Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Managerial Roundabout

It has been a long seven days in English football with a coachload of managers suddenly out of work – despite long term contracts – all casualties in a sport that now demands noting but victory day in day out. Ambitious investor/owners ambivalent to the statistical realities of losing matches making them impossible to satisfy. With management now amongst those thankless tasks only ameliorated perhaps by the staggering salaries paid to soften the blow of being fired. West Ham dispensing with David Moyes; Paul Lambert leaving Stoke, and even Antonio Conte who led his team to FA Cup victory at Wembley despite the knowledge that next season his services will not be required at Stamford Bridge. Despite winning the Premier League just last season and reach the FA Cup this month.

At Swansea Carlos Carvahlo has departed with Graham Potter and the much-travelled Frank de Boer the leading candidates to take over at the Welsh club - who are looking to appoint their fifth permanent manager in the wake of relegation. Potter has garnered a reputation for his work in Sweden with Oserund and that now apparently makes him a leading candidate for the Swans. A club that in recent years have employed a catalogue of managers without any obvious benefits or success. Since 2016 Swansea City has been under new ownership by an American consortium led by Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan, who bought a controlling interest in the club. 

At West Bromwich Albion the vacancy following the departure of Alan Pardew has now been filled by Darren Moore after his successful stint in interim charge. The appointment brings the usual PR statements “We are delighted to confirm Darren as our new head coach and we look forward to his continuing the excellent work we saw when he stepped into the role in an interim capacity in the first week of April,” said the club’s chief executive, Mark Jenkins. In August 2016 the club was sold to a Chinese investment club headed up by Guochuan Laiand led to Tony Pulis being sacked due to poor results in November 2017. He was replaced by Alan Pardew who then left after just one win in eighteen league matches.

Further south Queens Park Rangers have appointed Steve McClaren as manager in place of Ian Holloway, who was sacked after the club finished 16th in the Championship. The incoming McClaren has agreed a two-year contract at Loftus Road, having briefly worked at QPR as a first-team coach with Harry Redknapp in 2013. The former England manager has been away from English football since leaving Derby in March last year, with his last role as a consultant for Maccabi Tel-Aviv in Israel. He arrives in the hope of delivering on the dreams of business magnate Tony Fernandes.

At Stoke the vacancy left by the departure of Mark Hughes was hailed as a long-term choice. however, on Friday that same manger, Paul Lambert, left the relegated club after just four months in charge and Stoke ending a decade in the Premier League with a 2-1 victory at Swansea on Sunday. But Lambert managed only two wins in that time from his 15 games in charge. Faced with the challenge the club's owners last week said they would continue to give the manager time "to prove themselves". Yet, the departure of the ex-Aston Villa and Norwich boss leaves Stoke looking for a third manager in a year. Indeed, it was Hughes succeeded Tony Pulis at Stoke in May 2013 who guided them to three straight ninth-placed finishes before dropping to 13th in 2016-17. But the Welshman lost his job after five defeats in seven league games. But was employed by Southampton Hughes and just guided Southampton to safety.

Stoke City unusually is owned by the Coates family and Richard Coates, who created Bet 365 is locally born and supported the cub all his life, still needs results

In north London the Arsene Wenger saga was finally ended when the Board brought forward the Frenchman’s departure. Behind the scenes the ownership has been part of the reason for the clubs failure to progress and the memories of the more benevolent director David Dein brings tears to the eyes of long time Arsenal fans as the era coincided with much on field success.

Arsenal’s majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, last year bid almost £525m to buy out Alisher Usmanov, the second-largest shareholder who has tried several times to wrest control of the club. A year ago, the American resisted Usmanov’s latest attempt at a takeover, and within the past couple of weeks this slow-burning struggle for full control took a twist as Kroenke offered £28,000 per share for the Russian’s stake. Kroenke owns 67% of Arsenal; Usmanov has a 30.4% stake. The remaining shares belong to minority shareholders, many of whom have preserved a small holding for decades, even passing down the generations. Having two main investors who do not have a working relationship, despite having been on the scene for the past 10 years and who appear to hold one another in low regard, is not a healthy situation. 

Usmanov has never been able to secure a seat on the board or influence any decisions. The consequences of the ongoing impasses is troubling for the 130-year-old club and has damaged its power in the Premier League. This month Arsenal have been forced to pay out big refunds to 7,139 corporate fans after missing out on the Champions League. Supporters in the premium Club Level are getting a refund of £475 after Arsenal missed out on Europe’s top competition for the second season running. Tickets in the more expensive seats have been amended to £5,540 which is an eight per cent refund on the original price and it will hit the club hard. It is believed that the lower take up of Club Level and season tickets was one of the biggest barometers which persuaded Arsenal to make the change with Arsene Wenger going at the end of the season. The club even took out a full-page advert in its own programme for Club Level tickets recently when the idea of the Emirates would be that there would be a waiting list.

The news that Unai Emery is to be manager may restore a bit of faith that the club is trying to modernise the club. Albeit Emer arrives for a supposedly failed era in France with PSG, even though he won the French League. But failed in the Champions league two season running.

On Merseyside Everton ended Sam Allardyce’s six-months as manager and have apparently already made contact with Marco Silva’s representatives after identifying the Portuguese as their choice to replace him. Earlier in the week Allardyce met Farhad Moshiri, Everton’s major shareholder, and was told that he did not feature in the club’s long-term plans. The 63-year-old had another year remaining on the 18-month contract he signed when succeeding Ronald Koeman last November. Given he obtained a deal with no break clause, he is expected to leave with a £6m payoff and so will pocket about £9m for six months’ work.

The former England manager guided the team from 13th to eighth in the Premier League following a turbulent start to the season under Koeman and then the caretaker manager, David Unsworth. But his managerial style never endeared him to Everton supporters. So, it was perhaps of little surprise to some when the usual statement was issued: “On behalf of the chairman, board of directors and Mr Moshiri, I’d like to thank Sam for the job he has done at Everton over the last seven months,” read a statement from the club’s soon-to-be new chief executive, Professor Denise Barrett-Baxendale. 

Sam was brought in at a challenging time last season to provide us with some stability and we are grateful to him for doing that.

“However, we have made the decision that, as part of our longer-term plan, we will be appointing a new manager this summer and will be commencing this process immediately. Again, we’d like to place on record our sincere thanks to Sam for his work with us over the last few months and wish him well for the future.”

Allardyce’s backroom team of Sammy Lee, Craig Shakespeare and the goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson have also left as the club undertakes another expensive overhaul of its management structure. The next manager will be the third appointed by Moshiri since he acquired a 49.9% stake in Everton February 2016 with Roberto Martínez, a manager he inherited, Koeman and Allardyce also departing with lucrative payoffs for their poor performances.

In the east end of London West Ham United have appointed Manuel Pellegrini on a three-year deal at the London Stadium. The former Manchester City and Real Madrid manager left his job with Hebei China Fortune over the weekend and succeeds David Moyes, who was let go at the end of the season. The former Manchester City and Real Madrid manager left his job with Hebei China Fortune over the weekend and succeeds David Moyes. The Chilean replaces the former Everton and Manchester United manager Moyes, who was appointed West Ham boss in November 2017 but released at the end of his contract after guiding West Ham to 13th place.

Although West Ham had explored the possibility of hiring Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez, however they quickly concluded it would be hugely difficult for the Spaniard to leave St James' Park. Pellegrini, who was on a huge contract in China, has agreed to take a pay cut but it is anticipated he will become the highest paid manager in West Ham's history.

Pellegrini won the 2013-14 Premier League title and two EFL Cups during his three years at Manchester City, in addition to taking the club to the Champions League semi-finals.

On Saturday night in Kyiv Zinedine Zidane leads out Real Madrid for their second  consecutive Champions League final after a season when arch rivals Barcelona stormed away wth the La Liga title. The whispers suggest the Madrid manager maybe out of work no matter the outcome against Liverpool as club president, Florentino Perez, seeks a replacement that will ensure the clubs wins the League title.

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Thursday, 12 April 2018

Juventus Madrid Comeback Ends Abruptly

The return visit to the Santiago Bernabeu for Gonzalo Higuaín and Sami Khedira with Juventus on Wednesday night was close to being a lifelong sporting memory. The kind that becomes legendary with the passing of the years. Instead, the bitter sweet will remain and somewhat tarnished as the visitors saw their 3-goal comeback shattered by a 92-minute penalty given to Real Madrid. The final minutes of this second leg semi-final of the Champions League becoming an explosive mixture of on-field melees, the tragic dismissal of the iconic Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, and the euphoria erupting after the penalty was scored by Cristiano Ronaldo. 

And with the arguments still raging on the pitch, English referee, Michael Oliver blew for full time, leaving Real Madrid players in delirium on reaching the UEFA semi-final draw taking place on Friday. While Italian footballing aristocrats jetted home in the early morning hours empty handed - yet again - after another encounter with Real Madrid. With former Juventus player and current Madrid manager, Zinedine Zidane, guiding his Madrid team to join the German Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich; the 2005 Champion League winners Liverpool, perhaps the surprise winners over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, and Roma, the shock winners’ winners against Barcelona on Tuesday night, The Catalans arriving in Rome with a three-goal advantage that looked unassailable. But was dwindled away even with Lionel Messi lining out, to see them out of the tournament. 

Despite being most people’s favourites and with another La Liga title to be conferred in the days ahead, the pain of being vanquished by the little known former Italian international, Eusebio Di Francesco, at the helm of Roma will cause more unrest in Catalunya. His team also dismissing Shakthar Donetsk and Atletico Madrid on their way to the semi-final place. Winning - not by luck- but by an attacking game plan that exposed some of the long-known weaknesses and flaws in Barcelona’s central defence. 

For the second leg Juventus manager, Massimiliano Allegri started his team pressing very high on Real Madrid and within 90 seconds the visitor’s homework had unsettled the locals, conceding a goal in the first attack. Putting the proverbial cat amongst the Italian piccione very early on. Replicating a plan that knocked out Tottenham Hotspur in the return leg at Wembley Stadium in the previous round, Juve went about their business. Their hopes of progressing suddenly cut short just as extra time was looming after Medhi Benatia was adjudged to have fouled Lucas Vazquez in the six-yard box, after Cristiano Ronaldo headed back a long cross from Toni Kroos. Which found the young Spaniard’s feet – with only Buffon to beat,

The keeper then on hearing the referee’s whistle reacted with some unsporting scenes the Italian great exploding with some justifiable rage perhaps. But then manhandling referee Oliver who had no option but to show the red card according to the rulebook. Buffon’s dismissal further complicating things for Juventus as the home side were lining up for a penalty as their goalie headed for the tunnel Leaving the former Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczęsny to put on his gloves to take up his position between the posts and face Ronaldo. Who then drilled his 12-metre spot-kick into the top right corner to end the contest for Juventus. Albeit the arguing and protest continuing. Yet drowned out by a home crowd of over 80,000 who suddenly reignited after almost 60 minutes of silence. 

An unsavoury finish to a great quarter-final tie and a question mark as to whether Video Assistant Referees (VAR) would have made a difference to such a polemic finish. In the end for Higuaín and Khedira it was yet another departure from the Bernabeu pretty much the way they did as players. Unwanted by their manager of their day, Jose Mourinho, and somewhat unhappy. 

In addition, an appearance in the tunnel by the suspended Real Madrid captain, Sergio Ramos, could trigger further events as the defender was seen watching the end of the match almost pitch side. A point referee Oliver noted in his post-match report. Which could mean another suspension from UEFA should they find that he was in breach of the rules concerning suspended players being on the pitch. Xabi Alonso was handed a one-match ban for stepping on the field to celebrate with his team-mates after the 2014 Champions League final, and UEFA could take a similar view of Ramos' situation. Which Ramos missed on Wednesday due to accumulated yellow cards.

The Juve goalkeeper captain said after the game, that was expected to be his last in the Champions League: "It was a tenth of a penalty.

"I know the referee saw what he saw, but it was certainly a dubious incident. Not clear-cut. And a dubious incident at the 93rd minute when we had a clear penalty denied in the first leg, you cannot award that at this point.” Buffon said, "The team gave its all, but a human being cannot destroy dreams like that at the end of an extraordinary comeback on a dubious situation.

"Clearly you cannot have a heart in your chest, but a bag of rubbish. On top of that, if you don't have the character to walk on a pitch like this in a stadium like this, you can sit in the stands with your wife, your kids, having your drink and eating crisps” Buffon continued, "You cannot ruin the dreams of a team. I could have told the referee anything at that moment, but he had to understand the degree of the disaster he was creating.

"If you can't handle the pressure and have the courage to make a decision, then you should just sit in the stands and eat your crisps."

Massimiliano Allegri has claimed that Juventus deserved to take Real Madrid to extra time in Wednesday night's Champions League quarter-final second leg. In the first leg, Juan Cuadrado was not awarded a penalty in stoppage time, and Allegri mentioned that the incident in Spain would have a bearing on the tie. "I don't want to judge what the referee did. I feel bad for the lads, who did well in Turin for 60 minutes and didn't score the goals they did tonight," the Italian told the waiting press. 

"The penalty tonight was basically the reverse of what happened on Juan Cuadrado in the first leg... I said even at the time that incident would decide qualification. Allegri continued, "We deserved at least to go to extra time, as we had two substitutes left and they could give an important push in that extra half-hour with Real Madrid tiring.

"Either I had to make changes on the hour mark and go hell for leather, or I wait until extra time and have enough time to get the situation sorted out. We weren't even really at risk late on in the game."

The UEFA Champions League semi-final draw will be live on UEFA.com from 13:00CET on Friday.

Copyright OSMedia

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Do you know way to San Jose

There is a feeling in the air that Jose Mourinho is up to something – as always - which may well bring his tenure to a premature end at Manchester United. Whereas his style of negotiation may have been a workable modus operandi with Florentino Perez at Real Madrid and Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. It won’t really influence the Glazers one fears. So, he is underestimating his power and track record given the last Champions League victory he recorded is back in 2010. 

Currently, in terms of success versus spending at United he will be not giving the bean counters much comfort either that he knows exactly what he is doing. His value in recent years enhanced by his partnership with Jorge Mendes and that promise of top players coming to any club he manages. Though at United that has not been the case….as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Romelu Lukaku are hardly worldclass in the sense that Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, or Neymar are classed. But that he blames that shortcoming on a lack of sufficient budget at Old Trafford. But did he really need to sell Wayne Rooney? 

But history suggest he roots out the big names in the dressing room at any club he joins to perhaps exert more influence and tame the dressing room. It was Iker Casillas at Real Madrid who was shipped off to Portugal deemed surplus to requirements and a perfect example; with Juan Mata at Chelsea…then Rooney at United others. He has also let players go erroneously, as he did with Bonucci at Milan; then got rid of Lukaku and deBruyne at Chelsea; selling Arjen Robben from Real to Bayern only to see the Dutchman score goals in the semi-final of CL at the Bernabeu to end Mourinho’s promise of winning the trophy for Florentino within three seasons, 

Although these players have proved his nightmare over the years he has also been busy buying them back at times. Which makes you wonder about the nature of these deals. Regardless it was Ed Woodward, CEO of Manchester United that insisted on Jose as the choice for the club. Against Sir Bobby’s recommendation and better judgement. In the end perhaps the absence of alternatives made it a one-horse race. Also, the post Louis Van Gaal hangover perhaps requiring a big name to overcome that David Moyes phase so as to retain commercial attractiveness for sponsors. 

However van Gaal and United didn’t recover from the Moyes era either - which only compounded that fractious post Ferguson period that highlighted the lack of proper continuity planning. Although van Gaal having little or no money and playing a defensive style, was always going to make the United fans restless. Though he was a good choice for pragmatic football at a club at the time. But he ended up lost at sea and talking nonsense His compatriot Guus Hiddink would have been the better temporary choice if the Board were in doubt.

The root of the problem though really is with Sir Alex Ferguson, who stayed on too long and was allowed manage his legacy too extensively. Even choosing his own successor. Hardly acceptable under standard corporate governance protocols. Hence, he did not encourage anyone who would occlude his achievements too quickly and always wanting to remain the overseer. Who would be asked back - like Si Matt Busby - and intercede in times of trouble. 
His dinner meetings with Pep in New York highlighted that he knew what the right decision was perhaps; just couldn’t actually allow himself to be selfless. Which opened the door for Karl Heinz-Rummenigge to turn Guardiola’s interest towards FC Bayern… and all at very short notice. 

Then Manchester City through Txiki Beguirstain (a former teammate) were able to get Pep to England and keep the Blues as the more successful club in that divided city in recent times. Where also money has been no problem. Although Pep rarely complains about that stuff publicly anyway and lets his results speak for themselves. As usual the money issue resolves itself in successful times. Now he is United’s biggest nightmare….. and Jose’ is reliving that rivalry from his time in La Liga when Barcelona rang rings around Mourinho’s Madrid.

Perhaps Mourinho would have been better at Arsenal, who still languish in search of those halcyon days of Arsene Wenger's best years. At The Emirates Mourinho would have had less pressure, less expectation and would have been allowed to go about his business in his own narcissistic way without complaint. Bringing the club back into high profile no doubt under the radar, allowing Mourinho live in London with his family and enjoy the greater anonymity such a city offers compared to Manchester. 

At Porto he was a nobody when he won the Champions League… and when he arrived at a confused Chelsea the first time they were delighted to have someone bring shape and order… and then results. The same at Inter Milan, a club struggling against more successfully local rivals AC and a ragged outfit of older professionals. He left the cub with three titles, in order to go to Real and complete a treble of Champions League titles at three different clubs. Or at least he hoped to do so so and join a smaller couterie of football managers who have achieved likewise. However there was a destructive force at work in the end at Madrid and Mourinho proved unable to manage an organisation, which was always going to be larger than any one individual. Then on his return to Chelsea he only lasted months.

As with Real Madrid the arrival at United proved that although he likes media attention he cannot really operate under heavy scrutiny when there is much expectation. In the end he is not that special it seems and wilts with the constant demands on his teams. These recent rants in the Premier League about money, referees, the unfairness of life were amusing for a while to the media. But no longer so it appears if one gauges the current headlines. Especially by a professional manager - be it in any activity - and at the rate he is being paid. In fact  these days he seems lost in the parade. At odds of with the game offering a stye that is now dated, static and incapable of surviving a modern format of five midfielders and fast attacking wing backs. 

He still likes the ball through the middle and parking that bus. Relying on a Didier Drogba, Zlatan or Roman Lukaku type to head home goals. Thus, he attracts a different type of player to his clubs than is commonly accepted today as talented….. so, Mata, deBruyne, Hazard, can’t fit into the mould he wants. He would rather field 11 John Terry's one imagines so as not to concede. All of which is  anathema to The Red Devils ethos and their fans. And the way Guardiola plays. His worries less about how many goals are conceded as the trick is finding players that ensures your team scores more goals and wins matches. This season so far Pep has done that and only recently dropped two points following an  unbeaten run of about 14 or more Premier League matches. Reinforcing that thought that Sir Alex had oe night in New York that he was really the best choice for United

If PSG are serious about taking Mourinho they’re over indulging him  and should perhaps phone the Glazers first for a reference.
Copyright OSM

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

O'Mahony Looking Wisely Over the Horizon

Peter O’Mahony has been to the mountain top and now at twenty-eight years of age can prioritise his life’s future financial needs with his current IRFU contract approaching renewal. Having captained the Lions, his country, his province and club – and no doubt all his school teams - the time for further sacrifice now must be done in his name; that of his family and his own wishes. That appeal for Ireland can lose its value when the thirty-year mark begins to loom on the horizon. Or the fear that age could nibble away at the physicality of his game and make another contract with Ireland more challenging in future years. With most of last season spent in rehab O’Mahony has had plenty of time to evaluate his career with recent months. No doubt seeing Jamie Heaslip he will also know that injury is a player’s worst worry and at the wrong time can prove costly. Albeit Sean O’Brien has recovered and come good after a number of years in the wilderness.

At the IRFU matters are unambiguous about playing abroad these days. Even in those years where it was not stated policy players could see that national selection was a non-runner. None more so than Leo Cullen whose years at Leicester Tigers only earned him a total of three of his total of thirty- two International caps. Yet back at Leinster he was stalwart for Ireland in the second row. Not unlike his team mate Geordan Murphy who for a long time went unrecognised for Ireland despite being a regular terror for the Tigers in the Premiership. Out of sight was out of mind and a large chunk of Geordie’s caps subsequently came as a sub for international weekends. 

But those have chosen to plough their furrow outside Ireland more recently have done so knowing the rule about no more Irish caps coming their way. So, Martin Moore and Ian Madigan gather experience abroad, but it is deemed of little value to the national set up. Joe Schmidt being the biggest advocate of the rule having seen the success it has brought the All Backs over recent decades. But not unlike Trevor Brennan, O’Mahony might move when his international career ambitions are less of a priority. Or knowing the inevitable waning in power and strength approaches as some the younger blood enters the national team squad.

Clearly, he knows that there will be no more caps playing in England or in France. But it may not matter anymore as his collection silverware is impressive from his days at Cork Constitution, to Munster and Ireland where there are two Six Nations titles, and will no doubt fill his sideboards abroad just as comfortably. With a better chance to grab a European Cup based somewhere in French territory rather than at Munster. Then having led the British and Irish Lions in the first test in July in Auckland he has also reached the pinnacle of personal achievement I the game. 

So, his advisers at Horizon Sports will have helped deliver some attractive alternatives for the future for him to consider that could break the current status quo. It seems very logical that O’Mahony seek a career move as the IRFU structure doesn’t allow for much manoeuvre or ambiguity. Indeed, the only player to break those restrictions was Johnny Sexto and largely because his pay is proffered for the most part by Irish billionaire communications mogul Denis O’Brien. Which is rather unique in the Ireland international setup?

Peter O’Mahony is at the peak of his game and currently injury free. Therefore, it is the correct time to be engaging with clubs around Europe and test those playing opportunities. The vision of Ronan O’Gara would no doubt have enhanced the belief that leaving Ireland is a positive move for Irish rugby players. With Ronan’s progress in the coaching world now about to include Crusaders in New Zealand - following a couple of season in Paris with Racing 92 - proving no doubt inspirational for those at Munster with similar ambition.

Copyrght OSM

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Caddie Chemistry Not Always a Given

In 2002 Darren Clarke made the final rounds of the Murphy's Irish Open thanks to advice of his stand-in caddie for the day - after his regular caddie Billy Foster had flown back home to Manchester after the birth of his second daughter. Following a call to his friend Paul McGinley, the Dubliner's caddie JP Fitzgerald was the late replacement and his presence proved pivotal at the 18th - according to Clarke.

Speaking at the time Clarke said: "At the last JP said, 'If you lay up and miss the cut by one you'll be as sick as a dog'. 

"So. I said right, I'll have a go at it. And I hit a great shot from the top of the hill. I punched in a five-iron. I had 209 to the front. I didn't know what they cut was going to be, par or one under but it was the right decision in the end," explained Clarke 

At the start of the following year Clarke embarked on a series of drastic changes with his golf in order to challenge for the Majors again and switched back to Butch Harmon as his coach, parted company with Foster, after six years together, and signed a deal to play with TaylorMade clubs. The complete overhaul came after a Christmas letter from sports psychologist Bob Rotella and as part of his new look team he added J P. Fitzgerald. 

Despite much promise the partnership did not last and they subsequently split with Clarke accepting that he is one of the more demanding players on tour to work for, and both parted company following the 2004 Masters - despite winning the 2003 WGC-NEC Invitational at Firestone. 

"I know I've been very hard on JP. My demands were too great, I expected him to pick the right club every time, and while I wasn't jumping down his throat non-stop, I was complaining," said Clarke at the time.

Originally from Castleknock, Fitzgerald represented Baltray as an amateur and actually beat Clarke in the semi-final of the Irish Close Championships in 1987. After attending East Tennessee University on scholarship, Fitzgerald was recruited by his close friend Paul McGinley, helping with that infamous putt in the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry. 

The short spell with Clarke was followed by two seasons in the US with Greg Owen and returned to the big time when Ernie Els called him in late 2007. It was Els manager at the time, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, who summed up the fragility of the caddie’s role when he explained why Fitzgerald was the ideal replacement for Ricci Roberts 

“JP happens to be in the right place at the right time.” 

“Ernie and Ricci are such close friends that the caddying part of it was putting a strain on their relationship. 

Roberts started back with Els in May of 2001 - after a split in the latter part of 1998 – with two U.S. Open victories in 1994 and 1996 to their credit. In the period of Roberts absence there were only a couple of PGA wins for the South African and it fell well short of what was achieved on Ricci’s return when Ernie won The Doral, The 2002 Open Championship, and The Sun City post season event. In that time, the pair also added the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth. 

Ironically, Ricci Roberts joined Darren Clarke in April 2011 playing their first event at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco with Clarke’s manager Chandler no doubt playing a role in the decision. 

In the same week, almost much ink and paper met on the why’s and wherefores of what went wrong with Rory McIlroy at the tenth tee box on the Sunday of The Masters at Augusta National. The last moment the young McIlroy was to lead the 2011 tournament. After which much of the focus started to move in the Fitzgerald direction. 

In the musical chairs environment that exists in the caddy shack, those cannot have been good days for the Dubliner - as no one was short of helpful analysis. In some cases, drawing comparisons with other such golfing collapses by Greg Norman or Jean van de Velde. As well as Sergio Garcia 

Makes one recall some of those memorable Masters stories. 

Like when Bruce Edwards recalled the walk up the 18th fairway in 1996 at Augusta with Greg Norman's bag, who turned to him and said, 'I guess it's better to be lucky than good.' A remark that left Edwards stunned given Faldo had outplayed the Australian all day. Edwards reply was tough as he turned to Norman and said, 'I just want to caddie for someone who has heart.' 

For McIlroy, it was a touch of the same when Schwartzel chipped in at the first and then eagled a blind shot so dramatically at the 3rd. It was clear from those early moments that destiny was marking the South African's card and in all the post analysis the role of fortune and luck got no mention. The reality is no major has been won without it. 

Nor any other sporting event for that matter. 

At Sandwich for the 2011 Open it was the turn of John Mulrooney to be in the right place at the right time and Clarke was generous in the praise of his caddie when collecting the Claret Jug on the eighteenth green. One hoped that it was the start of a longer terms thing. But it was not to be that enduring.

One of more enduring partnerships is Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” McKay. Which undoubtedly has been tested to its limit with all challenges in Phil's private life, given his wife, Amy’s, battle with cancer. Compounded by a similar fate befalling his Mother, along with Phil’s own health worries of sporadic arthritis.

Those events notwithstanding Mickelson won his third green jacket in 2010 with a tournament winning shot on the 15th which commentators suggested his caddie should have advised him against. These days it makes for uplifting footage that confirms that destiny was with Lefty that day and the gap between those pine trees was never an issue. 

In the most high-profile team of Tiger Woods and Steve Williams the toughest of personal challenges beset the player. With indiscreet remarks by the New Zealander also problematic at times for his employer. Although others were fired for less Williams offered some key components on the course to the former world number 1 and was richly rewarded for his efforts. So much so the Kiwi commuted almost weekly across the Pacific Ocean as he tried to maintain his own personal life intact as well as caddying. 

Having been fired by Norman in 1989 Williams admitted he had got too close personally to Norman, although both remain good friends to this day. To the point that Norman later admitted he had made a mistake during the Kiwi and tried to rehire him. The fall out last year between the Woods and Williams team showed that nothing lasts forever.

On the other hand, the stories of swift caddie changes that have led to dramatic results also abound. 

The addition of Phil “Wobbly” Morbey to the side of Ross Fisher shortly before the 2011 3 Irish Open as a replacement for Andrew Morrow proved immediately successful. Fisher won the €500,000 cheque in Killarney with the caddied that had done the same with Ian Woosnam and Thomas Bjorn previously. 

“I think Wobbly has given me that extra bit of added confidence, some self-belief, and like I say, he's great on the bag. He tells me exact little how it is. Doesn't beat about the bush. Tells me exactly where I need to go, what club it is and it's just real positive. So far, the relationship is good and fingers crossed, we can go a very long way,” explained Fisher in July 2010. 

JP Fitzgerald has been part of the more enduring partnerships in golf history. Becoming one of the most successful with four major titles to his name.

Good thing Rory ignored all those experts back in 2011

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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Muguruza Beats Venus to Win Wimbledon

Garbine Muguruza beat Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 to win her first Wimbledon title and second career Grand Slam tournament, having beaten Serena Williams in the final at the 2016 French Open. Muguruza is the first woman to beat both Williams sisters in a Grand Slam final. Muguruza also became the second Spanish woman to win Wimbledon, joining Conchita Martinez, who is serving as her coach for this tournament.

Muguruza became the second Spanish woman to win multiple Grand Slam titles, joining four-time Slam champion Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, who won three French Open titles and a US Open crown. Sanchez-Vicario won three of her four titles before turning 23, winning once more (1998 French). Muguruza is 23 years old, turning 24 in October.

She won this title despite being a 14-seed, the fifth double-digit-seeded woman to win Wimbledon in the Open era, joining Venus Williams (twice), Marion Bartoli and Maria Sharapova. Only Bartoli (15th) and Williams (23rd) were seeded lower than Muguruza.

By beating Williams 6-0 in the second set, Muguruza became just the third woman in the Open era to clinch a Wimbledon title in that fashion. She joins Williams, who did so in 2001, and Petra Kvitova, who did so in 2014.

Venus Williams was thwarted in her bid to become the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam final, and mistakes were her undoing. She committed 25 unforced errors and hit just 17 winners in the match. She was 0-for-3 in break-point opportunities while Muguruza broke Williams' serve four times.

Williams has played 224 completed sets at Wimbledon, including Saturday's final, and this is the first time in her career she's lost a set at the tournament 6-0.

The 14-year age gap between the finalists was the fourth-largest between two women's Grand Slam finalists and the largest since Wimbledon in 1994, when a 22-year-old Martinez defeated 37-year-old Martina Navratilova -- the same Martinez who coached Muguruza this week.

Froome Recovers Lead as Sunweb Take Stage

Following two frenetic days of racing in the Pyrenees, no one would have bet a cent on a change of leadership on Saturday after Stage 14, a rolling 181.5-kilometre (113-mile) ride with no major difficulty.

But a short and steep climb to the finish in the southern town of Rodez was enough for Chris Froome and his mighty Sky team to recover the yellow jersey they lost two days before in the mountains.

The day's big loser was Fabio Aru, the Astana leader, who cracked in the last 500 meters and relinquished the coveted tunic to the three-time champion.

While the Team Sky train hit the front in the technical and twisting final kilometres at high speed, Aru was at the back and didn't come back before the peloton split in the climb. He lost touch with the leaders in the sharp ascent of the Cote de Saint Pierre and crossed the line 25 seconds behind stage winner Michael Matthews.

Froome was well positioned and had no problem tackling the final climb. He finished hot on the heels of Matthews.

"It's a beautiful surprise today," said Froome, who lost his jersey after enduring a bad day on the road to the ski station of Peyragudes.

Froome said he had no explanation for Aru's breakdown. But Astana team director Dmitryi Fofonov said the Italian climber simply paid for his efforts in the previous days.

"He was on his own, isolated," Fofonov said. "We had crosswinds the whole day, we needed to be up front all the time to avoid the splits. Then the finish was explosive, with sprinters climbing very fast. Not Fabio's favorite ground. Today we lost a battle, but not the war."

Froome, who had a six-second deficit at the start of the stage, is enjoying an 18-second advantage over Aru, who is paying for the weakness of his Astana team. The Kazakhstan-funded team lost key member Jakob Fuglsang on Friday after he broke a wrist and elbow, and Aru had not enough teammates to help him stay at the front.

French rider Romain Bardet, the runner-up to Froome last year, limited his losses to five seconds. He is 23 seconds back from the leader, in third place.

In fourth is Rigoberto Uran, who stuck with Froome on the final climb. He trails the Briton by 29 seconds overall.

Froome could hardly believe he won back so much time on a stage that, on paper, didn't seem set up to pose such difficulties for Aru. He thanked his teammates for their essential role in keeping him at the front, allowing him to pounce on the final climb while Aru was stuck.

In the last frenzied dash, Froome said teammate Michal Kwiatowski was urging him on over their radio system, yelling: "Froomey, go, go, go! There are gaps everywhere!"

Froome remained wary, because the top five were still close to each other. He said he'd always expected this Tour to be very open, with its atypical route over all five of France's mountain ranges, a prediction that is coming true, with just 29 seconds separating the top four.

"Everyone is fighting for every second they can get," Froome said. "The time I made up today could be very vital."

Froome has never faced such a close battle at this stage of the race. In the three Tours he won, he had the race all but wrapped up at this point. He had a lead of 1:47 after Stage 14 in 2016, of 3:10 in 2015 and 2:28 in 2013.

Matthews, who beat Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet in the sprint to claim his second stage win at the Tour, said he'd targeted the stage win all year, and trained specifically for the last climb.

He was so assured of victory that he sat up at the end and cruised over the line. "I've been dreaming of winning like that since I started cycling," he said. "I could sit up and enjoy the win in the Tour de France."

It was the second consecutive win for the Sunweb team, after Warren Barguil's victory on Friday, Bastille Day.

The stage on Sunday will lead the peloton to Le Puy-en-Velay in Massif Central during a spectacular 189.5-kilometer (118-mile) ride on rolling terrain with four climbs that could offer more surprises. But Sky promised they won't be caught off guard.

Froome's teammate, Luke Rowe, said the British squad riders were "very disappointed" when the team leader relinquished the yellow jersey to Aru in the Pyrenees, having worn it for seven days.

"He won't do it again," Rowe said.


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Porte and Thomas Crash Enroute to Chambery

An eventful stage 9 of the 104th Tour de France saw the victory of Colombia's Rigoberto Uran in Chambéry after a fierce battle in three Hors-Category climbs. In a 6-man sprint including yellow jersey holder Chris Froome, the Cannondale-Drapac rider took his revenge over Frenchman Warren Barguil who deprived him of a highly awaited success in stage 16 of the 2013 Vuelta a España at Aramon-Formigal. Robert Gesink, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte successively abandoned after different falls.

193 riders started stage 9 in Nantua. As Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) was the first man to attack right after the flag off up the first hill of the day, stage 8 runner up Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Manuele Mori (UAE Team Emirates) were forced to abandon the Tour de France after crashing. A leading group of 40 riders was formed after the côte des Noyelles at km 5. It enabled Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) to crest the first two climbs of the day in the first position. After losing Eduardo Sepulveda (Fortuneo-Oscaro) in a crash at km 17, the front group was made of Jan Bakelants, Axel Domont and Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jesus Herrada and Carlos Betancur (Movistar), Bauke Mollema and Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Alessandro De Marchi and Amaël Moinard (BMC), Bakhtiar Kozhatayev and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Kristjian Durasek and Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Michael Albasini (Orica-Scott), Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe), Robert Kiserlovski and Tiago Machado (Katusha-Alpecin), Tiejs Benoot, Thomas De Gendt, Tony Gallopin and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Michael Matthews, Nikias Arndt, Warren Barguil, Simon Geschke and Laurens ten Dam (Sunweb), Nicolas Edet and Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Pierre Rolland and Dylan Van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Tsgabu Grmay and Javier Moreno (Bahrain-Merida), Brice Feillu and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Oscaro).

The 39-man leading pack started the first Hors-Category climb of the 104th Tour de France with an advantage of four minutes over the bunch led by Team Sky. Roglic crested the col de la Biche in first position. The three AG2R-La Mondiale riders split the group into pieces in the descent before Geraint Thomas (Sky) crashed in the peloton and abandoned with a broken collarbone. Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), Tiejs Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Warren Barguil (Sunweb) rode away up the Grand Colombier. Barguil was first at the summit six minutes before the yellow jersey group and a 12-man group was reunited in the valley on the way to the Mont du Chat. They passed the intermediate sprint at km 126.5 in the following order: Matthews, Bakelants, Gallopin, Geschke, Benoot, Roglic, Mollema, Barguil, Navarro, Pantano, Vuillermoz and Betancur.

Bakelants and Gallopin went on after the sprint and rode as a duo to the Mont du Chat. Gallopin soloed with 33km to go at the beginning of the climb but Barguil passed him 6km before the summit. The Frenchman from Sunweb also crested Mont du Chat alone in the lead but got caught at the end of the downhill by Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) who rode away from the yellow jersey group after Richie Porte (BMC) badly crashed and abandoned the Tour de France. Bardet was alone at the front from 12 to 2km to go but five riders came across to him. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) launched the sprint from far out to repeat the victory he got after climbing the Mont du Chat at the Critérium du Dauphiné but Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) and Barguil passed him. Uran, aged 30, was declared a Tour de France stage winner for the first time in this very tight finish.


Saturday, 8 July 2017

Rookie Calmejane Break Win Stage 8

Frenchman Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie soloed to victory on stage 8 to Les Rousses, mimicking his compatriot Sylvain Chavanel who did it seven years ago and winning at the age of 24 the same way he did as a neo pro at the Vuelta a España last year. It was a very eventful race with top class contenders in the different breakaways but Chris Froome managed to retain the yellow jersey ahead of grueling climbs on the way to Chambéry.

193 riders started stage 8 in Dole. As expected on a stage dedicated to attackers, many skirmishes took place from the gun. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Gianluca Brambilla (Quick-Step Floors), Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac) formed the first breakaway of the day. It didn't work out but Chavanel went again, accompanied by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana). Beaten by André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Michael Matthews (Sunweb), Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) increased his lead in the points classification over runner up Arnaud Démare (FDJ) who struggled badly in the first climb of the day, as well as Team Sky's Luke Rowe. Mathias Frank (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) rode away after 50km of racing. Sütterlin was substituted by Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) in the leading quartet but it was all together again at km 70.

46 riders managed to go clear after 75km of racing. 16 of them formed a leading group with 98km to go: Jan Bakelants and Mathias Frank (AG2R-La Mondiale), Koen de Kort (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Schär and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Michael Valgren (Astana), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors), Emanuel Buchmann and Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Warren Barguil and Laurens ten Dam (Sunweb), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac). Barguil and Pauwels rode away in the col de la Joux with 92km to go. The Frenchman and the Belgian were still part of a group of seven riders who climbed the côte de Viry at the front before a regrouping. At the initiative of Van Avermaet, they went again before the top of the hill where Barguil outsprinted Bakelants and an eight-man group was formed with 48km to go: Jan Bakelants (AG2R-La Mondiale), Nicolas Roche and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Warren Barguil (Sunweb), Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) and Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac).

Michael Valgren (Astana) rejoined the leading group at St-Claude with 25km to go. In the first category Montée de la Combe de Laisia les Molunes, Calmejane rode away solo as there were 17km remaining before the finish. He suffered cramps with 5km to go but managed to overcome the pain to maintain his 40 seconds advantage over lone chaser Gesink. It's his first Tour de France victory and the second for a French rider this year after Arnaud Démare on stage 4 in Vittel. Calmejane also took the polka dot jersey while Chris Froome retained the lead in the overall ranking.

Simon Yates 
“It was an extremely fast pace today. Everybody expected that. Chances for guys to really go for the break were high. There was a lot of chaos at the beginning. I'm not sure about tomorrow, it's a really tough day. It could be raining too. Many riders today were worried about tomorrow.”

Lilian Calmejane 
“I hope everyone enjoyed the show. As a team, we had decided to go on the offensive and it paid off. In the finale, I knew Gesink wasn't far behind. But I didn't give anything away. I got a bit scared when I cramped between 6 and 4km to go but I had the experience of the same thing happening at Tour de l'Ain last year and I knew what to do. What a relief when I crossed the line. It's fantastic. This is the way of racing I like. I'm a rider with a lot of panache. I don't like chasing World Tour points or a place on GC. We'll see what my future is like. I'm not the future Bernard Hinault. This is my first Tour de France. It's too early to tell what lies ahead for me. As per the polka dot jersey, there are a lot of points tomorrow, so the jersey will be on someone else's shoulder. I'll be in the unknown after spending so much energy today, maybe a bit more than the other riders, but later on in the race and in years to come, the polka dot jersey could become a goal because the points scale makes it accessible to attackers as well as pure climbers.”

Guillaume Martin
 "For my first discovery of the mountains in the Tour, to finish third is obviously a super stage for me. It was fast, very fast all day. There were a lot of attacks. When I saw the first group, or should I say bunch, go away, I was a little frustrated not to be in it. But then we made it back. I was feeling good, I tried to anticipate the big battle and eventually they did not come back. I did not take a lot of time for the GC but I'm still glad about this stage. For the stage win, the gap was too important. For my first Tour, for the first Tour of my team, it's fantastic, we're making a great Tour debut, we're in the breakaways everyday. It's nothing but pleasure."

Marcel Kittel 
“I had only one goal today: the intermediate sprint at km 45. It's been one of the hardest sprints I contested since the beginning of the Tour but at the end of the day, it's a good day for the green jersey.”

Arnaud Demare
My two guardian angels, Mickael Delage and Ignatas Konovalovas were truly exceptional. I struggled to recuperate from the last couple of days. I didn't rebuild my stock of glycogen like I should. I'm not ill, I'm dreadful. Clearly today I was dreadful. Thanks again to my guardian angels. The way they rode today was not work, it was love. Tomorrow is another day, the gruppetto will take shape earlier."

Chris Froome: 
"Today some teams wanted the yellow jersey. I guess Pierre Latour was up for it, or Mathias Frank, so we couldn't let them go. We've had to ride at the very high tempo behind them. After the hard stage we've had, tomorrow can be a very decisive day. The incident I had in a corner was a little bit of a reminder of how quickly things can change in the Tour de France. It can the moment that end your race but Geraint Thomas is alright and I didn't fall.


Friday, 7 July 2017

Boasson Hegen Pipped By Kittel in Nuits St George

Marcel Kittel was over the moon as he claimed his third stage victory in the 104th Tour de France in Nuits-Saint-Georges, the wine growing town after which the St George crater has been named on the moon. It was a very tight bunch sprint finish in Burgundy as photo-finish was necessary to determine that the German has beaten Edvald Boasson Hagen. Chris Froome retained the yellow jersey.

193 riders started stage 7 in Troyes. Maxime Bouet (Fortuneo-Oscaro) attacked from the gun to give birth to a four-man breakaway with Manuele Mori (UAE Team Emirates), Yohann Gène (Direct Energie) and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac). It didn't take a long time for the peloton to get organized with three domestiques setting the pace: Olivier Le Gac (FDJ), Lars Bak (Lotto-Soudal) and Julien Vermote (Quick-Step Floors), at the service of sprinters Arnaud Démare, André Greipel and Marcel Kittel respectively. They were followed by the whole Team Sky wearing the yellow helmets of the leaders of the teams' classification and protecting race leader Chris Froome. As the maximum time gap was 3.40 at km 30, the escapees quickly understood their chances of success were minimal.

The race situation remained stable until the race reached the vineyards of Burgundy with 50km to go. The undulating and curvy terrain, as well as some wind with many changes of direction, inclined the peloton to speed up. Their deficit went below one minute within 40km to go. But they waited for the right moment to catch the four breakaway riders and no attempt to split up the bunch was reported. The leading quartet surrendered with 6km to go.

The FDJ team of green jersey holder Arnaud Démare was very visible in the run in but Dimension Data caught the right moment for South African champion Reinardt Janse van Rensburg to lead Edvald Boasson Hagen out. The Norwegian was close to claim his third Tour de France stage victory after he did so in Lisieux and Pinerolo in 2011 but the photo-finish eventually designated Marcel Kittel who himself didn't know if he had won or not. But it was his third success in this Tour de France and his twelfth one since he first started in 2012. He equals Erik Zabel to become the most successful German stage winner ever at the Grande Boucle.

#kittel #letour