Tuesday 30 September 2014

Nicolas Roche Joins Team Sky

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Team Sky has announced the signing of Irishman Nicolas Roche as one of five new names for 2015.

The 30-year-old, who has a wealth of Grand Tour experience, is joined at the British squad by Scotland’s Andrew Fenn, Czech rider Leopold König, Dutchman Wout Poels and Norwegian Lars Petter Nordhaug, who has re-signed for Team Sky after two years away.

Roche’s signing is significant as it strengthens Chris Froome’s support for the 2015 Tour de France, while simultaneously weakening Alberto Contador’s squad as the Irishman was previously at Tinkoff-Saxo.

Roche, the son of 1987 Tour de France winner and world champion Stephen Roche, said: “It’s a great honour to sign for Team Sky and I have the opportunity to ride with some of the best riders in the world. I feel that I’m still developing as a rider so now’s the perfect time to join Team Sky and to continue my upwards path.”

Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford said: “He brings a wealth of experience, having ridden 13 Grand Tours in his career, and that will be invaluable to the team. Nicolas has the perfect character and temperament for us and we expect him to play a key role next season.”

König is also likely to play a strong support role for Froome, while also riding Grand Tours for a high placing himself.

While with Team NetApp-Endura, König placed seventh in the 2014 Tour de France and he has claimed stage wins at the Vuelta a España, Tour of California and Tour of Britain.

The 24-year-old Fenn becomes Team Sky’s first Scottish rider, after moving from Mark Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep squad. Poels becomes the first Dutchman at Team Sky and the climber has been watched by the squad for some time, while Nordhaug returns after a three-year stay from 2010 to 2012.

Brailsford added: “We’ve signed five quality riders for next season and each one of them will help strengthen and enhance the squad. We have a strong nucleus of riders at Team Sky and these signings will be excellent additions to the squad. They all bring their own qualities and we’re looking forward to welcoming them to the team and seeing them in action next season.”

Monday 29 September 2014

Winning is Elementary for Watson

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“Sometimes thinking too much can destroy your momentum." 
Tom Watson

Sir Alex Ferguson was a moderately talented footballer at best. But as manager went on to prove at Manchester United a legendary status in the game that will rarely be equalled. Akin to what Bill Shankly did for Liverpool and in the modern era Jose Mourinho has achieved at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. Somehow all able to connect and see their sport from the less lofty heights that more gifted footballers have succeeded in doing. No better example than the recently departed Alfredo di Stefano, who despite a stellar playing career, never matching those achievements as a manager. Indeed only a few have done so with Franz Beckenbauer unique in that regard.

In fairness, the list is longer of those who have been unable to transfer their ability to management than those how have succeeded. With many doing so and proving more modest readers of men than when excelling on the playing pitch alongside them. Sir Bobby Charlton a case in point, as is former England manager Glen Hoddle. Or indeed Dutch legends, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit. With a number of renowned managers the bearers of limited playing CV's. Juergen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund one of the outstanding managers in Europe, who boast a playing CV at FC Mainz. Or Rafa Benitez of Inter Milan who played for Real Madrid second side, Castilla. 

For some it is the inability to understand players less skilled than they were, and unable to pass or control the ball as they could during their playing days. A frustration and impatience that can only lead to problems.

It is that sense that arises from US Ryder Cup Captain this week, where Tom Watson seemed incapable of fully comprehending his player’s inability to win every point, in every session. Somehow all falling short of his expectations and standards. Which in the day-to-day world are too high for mere mortals. Particularly on the Saturday afternoon foursomes. It was a frustration that was not imagined and very visible for all to see and at times hear. Affecting his way of communication also outside the group to the media, surprising some, in a country where he is held in the highest possible sporting esteem

However it may have proved instrumental in the US downfall at the 40th Ryder Cup and has already been articulated by Phil Mickelson in his post-match press conference. In what can only described as having a very ungentlemanly sense of timing given the team have yet to fly back home and the closing ceremony was barely complete. 

But in the age of multimillionaire golfers Mickelson will probably fly back in his own private jet with his family, as Captain Watson returns commercial with some of the US team. Leaving the secrets and memories of the US team room to be cleaned up by the PGA. Who must now reflect on three successive defeats as they select their captain for 2016.

In doing so they should also evaluate what the Ryder Cup really means to the US players – if anything - given that Tiger Woods did the event no favours when he was vocal about how little it meant to him some years ago. His priority always being the chase for Majors and equalling Nicklaus record haul of 18 majors. And even when he did play for his country performances were at best non-descript and wouldn’t have met Samuel Ryder’s approval for sure.

The truth may be that for Woods the team game is not an ethos he understands, appreciates or even likes. Having been raised to win in the most singular fashion by his Father. Although it is in stark contrast with biennial Presidents Cup in which he appears without a problem for the USA and seemingly enjoys it. Perhaps because the US remain unbeaten since the meeting at Royal Melbourne in 1998. A stark contrast to their current Ryder Cup record. 

And as the formats are the same and played on home soil every two years there is no real explanation why the results should be so different or explain why USA teams fare so badly in the Ryder Cup.

Could it be summed up by the fact that the US team have used Fred Couples as Presidents Cup captain for the last three events, and so enjoy more continuity. Something the US Ryder Cup teams have not as the last few captains have lasted only one stint. Probably because it enjoys little glory or carry any lucrative earning potential. However unlike Europe, the US players need continuity if they are to see ensure the sum of all the parts is better as a team for 2016. A formula that the European Tour have long since understood. Particularly in the past when very few of their players held PGA Tour cards, or were in the top ten World Golf Rankings.

Before Watson it was Davis Love III who was on the wrong side of the Medinah miracle, and he had taken took over from Corey “War on the Shore” Pavin. Who despite a stunning plaiting record, was also defeated at Celtic Manor, with Paul Azinger the last successful USA captain. Indeed it was his team that vanquished Europe at Valhallla. Some of which may have been ably assisted by the European captain Nick Faldo it seems, given this week’s media commentary about the 2008 Ryder Cup. Clearly showing that some scar tissue has carried over from that unsuccessful week in Kentucky six years ago. 

Another example perhaps of brilliant player with a glittering playing CV, the highest number of Ryder Cup points and six majors also unable to connect with his team. Seemingly unable to deliver leadership, focus, motivation or generate team spirit. 

All the exact opposite to this week’s captain Paul McGinley. Who with a more modest playing career seemed very in touch with his team, able to drive them to victory with apparent ease and little visible fuss. But with a history in team sports prior to golf that enabled him to understand behaviour outside the individualism of golf. Winning too despite bearing the added burden of favourites, a tag that any team dislikes in advance of a major tournament.

But in mentioning Paul it should be noted the amount of times he played in the Ryder Cup; the wide variety of captains he played under; along with the number of times he was a vice captain, allowing an apprenticeship to learn the ropes of what the two year captaincy job now entails. Not to mention the added time served in the alternate trophies, one named after the European talisman, Seve Ballesteros – The Seve trophy – and the Royal Trophy. Both lower profile competitions that allow for learning without suffering any public humiliation should they suffer defeat. McGinley the captained Great Britain and Ireland in the Seve Trophy in 2009 and 2011. 

The Presidents Cup should be used in the same way

The added advantage being that players get to know their possible future captain in a less daunting environment forming a valuable base should they all meet up years later in a Ryder Cup cauldron. What business people would call succession planning.

Curiously Jack Nicklaus has captained the USA both in the Presidents Cup and Ryder cup. However Tom Watson only ever captained the Ryder Cup team and that was in 1983. Much has changed in the game since then and without being ageist, the demand now are very different of a captain. Especially as golfers too are very different breed to the way they were ten years ago. Never mind twenty years ago. It would be just as if Sir Bobby Charlton went back to Manchester United this week as manager.

As a result Watson will have learned some harsh lessons this week at Gleneagles and seen a totally different event since that last one at The Belfry in 1993. Whereas the changes playing the Open Championship annually may have been less obvious given as an individual the travelling, the practice routine, the pairings and the venues are all known to him. And even if the partners get younger each year, it does not affect his own game. Which he proved at Turnberry in 2009 when he just lost out to Stewart Cink on the eighteenth green.

In 1993 the team carried more contemporaries passionate about winning and loving the constant winning of the Ryder Cup. Names such as Ray Floyd, Tom Kite and Lanny Wadkins were there. All different to the young guns this time around. With the likes of Fowler not realising the iconic status of Watson in the world game such is the power of his own brand marketing in the modern era. Without even a major title under his belt. Or maybe Americans don’t appreciate Watson as much as we do in Europe, given his numerous Open Championship wins were probably not televised.

The interesting point about Mickelson’s outburst on Sunday night is that he does care about the Ryder Cup, and is similar to Watson in that regard. The constant losing enough to affect him personally given he is one of the last to remember those good old days of regular USA wins. Mickelson having played first in 1995 at Oak Hill – and winning his singles 2&1 against per Ulrik Johansson. And part of a dying breed of golfers on the other side of the Atlantic. That may only include the generation of Brad Faxon, Jim Furyk and Fred Couples these days. Who between them need now to find that a formula to strengthen the US Ryder Cup teams for the future. 

Hence it is understandable that Paul Azinger’s name arises. The equivalent perhaps of the European choice of Sam Torrance for 2002 and someone who was able to bring the home victory, and doing so in the proper Samuel Ryder way after the shortcomings of The Country Club in Brookline two years earlier.

The truth is that if Mickelson is articulating some thoughts – albeit the timing is most ill-judged – then the PGA needs to listen. As occurred in 1977 when Jack Nicklaus met the PGA of Europe after GB & Ireland had lost nine of the previous 10 Ryder Cups. The worry is that the manner the message was delivered was unsporting and may ensure that the effect is minimised

In 1977 though it was obvious to the commercially astute Nicklaus that Americans would lose interest in the biennial matches if they won all the time. So he suggested an expansion of the team to include European players, given the Spanish Armada were winning European tournaments. Resulting in changes within two years, even if the defeats still continued until 1983, when the Europeans lost by mere point and Seve Ballesteros seeing for the first time that the US could be beaten. Which they did in 1985 when Sam Torrance holed a 22-foot putt on the 18th hole to defeat Andy North and help secure a six point for Europe.

Since 1985, the Ryder Cup has been played 15 times and the Gleneagles victory is Europe’s tenth and halving once. Proving that radical changes can deliver results.

Not forgetting that these days ...
The World number one golfer is European - no longer American
Europe won the FedEx Cup in 2013
Europeans have won the US Open 2010, 2011 and 2014 
Half the team now live in the USA 
All play weekly on the PGA Tour, so no more fear factor
Ryder cup rookies are regular winners
Europe no longer easily beaten in the singles

Europe also played the better golf across the three days and were man for man a match for any opponent. In addition the European captain is a student of the Ryder Cup and left no stone unturned to ensure the victory for his team. The focus always being on the twelve players, caddies and backroom team throughout. Never once stealing the limelight. Except when required to do so 

For the USA it may now be time for Watson, Mickelson and PGA to call Jack once again. 

OSM - All rights reserved

Saturday 6 September 2014

Florentino at Odds with Cristiano

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Real Madrid’s president Florentino Pérez played down an apparent spat with Cristiano Ronaldo on Friday and defended his club’s transfer policy.

Pérez, who has splashed hundreds of millions of euros of the European champions’ cash on top players in recent years, said the loyalty of Ronaldo, the current world player of the year, had been “unquestionable”. The Portugal captain made headlines on Monday when he said the club’s transfer dealings in the latest window would probably have been different if he had been in charge.

“I know Cristiano Ronaldo very well,” Pérez said in a press conference on Thursday. “Cristiano is the best player in the world and his loyalty to Madrid is unquestionable. I have listened to all the comments he made and as I know him, I know that he never questioned the club. My relationship with him is perfect, there are zero discrepancies.”

After winning a record-extending 10th European crown last season, when Ronaldo was the team’s top scorer, Real sold Xabi Alonso and Ángel di Maria and brought in Toni Kroos and James Rodríguez. The departure of Alonso to Bayern Munich, in particular, has prompted suggestions the Madrid club will not have enough quality and experience in midfield without him, while the Argentinian Di María is seen as close to Ronaldo.

Real stuttered in their second La Liga outing at the weekend when they let slip a 2-0 lead and crashed to a 4-2 reverse at Real Sociedad. Ronaldo, 29, missed the game through injury and he followed up his comments on Monday by giving an interview to a British newspaper in which he appeared to suggest he wanted to return to former club Manchester United at some point in his career.

Pérez, who pushed through a lucrative contract extension for Ronaldo in September last year that ties him to the club until 2018, defended Real’s decision to sell Alonso and Di María. “I’ve been here since 2000,” Pérez said. “Since then a lot of players have come and gone and my experience tells me that the ones that leave are always the best and those that arrive are always questioned.

“My first [signing] was [Zinezine] Zidane and the last [before this summer’s transfer market] was [Gareth] Bale. We made the best offer that we could to Di María and he didn’t accept it. Hence, we brought in James [Rodríguez], one of the best players at the World Cup and the Golden Boot award winner.

“Di María had financial requests that I considered legitimate but we couldn’t satisfy them. I reiterate that we made him the best possible offer.

“With the exception of Cristiano [Ronaldo], Di María would have been the highest paid at Real Madrid. Had we accepted his financial demands it would have created an unbalanced treatment that would have put the club’s stability in danger.”

Pérez also explained Alonso’s surprising move to Bayern. “Xabi came to us and told us that he wanted to leave,” he said. “He thought it was the best for him and for the club. Our relationship with Xabi is excellent and we accepted his proposal.

“Xabi is in the final stages of his sporting career and wants to manage it in this way. We understand it and we respect it.”

Pérez revealed that Carlo Ancelotti proved crucial in his club’s decision not to sign Radamel Falcao this summer. Falcao was heavily linked with a move to the Bernabéu in the past few months but joined Manchester United on a season-long loan from Monaco on Monday instead.

“We considered signing Falcao,” Pérez said. “But in this club we follow a sporting-economic equation which [the former club president Santiago] Bernabéu taught us, and we decided not to do so. The coach’s opinion was also important in us turning it down.