Saturday, 15 November 2014

Roy Still Rages Against the Machine

Landing Philae on a comet might be an easier project than hoping for any changes in Roy Keane’s spots. During the same decade that Rosetta has been hurtling through space the Irish assistant manager has rapidly clocked up his post playing CV. But it is one littered with more question marks and results that attract the banner headlines. Most having little to with football. 

This past week has been no different.

An altercation at the team hotel outside Dublin midweek just cluttered the build-up to the vital 2016 European Qualifier at Celtic Park against Scotland. It also saw manager Martin O’Neill having to issue a statement on behalf of the Football Association of Ireland - backing his number 2. Not unlike build-up to a previous game when the manager had to fend off questions about his assistant joining Aston Villa. Or during the late summer when it was a rumoured the Celtic vacancy was Roy’s for the taking.

All the time intermingled with a constant stream of anecdotes from Keane’s second biography. Much of which was serialised and accompanied by launches and press days. The Second Half capturing headlines in Ireland and England making Keane ubiquitous for many weeks. At times leaving O’Neill appear as just the apprentice to Master Roy. All rather unedifying it has to be said

Then during the game one explosive moment on Friday night saw Keane stand up to the referee and engage in that now infamous glare. So provocative a lesser official would have banished him from the dugout just out of fear - if nothing else. With Aston Villa in freefall in the Premier League someone somewhere must be asking the question about Keane's ability as an assistant Manager. It is one thing to be box office. But not if it’s mostly disruptive. 

In all the Irish games thus far there is no evidence that Keane adds any new-fangled playing system to the cause. The battle at Park Head reinforces that evidence.

In fact the clash in Glasgow between Scotland and the Republic of Ireland was really a mirror of the managers differing personalities. The cheeky wisecracking character of Gordon Strachan very obvious in the play of Robert Naismith, Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew during the ninety minutes. Those daring runs around the box and the speed of movement with the ball along the turf. Reminiscent of some good years the manager enjoyed at Old Trafford. Or indeed at Elland Road no doubt when he won the League.

The Sean Maloney goal testimony to that credo of Strachan and his backroom.

In contrast the careful professorial approach of Martin O’Neill showed nothing but a cautious Ireland. And a manager reaffirming fondness for big men playing alone up front, rather than using deft, agile and technical players. Emile Heskey the classic example when O’Neill reigned at Leicester City. 

Posterity will record whether the decision to omit Robbie Keane from the starting line-up was the right one. 

On the result alone that decision has attracted some criticism. As has the failure to understand O’Neill’s playing philosophy longer term and beyond just the shape of the team itself. For neither the Georgian trip, the Gibraltar clash, nor the German draw explain anything about how the former Northern Ireland midfielder sees Ireland playing. Which at the moment it is just one step above a Trapattoni type system. 

An over reliance on Glen Whelan rather than favouring the flair of Wes Hoolihan the biggest worry. Or indeed using Robbie Brady more. Who, when he came on at Celtic Park, looked more than useful. 

But then the Scotland game was never one for the faint hearted. It was one of two fixtures which will just be hash dash English cup tie football. Where the hang time of the ball - throughout the match - should be measured, rather than possession or territory. Leaving Ireland team within their comfort zone. In fact it is only when Ireland travel further afield and play teams more technically comfortable and at ease stroking the ball around at their own tempo do they struggle. 

Thus far the O’Neill and Keane duo have done little to assuage the belief that this group of players can play any other way. With O’Neill shocked to have lost on Friday. Yet how he reached that conclusion is more worrying. Even more so for the FAI as they too must now wonder whether the blockbuster pairing will survive the duration of their contract given Keane’s sideshows. 

It cannot be acceptable for an international manager to record a video statement declaring his unwavering support for his assistant’s behaviour in the public domain of the team hotel. Under normal circumstances that would not be tolerated and it will no doubt test the depth of their friendship should it continue.

In terms of results Keane's three year stint at Sunderland ended when there were differences with the major shareholder at the time, Ellis Short. Complicated by some added discord with Keane’s pre-Saipan teammate, Niall Quinn, who was Chairman of the Club at the time. In truth the manager’s record at Sunderland was good, bad and ugly. As was Martin O’Neill’s as he was sacked in 2013 leaving the club languishing in the Premier League relegation zone. 

Gus Poyet the man chosen to pick up the pieces.

Keane’s subsequent arrival at Ipswich Town promised much and delivered little. Results wise at least and saw him sacked midway through his two year contract. A stint more famous for a viral You Tube video at one of Keane’s press conferences rather than any other contribution. The Corkman replaced by his nemesis Mick McCarthy. A manager who has since done more than an adequate job without half the fuss.

But then that is what Keane is all about. A lot of fuss. 

Box office is the euphemism.

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Friday, 14 November 2014

Javier Ballesteros Turns Professional

Javier Ballesteros, the son of five-time major champion Seve, has turned professional.

Spaniard Seve died of brain cancer in 2011 at the age of 54, and Javier said: "Today my dad comes to my mind.

"He taught me everything or almost everything I know about golf, and I would have loved him to see me turning pro. I am sure he would be very proud."

Javier, 23, intends to begin his career by enrolling at the Alps Tour qualifying school.

He competed at the British Amateur Championship this year but failed to qualify for the matchplay stage after a poor opening round.

Javier added: "This is something I have always wanted. Whether I will succeed or not, time will tell."

Seve is remembered as one of golf's most flamboyant and charismatic players.

He won 87 titles in his career, including the Open in 1979, 1984 and 1988 and the Masters in 1980 and 1983, and played in eight Ryder Cups.

Strachan Prepares Celtic Park Welcome

Scotland and the Republic of Ireland meet at Celtic Park in a tasty European Qualifiers encounter in Group D on Friday.

The Irish arrived in Glasgow on Thursday sitting joint top of the group alongside Poland, with both sides having claimed seven of the first points available to them, three ahead of both the Scots and world champions Germany.

However, Scotland boss Gordon Strachan has warned Ireland, who have a number of current and former Celtic players in their ranks, that their familiarity with the surroundings in Glasgow will do them no favours.

Much has been made of Irish boss Martin O'Neill being a former Hoops manager with his assistant Roy Keane, skipper Robbie Keane, Aiden McGeady, Shay Given and Daryl Murphy having played for the club, while Anthony Stokes is currently a striker with the Scottish champions.

Strachan said: "We will turn Celtic Park into the home of Scottish football and you will know fine well you are in Scotland on Friday night.

"We are quite familiar with Celtic Park as well (as some of the Irish), most of our players have played there. But as I say, it is not going to be Celtic Park, tomorrow it is Scotland's park."

Scotland midfielder James McArthur has pulled out of the clash with the Republic due to a calf injury.

McArthur has come off the bench in two of Scotland's three European Championship qualifiers so far.

The Crystal Palace midfielder joins his former Hamilton and Wigan team-mate James McCarthy on the sidelines for the game after the Republic of Ireland player pulled out with a hamstring problem. Long-term casualty Robert Snodgrass is also absent for Scotland.

Defenders Alan Hutton and Phil Bardsley are both out due to injury so Steven Whittaker looks a likely starter at right-back. Brighton centre-back Gordon Greer began the 2-2 draw with Poland but Russell Martin may get the nod on this occasion.

The Scots could therefore line up with David Marshall in goal behind a back four of Whittaker, Grant Hanley, Martin and Andrew Robertson; Scott Brown and James Morrison in central midfield; and Shaun Maloney, Steven Naismith and Ikechi Anya offering attacking options behind lone striker Steven Fletcher.

Meanwhile, O'Neill's preparations for the clash have been disrupted by an alleged incident which prompted Keane to ask for Gardai to be called to the team hotel in Portmarnock.

But O'Neill has insisted it will not be an issue as they look to extend their unbeaten run in qualifying to three games.

He said: "It's only a distraction, that's all it was. I made a statement earlier on today and there's not really much more I can talk about.

"But I think we are fine, I think the players are fine, I think the man in question is fine too and we are ready to go."

Speaking on Thursday, O'Neill was more concerned about the loss of central midfielders Glenn Whelan and one of the men fuelling the other major talking point this week, McCarthy, to injury.

Whelan was always an outsider after breaking a bone in his leg during the 1-1 draw in Germany last month, but there was better news about Glasgow-born McCarthy - who had been promised a hostile welcome - as scans confirmed no significant damage to his hamstring.

O'Neill said: "James, I suppose, realistically was always an outside chance. He has improved immensely since Sunday - in fact, he went for another scan and the scan is actually quite clear, so that is really good news for the lad.

"But really I suppose since it is a muscle injury, then it was a concern for us that he needed to probably do something today and see what sort of reaction he had."

Darron Gibson and Jeff Hendrick are seemingly the main candidates to plug the sizeable gap left in the heart of O'Neill's team, although he has also handed a key role to Stephen Quinn in the recent past.

Marc Wilson is injured, so Richard Keogh could be drafted in at centre-back.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Capello Salary Too Rich for Russia

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A Russian Football Union executive has admitted that the governing body cannot afford to pay national coach Fabio Capello’s controversial £6.8m annual salary.

Sergei Stepashin, a member of the RFU’s executive committee, said Capello’s salary, which has not been paid at all since June, remained unaffordable.

“I can declare that the money to pay Capello is not there,” he said. “Clearly it’s wrong to fail to pay the salary of your national team’s coach, but when they signed the contract they should really have thought about how to fund it. Today we’re still looking for a source of funding.”

Capello admitted earlier this month that his patience over the dispute was running out, saying he felt “close to the limit … I’m somewhere near”.

The financial crisis at the RFU this week led to two members of Capello’s coaching staff, Christian Panucci and Massimo Neri, refusing to travel with the side to their Euro 2016 qualifier in Austria due to what the governing body called an ongoing “contractual dispute”.

The scale of Capello’s salary has repeatedly caused unrest in Russia, with the nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky branding him “a thief”in July, while fellow MP Oleg Pakholkov said the Italian was simply in the job for the salary: “I think Capello knew very well he would achieve nothing with our team, but he simply decided it was a good way to make money, he wanted to hoover up bundles of cash for his retirement.”

Capello’s contract runs through to the 2018 World Cup, which Russia will host. Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, has previously suggested that the RFU’s failure to pay salaries had caused the team’s slump in form, as well as reputational damage.

“It doesn’t give either the team or the coach any extra motivation ... The whole situation doesn’t make Russia look good in any way.”

Russia are second in Euro 2016 qualifying Group G, behind Austria and level on points with Sweden.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Stephane Peterhansel Quotes

"When you think of how hard it is to win a Dakar, it's incredible that I've been able to win ten of them. It's been a long time, I've been waiting for five years to win again!"

"To take the victory in South America is a huge relief, it ranks among my best triumphs. Moreover, the race was very close during the first week and there was always a lot of pressure. Winning the rally for Team X-Raid makes it even more special, since Sven Quandt has been waiting for years for this to happen."

"I don't know what I could do to go one better! Beating this record is going to be difficult... for the others! This race is stressful, exciting and fascinating, and it's also very rewarding at the end. Now I'm going to party with the entire team and then we'll see. My finest victory will always be my first win in the motorcycle category, but this one has something special to it. I was starting to doubt myself, to think I was growing too old for this, that I'd lost it or that I wasn't made for South America... and in the end everything turned out fine!"

"But I still have a blue bandana from my motorcycling period. I didn't tell anyone, but I kept it in my pocket throughout the entire rally. It's the story of the comeback of the blue bandana."

Memories - EURO 88 - Ronnie Whelan

Back in the USSR.......
Ronnie Whelan  38 minutes, 15/06/1988 
Hannover Arena, Hannover

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

New Mebourne Measures After Araldo Death

New safety measures have been introduced at Flemington Racecourse after a "freak accident" led to the death of a Melbourne Cup horse.

Seventh-placed Araldo was spooked by a flag being waved as he walked down a pathway to the mounting yard after Tuesday's race.

The horse suffered a serious leg injury and was later euthanised.

It came after Japanese-trained favourite Admire Rakti collapsed and died after the race.

Restrictions on where horses walk after Group One races and the use of flags by spectators, plus additional security, will be introduced.

The measures were recommended after an inquiry involving Racing Victoria (RV), the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) and the Victorian Jockeys' Association.

In the 35 years before the 2014 event, three Melbourne Cup horses suffered fatal injuries.

RV chairman of stewards Terry Bailey said: "The incident involving Araldo was a freak accident and something that we have not seen previously.

"However, we have taken these interim measures for the remainder of the carnival and will discuss the long-term procedures with the VRC following its completion."

The Melbourne Cup Carnival runs from 1 to 8 November.

O'Grady Ends European Tour Days

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George O’Grady has announced he will step down as chief executive of the European Tour as soon as his successor is found.

An announcement had originally been planned to coincide with the season-ending finale DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, but recent media speculation has hastened the process.

The 65-year-old became only the third chief executive in the European Tour’s history in 2005, succeeding John Jacobs, who supervised the Tour’s formative years from 1971 to 1974 and Ken Schofield, who took over the reins on January 1, 1975.

He has been with The European Tour for over 40 years and during this time he has been instrumental in its development, including the implementation of The Race To Dubai and The Final Series, overseeing the significant growth of The Ryder Cup, securing key TV and sponsorship agreements and helping the process which saw golf reinstated in the Olympic Games.

"I have agreed with the Board to stay not only for the time it takes to appoint a new CEO but also for sufficient additional time after that to see them properly settled in."

“It is my firm belief that, coming towards the end of what has been another incredibly successful season, we are now seeing the green shoots of recovery across Europe and I am pleased that this coincides with all our building blocks, in terms of key television and sponsorship contracts, being in place.

“I have agreed with the board to stay not only for the time it takes to appoint a new CEO but also for sufficient additional time after that to see them properly settled in. The board also agreed that, at that stage, I will take up a role as president of International Relations which will see me represent the European Tour through the Olympic Games in 2016.”

David Williams, chairman of the European Tour, commented: “On behalf of the board and all of the members of the European Tour I would like to thank George for his contribution to the European Tour and professional golf generally over the last 40 years.

“The European Tour and its players are admired throughout the world of golf and George has played a key part in building global relationships and developing the tour. He has always respected the traditions of the Tour and built on the strong foundations put in place by John Jacobs, Neil Coles and Ken Schofield.

“The tour is now embarking on a new phase in its development and that is why George has considered that it is the right time to ask the Nominations Committee to find his successor.”

Merson Critical of Arsenal Wenger

Paul Merson, the former Arsenal striker, rounded on manager Arsène Wenger on Tuesday night after his side threw away a three-goal lead in the Champions League group game with Anderlecht at the Emirates Stadium.

Goals from Mikel Arteta, Alexis Sánchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had put the north Londoners within touching distance of the knockout stages, however a second-half collapse now leaves the door open to the Belgian champions despite having earned just two points from four games.

Merson, working as a Sky Sports pundit for the Group D match, blasted Arsenal as "tactically clueless" while adding that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho would not have thrown such an, apparently unassailable, lead away.

"If I'm being honest I think they're tactically clueless. How you can be 3-0 up and attacking? This is not the first time, this happens a lot of times. It is absolutely clueless," said Merson.

"For me the manager's got to get a message on [to the players]. You're playing with international footballers, these are not little kids. These have played for their countries lots of times.

"They've played in World Cups, they've played a lot of Premier League games. They're all bombing forward. If you know football you say 'right, let's stop here. Let's have two banks of four, let's leave two up front and we'll go from there. Let them break us down.

"I bet you Jose Mourinho hasn't drawn too many games from being 3-0 up. That tells you everything."