VAR From Imperfect: The Cleansing of Football and the Magic of the World Cup


The comic, ‘iconic’ image of referees helping make game-changing decisions from a truck no where near the pitch. This is VAR. Credit:

Football, even at it’s highest levels, is a fairly messy, frustrating game. There are more scrambling, flukey or mundane goals than any other, but when the game truly becomes beautiful, when everything is put together to score a beautiful goal, it makes the wait and the messiness worth it. It is this mixture of imperfection, scrambling to success, and sometimes, sheer poetry in motion that makes it truly the sport of humanity.

It comes with the territory then that football, and especially those in charge of it professionally, is far from perfect. This game of the world has become tainted by money and commercialism; it caters increasingly for the middle and upper classes with game tickets pricing out grass-root fans and coverage increasingly being held hostage on subscription channels like Sky or BT Sport. The World Cup, however, has managed to hold off a lot of these regressive progressions, being found more on free or more accessible stations world wide.

That said, there have been some new facets to the World Cup this year which have worked to undermine this higher level of engagement with the game. One of these ‘advancements’ is goal line technology, but while a lot of what this article will say applies to that, it’s been around for a while already. The main subject here will be the introduction of VAR, and how it is part of an ongoing insipid campaign to cleanse football of it’s imperfections, and some of it’s character.

Theoretically, I understand why some fans have called for VAR in football. Refereeing mistakes happen, to some degree, fairly commonly, and that can be frustrating for fans; but when you think about it, what are the most memorable, passionate moments you share with football? First, I would argue, are the rare moments of sublime beauty, like Archie Gemmill passing and ‘megging the Dutch to score in ’78, or Maradona running through the English to score; but secondly, I think it’s the moments of controversy, like Scotland definitely being cheated out of Euro 2008 qualification or Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’.


The pain remains, as does the memory of what should have been after Italy end Scotland’s 2008 qualification hopes in controversial circumstances. Credit: Getty Images

Whether it creates something memorable like the Hand of God, or something painful, controversy creates conversation, debate, and something to wonder about. Righteous anger, disappointment, and sadness are as important and meaningful to the human condition as joy, and as dark as that sounds, they aren’t feelings we should be scared of. Often, they shape us. At the very least, having controversial incidents occur that allow you to talk about the football, be it in a friendly way or a more heated debate, is part and parcel of what makes the game so special. It’s part of it’s lifeblood.

Then enters VAR.

Now it’s crucial to note that VAR hasn’t ended debate in football altogether – talking heads seemingly can’t get enough of discussing ‘whether VAR has worked this time’, but what it has done is shifted the arena of contentious footballing incidents from the interpretation of the action on the pitch, to a swithering discussion about the purpose and processes of VAR itself. The memories of the incidents are muddled with images of referees looking at screens and hand-wringing over whether the ‘correct’ decision was made. The moments of joy, anger, or despair we might witness are dulled by the inevitable period of second-guessing while we wait for VAR to clear the incident.

My issue isn’t that I actively wish for refereeing mistakes to happen; rather, that I see the collateral value in them when they do happen. To use an example I mentioned earlier, as a Scotland fan, there is a certain righteous comfort I take in knowing (well, believing) that Scotland were good enough to qualify, had the World Champions bang to rights, and were just screwed over. In this World Cup, the specific issue that spawned this article was the Spain vs Iran match in which Iran had a goal disallowed that could have ultimately sent them to the knockout rounds and ‘dreamland’.

Group B Iran vs Spain

The whole Iran squad and coaches in ecstasy before their equalising goal was disallowed. Credit: EPA

By the letter of the law, the goal being disallowed was correct, Ezatolahi was offside. All I remember though is what a downer it was. Iran scoring against an – admittedly wilting – historic Spain side would have been memorable enough, to do so to earn a point against them would be even more significant; to do so on the way to progressing to the knockout rounds would have been the most significant moment in Iranian football history, and you could see it in the sheer outpouring of joy from the Iran players and coaches. Five minutes later though, the jobsworths at FIFA had overturned the goal, Spain went on to win, and Iran were later knocked out after another valiant effort against Portugal. A moment of joy became a mere talking point after the game, and while Iranians might won’t forget it for a while, they don’t have the same recourse as before – either the wry enjoyment of getting something past the ref, nor a real controversy to at least hold on to for consolation or motivation. It was the correct decision, there’s not much else to say.

Again, I don’t rub my hands at the prospect of a wrong decision in football, but in cases such as this, I see the value of them. That moment for Iran was a beautiful outpouring that was also truly relatable as a fan – it must be said – of a currently smaller nation. In previous competitions, the fallibility of the officials mixed with the power of the celebrations would have been enough to carry the day for the goal to stand, and I just don’t think that’s a bad thing. It would have been a defining moment of the tournament that would have helped shape it if Iran would have progressed. But no, the fun police were called, and normal service was resumed. It’s part of the obvious worldwide trend towards the automation of work taking the humanity out of society, but football is something that needs it’s humanity to maintain it’s magic.

I have been genuinely disheartened to hear commentators, pundits, and some fans alike praise with relief that VAR has led to the correct decision. Of course it’s good in a sense that the right decisions are made, but this obsession that ‘the correct decision must always be made’ fundamentally people’s relationship with the sport – it’s a space where all aspects of humantity, good or bad, wrong or right can be shown off, and it’s always beautiful in some way.


Hand of God

One of the most infamous, iconic moments in football history. A moment that would have been erased by VAR. Credit: ITV

An opening and closing argument for this is the Hand of God. Of course Maradona cheated, no one disputes that, but it made for one of the most memorable moments in World Cup history, and one that fed in to the aura of Maradona as a roguish nutter-genius. It’s almost anti-football (he literally handballs it) but it’s also a pillar of football experience. If VAR had been in place though, the goal would have been disallowed, Maradona booked, and an iconic match may not be remembered really at all. It whitewashes the game, and while there will be times the reviews will be welcome, it surrenders too much of that humanity away from the sport.

Another element of the game that is a rather dull talking point, again, at this World Cup is how to dissuade players from ‘unsportsmanlike’ behaviour, things like crowding the referee or most notably, diving.

Starting with the element I’m perhaps least protective of, the crowding of the referee has been an ‘issue’ for as long as I can remember. I must say, it’s not something I revel in, and it can be uncomfortable, but I think the hand-wringing over it has reached a bit of a critical mass, especially after the Colombia-England game in which the English pundits were falling over each other to demonise the Colombians. There are two ways to look at this, and the purists want you to see it both ways: either that they were intimidating the ref, or that they were using it as slight of hand to scuff up up the penalty spot. In the latter instance, it’s a bit of clever gamesmanship where the Colombians took the opportunity to try to salvage the situation; not something you would applaud, so to speak, but understandable. It’s harder to defend them intimidating the referee, but I also stop short of condemning them – heaven forbid they get a bit hot after giving away a penalty in a knock out game at the World Cup that was nearly the deathblow of their four-year journey! As bad as it is, the referee was never assaulted or anything, just noised up a bit. The fact that the talking heads want robotic ‘role models’ doesn’t mean you should expect it, and as a football fan, I like seeing some fire from the players.

Colombia v England: Round of 16 - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

Surrounding the referees, diving, and generally cheap or dirty play was much maligned after the recent Colombia-England game. Credit: Metro

Next up is the monster bug bear of the modern game: diving.

To sound repetitious, I should state that I don’t condone diving, so to speak, but I also see it’s place in the game. Whether we like it or not, fouls and free kicks are a fundamental part of the game, and with football being such a free form of expression, of course players are going to engage with them and try to gain an advantage. It’s an aspect of football that I wouldn’t describe as beautiful as I would others, but I admire the extra element it adds to the game, even if it frustrates me too at times. For me, if someone takes a dive rather than stay on their feet for a viable attack, it doesn’t even really make sense, and when done badly, it certainly looks pathetic. That said, it’s a phenomenon of evolution and not worth existential concerns it creates in some people.

Here’s the thing – it already self-governs to a large extent. The players pundits tear their hair out over for diving, like Neymar especially at this World Cup, aren’t gaining much of an advantage. Those who overdo it, or do it without smarts are well-known and referees often look upon them with extra skepticism. Indeed, earlier in this competition, the deeply unpopular Pepe hit the deck after being overpowered by Diego Costa, stayed down, and wasn’t around to stop Costa scoring his excellent individual goal in that game. Between embarrassment and the risks of doing it, diving doesn’t go unpunished anyway.

That said, a simple solution to help address the issue in a more sensible way. Calls for every single dive to result in a yellow card will never be successful because no one likes dishing out yellows. I think they should be treated as normal fouls and judged on severity. Diving should only be an automatic yellow card if someone is trying to gain a penalty, otherwise, players should get yellows for persistent diving. That’s manageable and not too much of a puritanical solution I think.

There’s a saying that ‘rules are meant to be broken’, but I think something more along the lines of ‘rules are meant to be played with’. Maybe it’s because I love wrestling and Eddie Guerrero, but I admire the attempts of some players to try to gain an advantage for their team by getting one past the referee. Any structure or framework is just that, something man-made that can, and maybe should, be challenged. It’s where the greatest art and expression comes from, and while it may not always be pretty, it’s part of human curiosity, expression, competitiveness, or all of the above.

Think of the football that those with voices and power are trying to create: one where the players are all well behaved, reserve their passions for goals, and any controversy on the pitch is quickly mopped up. It’s not the same – it’s a procession lacking in the imperfections which make the sport accessible to everyone. Rather than aspiring to being kinda crazy geniuses like Cantona, Zidane, or Maradona, the ultimate footballer role-model will be clean, unquestioning cyphers.


When Paul Pogba re-signed with Manchester United for near £90m, it was announced with a hype video cross-over marketing excercise between Pogba, Man Utd, Stormzy, and Adidas. It explains how a player can even be worth that much money in the first place. Credit: Adidas

I don’t think this is accidental. As with everything else, follow the money. The financially bloated, sponsor-dependent cottage industry that football has become doesn’t have much time for true individualism, and certainly not for controversy. It deals increasingly in idealised visions, nothing to do with the actual game but with image – haircuts, kit designs, video game covers, and social media impact. TV stations love being able to spend money on new graphics for goal-line technology and VAR but start wringing their hands after even harmless acts of character, like a delighted flipping the double fingers at the Nigerian fans after surviving their challenge. He got excited and expressed it in his own way, and people are still practically tutting at him. There’s no room for that. Well-behaved, quiet, humble players and clean games are better for the image of the millionaires and billionaires holding the purse-strings.

Even worse is that, those who call for a clean VAR process and demonise ‘dirty’ players take these positions while propping up far worse instances of questionable behaviour and corruption. They throw up their hands about the effect Neymar taking a dive has on the game while sat at a World Cup in Russia, and preparing for one in Qatar, while sat next to stadiums which will barely be used again, that local people were displaced so they could be built.

The World Cup should be hosted around the world in succession for sure (and I plan to write at length about that and related subjects in the near future so won’t expand too much here), but it needs to be done with a genuine understanding that the people want it and will genuinely benefit from it. The World Cups in Brazil, Russia, and Qatar don’t sit right for many different reasons. Brazilians protested with vigour hosting the World Cup, despite their love of football, because they knew they would never see the billions being spent on it again, billions that could go towards improving some of the country’s desperate social and infrastructure issues while this Russian World Cup is seen as a propaganda exercise for Vladimir Putin and his evil, oppressive, intolerant regime. Qatar provides a mixture of both issues. All three will leave their countries and maybe more beyond in worse shape. These are giant, troubling issues that are the real rotten core of the football bureaucracy, not controversy or foul play.


The Maracana, treated during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil like the sacred home of Brazilian football, at a cost of around $500m, now lies practically abandoned and unusable. Credit: AP

On this topic, I see hosting major competitions  like the World Cup as a huge honor and morale boost. It’s not inherently bad as an idea, just in current practice. Scotland will beat England 7-0 in the World Cup final before this happens, probably, but this could be a hugely positive process. If FIFA actually worked with potential hosts in genuine good faith to help fund needed infrastructure improvements, to build stadiums, if necessary, and to only accept proposals which agree to do this in a sustainable way which doesn’t disrupt ordinary people’s lives unreasonably without costing tax-payers too much. Of course it’s possible – those with the coffers have no interest in them being lighter though.

Controversy, and players diving, or acting aggressive is no existential threat to the game, but the continuous inflation of ticket and jersey prices, and the ongoing process of excluding the working classes from the magic of the game is. We can trust the fans, we can trust the players and all of their personal flaws; it’s just those with power in football that we can’t, and that is the real existential threat to the game.


How I Would Keep the Winter Olympics More Or Less The Same But Complain About Some Things

Pyeong Chang

South Korea hosted the 2018 incarnation of the games. Credit: The Week UK

This article is a direct companion piece to the stupidly titled How I Would Ruin the Olympics for a Lot of People and has a similarly stupid title because they should match I guess. That article was a fairly nerdy deep-dive in to the ‘spirit of Olympic competition’ and what events I think should and shouldn’t be represented there. This article isn’t about ‘the spirit of Olympic competition’ for two reasons: 1) because I’ve learned that exploitation is the major ‘spirit’ of Olympic competition (but I’ll let the likes of Dave Zirin and Jules Boykoff explain that better), and 2) because, crucially, I have never seen the Winter Olympics in the same light as the Summer games. While I see as the Summer games as a competition of remarkable physical competition steeped in ancient history, the Winter Olympics don’t have that same heritage based on sheer physical prowess and indeed, are less than 100 years old.

I’ve always had a very soft spot for the Winter Olympics. It shares the trait with the Summer Games of featuring sports very few people at all consider in the 4 years before games, but aesthetically, it is so much more unusually striking and beautiful. Every event is competed in an arena of glistening white, and instead of in a stadium, they are usually on stunning hillside settings. Maybe it’s my aesthetic enjoyment of these games that mean that I think the types of artistic disciplines I would eliminate from the Summer Games suit the Winter counterpart; events like figure skating which is so uniquely beautiful and awe-inspiring it barely even seems feasible or, less majestic but similarly impressive, other judging-based events like the ski and snowboard half-pipe. I can’t stress enough how fondly I regard the Winter Games when they are on, until they’re over and I forget about them like everyone else.

mixed curling

Mixed Doubles curling emerged as an exciting new version of the sport where two people play more intimately and with extra intensity. Yes i’m talking about curling. Credit: Team Canada’s Official Olympic website

I have always loved curling, partly because of it’s inherent connection to Scotland, and partly because it’s a puzzle game which is both relaxing to watch but requires excellent technique. I’ve also always found the sliding sports wonderful. All of the sliding events require such incredible bravery, I can never even imagine what they must be like to do, especially Skeleton, which involved going down the track head first but also the slightly goofier bobsleigh which is no less dangerous. I also have an almost grudging like of ski and snowboard cross because, while they are based on activities I find kinda bourgeois, the quick, tight racing is competitive and exciting in a way most racing actually isn’t. Finally, mogul, while also based on skiing is the only sport which effectively and interestingly mixes racing and judged tricks. It’s so fast, mesmerising and impressive that it’s always something I look forward to at the Winter games.

This year though, I didn’t quite enjoy them as much as I had previously though, and that’s why we’re here. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed watching some of the events, like the ones I have just listed, but I was able to put my finger on some reasons why it didn’t resonate with me as much this time, and it’s not just because they aired live in Britain between midnight and mid-day when I was at work.

Part of the problem was with some of the sports I’ve listed above as my favourites. Curling suffered from almost upstaging itself. The new ‘Mixed Doubles’ curling event was great – no less tactical but very exciting and made more sense. I only realised this after the Mixed Doubles was decided and they moved to the traditional 4-person men and women’s events and I realised that, while I still enjoyed the game, some of it’s slow pace and counter-intuitive rules made it seem a bit dreary in comparison. The primary problem is the relationship between scoring possession of ‘the hammer’ (the crucial last stone of each end). In the mixed doubles, like a serve in tennis, the teams exchange the Hammer alternately, regardless of the end result (pun intended). It’s an advantage which is necessary to the sport but shared equally for fairness and adding an interesting tension to the game, i.e. an advantage where there is pressure to press your advantage. This isn’t missing in the traditional game, but it is much weaker because the Hammer only switch sides when the team wielding it scores. Not only does that mean that often one team has the Hammer more than the other, but it often incentives ‘blank ends’. These often occur if an end isn’t forming the way the team with the hammer likes, and so they play to blank the end so they can keep the Hammer rather than risking only scoring one point and losing the Hammer. There are genuine tactics behind this, but a shamefully high number of ends are played through mechanically with each team knocking the others out of the ‘house’ until they run out of stones. This can take a while and has absolutely no tension to it. I still enjoyed watching it as I enjoy the sport, but the amount of time I spent watching meaningless playing of it became a disappointment.


Skeleton requires a lot of heart to do and is very cool to watch, just maybe not four separate times. Credit: Team Canada’s Official Olympic website

There were other sports I enjoy which didn’t quite land as much because of how the competition (as opposed to the sport itself) was designed. This included all of the sliding events, the winners of which were determined by cumulative times over four runs. I understand the strength of this, it measures consistency, but it doesn’t necessarily reward the fastest run. That, to me, is the most important measurement in the sports but, in some circumstances, someone could own the fastest run but still not win. Even worse, because the event is realised over four runs, by the time we get to the fourth run, it’s often a procession where the contenders only need clean, steady runs to win because the gap is small. This isn’t always the case, but it happened with a couple of the events and made for a pretty dull conclusion with more tension at the start, rather than the end of the competition.

Speed skating is another sport which I had an affinity for that the design of the competition kinda spoiled. I understand that this ‘long track’ version of the sport is more of a time trial than the short-track version, but the look of it gives off, shall we say, mixed messages. Two skaters would skate at the same time, pair after pair until the field had all raced with the fastest time winning. The problem was though, that while everyone was just plugging in their time, they were sharing the track with someone else. This looks like a race, but as the commentators couldn’t stop pointing out, the two competitors weren’t directly racing. It looked like a race, but it wasn’t, which meant that the competitive promise that came from how it looked, was lessened by the lack of racing which only served to dampen the tension of the event. It was stuck between two things: a race and a time trial but was kind of neither totally either (it really is a time trial, but you still need to be faster than the other person overall of course). Seen as the event isn’t really a race, I think it would have worked better with a smaller field and each racer going one at a time and taking turns, one by one, to get their time in. I think that would increase the tension and the focus of each person taking on the entire field and the clock.

Even worse and, frankly, absurd was the phenomenon of the Netherlands short-track team breaking the world record but only getting a bronze because they were in the ‘B-Final’. Short-track is generally the more instinctive version of the sport, but this event is a real thing of nonsense. It happened because there was such a small field of teams and the teams that didn’t advance to the final for some reason were put in Final B, essentially a meaningless, ‘Best of the Rest’ race but because only 4 teams were racing in the medal-deciding ‘Final A’ and two were disqualified, they gave the bronze to the winner of Final B, who happened to set a new world record. It seems less ridiculous in that description, but it is still terribly counter-intuitive. Either Final B should count or it shouldn’t be raced, and so either the Netherlands should either have won Gold, or be knocked out in the semi finals. For the record, I think it should have been the latter. If you have semi-finals to qualify for the final, it should be a straight knockout or there’s no point in it at all; and so even though the Dutch were clearly capable of more, they didn’t show it in the semi finals and wouldn’t be skating again. Final A should just be the final and 1st and 2nd should have got Gold and Silver respectively and no one gets a Bronze.


Biathlon. If they were really talented, they would shoot with the gun on their backs while they’re skiing. Credit:

Then there are the weird events, and not in an endearing way, in a puzzling or disappointing way. I’m thinking first of Biathlon, the combination the impressive but dull cross-country skiing and, for some reason, shooting. I have no idea why this happens, and I don’t see the connection between the disciplines unless you’re trying to find the most technically gifted (and therefore worst) potential Bond Villain – guys that maybe would have killed Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me. Usually, weird combinations like this can be surreal and fun, but unfortunately not in this instance. Weird in a disappointing way were two versions of the Ski Jumping. The main version of ski jumping would be a great sport if it was just about measuring sheer distance, which , given the look of the event, it should be, but for some reason, they add in a judges portion for the style of flight and landing like that either significantly differs between jumpers, or even matters. It adds an x-factor to the most intuitive part of the sport and makes it a bit less impactful, though I still like it overall. I was very disappointed, however, by the Nordic Combined. I heard that it was a combination of ski jumping and then skiing and I was very down for it, imagining people jumping, landing, and then going straight in to a race. Instead, they did both sings separately, at different times of the day. Instead of being this cool, intense hybrid, it was drained of it by methodically separating them. I’m sure this design makes sense but even if it doesn, it doesn’t mean it’s interesting.

Finally, I want to talk about the trick-based judged snowboarding. As I said earlier, I enjoy snowboard cross, and I would like to add to that that you need to be very brave and talented to perform these tricks, but overall, I found the whole presentation fairly painful. To be totally unfair to the sport, I’m not used to watching it and it was rare that I really noticed significant differences between the tricks and could discern differences in difficulty and technique, so i’d be watching and someone would do something that looked great but would get a mediocre score, and then the next person would do something similar and the commentators would lose their minds. Maybe the sport is just fairly narrow in terms of what can be achieved, but for this reason, it somehow became a bit boring to watch even incredible stunts. The worst thing about the sport though is how ridiculously uncool the whole thing somehow is, from the big personalities, who all kinda seem like entitled douchebags (i’m sure they’re not, but they seem that way. Shaun White obviously is), to the try-hard, painfully hip commentators who can’t stop saying things like ‘gnarly’ and making lame jokes because I guess that’s the scene. It’s like Tim Westwood is commentating. This of course is a very personal and definitely unfair criticism but it’s one I had to get off my chest.

speed skating

The Netherlands won all their Golds in speed skating. They really like speed skating there for some reason.  Credit: SB Nation

Finally, and more seriously, while I have no interest in disqualifying events from the games like I would for the Summer Olympics, the Winter games do suffer from the same problem of medal weighting, doling out dozens of medals for some disciplines, and relatively few for others. There are 12 cross country skiing medals to be won, but only 4 for the luge, 22 for speed skating and just 5 for figure skating. Especially at the Winter Olympics, which has a limited selection of sports comparitively, this means that if a country specialises in a sport with a lot of medals, they can be over-represented on the medal table, for as much as that matters. Over half of Norway’s Gold tally came from cross-country skiing alone, and two more came from other skiing disciplines. Norway are excellent at skiing apparently and because there are lots of medals in that, they won the Winter Olympics. Every single one of the Netherland’s Golds came from speed skating, and because of that, they came 5th. Not only is this bad for the weigting of the medal table, but it makes for fairly repetitive action at times with events that are only marginally different from each other and allow for teams to pad their medal haul. I would like to see sports like skiing and speed skating have some of the events discontinued and try to diversify the events overall. I’m not claiming to be especially creative or a genius, but winter sports feel like a ripe setting to invent events for. However, for the fun of it, let me try:

Triathlon: Mass start snowboard slalom; 5k cross-country skiing; 1500m speed skating

Now this admittedly sounds absurd, but i’m not sure it is. Have it as a big race all at once and racers have to essentially change footwear at each stage. They are very different disciplines, but I can imagine there are athletes who can become proficient enough at all three to race. Athletes have to snowboard a longer slalom course all at once; they them change footwear in to skis and race for 5km (a thankfully shorter distance) and ski to/inside the speed skating arena almost like marathon runners entering the stadium; and then they speed skate for 1500m. Add that to the Winter Olympics.

Overall, I wouldn’t change much about the Winter Olympics, I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but I do think there are ways to improve them, make them more diverse, and make them even more exciting by eliminating the more broken competitions. Regardless of the relative negativity here and the fact that i’ll soon forget about Pyeong Chang 2018,  I still look forward to the next games. There’s something magical about the Winter Olympics, even if they’re also a bit lame.

Reflections on Eli, his Career With the Giants, and the Hall of Fame

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

It seems the sun is setting on Eli Manning’s career as a Giant following his sudden benching as Quarterback. Credit: Newsweek

Probably should add this disclaimer: I’m a New York Giants fan, so biased and a bit emotional as I write. Some of what I write about his benching may be a bit messy through this prism. That said, this is about more than that, it’s a reflection on the career of a fixture in my sports fandom.

I can’t really remember when or how I got interested in American football. Vague memories of the Channel 5 broom-closet studio in the UK with Mike Carlson and others talking about the game before it got to the (relative) level of notoriety it has now in the country with the ever-expanding slew of International Series games. I have vague memories of staying up to watch the Patriots first Superbowl win against the Rams in 2002, so i’ll go with 2001/2. Regardless, something must have grabbed me enough to give it a try, and after getting my head around the basics, I was hooked.

I also don’t know why I chose the Giants as my team. I remember going on a college trip to New York in 2006 though and being desperate to get a Tiki Barber jersey (I ended up settling for Jeremy Shockey, not being able to find a Tiki jersey and, if I remember correctly, choosing between Eli and Shockey – as an aside, having learned a bit more about Shockey’s character, and knowing the kind of guy Eli is, I very much regret that). So maybe it was to do with Tiki, or to do with visiting New York, i’m not sure, but though I clearly liked them before then, it was that trip that cemented the Giants as my team. There probably wasn’t a better time to latch on to a team either, as within two years, they would be winning a Superbowl with Eli at the helm.

It’s easy to both over-estimate, and under-estimate Eli’s role in both Superbowl victories. For me, 2008 was all about Defense, good coaching, and Eli managing the whole thing well while he was, I believe, a more active part of the success in 2011/12 becoming a post-season monster that year. What is clear though is that you don’t win two Superbowls by accident, especially at the Quarterback position, and his achievement in this regard is too often downplayed. The fact that he has won both Superbowls he has played in, and that both were against the Brady/Belichick Patriots makes it all the more remarkable.

Super Bowl XLVI

Better times. Credit: nfl spinzone

Eli was never one of the very best quarterbacks in the game, and further, was usually not even the best player on the Giants. He alone was not the reason for the Giant’s two Superbowls, especially not for the first one he won, but he was absolutely capable of magic. A smart, steady quarterback, it was often said (to the point of cliche at times) that there were few players teams would want in the post-season more than Eli – something about him could become irresistible at his best. His throws to Manningham and Tyree are the most memorable of course, but there were lots more, as well as the times he’d take it too far and it would end … less well. It could certainly be a roller-coaster.

Manning’s Giants tenure was, in another way though, the opposite of a roller-coaster – his streak of 210 games starting is a remarkable achievement, especially thinking of how common injuries to younger, more athletic players are now. It’s not just remarkable as an achievement for that reason though; that would be more trivia than anything else, but its the aura it brought to him and the team as a whole that was significant. Eli was a constant, a consummate professional, someone to depend on to play and give you a chance. That is something so many teams have lacked chronically in a way that has left them, be they talented or not, without many prospects. He may not have ever been the best, but he was always there, and he was always good. Sometimes great, sometimes not, but always good.

If i’m honest, that magic has indeed been less present in recent years, and talk of Eli being in the ‘back 9’ of his career seemed accurate. At the start of this season, however, the Superbowl window seemed firmly open, and my thinking was this would be the last chance for Eli before retirement. In that context, Eli and the Giants being in the place they are now is … surreal.

Getting to the grimy business of the benching, I probably don’t have much original to say about it. The essence of assessing the talent the Giants have makes sense, but the nature of it is curious. I have time for Geno Smith as a player; I think there have been flashes of talent and that he’s had a hard time of it in his career, but the notion that any sane management team believe he could be the answer at starter next year is patent nonsense. The only player it makes sense to show any significant time to is young prospect Davis Webb, drafted by the Giants in this year’s draft. The fact that Geno is starting and not Webb strongly hints that the coaches don’t feel Webb is ready. If this is the case, Eli should be starting, and therein lies the rub.

The fact that Smith is starting because the QB position must be ‘assessed’ smacks of scapegoating of Eli – it’s why the move is being referred to as a ‘benching’ rather than being part of a true ‘rebuild’ or ‘evaluation’. In the context of the pressure that Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese are under, it comes across even worse, as them shifting the blame for the seasons’ failings on to a team legend to help save their skins. If the Giants were a playoff team except for the failings of Eli, it might be OK, but Eli is the last person to be the cause of this season’s problems. If anything, Eli has shown a slight upswing in form this year, keeping is tidy and doing what he can (an admittedly limited amount) with a threadbare cast of offensive linemen protecting him and weapons to throw to and compliment him. There are few Quarterbacks who could do significantly better than him if put in the same spot.

Eli Geno Davis

Eli with his temporary successor, Geno Smith, and possible long-term successor, Davis Webb, who he has vowed to support through this period. Credit: NY Daily News

Even if we take McAdoo at his word about the intention here, the treatment of Manning, and the position it has put him in is unacceptable and disrespectful to a true legacy player. In it’s sudden, casual nature, it shows a contempt for the team, Eli, and their achievements. Now it must be said that there is some mutuality to this. Eli was informed of plans to let him start and then hand over to Geno in the second half, in order to keep his starting streak going – an offer Eli, to his credit, refused. Of course to a player like Eli though, this was a false choice, not because of egoistic pride, but because it doesn’t measure up as playing to win, and having faith in him to do so. My feeling is that the offer was one that McAdoo and management knew Eli wouldn’t take, and was instead a way to cusion the impact of the move. Again to his credit, fighting back tears in a locker-room interview, Eli promised to help Geno and Davis prepare for games from a backup role. I won’t pretend to know much about Eli as a person away from the game, but everything I do know about him in the context of the Giants screams that he is a class act. That this is likely the way his Big Blue career ends belies all of that, and those responsible should be held to account.

The sheer shock and dismay (sometimes furious in nature) of Giants legends and former team-mates like Victor Cruz, Justin Tuck, David Carr, Osi Umenyiora, Shaun O’Hara, many more, and even players who never played with him like Carl Banks show what a class act Eli was for the Giants, and how respected he is and always will be. This feels like a big blow for the whole organisation, one that might have a long-lasting legacy, and a black mark on a team and ownership which is usually held up as a classy outfit. That John Mara allowed this to happen and agreed to it when he wasn’t even present to talk to the parties involved makes it all the worse.

Up until today, I presumed, with good reason, that Manning would be a ‘one man, one club’ guy and retire a Giant. He still may, but it has never seemed more possible than now that we could see him in new colours, perhaps those of Jacksonville, reuniting with Tom Coughlin. If Eli does move on, as long as he doesn’t play for a rival team (I suppose Washington would be the only possibility there, and that seems unlikely), I will pull for him. Given an offensive line, he still has a lot to offer, and I would like him to show it, not as revenge against the Giants, per se, but to show those responsible for this debacle, and also because I certainly wouldn’t grudge him one more success.

To end this on a more positive note, I come to the question that has followed Eli for years: the Hall of Fame. Now I know his career isn’t necessarily over yet, and people have different definitions of what a Hall of Famer is, or should be, but I think I can put this frankly, and briefly. To me, the Hall of Fame should be based on a mixture of the success and significance of the player in question. A Hof-er shouldn’t need a Superbowl ring, but if they don’t have one, they had better have been spectacular otherwise to get in. For me, I’ve already stated that Eli was never the greatest quarterback, but he is a two-time Superbowl winner and MVP, both times defeating that Patriots, who have never been otherwise beaten in the Superbowl with Brady and Belichick, and who were otherwise undefeated in one of those seasons. Not only is he a two-time Superbowl winning quarterback, but he defeated significant opponents both times. He is in the top 10 of all time for passing yards and touchdowns, he was a true ‘ironman’ playing 210 consecutive games, a Walter Payton ‘Man of the Year’ winner, and was one of the most recognisable figures in the game. If you don’t think that is Hall of Fame worthy, I don’t know what to tell you. See you in Canton, Eli.

A final, more personal note, as this blog might make obvious, the role of sport in everyday life fascinates me, and even nourishes me, and I’m suddenly faced with some questions I didn’t expect. The NFL and the Giants are happily acquired tastes for me in a way that football isn’t; football is something I was practically born with. Because of that, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where one single person has been so closely linked with my enjoyment of a sport. Eli was always the central figure in my NFL fandom. The respect and love for Eli that I have will always be there, but given the nature of this event, and the lack of a figure to fill the Eli void, I can’t help but wonder how it might affect the nature of my following of the Giants. I suppose i’m about to find out.

Valuing Contributions: Defining the MVP Award and Who Should Win it for 2016/17


The front-runners for the 2016/17 MVP award. Credit: USA Today

The NFL has made a concerted effort to be relevant throughout the year, despite being, at its very longest, a 6-month proposition competitively. This has led to some genuinely fascinating parts of the NFL calendar like the start of free agency and the draft, but has also led to the somewhat burlesque elevation of events like the combine. The NFL awards are certainly a worthwhile and interesting part of this calendar coming as it does at the crux of the post-season, the night before the Superbowl. Sometimes these awards are near foregone conclusions, but this year, there is wide debate about an unusually broad field of contenders for the MVP award. Just as the NFL is building itself a cottage industry though, so are the many analysts and TV personalities who are paid to debate the game. What has become clear – partly by the variety of contenders for the MVP award – is that the understanding of what constitutes the MVP is unclear, and possibly even undefined.

MVP, to patronise for a second, stands for ‘Most Valuable Player’, and the problem seems to stem from people’s definitions of ‘Value’ in the game. Is it simply the best player, or is it something else? The confusion is obvious when you go through the popular runners and riders, and so I will go through them, argue who I think should win the award, and consequently, what the MVP is. These can be split in to three broad groups:

The Greatest

Tom Brady

Chicago Bears v New England Patriots


I count myself as one of the many, shall we say, Patriots-skeptic fans of the game, but to me, it is near clear that he is the greatest QB of all time (just as Bill Belichick is the greatest coach of all time). This year is no different – his skills seem evergreen coming out of one of the greatest regular seasons of his career, topped by an all-time record 28-2 TD to INT ratio. He continues to be probably the best player in the league, but his detractors (in terms of winning the MVP) point to the fact that he missed 4 games as a reason for him not to be eligible for the award, but the issue is really what happened in his absence. Having missed the first 4 games through suspension, the Patriots went 3-1 with backup Jimmy Garrapolo winning the three games he played before Jacoby Brissett started behind centre in a losing effort. Without Brady, the Patriots and his backup rolled over opponents, pointing to the fact that the success of the team wasn’t reliant on him, regardless of his talent. Had the Patriots won not won a game or won only one or maybe two games, there would be absolutely no question about the rightful winner of the MVP.

Aaron Rodgers


Credit: USA Today

As I write this, Aaron Rodgers is in red-hot form, leading a six-game winning streak for the Packers which he publicly called after Green Bay fell to 4-6 amid a collection of underwhelming performances with Rodgers himself looking limp at QB. Rodgers took the team on his back, finishing with 40 TDs and 7 INTs (none of which came during the 6-game winning streak), and a 104 passer rating. It is an incredible streak of performances which has made the Packers offense near unstoppable, and Green Bay one of the favourites to make the Superbowl. Rodgers seems to be playing on a level above everyone else at the position, making heart-breaking clutch plays after seemingly impossibly escaping pass-rushers, and the level of play during this hot streak has made Rodgers a popular candidate for MVP. As true, and as great as that is, the fact remains that through those first 10 games which necessitated the hot streak to make the post-season, Rodgers was part of a significant problem in Green Bay, and while the sheer quality of his play in the latter half of the season can’t be ignored or devalued, it is my view that the MVP must both be valuable throughout the season, but also mustn’t ever be a problem for the team as I believe Rodgers was. He lit a fire under himself and started an incredible run which may end with a Superbowl ring, but the MVP is based on the regular season, and his first 10 games of mediocre play undermines his case for the award.

Consistent Production

Dak Prescott


Credit: USA Today

Rookie QBs picked in the 4th round don’t do what Dak has done this year. Barely anyone does. When Tony Romo went down with another back injury, most assumed that the Cowboys faced another losing year helmed by backup, sub-standard QBs; what the Cowboys got though was an exemplary season with a historic offense which had Dak as it’s central figure. Dak was no mere figurehead though – gaining incredible chemistry with the likes of Cole Beasley and Jason Witten while playing very clean ball having scored 23 touchdowns to 4 interceptions and matching Rodgers’ 104 passer rating. His other passing stats are someway behind contemporaries Rodgers and Ryan, but he shared a great deal of his touches with Ezekiel Elliott in a way those QBs didn’t with their running backs. Dak never single-handedly blew opponents away, but playing so well and leading arguably the most untouchable team in the league under such pressure, and with such a large shadow as Tony Romo being cast over him as a rookie, is an incredible feat.

The question with Dak, though, is how much he really elevated the Cowboy’s play. There’s no question he played very well and very clean, but how different would the Cowboys have been with a healthy Tony Romo? You can’t base anything on Romo’s one successful drive in week 17 against Philadelphia, but based on Romo’s past, it seems fair to assume that, at the very least, Romo wouldn’t be much less productive than Dak. Depending on the offensive style Dallas would employ with Romo under centre, there may have been more turnovers, but there may also have been more production. As good as Dak was, he scored 0 or 1 touchdown in over half of the regular season games he principally played in. While I would never claim that Dak was a placeholder, I think it is fair to question whether he added so much production to the offense as to merit an MVP award.

Matt Ryan


Credit: Panic Button

‘Matty Ice’ is the first candidate on this list who I think demands serious consideration for the MVP award, and now that he has been named to the All Pro team, he may be the fovourite to win. It feels somewhat unfair to pair Ryan in the same category of consistency as Dak Prescott, simply because Ryan’s consistent production is much more searingly productive than Dak, or indeed, most quarterbacks in the league this year. Rodgers pipped him to the post in terms of touchdowns, but he was far ahead of the other candidates in terms of yards, led the league in terms of passer rating with a 117 mark, while recording the highest ever yards per attempt over the season for QBs with over 400 passes. The statistics are impressive, but more impressive is how relentless Atlanta have been this year with Ryan under centre. In previous years, they have burned hot for stretches, but fallen off under significant challenge; this is something that never happened in the current regular season, with the Falcons finishing the year a demolition of the Saints.

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics, and while I don’t think Ryan’s incredible numbers are deceiving, it is interesting to consider them in the context both of previous seasons and with the rest of the Falcons offense. While this is definitely Ryan’s best season, his production has always been very impressive to the point that him being even more impressive perhaps packs less of a punch. More importantly perhaps, the Falcons had a stellar and somewhat forgotten backfield  of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman who supplied a third of Atlanta touchdowns and around a quarter of Atlanta offense. This doesn’t denigrate Ryan’s fantastic season, but it does help explain why he may have been able to take his performances to the next level. Without their production, Matt Ryan and the Falcons may not have been able to be quite so dangerous. As suggested though, Ryan would be a worthy MVP, just not my choice in this competitive season.

‘Jenga Pieces’

I don’t have much time for Dave Dameshek and his irritating brand of dad comedy, but his podcast – when you eat around all that – does contain some insightful and interesting discussions and analysis, and one talking point he raises frequently is that of ‘jenga pieces’, i.e., players who are so crucial to their team’s success that them being removed causes the whole operation to crumble. It is this property that I have always understood MVP to measure – the inherent value a player has to their team’s overall success. It’s with this in mind that I have made my pick for MVP.

Derek Carr


Credit: Oakland -247sports

Derek Carr isn’t quite my choice for MVP, but given my definition of the award, I think that Derek Carr’s heart-breaking injury in week 16 may have – strangely enough – made his case about as strongly as possible. Before his injury, Carr was settling the league alight at the helm of the red-hot Oakland Raiders. Ultimately, he didn’t match up to the other candidates in terms of dominance, and between their rushing attack and pass rush it was clear that Carr wasn’t the only powerful cog in Oakland, but Oakland’s fate after losing Carr has been very telling. Where Brady’s replacement, for example, picked up where Tom Terrific left off, Oakland seem to have collapsed, turning a team in control of the #2 seed and a viable threat to the Patriots in to a #5 seed who aren’t favoured to win more than one post-season game. In short, when Carr went down, the Raiders appear to have followed, and it is in that fact that Carr’s inherent value – be it in terms of skill, or even in terms of leadership and motivation – is very powerful.

Ezekiel Elliott



My choice, considering all of these great candidates, is a difficult one for me to concede as a Giants fan, but the Cowboys have picked up a possible all time talent in Elliott, and more than that, a piece that has been central not only to their success, but to their style of success.

There are some very immediate arguments against Elliott being especially singularly valuable, but I think they become weaker in the context of how the Cowboys offense has succeeded this year. The first is that his impact has been essentially shared with another candidate mentioned, Dak Prescott. Returning briefly to my argument against Dak though, as well and as clean as he played, the talent he replaced (when he last played a full season) was comparable in terms of many stats, and in most, compared unfavourably. It is only his security with the ball where Dak has the edge. That’s not insignificant, but it’s also something that points more to a game manager than a game winner. That’s not a knock – Dak has led the team incredibly well under a hell of a microscope in Dallas, but it just doesn’t make him MVP.

So if the improvement isn’t at QB, it has to be somewhere else, and judging by yards and points scored, it’s at running back. Last year, Darren McFadden had a nice season, running for 1,089 yards and three TDs. This year, Elliott blew that – and all other RBs – out of the water on his way to the rushing title, rushing for 1,631 and 15 TDs. Elliott was seriously endangering Eric Dickerson’s rookie rushing record before being rested in the final game and was able to prove himself as an adept receiver and pass-blocker which is also crucial to any pass offense. The comparison with McFadden also helps to combat the second fair complaint with Elliott winning – the all-decade offensive line blocking for him. Of course Zeke playing behind this line helps him, but any argument that his success is simply because of the line is fraudulent. What Darren McFadden proved, perhaps, was that any decent RB could run for 1,000 yards behind this line, but Ezekiel has done that and way more.

This is where I come to my point about the Dallas offensive system. In the past, their running game was important, but ultimately, their success was down to Tony Romo being explosive. This year, Dallas have been using Zeke to shorten the game, control the game, grind down opposition defences, and protect their own defense as much as possible from opposition offenses. The Cowboys were successful at this, having the second longest time of possession for the year. The Cowboys were used to going on long, crushing drives, with Zeke as the hammer driving them forward most of the time. Even in 3rd and long situations, Zeke was frequently capable of backbreaking long runs to keep moving the chains. That, mixed with his goal line production which saw the Dallas ground game contribute a much higher proportion of touchdowns this year. Zeke’s exceptional play supported the rest of the offense and the rest of the team to many of their wins this year, and without him, there would have been much more required from Dak which would have required him to push the boundaries a bit more and risk his reputation as a safe pair of hands. The Cowboys have blown out a few teams, but have also won a lot of close games over the course of the year, and the recipe for those wins is usually that of controlling the game, and that is what Zeke was central to this year and what has made him so valuable. The most valuable. Just about.


A final point: if we agree that ‘value’ in the MVP race has this ‘jenga piece’ definition, is it worth creating a new, less vaguely-defined award for the Player of the Year? Personally, I think so as it would also clear up the definition of MVP and help celebrate more players and more contributions. If that were a category, I would give the award to another player I have to through gritted teeth – Tom Brady.

How I Would Ruin The Olympics for a Lot of People


It’s hard to pick a cover picture for this sort of topic, but this picture illustrates at least some of what the Olympic Games to be. Credit:

This article is meant as a more informal opinion piece about the Olympic Games and the sorts of sports that are played and showcased there. It will be full of spurious and potentially demeaning opinions of certain sports and their relative merit. It is based on my view of what an ‘Olympic’ sport should be and is therefore not meant to completely demean the value of the sports discussed, but rather simply trying to restore a higher level of prestige – even if it’s just in my eyes – to an Olympic medal.

With that in mind, I have gone through the whole Olympic catalogue and decided whether I think each competition should be involved, stating which should remain, which should be removed, and why. It would be helpful then to know what I think the problem is. When I think of an ‘Olympic’ sport, I think of the ultimate in physical achievement, partly due to their ancient association with Zeus and Mount Olympus, and partly because of the nature of most of the original events which were contests of the most basic human measurables – speed, power, strength, endurance. Now my parameters have a degree of flexibility based on things like tradition within the modern era, but these are the sort of things I had in mind when deciding what made the cut. To earn an Olympic medal should always be a remarkable athletic achievement above most others to be remembered forever, but seeing some of the people who win medals these days, no matter how talented they genuinely are, really bothers me. Spoiler alert: BMX didn’t make the cut.

First of all, I will go through those sports which did make the cut. This should be quite quick as most of them should fit the broad characteristics I have set aside.


Weightlifting is one of my favourite sports – brute strength, technique, danger, satisfaction. Credit:

So without further ado, here are the sports which I believe deserve their Olympic status:

Unless stated, the sports listed are open to both male and female athletes. That will come in to play later in the article.

Freestyle Swimming – 50m, 100m, 400m, 800m (women), 1500m (men).
Swimming (Backstroke) – 100m, 200m
Swimming (Breastroke) – 100m, 200m
Swimming (Butterfly) – 100m, 200m
Swimming 400m Individual Medley
Swimming 4×100 Medley Relay
Swimming 4×200 Freestyle Relay
Swimming 10km Marathon

Running – 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 10000m
Running – 4×100 Relay, 4×400 Relay
Hurdles – 11om (men), 100m (women), 400m, Steeplechase
High Jump
Pole Vault
Long Jump
Triple Jump
Shot Put
Hammer Throw
Decathlon (men), Heptathlon (women)

Cycling Road Race
Cycling Team Sprint
Cycling Omnium
Mountain Biking Cross Country

Boxing Men – Flyweight, Bantamweight, Lieghtweight, Welterweight. Middleweight, Heavyweight, Super Heavyweight
Boxing Women – Flyweight, Lieghtweight, Middleweight
Judo Men – 66kg, 81kg, 100kg, +100kg
Judo Women – 52kg, 63kg, 78kg, +78kg
Taekwondo Men – 58kg, 80kg, +80kg
Taekwondo Women – 49kg, 67kg, +67kg
Freestyle Wrestling (Men) – 57kg, 74kg, 97kg, 125kg
Freestyle Wrestling (Women) – 48kg, 53kg, 58kg
Greco-Roman Wrestling (Men) – 59kg, 75kg, 98kg, 130kg
Greco-Roman Wrestling (Women) – 63kg, 69kg, 75kg
Fencing (Foil)
Fencing (Team Foil) (Men)

Weightlifting (Men) – 56kg, 69kg, 85kg, 105kg, +105kg
Weightlifting (Women) – 48kg, 58kg, 69kg, 75kg, +75kg

Canoeing (Men) – C1 1000m Sprint, C2 Slalom, K1 200m Sprint, K2 1000m Sprint, K4 1000m Sprint, K1 Slalom
Canoeing (Women) – K1 200m Sprint, K2 500m Sprint, K4 500m Sprint, K1 Slalom
Rowing – Single Skulls, Double Skulls, Quadruple Skulls
Sailing (Men) – RS:X, Laser, 49er
Sailing (Women) – RS:X, Laser Radial, 49erFX
Sailing – Nacra 17

Simone Biles

Possibly the hardest sport to eliminate because of how impressive it is, but if victory is based on an opinion and not straight-up objectively beating someone, it’s out. Simone Biles deserves all the plaudits she receives though. Credit:

Ok, now for the meat of the exercise, what sports should be removed from the Olympic games and why:

There are quite a few sports at the Olympics which are extremely impressive and athletic, but that are problematic because of how they are won. To cut a long story short, the following sports should be removed because victory is based on the artistic interpretation of judger as opposed to one athlete objectively defeating an opponent – aesthetics come before the sheer physical prowess, and so they don’t belong at my version of the Olympics. They are:

All Diving, Synchronised Swimming, and Gymnastics

The bulk of the cuts come for the least interesting philosophical reason, but an important one nonetheless. This is really trimming the fat. As suggested earlier, part of this exercise is to champion the prestige of an Olympic medal, and especially a Gold Olympic medal. The more disciplines that earn a medal, the less prestige there is; and there are many sports, regardless of their merit, that offer dozens of medals across different categories based on things like weight-classes. Consequently, if a nation is particularly good at a single sport that offers a lot of medals, it inflates their position in the medals table – foe example with Great Britain and cycling. With that in mind, having gone through the different disciplines, I cut some that I thought were superfluous and possibly ‘half-way houses’ between more major disciplines which made the cut. The events that fit in to this category were:

Swimming – 200m Freestyle, 4x100m Freestyle Relay
Running – 1500m, 5000m
Cycling Time Trials

Boxing (Men) – Light Flyweight, Light Welterweight, Light Heavyweight
Judo (Men) – 60kg, 73kg, 90kg
Judo (Women) – 48kg, 57kg, 70kg
Taekwondo – 68kg Men, 57kg Woman
Freestyle Wrestling (Men) – 65kg, 86kg
Fencing – Épée, Team Épée, Sabre, Team Sabre

Weightlifting (Men) – 62kg, 77kg, 94kg
Weightlifting (Women) – 53kg, 63kg

Sailing – Finn, 470
Rowing – Coxless Pair, Leightweight Double Skulls, Leightweight Coxless Four
Canoeing – C1 Slalom, C1 200m, C2 1000m

With the canoeing, some of the classes were cut not just because of the padding of medals, but because there were some classes exclusively for one gender, so they – the K1 500m for women and K1 200m and K1 1000m for men – were first against the wall.

There are some sports which have such mainstream appeal and high standards of competitions that the Olympics are almost a bonus. The Olympic games, again as part of their prestige, should be the undisputed pinnacle of every Olympic sport, but for many, they are not, and so we see a more casual and lower standard of competition than would be seen elsewhere in the sport. No more was this more obvious than with Golf, where most pro golfers avoided it in droves while footballers, with a few notable exceptions, got on with the start of their seasons while football medals were being competed for in Rio. It is also the case that teams of more than 4 players at the very most share the duty of playing so much that it really dilutes the idea of individuals winning medals. With up to four people in a team, no one can hide, but squads like in football or basketball, for instance, it is very possible that someone will ‘earn’ a Gold medal after being carried by more talented team mates, and that makes a mockery of the prestige of a gold medal. The sports for which the Olympics aren’t their pinnacle and for which there are large squads often overlap, and those disqualified for that reason are:

Rugby Sevens
Rowing Eights

This is no judgement of these sports, and objectively, they are great to watch, but they just undermine the prestige of the Olympics or don’t quite fit. It was particularly hard to eliminate hockey and, surprisingly, tennis. Hockey is a very traditional Olympic sport, but the team problem remains. As for tennis, it’s an individual, physically demanding sport which is valued by most tennis players, but it still pales in comparison to the majors, so it’s out.

Rio Horse

The horse does the bulk of the work, the rider gets a gold medal. If you’re dressed like that, you’re probably not the one exerting yourself. Credit:

If most of those sports were eliminated because of the sharing of the efforts, another category of sport to be eliminated are some where the effort is shared with some equipment or facilitator. Those sports are:


Archery was another sport on the bubble – it takes a lot of skill, no doubt and is an ancient discipline, which works in it’s favour. The problem with archery though, as with shooting, is that as talented as the shooters are, they are essentially operating equipment, which is something anyone can do. They will be infinitely more accurate, but while it’s impossible for a lehman to outrun Usain Bolt, it is imaginable that even as a fluke, I could hit the same target as an Olympian as long as I could use the gun or the bow. Far more ridiculous though is equestrian. I’m sure the riders train hard and have a lot of skills, but the physical effort and achievement is really the horses and while they get no recognition, the riders get OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALS for hanging on.

Now I won’t lie, I will take a bit of joy in this next section. Some of the following sports also fit in to other categories, but I am saving them for here because they deserve it. In short, these sports, among other things, are just kinda crappy sports. I mean no disrespect to the participants – live and let live, and i’m not claiming I could beat the ‘Olympians’ – but I don’t have a problem disrespecting the sports. These are:

Table Tennis
Cycling Team Pursuit
Cycling Individual Sprints
Cycling Keirin
Volleyball and Beach Volleyball
Water Polo

Walking is certainly requires a huge physical effort, but what’s the point of walking when there are running events? The cycling team pursuits are quite exciting, but are instantly eliminated because the whole team doesn’t even have to finish. In a team sport, if a member can’t finish, YOU LOSE – but not at the Olympics. In individual sprints, the riders spend half the time not sprinting. That’s not a sprint and while i’m sure it’s super tactical, it’s anti-Olympic in my view. Similarly, the keirin suffers from being a bridge too far in extending the idea of riding a bike – cyclists sprint for the line after following a motorised bike they can’t overtake for half the race, so why are they even cycling that bit. I’m yet to see any sort of decent explanation. Out. At least these sports, for their faults, involve great physical effort; badmington, table tennis, and volleyball can be played by anyone without any great effort and as good as i’m sure the players are, if you’re handing out Olympic Medals, it shouldn’t be for sports which people don’t think twice about playing in their back yard or conservatory. That leads us to two sports which I legitimately found offensive, namely handball and water polo. Imagine the ONE-dimensionality of basketball, but without nearly all of the skill and effort. Players throw the ball in the net, which seems more cheap than anything else and while watching a game, I saw a goalkeeper make 1 or at most 2 saves the whole game, so easy is it to score. It’s unbalanced, boring, and comes across like a game someone made up at a party. Imagine that, but with players slowed down by water and it being somehow easier to score, and you have water polo. Have at it if you must, but you’re not getting a gold medal for it.

Finally, there is a miscellaneous category for sports that don’t seem to fit well as an Olympic sport for various reasons that don’t quite fit elsewhere. They are:

Swimming 200m Individual medley
Modern Pentathlon

God they really do give out probably a literal tonne of cycling medals eh? For BMX,, there’s probably some personal bias involved – the event looks demanding enough, but it’s just so … lame, like a millennial, cleansed version of mountain biking. Now I love multi-sport events, they are among the most challenging and physically draining of all, but in the case of modern pentathlon, it involves shooting and horse riding, and as they’ve been cut, this whole event has to be too. Finally, and most banal, the 200m individual swimming medley was cut because it kinda duplicated the 400m medley whithout utilising the four different swimming disciplines that you would expect from a true medley.

By the end of the Olympic Games in Rio, 2016, there will have been 306 Gold Medals awarded, but if it were up to me, that amount would be cut by 154. And that’s how i’d ruin the Olympic Games for around half of the competitors and millions around the globe, for a short time at least. Imagine if every four years, the best physical athletes in the world fought over just 152 Gold medals – still a lot of action, but with the fat well and truly cut. Winning a gold medal, or any medal, would mean that much more. I may be being a puritanical fantasist (if you know me, that’s nothing new) but I genuinely believe that that would actually make the Olympics more satisfying, returning it to it’s rawest elements of physical battle, the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat. But that’s just me, I like to spoil your fun, especially if you play handball.

I am contemplating taking the events I have kept in my hypothetical, pure, Olympics and make a true medal table for it to see who really is the greatest. If I do that, you will see it below after the Games. America will still probably win.




Leicester City, the Greatest Sporting Achievement of All Time & Snap-Judging the Favourites for Next Year’s Crown


Manager Claudio Ranieri, ‘Captain Morgan’, and their band of unlikely heroes lift the most unlikely of Premier League titles. Credit:

Football has always been my favourite sport – all you need is a ball, and that doesn’t even have to be a ball; and from it all has come memories – both good and bad – which are as vivid as the clearest memories I have. That is why sport is important, and why football is most beloved around the world.

In recent years though, it’s been hard to love it quite as much. While the magic of playing football can never be taken away, the culture of football seemed to be in a constant nosedive. Cynical owners had essentially bought titles for teams of their choice, transfer fees and wage bills continue to rise so high that ticket prices rise to meet them and keep the common fan away from regular matches, the sport’s governing bodies showed themselves rotten to the core – in short, a sport that draws the most love and loyalty across the world, and it’s fans, have been relentlessly abused by those who oversee it. The natural result of this was an apparent exclusive club of competitive teams in the Premier League who, given the conditions, would be the only possible league champions. That is until this year when, without hyperbole, Leicester City have undone them all and struck a blow for true football and justice, while rejecting what just seemed to be expected norms of champions.

I won’t analyse Leiciester and the specific reasons of their victory too much because – as is borne out in the inability of teams to stop them – they almost defy such analysis, but there are some characteristics of their play which spells success, even if opponents are completely aware of what they are up against – something of a perfect storm, though certainly no accident of circumstance.

It reads like a fairytale: Leicester City, having scraped themselves to safety in the Premier League last year, coached by a manager coming off a run of dismissals whose appointment was questioned by many, and players who had either languished in lower leagues or been cast aside by other teams, were up against a league which offers the most TV rights money of any other to top teams and dominated by a small group of teams so rich that challenging them should be insurmountable. But Leicester City did, did so after spending a fraction of the money of their competitors, and did so in style.

In this day and age Leicester City shouldn’t be able to win the Premier League. For teams who survive relegation, their championship becomes staying in the league, maybe finishing surprisingly high, staying out of the relegation fight, and feeling more secure in the division. Everyone at Leicester City was written off, and frankly, in an objective way, rightly so, but cliched as it is, there is no greater motivator than being told ‘you can’t do this’. ‘Motivated’ is just one word to describe Leicester City this year. Ranieri, with nothing expected of him, created an atmosphere where players could believe in themselves, where everyone was equal and no one’s past mattered; the only thing that mattered was playing to your potential, doing your job, and having fun while doing it. With some notable exceptions, even now I don’t think many of the Leicester team are particularly remarkable players or among the best at their position, but they did their job as asked and rarely faltered. Ranieri, formerly a ‘tinkerman’, had evaluated his squad and set them up in a system which played to their strengths and created remarkable football; not parking the bus and fighting for scraps, but playing firm and pressing at the back, siphoning the ball forward in midfield with short passing, and attacking and counter-attacking with pace and precision.

So often in the Premier League, top teams will simply sell and replace unsuccessful players, but at Leicester City, league champion players were created with training, and savvy scouting which found the right players for their role who could be trained to be rock solid in their role. The team as a whole has raised the level of every individual there, the work-rate and passion of the players has made them very hard to break down and out-play, and the chemistry of the players, borne of a unique level of bonding and brotherhood, has given them a consistency to their play which eventually saw off all competitors.Of course, players like Mahrez, Kante, and Vardy are more than just role-players – their creativity and skill helped give them an extra edge against both the most talented and most stubborn players and teams in the league.When a team has everything from motivation, determination, creativity, a free-flowing mentality, and the players and coaches to follow it through, it suddenly feels less shocking that they would win the league.

The real reason I am writing this article though is that, despite the subjectivity and inability to compare successes in different contexts, I believe that Leicester’s achievement is so unlikely and so remarkable that it is quite clearly the greatest sporting achievement of all time.


Advertised as canon-fodder, Buster Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson credit:

League’s are designed as such that victory excludes those that rely on flukes or luck and insists that the winner be the best consistently over the course of an entire season. So as great and memorable as one-time successes like Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson, non-league Luton knocking Norwich City out of the FA Cup, or Japan beating South Africa at the rugby world cup are, these are freaks of nature, magical moments that happen once. As special as that is, it doesn’t compare to a team defying the odds time and time again and actually proving a dominance over their competition. So, to my mind, the only achievement that could compete with Leicester’s win would be a similar sort of league-structured victory.

As big an NFL and New York Giants fan as I am, it would be easy to look at their Superbowl XVII victory over the to-date undefeated Patriots, but the truth is, the Giants are a team who had already won two Lombardi trophies before that victory, and as great an achievement as any Superbowl victory, it only comes together after a maximum of twenty games in which you don’t play every other team competing. So as far as i’m concerned, a Superbowl victory is ruled out from this discussion, and that is before even considering the several – laudable – policies in place throughout North American sports which encourage a rough parity of competition and also rule them out of consideration for this honour. It has indeed been fascinating trying to see American sports fans marvel at Leicester City without culturally being unequipped to fully understand the magnitude of the achievement.


John Daly, a rookie unknown, poses with his PGA Championship, credit:

I have also seen some comparisons made to John Daly’s 1991 PGA Championship win. It was certainly a hell of a shocking and remarkable victory. Daly, a rookie, who until then was often not even an also ran, being an alternate for championships before, who only secured a place in the tournament days before when Nick Price dropped out, who had to use Price’s caddy for the championship, and who hadn’t had a chance to practice at the course beforehand, went on to win the championship in most certainly the most incredible golfing victory ever. In terms of odds being against him and the surprise of the victory, he is close to rivaling Leicester, however, when you consider the nature of golf and their tournaments, it falls short. Though it takes consistency to win a golf tournament in a way that largely eliminates any ‘luck’, it still only takes good form over a weekend to succeed, again, as opposed to a whole season. More importantly, in golf, though you play alongside rivals, you control your own ball and aren’t competing directly with anyone – other golfers don’t game plan for you and you don’t have to our smart opponents, you just have to play the best on your own. A team, liable to each other and facing a team that is game-planning for your style and actively trying to stop you succeed, requires much more of an effort in overcoming than simply the playing field alone, and so as impressive as Daly’s achievement was, it simply can’t compare.

So back in the world of football, there are a few achievements that are reminiscent of Leicester City’s Premier League win. Perhaps the most reminiscent is what Brian Clough achieved with Nottingham Forrest between 1976 and 1980. Forrest, as a second tier team, were certainly of similar standing to the Leicester City of last year when Clough took charge, and by getting swiftly promoted and then winning the top tier championship in their first year of promotion, Nottingham Forrest completed a magical, unlikely achievement. This was only surpassed when Forrest went on to win two successive European Championships – the pinnacle of European club football. This, on paper, even surpasses the Leicester victory, but it is important to remember the footballing climate of the time. While this in no way undermines the Nottingham Forrest achievement, the fact is that the financial gulf between not only teams in the top division, but between teams across divisions was nowhere near as large. With the right manager, like a Brian Clough, though it was still a huge challenge, it was much more feasible for a new team to rise up and compete for the first division championship. In fact, when Forrest signed Trevor Francis for £1.15 million, the fee smashed the existing transfer fee record, showing that Forrest, despite coming from the lower league, were more than able to play on level playing field to their competitors. Compare that with Leicester, who were on the fringe of the second tier football last year; their largest transfer fee was just £7 million for Shinji Okazaki, a very small fee for any starting calibre Premier League player, never mind one of it’s strongerst performers. Though Nottingham Forrest’s rise and success is the most reminiscent of Leicester’s then, it still can’t compare because they simply didn’t face the inherent barriers that Leicester faced as a team who had previously barely survived the Premiership.

So what about a more modern footballing achievement? In terms of sheer near-unparalleled achievement, Arsenal’s 2003/04 run in which they dominated the Premier League and went undefeated in doing so will quite possibly never be replicated again. Since the old first division became the Premiership, and the sponsorship money and larger gaps in financial power came in to play, such dominance should have been impossible. Arsenal were no doubt one of those financially blessed teams themselves, but the fact that they never slipped up and lost even once was truly remarkable. That Arsenal performance was truly special, but the only reason it drops in relevance when compared to Leicester City  is that Arsenal were already a strong and very competitive team going in to the season having won twice since 1997 and competed well in years well they fell short. Not only that, but Arsenal built a team around historically great players like Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. When compared with Arsenal, players like Vardy and Mahrez are great, but simply not in the same conversation as Henry and Bergkamp; and Leicester City’s win came out of almost literally nowhere. As amazing as Arsenal’s modern invincibles season was, it was the result of historical momentum and historical talent that Leicester simply didn’t have.

POR: Euro2004 Final: Portugal v Greece

Angelos Charisteas celebrates his unlikely winning goal for Greece in the Euro 2004 final credit:

The final phenomenon that could, to some, challenge Leicester City’s win for greatest sporting achievement is the still surreal happening of Greece winning Euro 2004. Greece, who had only been to two major tournaments in their history and never won a game, showed up in Portugal and went on to grind out results against the likes of Spain, France, the Czech Republic, and finally, the hosts in the final to win the most unlikely international title of all time. Greece were a team of practical nobodies who, like Leicester, played smart, hard-working football (though without the flash of Leicester City), and beat out the giants of Europe. The result was practically an aberration as Greece would never replicate anything like this success again, a success which legitimately shocked the football world. Even compared to Leicester, this team had no expectations of victory. However, despite how anonymous they were, their prospects of victory were still more feasible simple because of the amount of competition they faced. Greece were one of just 16 teams competing for the European crown and only had to play six matches in the tournament. While Greece won the tournament, they did so after a series of shocks coming from eked out victories while Leicester really shone and looked unstoppable over a 38 game season. Greece’s Euro 2004 victory will live on in memory forever, as will Leicester’s, but Leicester’s victory coming over a longer season with more competition means it again edges the Greece victory in terms of level of achievement.

While it’s hard to make such a sweeping statement, the more I think about it, the more I want to double down: Leicester City, coming out of a relegation battle, with cheaper players who had been rejected or ignored previously, and going on to beat out a sizable handful or financially and historically elite teams with flair and apparent ease and from out of nowhere is the greatest sporting achievement of all time. We’re just lucky we all got to witness it.

Snap Preview of the 2016-17 Premiership Season
The 2015-16 Premier League season has indeed been like a fairytale, driven by new contenders playing with youth, passion, and dedication, usurping the historic and financial powerhouses of the league. Now that the winner is determined, the big questions that are rising are can Leicester City and – to a lesser extent – Tottenham, keep a hold of the new young standouts that propelled them to the top of the table, and can they possibly recreate their success next year and in seasons to come?

With that in mind, i’m going to do something I’ve never done before – mainly because my interest in the league had been slowly waning – and preview who I believe to be the likely contenders for the 2016-17 Premier League title and explain why I think they will, or won’t, win the league. Perhaps I’ll overlook an underdog like Leicester City were this year, but hopefully not.

Leicester City
The story of Leicester City’s season was one of consistency, being doubted because of their pedigree, and a slow tide of belief that they might actually go and win. One of the major narratives of the season was that despite their consistency and the length of time they spent as league leaders, there was still skepticism about their ability to follow through; and that seems to be the prevailing thought even know – that yes they won the league, but surely it was a one off.

I’ve written at length about why they won the league this year, so I won’t rehash that, but theoretically at least, there is no reason to imagine they can’t recreate that. Teams had plenty of time this season to ‘work them out’ and didn’t because their system was about consistency, not surprise, so if they can continue to play to their tactics and maintain their work-rate, they should be contenders. The dangers for Leicester will be if other teams are smart enough to adopt aspects of their philosophy, and whether they will have the right players at their disposal to execute their game plan. Indeed, the prevailing question about Leicester City is whether they will be able to keep their key players like Schmeichel, Morgan, Kante, Okazaki, Vardy, and especially Mahrez. If they lose any of these players, they will need to replace them with new players who can play to those standards and with the intangibles of passion, work-rate, and creativity that have made them the difference-makers for the champions.

To my mind though, I think there is an obvious love and passion for the club that, when reciprocated by the fans, played a large role in their success. The team  showed faith in the players and achieved something special, and when you mix faith and success, you will usually create loyalty in your players. Leicester will surely have to offer these key players lucrative and competitive new contracts, but that shouldn’t be a problem given their success, With money presumably not an issue, I don’t see why players would want to leave the reigning champions who will be playing in the Champions League for another team in England, especially given the many flaws and inconsistencies shown by the established ‘Top 4’ teams. Therefore, I think it will take an elite European team such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Bayern Munich to tempt players away, and as good as these players are, perhaps with the exception of Schmeichel, I don’t see those teams being quite interested in them.

I singled out Schmeichel there because having an elite Goalkeeper is near priceless and given his performances, and certainly not hindered by name recognition, there could be interest in him. I don’t see him leaving though. Schmeichel, despite his lineage has had a rough ride of a career until now, playing for teams like Leeds and Notts County before making it back to the top. He has been playing with Leicester for 5 years now and their faith in him, mixed with the success they have brought him, I think will create a strong sense of loyalty in him. That goes even more for Vardy and Morgan. Both have been with Leicester for multiple years in lower leagues, and neither would have imagined the possibility of winning the league. They did that because of their place at the club, and I find it very hard to believe that players who have been on such an incredible, long journey with the club and the fans will have much desire to leave at the height of success.

That leaves Kante, Okazaki, and Mahrez under the microscope. These are Leicester’s most flashy, skillful players who will have caught many a manager’s eye, and they are also the ones who have been with the club for the shortest amount of time, not toiling through the lower leagues with them like the others. Nonetheless, I think the obvious team spirit and bond created at Leicester surely wasn’t lost on them, not to mention, as before, the opportunities that playing for Leicester as champions itself now presents. Even for these players, it is hard to to think of a club with a significantly superior draw than Leicester that would also be particularly interested in the players. Perhaps some of them could leave, but I will be surprised.

I think, personally, that the real danger faced by Leicester is trying to make the sort of preseason moves that may be associated with top clubs: most obviously, high-profile signings. While their big-money rivals will hope to learn from Leicester, there is potentially a danger that Leicester try to behave more like a top club and make impressive signings of players who don’t fit their system. In many ways, it would be ideal is Leicester could just play next season with the exact same squad, but if they are tempted by the transfer market, they have to be careful to respect what this history-making team have achieved, and only buy players who can play the high octane, high effort style that Leicester play while remembering to fulfil their position and role diligently. If they are able to do that, they will be competing again.

Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur themselves would be the fairytale team of the league this year if it wasn’t for the ridiculously unlikely achievement of Leicester City. Tottenham have a rich history and have been fleetingly involved in European football in recent years with the emergence of Gareth Bale, but despite these relatively humble successes, they haven’t been close to a title run in decades. They are also surrounded by similar questions to Leicester City going in to the next year – namely, can they repeat their feat next year and challenge for the title. Interestingly though, the prevailing belief seems to be that they will be in a better position than Leicester, despite losing out in the title race to them this year.

While Leicester showed the consistency of champions, it is hard to argue that there was a team who played to the level of quality as Tottenham at their best. In recent years, Tottenham have always had a fairly neutral disappointing goal difference, but this year they have had, statistically, the most fearsome attack and most sure-handed defence leading to a monster goal difference. Players like Kane, Lloris, Vertonghen, and Erikson have managed to maintain a high-to-incredible level of play while players like Alderweireld, Walker, Rose, Lamela, and Alli have emerged from either lower leagues, other teams, or relative mediocrity to play to the same level. No team has had such rich quality throughout their ranks as Spurs have, and Mauricio Pochettino is seemingly the architect of the flourish. Unfortunately for them, too many draws early in the season before they really found their feet and not quite being able to match the consistency of Leicester when it counted costed them a championship they perhaps objectively deserved.

It will be interesting to see how much difficulty Tottenham face in keeping their squad together because unlike Leicester, there doesn’t seem to be much speculation that they will struggle to. They will surely get tempting offers for Lloris especially and other members of the squad, but something special seems to be going on at the club, and as a Champions League team with a huge new stadium in the works, and increasing financial power, I think Tottenham should be able to hold on to their players, especially now that Pochettino has signed a big new contract extension. He was perhaps the most likely to be pursued by rivals, but it is clear he is building something at Tottenham. That’s something you don’t leave behind, and it’s something that the players will want to stay around for. If they do, Tottenham will keep a very powerful, young and exciting squad.

This season did have a feel though that if they couldn’t win this year, they might not get another chance, and as teams have a preseason to adjust themselves to the approaches of Tottenham and Leicester and perhaps take inspiration from them to close the gap, there are valid reasons to worry that Tottenham might not be able to quite recreate the magic of this year.

But again like Leicester, philosophically at least, if they keep the same quality in their squad, and the same passion and work-rate in their play, there is no reason at all that Tottenham can’t make another strong push for the title. For Tottenham, there aren’t many areas of their squad that can be significantly improved, but what they do need is strength in depth, and if they can add that to their squad without upsetting it, if anything, they’ll be in an even stronger position than this year.

Manchester City
Manchester City are an intriguing prospect, having seemingly forgone any interest in Premier League as they limp to the end of the season while going on an unlikely run in the Champions League. Despite that success though, that seems like a bit of a misnomer if i’m completely honest, Manchester City feel like a team in flux, en route to a new era and major rebuild under incoming headline manager Pep Guardiola. Guardiola is generally seen as the best manager in the world following his long list of achievements at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and he will certainly, again, have a huge transfer budget to play with this preseason. So despite the huge disappointment of this year, City will certainly be considered among the favourites next year.

That said, Guardiola and City have a lot of work to do with a squad which seems old, tired, and listless when compared to how powerful it should be. As good as many of the players there are on paper, there has been a high turnover of starting City players since City became a financial powerhouse, meaning that players have seemed more disposable and their time at City more transitory. In this time, there have been some players such a Hart, Kompany, Silva, Toure, and Aguero who have become stalwarts, and the closest thing to ‘hearts and souls’ of the team possible for such a cynical venture as they have become. But as time goes on, the number of players on that list good enough to anchor a championship winning team has dwindled. Vincent Kompany, once the fiery figurehead of the team, had become injury prone and less effective when able to play, while Silva and Toure have appeared less motivated and consistent; and as good as they are, a team can’t be highly successful in a league with a team anchored by three consistently good to great players in recent stalwarts Hart and Aguero, and newer sensation Kevin De Bruyne.

What it means is that this team, in line with it’s ethos, has to be largely torn apart and rebuilt. Keep Hart, De Bruyne and Aguero, sell the coasting dead weight like Navas, Silva, and Demichelis, and buy at least 4 or 5 hungry, quality players. Guardiola’s name and City’s money will be enough to draw most of any players they have their eye on, and while the potential of a ‘Galacticos’ approach is shaky at best, City themselves have had success with it before.

Nonetheless, even if City make these moves, which isn’t guaranteed, it would be a major rebuild which could quite possibly take more than a season to ‘take’. I don’t think City can win the league with their current squad, and I think a manager like Pep will want to stamp his authority on the side, so I can see this sort of rebuild taking place, so City’s prospects will rest solely on how quickly Pep’s new team can gel, and while I think City will be force eventually under Guardiola, I think there will be enough competition to beat out City as they rebuild next year.

Manchester Utd
Manchester Utd are currently a fascinating team. It is natural that after a legendary manager like Alex Ferguson moved on, that they would go through a period of struggle and rebuilding, but given the recent history of Utd, it has been a period of huge disappointment for the fans, and of schadenfreude for fans of their rivals. In the second half of this season though, something has started happening there that gives them reason to be very hopeful for the future. This season, part of their struggles have come due to a raft of injuries to top players. The rather sizable silver lining of this though has been that Louis Van Gaal has been forced in to select numerous players to his starting eleven from deep in to the Utd youth system. The arrivals of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jesse Lingard, and most explosively, Marcus Rashford, has given Utd a tempo and attacking flair that the side have been sorely missing for the past few years. Giving young prospects starts is something Van Gaal is well-known for regardless, but it’s a pretty safe bet that these players wouldn’t have all gotten their shots so quickly were it not for the injury bug; in fact, the injury bug may have forced Utd to play less like a ‘top’ team, and more like Leicester City did, with youth, passion, and desire.

These three young players have been nothing short of a revelation. They have played to incredible standards at their respective positions and have lit a fire under other established players like Anthony Martial, Antonio Valencia, and even Wayne Rooney who seems to have been playing more freely now that the attacking verve of the team doesn’t run near exclusively through him. The team is still inconsistent and definitely needs more development, but the foundation of these players as well as having a world-class goalkeeper and improving centre-back in Chris Smalling is giving them something to really build on.

With this in mind, this is no time for a change at manager, and Van Gaal deserves one more season to see if this foundation can be built on. Keeping De Gea will be crucial, but if they can do that, add one or two more dominant defenders, and add a bit more youthful, hungry depth to the squad, I think Manchester Utd could be on for a major revival, and quite possibly, a run at the Premier League title.

Arsenal are under consideration here due to their consistent place in the Top 4 in the past decade and the fact that they were, for some time, a legitimate contender for the title before fizzling out shortly after Christmas. Arsenal are a strange team who consistently play quality, flowing football, but who, in recent years have also been – if you will  – consistent in their inconsistency, perhaps keeping faith in players unduly long after they should have been replaced. For years, they have flashed with quality but haven’t been able to maintain it enough to make a serious run, and I don’t see why that would change next year.

Giroud is a good striker, but certainly not good enough consistently, and though Welbeck, Walcott and even Campbell are good, it just feels like they are lacking the sort of transcendent striker that Leicester, Tottenham, City, and maybe Utd have to make them true contenders. That, mixed with a couple of upgrades at the squad’s weakest points – maybe a savvy signing each in defence and midfield replacing the aging Monreal and bringing in competition for Ramsey – could possibly make them more realistic contenders, but their problem is also of attitude.

Fair or not, Arsenal seem to play without urgency for lengthy periods, and don’t seem to have the fire of more successful teams. It is this, more than a few squad changes, that would be key to their next title challenge. Wenger is a great manager, but if he is the problem, it is in this respect.

Chelsea are seemingly a team in no man’s land, at least relative to the recent expectations. Guus Hiddink managed to steady the ship for the most part after the freefall they experienced at the start of the season, but Chelsea have been non-starters this year and a near irrelevance in the league. Like their super-wealthy contemporaries in City, their team just feels tired, and are about to hire a new manager who should rip up the team and start again, and should have the budget to do it. The problem is, Chelsea seem to have even less current talent than City do, haven’t had any sort of European run, and are hiring a manager with much less of a draw than Guardiola. Besides Courtois, Hazard, and maybe Diego Costa, no one really seems irreplaceable, but so invisible has their season been that it’s hard to imagine many top quality players having a huge interest in a move to Stamford Bridge. That all said, Chelsea’s season has been so strange and anonymous that they are a real wildcard for next season.Speaking from a pure hunch though, I just can’t see them building any sort of significant challenge.

Liverpool haven’t really earned consideration as title challengers next year based on their performances this year, but the cult of Klopp mixed with flashes of quality play over this season and Liverpool being in the mix in recent years means they can’t quite be ruled out as contenders.

Though Liverpool have some excellent players such as Coutinho and Firmino, they are lacking the requisite quality to really challenge significantly since Gerrard and especially Suarez left. For teams like Manchester City and Chelsea, I have suggested complete rebuilds in line with their resources and ethos, but for Klopp, I think he will have to rely on his open, fluid managerial style as much as he will on new players. Some new signings will be necessary, but his real job will be to get the most out of some players who still have some potential to live up to; players such as Lallana, Can, Ibe, Benteke and Sturridge all seem to have more to give, and if Klopp can get them playing more naturally and consistently in his system over the course of a proper pre-season regimen, they could improve a great deal.

So without further ado, and purely on instinct, here are where I predict these teams will finish next season:

Predicted Top 6
1) Tottenham Hotspur
2) Manchester Utd
3) Manchester City
4) Leicester City
5) Arsenal
6) Liverpool/Chelsea

NFL Roundup – Week 8, 2015

NFL Week 8 Headlines and Round-up

  • Kansas City Chiefs Continue a Resurgence, Thrash the Detroit Lions in London
  • Denver Broncos Outclass the Green Bay Packers in the ‘Battle of the Undefeateds’
  • Offensive Records Set as the New Orleans Saints Edge the New York Giants in Shootout

With only the Monday Night showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers still to play, Week 8 of the NFL season has seen the fall of undefeated teams, numerous heart-breaking injuries, and offensive records crushed.

Miami 7 – 36 New England

The emotional, resurgent juggernaut of Dan Campbell’s Miami Dolphins was brought to an abrupt halt by the superior and still undefeated New England Patriots on Thursday night. The Patriots’ ability to make the most of what they have, create stars, and dominate, no matter the circumstances again proved too strong for their opponents this week. Completely shutting down Miami’s run game, the class the Patriots boast in Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman, and now Dion Lewis completely smothered the Dolphins who, for the two weeks previous, looked like a very dangerous team playing hard for their interim coach, demolishing both Tennessee and Houston consecutively. The strength of their opponents may have given the Dolphins a false sense of security though, and with the potentially season-ending Achilles injury to pro bowl Defensive End Cameron Wake, the resurgence of the Dolphins may be short lived. The Patriots, on the other hand, continue to look a step ahead of every other team in terms of game plans and quality, playing with a bespoke approach to every opponent they come across, and succeeding. In this form, talk of an undefeated season looks increasingly credible.

Detroit 10 – 45 Kansas City

The London game has gained a reputation as something of a ‘coach killer’, its latest victim being Joe Philbin of Miami following their devastating week 4 loss at Wembley. The Detroit Lions have already replaced their Offensive Coordinator this season, and after the team’s performance this week in London which saw them fall to 1 and 7 and dead last in the league, Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell must be on a very hot seat. If anything, the ten points flatter Detroit who played without ambition and a spark, only managing to score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. For Kansas City, you can only beat who you play, and Kansas City more than did that job. Starting with a well worked end-around to Charcandrick West and bookmarked by a standout game by Alex Smith, the Chiefs dominated the Lions in all facets of the game. Smith threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another, as well as rushing for 78 yards, highlighted by a 49 yard run the Lions D will be very embarrassed to have given up. In contrast, Matthew Stafford who was benched earlier in the season due to bad play, must have been close to the same fate this week after throwing two interceptions in close proximity and driving with very little success. The Lions are playing well below the potential Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate III and Ameer Abdullah should provide while the Chiefs, who looked to be struggling severely going in to Week 7, have now won 2 straight games.

Tampa Bay 23 – 20 Atlanta (OT)

In undoubtedly the upset of the week, Tampa Bay visited their division rivals in Atlanta and handed them only their second loss of the season in overtime. In an early flagship career victory for Jameis Winston, the rookie who had struggled with turnovers early in the season played an unremarkable but smart game, leading the team to a game winning field goal where just the week prior the Bucs had given up a similar lead, largely built on a strong running game. While Julio Jones returned to statistical form for Atlanta, the Falcons were disappointing in defeat, giving the ball up four times and allowing the Buccaneers to compete. The result was certainly disappointing, and their 6-2 record flatters them, but ultimately, the Falcons will remain happy with their standings, still very much in contention for a playoff place either as divisional winner or wild card.

San Diego 26 – 29 Baltimore

In this match-up of underachieving AFC teams, a suitably close match was decided by the sure foot of Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. Philip Rivers has the unenviable trait of putting up huge statistical numbers as a passer without necessarily consistently winning games, and this week fell in to that pattern as Rivers threw for 301 yards and 3 touchdowns, only to be let down by a defence which is among the worst in the league.  This was exploited by a Baltimore Offense which has been decidedly mediocre on 2015, with Joe Flacco recording 319 passing yards and a touchdown, as well as a rushing touchdown. Unfortunately though, this game could well be remembered for a very disturbing reason. What Offense Baltimore have had in the air has almost exclusively been the result of the tenacious, once-in-a-lifetime talent of Steve Smith Sr, and this game seemed to be little different as Smith gained 82 yards as a receiver before falling to a season-ending Achilles injury. Injuries are upsetting as they are, as was the season-ending one to the Chargers’ talismanic wide receiver Keenan Allen, but the season-ending injury to Steve Smith Sr is a real heart-breaker. The fiery, charismatic playmaker had indicated that this season would be his last, and this season could spell the end of a glorious career. Both teams now lie at 2 and 6 in divisions boasting undefeated teams and despite any explosive offensive displays in this game, both teams are almost certainly already out of playoff contention.

Minnesota 23 – 20 Chicago

A balanced performance in the air and on the ground saw the Minnesota Vikings snap a seven game losing streak at Soldier Field following a fourth quarter surge. The Chicago Bears had looked strong since the return of a seemingly motivated Jay Cutler at quarterback, and were on a two-game winning streak themselves going in to this game. The Bears, Cutler and wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey were productive but were ultimately overpowered by the elusive play of Teddy Bridgewater mixed with the 100+ yard game by Adrian Peterson which saw them improve to 5 and 2 and a three-game winning streak to make them a realistic playoff contender.

Arizona 34 – 20 Cleveland

A promising and explosive start by Cleveland was nullified by a second half collapse as Arizona scored 27 unanswered points to secure an away victory in Cleveland. This game was like a microcosm of McCown and the Browns’ season – some encouraging, eye-catching play, ultimately undermined by inconsistent play. McCown threw touchdowns to Gary Barnidge and Brian Hartline, but their offense dried up in the second half, with McCown giving the ball away twice while the well-oiled Arizona offense took the game over with a 100+ yard rushing game from Chris Johnson and 374 yard, 4 touchdown performance by Carson Palmer. Arizona look as dangerous offensively as they did last year before Palmer’s injury and have to be considered favourites for the NFC West crown while Cleveland, already 5 games behind the undefeated Bengals, have nonetheless made definite advances this year and are better than their 2 and 6 record suggests.


Tennessee 6 – 20 Houston

The Marcus Mariota-less Tennessee Titans travelled to Houston to take on another struggling team in the Texans. With Ryan Mallett out of the building, Brian Hoyer has been able to step up as QB1 without controversy, and though an unconvincing franchise prospect, Hoyer has the ability to shine and win games. He showed that against the Titans, passing for 235 yards and 2 touchdowns in a game where the Texans were never really troubled. The game was really won, however, in the trenches, with the Texans rushing and harassing backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger, sacking his 7 times; 2.2 for J.J. Watt and 3.5 for Whitney Mercilus (living up to his name). Under that sort of pressure, Mettenberger and the Titans could never really get anywhere as they fell to 1 and 6. Luckily for them they are in the worst division in football and find themselves still in contention for the divisional title. That is even more the case for the Texans, now 3 and 5 but second in the division. This loss proved to be the final straw for Head Coach Ken Wisenhunt though as he was fired after the game due to the poor performance of the Titans, and while he may feel aggrieved at that given that his rookie star quarterback Marcus Mariota is out injured, it is important to remember that the Titans struggled even with Mariota, as well as Wisenhunt’s his combined 3 and 20 record as head coach.

New York Giants 49 – 52 New Orleans

The term ‘shootout’ has never been more aptly used than in this insane offensive battle in New Orleans which saw both quarterbacks setting personal records, and collective records, combining for 13 passing touchdowns and over 100 combined points. Both defences had limited highlights, with sacks totalled for the Saints early on and two takeaways from the Giants witch the in-form Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie central to both. Those successes aside, this game was a defensive catastrophe with Eli making throws that had no right to be made, and Brees picking apart a depleted Giants secondary. Ironically in a game with only points from touchdowns, the Saints managed to just outstretch the Giants with a last-minute field goal to break Giant hearts. Given the kind of game it was, the result almost felt like a toss up, but the Giants ultimately cost themselves by allowing a long punt return compounded by a personal foul penalty which put the Saints and new kicker Kai Forbath just about in range to make the game-winning field goal. The loss saw the Giants fall back to .500 but retain their light grip on first place in the NFC East though depending on the final standings at the end of the season, it could be a loss that hurts them. The Saints went the other way, improving to .500, which is only good for third in the ultra-competitive NFC South.

Cincinnati 16 – 10 Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger returned to the field in Pittsburgh in an ugly divisional encounter with the Cincinnati Bengals that ultimately saw the Bengals retain their perfect record and move to 7-0 for the first time in their history. This was an inconsistent game for both the returning Roethlisberger and for Andy Dalton, who has been gaining plaudits for over-performing his reputation all year, though his performance took a definite step back this week, throwing for 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Roethlisberger would later apologise to Steelers fans though after throwing 3 interceptions, eventhough the play made on him by Shawn Williams was more earned by brilliance than poor play. That was the difference in the game though. Dalton played slightly better than Roethlisberger, the Bengals Defense slightly outplayed Pittsburgh’s, and it was just enough to maintain their clean record. The return of Big Ben improves the Pittsburgh offense overall, but he looked hobbled and rusty, and in a week full of upsetting injuries, the likely season-ending injury to Le’Veon Bell will hurt the Steelers especially as they haven’t been able to get all of their play-makers on the field at once, making playoff aspirations from 4 and 4 seem increasingly unlikely. Bengals fans may worry about ‘the real Andy Dalton’ showing himself this week, but it is a truthful cliché that championship teams win ugly even if their standard drops, and perhaps that was what we saw this week.

San Francisco 6 – 27 St. Louis

The NFC West is a reverse image of what it was just two years ago when San Francisco were a juggernaut ultimately competing for Superbowl 47. This year both the Seahawks and 49ers are struggling, Arizona and St. Louis are in the playoff driving seats, and Colin Kaepernick is being benched due to poor performance and a reported split in the 49er locker room. Kaepernick has looked to be regressing at the position, and has looked shaky and indecisive for most of the season. In this game he threw for just 162 yards and no touchdowns but also was guilty of terrible vision on an early play where wide receiver Torrey Smith was lined up completely uncovered, trying desperately to get the attention of his quarterback, only for Kaepernick to run a rush up the middle for a couple of yards anyway. Contrast this with the play of the Rams’ skill players, especially breakout rushing talent Todd Gurley and the explosive Tavon Austin, and it is clear that St. Louis simply played with too much quality for San Francisco to handle. Gurley rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown and Austin gained just shy of 100 receiving yards and touchdown while the 49ers could only manage field goals. T win improves St Louis’ lot and though they remain two games back of Arizona, they are still very strongly in contention for a playoff berth. Meanwhile, the 2 and 6 49ers are seemingly imploding. Kaepernick is to be replaced by the proven mediocrity of Blaine Gabbert, have unfortunately lost Reggie Bush to a torn ACL, and have traded away genuine receiving threat Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos. In terms of ambition, the 49ers season is all but over, and attention will turn to rebuilding the historic franchise back in to a position where it can win though the question of who their quarterback of the future is to be will be a tough one to answer.

New York Jets 20 – 34 Oakland

The Jets and the Raiders are two teams who have struggled in recent years but have been showing significant signs of recovery in 2015. Oakland find themselves above in genuine playoff contention for the first time in years while the Jets were at 4 and 1 before losing a well-contested game to the Patriots last week. The Jets’ success this year has been based on excellent defense and a quietly explosive offense through Chris Ivory and Brandon Marshall, but what defined this game as well as the Jets’ loss was the quarterback play. Despite the special talents of Ivory and Marshall, they are held back by relative mediocrity at the quarterback position. Fitzpatrick started and was replaced by Geno Smith after Fitzpatrick injured his thumb. Smith, the initial choice for starter was injured in the preseason when IK Enemkpali assaulted him, came in to the game and performed acceptably, throwing for 265 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. While the Jets seemingly have two quarterbacks who can carry a team while being susceptible to careless play, the Raiders currently have perhaps the most explosive and promising prospect behind Center in Derek Carr. After a laudable rookie season, Carr has become a dependable playmaker for the Raiders in 2015, perhaps put in sharpest focus in this game. Taking on a Defense which significantly troubled the Patriots, Carr threw for 333 yards and 4 touchdowns, despite the Jets and Darelle Revis practically shutting down any protection from Rookie of the Year candidate Amari Cooper, and showing a Brady-esque ability to successfully find lesser-name talents. That, mixed with the Raiders gaining nearly double the rushing production of the Jets and the Raiders elder statesman of Charles Woodson adding to his takeaway stats, was enough for the Raiders to gain their fourth game of the season without much trouble. Jets fans will be worried about the two game losing trend they are now on in a division with the still-perfect Patriots, but they are still likely to stay in contention through the season. The Raiders are in a very similar position, 4 and 3 in a division also featuring the still-perfect Broncos, and while they are in playoff contention, the most pleasing fans for Raiders fans is that they can be quietly confident of finally having a franchise quarterback after this game.

Seattle 13 – 12 Dallas

The return of Dez Bryant to the Dallas Offense couldn’t bring a much-needed spark to the team as he was blanketed by the coverage of Richard Sherman and the Cowboys could only manage four field goals against the Seahawks. 12 points were nearly enough to win the game, but Russell Wilson and his Offense finally managed to edge the Cowboys in what was truly a defense-heavy game with very little to highlight offensively. While both teams managed over 100 yards rushing, their ground and pound styles ultimately led to little on the scoreboard. As has so often been the case this season though, the Seattle quarterback managed to prove the difference , scoring the game’s only touchdown on a connection to Luke Willson and driving the team in to field goal range for the game winner in the dying minutes. Seattle returned to .500 after a slow start to the season but while they seemed to be on a surge in recent weeks, they will need to perform above this standard offensively to have any shot at the playoffs this year. Dallas’s fifth successive loss should see them out of contention, and they do have a difficult road to the playoffs , but the Giants’ loss in New Orleans went some way to keeping them in contention in the mediocre NFC East. In sadder news, Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette was added to the long list of players added to the IR list for the season after a scary-looking injury during a kickoff return saw him laying unconscious on the field and requiring surgery to stabilise ligaments in his neck.

Green Bay 10 – 29 Denver

Rumours of Peyton Manning’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. In this battle of two undefeated teams, the game seemed to be two greats facing off at different phases of their careers with an in-prime, all-time great in Aaron Rodgers facing off against a diminishing great in Manning who has been propped up by an excellent Defense. The game didn’t match the build though as the Denver Broncos smothered Green Bay in all phases, shutting down Rodgers for the almost unbelievably small production of only 77 yards and no touchdowns and keeping the Packer rushing offense to only 69 yards. Though the Packers have looked to be slowing in recent weeks, they have never looked like being contained like this. For the Broncos, though Manning didn’t score any touchdowns himself, he threw for 340 yards, making some key long throws on the way which had seemed beyond his abilities so far in a season which has shown him throw painful interceptions on a regular basis until this week. On the ground, C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for 161 yards and three touchdowns while the headline-grabbing Broncos Defense frustrated the Packers with blanket coverage and constant quarterback pressure. Green Bay may no longer be perfect, but they lost to a near-perfect team in the Broncos, and lying at 6 and 1 with the quality of players they boast, remain in a very strong leading position in the NFC North. Denver move to 7 and 0 and are firmly in the driving seat in the AFC West. The sighting of an in-form Peyton Manning will be encouraging to the Broncos as they are perhaps the most complete team in the league when he is performing at his best, but it should be remembered that this performance came on the back of a Broncos bye week, and it remains to be seen if Manning specifically can continue this form week after week or whether the grind of the game will cause him to struggle again in the future.



Indianapolis 26 – 29 Carolina (OT)

In the heavy Carolina rain, a game that started off slow, tentative, and ugly, turned in to breathless race to victory which nearly saw the Colts secure a three-score comeback, only to be fought off by the Panthers who would remain perfect at 7 and 0. The first half was a mistake-riddled slog as players struggled to handle and progress the wet ball with Andrew Luck looking especially vulnerable and both teams losing the ball on slippery snaps. Under pressure, Luck was making terrible decisions and missing relatively easy throws, leading to three interceptions in the game for him. The weather made it hard for the Panthers to run away with the game until, seemingly, the fourth quarter where a Corey Brown touchdown seemed to seal the game with a 17 point lead. In complete contrast to the rest of the game though, Luck responded, leading his team to a game tying 17 unanswered points, and looked more like the player who made the Colts among the preseason favourites for Superbowl contention. Overtime provided both teams with opportunities to win the game. The Colts added a further three points to the board, forcing the Panthers to drive down-field and score three themselves. Top shelf tight end Greg Olsen proved his value yet again, making a one handed catch to continue the must-score Carolina drive before the Panthers Defense took the ball back after a tipped pass from Luck, allowing the Panthers to win with a final field goal in sudden death. This will be a painful loss for Indianapolis after their amazing effort to force overtime, but despite their fourth quarter surge, there is much for the Colts to be concerned about. Andrew Luck looked like a prime benching target in the first half of the game, and if that is representative of Luck for the rest of the year, they will be in trouble. Remarkably though, they find themselves somehow top of the AFC South, and if Luck can turn himself around and play more like he did in the fourth quarter, they will be favourites to reach the playoffs from the weak division. Carolina, despite their perfect record, are only a game and a half ahead of the Falcons in the contrastingly strong NFC South. Cam was by no means perfect, throwing an interception himself and showed a disregard for his own health, but he nevertheless looked a strong and determined leader as well as a match-up nightmare for defences who need to prepare for him to both throw and run on them. Cam and Olsen are enough to make their Offense dangerous, but that mixed with their star-studded Defense make them a very difficult team to overcome, and very strong prospect for the playoffs.