans will hope the “two Dembas” perform better at club level than they did for Senegal at last month's Africa Cup of Nations. Despite being ranked one of the highest nations competing in the tournament, they lost all three group matches with neither Demba scoring a goal.

Gary Cahill
Bolton Wanderers to Chelsea for £7 million

Cahill was linked heavily with a move away from the Reebok Stadium for the past 18 months or so but his valuation of £20 million had seemingly put off potential suitors. But, with his contract due to expire at the end of this season, Manchester United and Chelsea were linked with a transfer window move for the 26-year old.

A £7 million transfer fee was arranged shortly after the New Year with Chelsea but the personal terms appeared to be a sticking point. There was even speculation that Manchester United were going to snatch Cahill from under Chelsea's noses.

But, more than a fortnight after the clubs agreed a fee for him, Cahill became a Chelsea player on 16 January. He is yet to make his debut for the Blues, having been an unused substitute in Chelsea's FA Cup victory at Queens Park Rangers.

Kevin de Bruyne
Genk to Chelsea for £6.7 million

One for the future at Stamford Bridge, 20-year-old de Bruyne joined Chelsea on deadline day but was immediately loaned back to former employers Genk for the remainder of the 2011-12 season.

The attacking midfielder scored five goals and set up 16 more as Genk were crowned Belgian champions last season and the player netted his first senior hat-trick against Club Brugge in October. He is undoubtedly an exciting player in the making and signed for the Blues on a five-and-a-half year contract.

Despite his tender years he has already been capped for the Belgian senior side, making his debut in a friendly loss to Finland in August 2010.

Nikica Jelavic
Rangers to Everton for £5.5 million

With 30 goals in 45 league appearances for Rangers, striker Jelavic was always going to catch the attention of football clubs south of the border. The Croatian was the subject of a £6.5 million bid from Leicester City and a reported £9 million bid from an unnamed club before the August transfer deadline.

Jelavic's future was heavily speculated on throughout January and he was linked with Liverpool, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion. At one stage it looked as though Championship side West Ham United were in for him but the former Rapid Vienna striker confirmed a switch to Everton on deadline day.

Djibril Cisse
Lazio to QPR for £4 million

France international striker Cisse returned to England for a third spell in the Premier League after QPR ended his unproductive stint at Lazio. Mark Hughes's side are short on goals and Cisse began his Liverpool career on fire, scoring 11 goals in his first 23 games and then went on to score 10 goals in 35 appearances during a loan spell at Sunderland.

Cisse was prolific during his time at Panathinaikos, scoring 47 goals in 61 league appearances which prompted a £5.8 million move to Serie A in August 2011. However, just one league goal in 17 appearances – on his debut in a 2-2 draw at Milan, meant he was allowed to switch to Loftus Road.

Bobby Zamora
Fulham to QPR for £4 million

Rumours of a rift between Zamora and his manager Martin Jol saw the tabloid press go into overdrive in January. The 31-year-old striker was linked with Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland but secured a £4 million move to QPR on deadline day.

Zamora became the second striker to arrive at Loftus Road following Djibril Cisse, but like his new strike partner, he has not been the most prolific in front of goal recently. Zamora  scored the winning goal against Arsenal on 2 January, his first for three months and only his fifth of the season.

Nedum Onuoha
Manchester City to QPR for £3 million

It was a busy transfer window for QPR who bolstered their defence with the signing of Manchester City defender Onuoha. Since signing a new five-year contract at the Etihad in the summer of 2009, the Nigeria-born defender hardly got a look in under manager Roberto Mancini. He was a big success during a loan spell at Sunderland last season but played just nine minutes of Premier League football for City this term.

Unsurprisingly, Onuoha was linked with a number of clubs in January, including Blackburn Rovers and West Bromwich Albion but he was reunited with his Mark Hughes, his former manager at  City, at Loftus Road.

Tim Ream
New York Red Bulls to Bolton Wanderers for £2.5 million

USA international defender Ream fills the Gary Cahill shaped hole following his £7 million move to Chelsea. The former New York Red Bulls player trained with both Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion during the MLS winter break in December and Owen Coyle saw enough to sign the 24-year-old for £2.5 million.

The defender, a virtual ever present during his two seasons at New York and nominated for MLS Rookie of the Year at the end of the 2010 campaign, cancelled his honeymoon so he could join Bolton.

Marvin Sordell
Watford to Bolton Wanderers for undisclosed fee

Bolton were linked heavily with a move for Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace on transfer deadline day but saw an improved offer of £7 million rejected. Manager Owen Coyle then swooped for Watford striker Sordell to bolster his shot-shy front line.

Sordell is only in his second full season of senior football and scored eight goals in 26 league appearances this term. At just 20-years-old he definitely falls into the “potential” category but that is what excites Coyle about him signing at the Reebok Stadium.

Louis Saha
Everton to Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer

Perhaps the strangest transfer of the day was striker Saha joining Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer. One goal in 18 appearances for a mid-table side is hardly going to excite Spurs fans whose team still have ambitions of winning the Premier League this season.

The former Fulham and Manchester United striker has not scored a Premier League goal for 942 minutes but there is plenty of time to put that right having signed an 18-month contract at White Hart Lane. His arrival saw midfielder Steven Pienaar rejoin Everton in a loan move, just 12 months after switching to Spurs in a £3 million deal.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Bolting His Way to London Olympics Gold

Written by Rod Crowley: With the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics just over six months away, the event that is still capturing the imagination of the general public is the mens 100m.

This of course is due to the promise of seeing the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt of Jamaica, retain his crown and beat off the growing number of rivals that his performances over the last few years has inspired.

On his day, Bolt is clearly in a world of his own, but even he can fall foul of the uncompromising and ruthless rules of sprinting which disqualifies any athlete after one false start. The athletic authorities cruelly denied the world of witnessing a potential world record when they disqualified Bolt for a quick start in the final of the world championship 100m in Daegu, South Korea back in the summer.

That race in fact was won by his compatriot Yohan Blake, who won in a time of 9.92 a season’s best and a time that has earned him the right to be the second favourite behind Bolt to win the London Olympics 100m Gold.

Athletics in fact has never been a serious betting sport, but with the ever growing online betting facilities now available, the London Olympics will have a number of markets created. The main one of course will be the mens 100m and even now this particular market is taking money.

The Bookmakers quite understandably have Bolt as the hot favourite in the 100m odds, currently at 4/9! Blake is considered only an 11/2 option, while Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, both long standing rivals of Bolt’s are 13/2 and 7/1 respectively. However, outside of these four, it is a case of forget the rest as the bookmakers do not believe that anyone else can win the race.

Bolt is the current Olympic champion and is also the world record holder with a time of 9.58 which he achieved in the world championships in Berlin in 2009. This 100m time puts well clear of the best ever time recorded by Blake whose 9.82 would put him well behind in a 100m sprint.

Asafa Powell, also from Jamaica has a best time of 9.72 but at 29 years old he is probably past his best and is no longer a match for Bolt, although it should be pointed out that he has finished in front of Bolt on a number of occasions at the less important meetings, but has a reputation of being fazed when it comes to major finals.

Meanwhile Tyson Gay, who has bravely carried the ‘stars and stripes’ on his shoulders in the wake of the Jamaican sprint dominance, has a best recorded time of 9.65, making him the second fastest of all time in the 100m.

He won the world championship in 2007 but has yet to race in an Olympic games final due to injury. In fact Gay suffered with a hip injury during 2011 and missed the world championships.

He is now back in full time training and is set to make one last attempt to better Bolt but at 29, like Powell he is beyond his absolute best.

It looks set therefore that the ‘Blue Riband’ event of the London Olympics, which will be over in less than ten seconds will be won by the aptly named ‘Bolt’ unless of course the over-zealous nature of the sprint laws or an injury get to him again.

In essence, If Bolt runs, he wins and should be regarded as the nearest thing to a gold medal certainty than any other competitor in any of the other Olympic sports.

England Collapse In First Test Against Pakistan

Written by Rod Crowley: Were the England cricket team, their fans and the media far too optimistic for their own good when believing that they could beat a Pakistan team on a pitch that is completely suited to sub-continent teams?

After all, England’s record in test match cricket in recent years on the sub-continent has been dismal, so why should we have expected anything other than the humbling the England team were given in the first test in Dubai?

Perhaps it is because England are now the number one test cricket nation in the world and have a team that can bat in depth with a bowling line-up that is arguably the best we have had since the Botham/Willis era.
This match proved if nothing else that rankings are futile in cricket, because outcomes of matches are decided on the surfaces of the pitches and whilst England would have possibly reversed the result at Lords they were simply outclassed by Pakistan on a sub-continent style Dubai pitch.

Perhaps the rankings should carry a caveat with something like “England are the best test cricket team in the world but not in the sub-continent", that would certainly make more sense, particularly should they lose the second test which starts on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi.

There is no doubt that the 10 wicket massacre sent shockwaves through the England camp and although plenty of blame can be placed upon the poor decision making of the England batsmen, the match was really lost by the bowling feats of Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul. Add to the mix that four of the Pakistani batsmen made fifty or more tells its own story.

There was also the small matter of national pride for England to contend with. Pakistan are remain extremely embarrassed by the spot fixing scandal that saw three of their top players jailed for the parts that they played and knew that victory over England would go a long way to burying that nightmare.

Perhaps in some respects England were lucky that the spot fixing scandal happened otherwise they would have been up against an even stronger team.

Only Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and possibly Jonathan Trott can come away from the first test with any batting credit, which is quite embarrassing as two of these three players bat in the lower order. Swann of course also weighed in with four wickets and Prior, proving to be an outstanding wicket-keeper these days took three catches.

For Pakistan and England cannot say they were not warned, Ajmal was always the man that could destroy them and he did just that. In fact he was a revelation coming away from the match with ten wickets, seven of them in the first innings which more than anything else was the reason why Pakistan won so convincingly.

Gul of course ripped out the top order of the England batting line up in the second innings with a devastating spell of bowling where only Trott managed to handle him. He was helped by three further wickets from Ajmal and three from the unorthodox spin of Abdur Rehman.

In the batting stakes Pakistan managed to ‘run considerable salt into England first innings wounds’ by managing an opening wicket stand of 114 between Mohammad Hafeez and Taudeeq Umar.

Both went beyond fifty with Hafeez top scoring for his team with an excellent 88. There were also fifties for the captain Misbaq ul Haq and Adman Akmal.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Lancaster Names Inexperienced England Squad For 2012 Six Nations

Written by Rod Crowley: A 32 man squad described as the most inexperienced squad for 50 years have been selected by England’s Head Coach, Stuart Lancaster for the forthcoming Six Nations.

There are an incredible 15 changes from the squad chosen by former Head Coach, Martin Johnson that went to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Among those left out were usual first teamers, Mike Tindall, Mark Cueto and Nick Easter and in comes nine first time call ups including as expected Owen Farrell, Ben Morgan and scrum half Lee Dickson.

Lancaster spoke with great enthusiasm about his immediate plans using the buzz term of a ‘leadership group’ within the squad that he intends to nurture when training begins in earnest. He did stop short of naming his captain but hinted that the likes of Chris Robshaw, Dylan Hartley, Tom Wood and even Toby Flood were names that he was considering.

Lancaster was also at pains to point out that he wants the “England team to become the very best and to beat those who are currently rated as the very best”. Ambitious yes but strong words from a seemingly highly committed Head Coach.

He expressed no real concerns about the huge change his selection has already bought about, making it clear that any player selected was in on merit and most were already in the thoughts of the outgoing coaching team.

M Botha – Saracens 
C Clark – Northampton
A Corbisiero – London Irish
D Cole – Leicester
T Croft – Leicester
T Wood – Northampton
L Deacon – Leicester
P Dowson – Northampton
D Hartley – Northampton
C Lawes – Northampton
J Marler – Harlequins
L Mears – Bath
B Morgan – Scarlets
T Palmer – Stade Francais
C Robshaw – Harlequins
M Stevens – Saracens
R Webber – Wasps
D Wilson – Bath

C Ashton – Northampton
B Barritt – Saracens
M Brown – Harlequins
L Dickson – Northampton
O Farrell – Saracens
T Flood – Leicester
B Foden – Northampton 
C Hodgson – Saracens
C Sharples – Gloucester
J Simpson – Wasps
D Strettle – Saracens
M Tuilagi – Leicester
J Turner-Hall – Harlequins
B Youngs – Leicester

Of the newcomers, it is Farrell who has captured the most imagination. Likened in his kicking ability to the great Johnny Wilkinson, Farrell is the son of former England player, Andy Farrell who will be assistant Head Coach to Lancaster in the training set up. Farrell the son has been playing inside centre for Aviva Premiership champions Saracens, but is equally adept at playing fly half. He is quick, has a great pass, a silky side step and is not scared to get stuck into the opposition. The 20 year old is set to be an England player for a very long time.

England kicks off their Six Nations campaign in a Calcutta Cup match against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 4th. How the new look side performs will be something fans and press will be anticipating with bated breath but it is good to see that changes have been made after the World Cup display and time must be given to both the management and players as the team looks to move forward. Their full programme of games is as follows:

4th February – Scotland v England
11th February – Italy v England
25th February – England v Wales
11th March – France v England
17th March – England v Ireland

Judd Trump Can Land Masters At Alexander Palace

Written by Rod Crowley: Having become the home to the PDC World Darts Championship, the Alexander Palace in London will now play host to the prestigious World Masters Snooker Championship, which gets underway on 15th January.

The top 16 players in the world will do battle over the week and although it is not a ranking event, a top prize of over £150,000 ensures that the game's best players are all out to win.

As is the case ahead of any major snooker tournament, it is Ronnie O’Sullivan and world champion, John Higgins who are the favourites to win the title. The snooker betting makes O’Sullivan and Higgins the joint 11/2 favourites with twice winner and current world number one, Mark Selby, next best at 13/2 alongside 2011 world finalist and recent UK Championship winner, Judd Trump at 7/1.

Last year’s winner Ding Junhui will have the somewhat difficult task of taking on O’Sullivan in the opening match of the first round on Sunday, which effectively is a repeat of the 2007 final which the "Rocket" won with ease 10-3. 

Higgins meanwhile will be taking on resurgent Welshman and the winner in 2000, Matthew Stevens on Tuesday, while Trump takes on Stuart Bingham on Monday with Selby up against Stephen Lee on Wednesday.

With so much hype around concerning O’Sullivan, it is worth considering that he has not won a ranking event for over two years and although he showed signs of coming back to some sort of form in the recent UK Championship, he still found himself outgunned by Trump in the last 16. 

On the plus side, O’Sullivan has made the final of this event five times in the last seven years, winning three of the so cannot be ruled out of winning again.

Trump went on to win the final after beating O'Sullivan where he defeated the controversial Mark Allen 10-8 in the final. Allen from Northern Ireland, found himself in trouble with World Snooker’s Chairman, Barry Hearn, during that event, accusing Hearn of spoiling the tournament by shortening the length of the individual matches. However, the two men have made friends and Allen will come to the "Ally Pally" in determined mood and looking to go one better. 

He plays 2010 World Champion, Neil Robertson in the first round, another player who is beginning to find his best form.

Mark Williams, who has proven over the last two years that it is never too late for a snooker player to make a comeback, will open up his campaign on Sunday with a very difficult match against Scot, Stephen Maguire. Welshman Williams is now ranked at number two in the world and has won the Masters twice before. 

He would like nothing more than to win a third title but knows that he will have to pull out all the stops to beat Maguire who himself will be lookign to start the year with a good showing on the green baize.

A very difficult tournament to predict the winner, however, form and confidence are always major factors and there is no player on the circuit currently that has more of either than Judd Trump and he can start the new year where he left off in 2011.
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