Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Luis Enrique - Real Barca Leader for Spain

Although said before in Russia 2018 these words from Lionel Messi have never been more apt. “You have to show up in the World Cup, and in the World Cup anything can happen.”. In Argentina’s case this was certainly true when France brought an end to their involvement in this world cup. But the same could be said of Germany and Spain who also found the going tough and seemed unable to react and remain in the competition. With Joachim Loew deciding to remain as head and Argentina hopeful that Messi will continue to play for the national team. It seems that Spain may face the most turmoil. A continuation of the turmoil that started in Russia with the sudden departure of their manager, Lopetegui.

However, the subsequent performances of the Spanish team that has caused the most outrage and the players apparent lethargy under the stand-in manager, Fernando Hierro, that may prove the weakest link. In fairness former international and Real Madrid captain had the job thrust upon him under very difficult circumstances after travelling to Russia as an assistant. But football is unforgivably measured by results and so the early exit – albeit the last sixteen leaves may leave a few too many questions for Hierro to answer. So, there are names appearing in the press that could offer alternatives. One of them is former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique or another former Madrid player Michel – who has worked with Olympiacos in Greece and also in La Liga.

Clearly Hierro would not have be considered for the role of national manager in the normal course of events and would not have even viewed himself as a possible candidate – yet. But the truncated events however saw things develop rather differently and now see the novice manager emerge with his reputation not necessarily enhanced. His future career will lie elsewhere and stood down. Within days the Spanish Football Federation decided one Ex-Barcelona and Roma coach Luis Enrique has been appointed on a two-year contract. The 48-year-old former Spain midfielder has been out of management since leaving the Nou Camp last June.

Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales said: "The decision was unanimous. I like his commitment and he has turned down better-paid jobs in order to coach Spain. "He's a coach who has all the requirements the federation was looking for."

Enrique, who played for Real Madrid and Barcelona, won the La Liga, Spanish Cup and Champions League treble as Barca manager in 2015. His first game in charge will be a Uefa Nations League game away to England at Wembley on 8 September, with Jose Francisco Molina, a former Spain keeper, as their sporting director.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Federer Does Not Just Do it Anymore

Roger Federer has signed a deal with Japanese clothing company Uniqlo after ending his decades-long partnership with Nike. The new contract is reportedly worth $300m (£228m) over the next 10 years and was signed after Federer's deal with Nike expired in March.

The tennis star donned the Japanese brand at his Wimbledon match on Monday, but for now has kept his Nike shoes. The 36-year-old Swiss player first signed with Nike in 1994.

Sports news site ESPN reported the price tag of Federer's new deal, but Uniqlo has not shared the specific terms. The star athlete added that the partnership had "been a long time coming".

Uniqlo's current athlete lineup includes Japanese tennis player Kei Nishikori and Australian golfer Adam Scott.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Nike said they "do not comment on athlete contracts".

"However, we are thankful and proud to have been a part of Roger's incredible journey and wish him the best in the future."

Nike still retains ownership of Federer's monogrammed RF line.

ESPN reported Federer's earnings on-court are around $116m, making this new deal more than double his current tennis paycheck.

The sports news website also said Nike had been given the chance to match the new contract but declined.

But as the Japanese company does not make tennis shoes, it appears likely he will continue to wear his Nike trainers.

Team Sky welcome Froome verdict

Team Sky have today welcomed the decision by the UCI to dismiss the case against Chris Froome.

Chris Froome said:
“I am very pleased that the UCI has exonerated me. While this decision is obviously a big deal for me and the Team, it’s also an important moment for cycling. I understand the history of this great sport – good and bad. I have always taken my leadership position very seriously and I always do things the right way. I meant it when I said that I would never dishonour a winner’s jersey and that my results would stand the test of time. 

“I have never doubted that this case would be dismissed for the simple reason that I have known throughout I did nothing wrong. I have suffered with asthma since childhood. I know exactly what the rules are regarding my asthma medication and I only ever use my puffer to manage my symptoms within the permissible limits

“Of course, the UCI had to examine these test results from the Vuelta. Unfortunately, the details of the case did not remain confidential, as they should have done. And I appreciate more than anyone else the frustration at how long the case has taken to resolve and the uncertainty this has caused. I am glad it’s finally over.

“I am grateful for all the support I have had from the Team and from many fans across the world. Today’s ruling draws a line. It means we can all move on and focus on the Tour de France.” 

Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford said:
“We have always had total confidence in Chris and his integrity. We knew that he had followed the right medical guidance in managing his asthma at the Vuelta and were sure that he would be exonerated in the end, which he has been. This is why we decided that it was right for Chris to continue racing, in line with UCI rules, while the process was ongoing. We are pleased that it has now been resolved.

“Chris’s elevated Salbutamol urine reading from Stage 18 of the Vuelta was treated as a ‘presumed’ Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) by the UCI and WADA, which triggered a requirement for us to provide further information. After a comprehensive review of that information, relevant data and scientific research, the UCI and WADA have concluded that there was, in fact, no AAF and that no rule has been broken.

“We said at the outset that there are complex medical and physiological issues which affect the metabolism and excretion of Salbutamol. The same individual can exhibit significant variations in test results taken over multiple days while using exactly the same amount of Salbutamol. This means that the level of Salbutamol in a single urine sample, alone, is not a reliable indicator of the amount inhaled. A review of all Chris’s 21 test results from the Vuelta revealed that the Stage 18 result was within his expected range of variation and therefore consistent with him having taken a permitted dose of Salbutamol.

“Chris has proved he is a great champion – not only on the bike but also by how he has conducted himself during this period. It has not been easy, but his professionalism, integrity and good grace under pressure have been exemplary and a credit to the sport. 

“The greatest bike race in the world starts in five days. We can’t wait to get racing again and help Chris win it for a record-equalling fifth time.”

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Future Path Unclear for Loew

The return to Frankfurt will bear little resemblance to that of four years ago when Juergen Loew and the German national team landed as world champions. This time after just one win out of three matches at Russia 2018 – including a sensational defeat by South Korea – the silence at the Deutscher Fuessball Bund (DFB) given Loew’s newly signed contract – will be deafening. As will the crowd at the airport. But the silence surely to be broken given the insipid and lethargic performances at the World Cup by the national team. With key players from four years ago absent without trace in Kazan when faced with an industrious South Korean side that played until the final whistle. Withy many senior players looking on absolutely bemused and lost on the field. 

Undoubtedly as holders there is more pressure and Germany confirmed the sequence that afflicted holders previously such as Italy, Spain, Brazil – and making a first-round exit. Proving yet again that reigning champions usually fail to pass the test four years after winning. Making consecutive world cup wins virtually an impossible task. However, for Germany there were signs during the Champions League of problems with some of their key men: Manuel Neuer’s season truncated with injury and looking only a shadow of his former self; Matt Hummels looking past his sell by date when Bayern faced Real Madrid over two legs; as did Thomas Mueller and indeed Jerome Boateng. 

It may also reflect a growing concern about the strength of the Bundesliga as it now is just a two or three team league. Given then that the Munich club delivers the majority of the national squad it all seems too cosy and lacking a competitive edge. As it may for Spain with a number of the players now over cooked after a long season with Real Madrid and perhaps too many years at international level. Or simply aging poorly in the modern game where their club is the main interest. In Germanys’ case Thomas Mueller fell victim to a similar fate and is nothing close to the MVP of Brazil four years ago. Not unlike Boateng, who apart from suffering an injury in the second games, cannot operate any longer in an environment where the game is not played at Bundesliga pace. Indeed, against Mexico the quick feet seemed to show up his weaknesses. 

In midfield the loss of a generations of talent such as Bastian Schweinsteiger was very noticeable with Toni Kroos a different style of player. Or losing Philippe Lahm who was more often than not operating as a right-sided midfielder rather than right full back. Then up front the loss of Lukas Podolski or Miroslav Klose makes Mario Gomez look less than average as the Germanys strike force on Wednesday night. The number 9 usually the heartbeat of their teams from the days of Ui Seeler in 1966, Gerd Mueller in 1974; Karl-Hein Rummenigge and Hansi Muller in 1978; Pierre Littbarski, Klaus Fischer and Rummenigge again in 1982; Rudi Voeller in 1986; or as in 1990 with Klinsmann; then for years later in 1994 with Oliver Bierhoff; followed by arrival of Klose and Christophe Metzelder and then Podolski. Apart from a curious era where Carsten Janckers was the best Germany could offer up front. 

Yet Loew did not favour blooding new talent in the past four years and understandably after losing the first game against Mexico he did not have the luxury. Precluding nothing more than token opportunities for the likes of Julian Brandt, Jonas Hector, Sebastián Rudy or Nikias Sule. All of whom did show signs of a hunger that the senior players seemed to lack. But it was only a glimpse of a future that Loew did not seem yet to believe in. Clearly, the German squad reflected the tried and tested where the management remained comfortable since the departure of Juergen Klinsmann post 2006 world cup where Germany reached the semi-finals in their homeland. 

Although able to possibly irritate people, Klinsmann was always thinking and trying new things and his squads were always on their toes. But Loew operates the exact opposite and the predictability of not seeking inconvenience may have caught up with him. As did the qualifying where they won all their games with Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Norway, San Marino and Azerbaijan. Arriving in Russia over confident and untested. Obviously in 2014 Loew worked with a hungry squad burdened with years of failure and desperate to win the trophy that the Franz Beckenbauer achieved for the nation - both as a player and manager. And never stopped reminding anyone who would listen. 

Then in 2014 the results of their national project started by the DFB post 2000-euro failure that moved the Bundesliga away from foreign players and in turn created centres of excellence at the clubs that delivered the world cup in 2010. The Nationalmannschaft’ S success had been patiently planned, engineered and inculcated as is the German way with nation by then waiting for such a victory for over a decade. 

"The lowest point came in Euro 2000 -- that was German football's nadir: very poor performances, a very poor team and very poor management," German football expert Ralph Honigstein told CNN in 2014. “It was Germany's performance in the 2002 World Cup, where they lost in the final to Brazil, helped papered over the cracks, but it would take another two years for the real changes to the national game to filter through. "The grass roots reforms were already in place by the time Jurgen Klinsmann took over with Joachim Low in 2004," added Honigstein.

"The 10-year development you've seen culminate in Brazil benefited from two changes being made at more or less the same time. Youth development was instilled to make sure young players were much better educated and had better facilities and coaching.” Honigstein explained, "And at the same time there was a change of philosophy and footballing ideas at the very top -- after 10 years these two elements fused quite brilliantly to deliver the World Cup. 

"You have to credit the chairman of the German Football Association (DFB) at the time, Gerhard Mayer, who realized the needs for reform. He was able to get all the Bundesliga clubs, including the big ones, on board. 

"They all signed up to create academies and there was a spirit of cooperation, which was especially pronounced in those years, because Germany had won the right to host a World Cup in 2006. There was a real fear the team and the footballing nation might embarrass themselves as hosts if they didn't make changes," said Honigstein. However, Germany's blueprint for change didn't come cheap and it needed the clubs to work closely with the DFB. 

"You need a lot of money and you need the commitment to do it. Very few countries could replicate what Germany has done. You have to consider they now have 366 centres of excellence for youth development throughout the country.” Albeit Bayern Munich has been the driving force of the national team because they produce the best youngsters, and they buy the best German players and hone them, to make them even better. It was no coincidence that when Bayern did well in the 1970’s, 1990’s and now, the national team has benefited. 

"Bayern, under former president Uli Hoeness, always kept the greater good of the national team at the back of their minds and that's an important factor for the success of German football," explained Honigstein. In Brazil Schweinsteiger would dedicate Germany's final performance to Hoeness, as the man responsible for many of the players being where they are. 

Such long-term planning and dedication to a single goal, by the time the last match was being played in Brazil in 2014, was in the final throes of its application. The squad and the 11 men on the pitch were the fruition of a design drawn up long ago. The path to glory sewn into the psyche of everyone involved as Honigstein explained, "The reality is, as soon as you start winning a lot of things people want to see you fail. You can play beautiful football, but people soon want another team to come to the fore and accuse you of arrogance if you win too easily. 

"Germany can still grow as a team with some really exciting youngsters, the likes of Marco Reus and Julian Draxler, coming through," added Honigstein, "I think the future is bright, but will Germany be adopted as the world's favourite team? I doubt it very much." The reality in 2018 shows that there is also matching declined from the top of a loss of hunger and a premature collapse. 

The truth is that a status quo has now developed where Loew was at his weakest it would appear form the outside. Underpinned by a declining talents and players that have become accustomed to having it their own way. With Mesut Ozil it was an error to persists with him and the team played better when he - and also Hummels and Mueller - were out against Sweden. Indeed, also Boateng was poor and quite rightly got suspended for a bad tackle in the second game. The ability of Draxler was never tested at this level despite doing it regularly at PSG, Schalke and Wolfsburg over the years. 

Others now need now to be given the chance over the coming four years and clear some of the deadwood. Five players are a carryover from South Africa and that reflects on Loew Teutonic system -which is far too rigid. 

Kroos as a midfield player is talented yet not in the physical and driving style of a Schweinsteiger or Lothar Matthaeus. Playing the role for Germany that Deschamps did for France - water carrying role. Albeit a bit more sophisticated one at Real Madrid - where Modric is the designated playmaker. For Germany that role is lost and the likes of Uli Hoeness, Rainer Bonhof or Michael Ballack types are missing. With Loew seemingly confused by his options and never sure whether up front Timo Werner is his best choice or Gomez. Pushing Mueller wider where he was truly ineffective. In Saami Khedira there was a lack of clarity for a game and a half. Yet as a tracking midfielder is what he does very well at Juventus 

Clearly the reliance on Ozil, a much-maligned player at Real Madrid, Arsenal and with Germany for his languid style, seems to have been a source of problems. Even outside the squad from past players; “Ozil’ s body language is like that of a dead frog, it’s pathetic,” Mario Basler, a Euro 96 winner with Die Mannschaft, told German television. Basler is known for being deliberately outspoken so Lothar Matthaeus’s criticism in his column with Sport Bild was considered more damning. “For a year or two, Özil has played much weaker and at a level that does not justify Jogi Loew's free ticket,” said Matthaeus, who played in five World Cups for Germany and won the tournament in 1990. 

"With Özil on the pitch I often have the feeling that he does not feel comfortable in the German jersey, almost as if he does not want to play. There is no heart, no joy, no passion.” 

Stefan Effenburg struck a similar tone and accused Low of making a “completely misjudgement” by starting Ozil over Reus against Mexico. Which would suggest that Loew has a limited future as the four-times champions, who have reached the last eight in 16 consecutive World Cups. 

Its the first time Germany have failed to pass the group stage since 1938.

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Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Germany Record Loew in Russia

Germany manager Joachim Low says his side deserved to go out of the World Cup after they crashed out in the group stage in "historic" fashion. The defending champions finished bottom of Group F after losing 2-0 to South Korea, the first time Germany have gone out in the first round of a World Cup since 1938.

"This is something for us to reckon with," Low said. "This is historic. I am sure this will create some public uproar in Germany."

Sweden won the group with a 3-0 win over Mexico at the same time, which meant Germany needed to win their game in Kazan.

"We saw Sweden had taken the lead so we needed to keep the pressure up but our team was missing the ease of play and the classiness we usually have. So, we deserve to be eliminated, yes," said Low, who had never failed to reach a semi-final before in his 12-year reign.

"At this tournament we didn't deserve to win again or move to the round of 16. We were eliminated not because we didn't want to win but we never had the chance to take a lead at any point - we were always lagging behind, trying to keep up."

Both of the South Korean goals came in injury time. Kim Young-gwon scored from close range, a goal initially disallowed for offside but then awarded after video assistant referee consultation. And with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer losing the ball in South Korea's half, Ju Se-jong found Son Heung-min with a long ball and the Tottenham forward tapped into an empty net.

This is only the second time that Germany have been eliminated in the first round at a World Cup, with the last occasion back in 1938 before the tournament introduced group stages. In fact Germany had reached at least the semi-final in their last four World Cups - getting to the final twice. This is only their third time not reaching the last four since 1978, with quarter-final exits in 1994 and 1998 their worst runs in the following 40 years

Germany are the fourth defending champions to be eliminated from the group stage at the World Cup in the last five tournaments (also France 2002, Italy 2010, Spain 2014). This is the first time Germany have not beaten an Asian team in the World Cup, winning the previous five meetings by an aggregate scoreline of 19-3

Germany lost their opener 1-0 to Mexico, but then beat Sweden 2-1, thanks to Toni Kroos' 95th-minute winner to give themselves hope going into the final game. Low decided to leave Thomas Muller - who has scored 10 World Cup goals in his career - on the bench for the first time in the tournament since the 2010 semi-final against Spain.

"According to what I saw today this was a good line up, Thomas Muller was not so convincing in the first two matches so I thought I would make a point. We had to take risks, we couldn't go on and wait and because of this we opened the doors in our defence.

"We had a good training camp, the team has worked well and we felt we would shift gears but we lost to Mexico when a point might have been different and we just couldn't make that switch.

"We were convinced that when the tournament started things would go well but that wasn't the case.

"We've been stepping up the pressure to score goals, certainly in second halves, but it didn't come together. We were dead, after their first goal. We realised there would be no opportunities for us.

"I'm shocked because we didn't manage to pull it off and beat South Korea. It wasn't my understanding when speaking to the team that they felt under pressure. They were ready to move ahead and qualify. We need to talk about it calmly and I think it will take some hours for us to come to terms with it."