Monday 29 July 2019

Zidane Looking for Bale Out

It’s summertime in Madrid and always a volatile time when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez ruminates over possible new signings. Or on this occasion his new manager, or the returning manager, Zinedine Zidane. These moments are often accompanied by club clear-outs which over the last few summers have seen the departure of James Rodriguez, Mesut Ozil, and Alvaro Morata – not long after returning from Juventus. All of whom followed the departure of Angel di Maria to Paris Saint German months previously. This summer has proved no different with the exit of Ceballos and the ongoing efforts to offload Gareth Bale. Zidane clearly disinterested in keeping the Welshman 

Open rumours suggest that Neymar is a possible target – although he has no buy-out clause - but cost PSG £198M when he moved from Barcelona a few seasons ago. If Neymar did arrive in Madrid, he would join a distinguished roster of his countrymen that played at the Santiago Bernabeu over the decades. Regretfully, few of whom have been outstanding during their stay, as the likes of Kaka arrived past his peak; Robinho never matured into the promising talent he was; with Ronaldo similarly arriving late in his career and not making a good account of himself beyond 2002 season. The injuries beginning to take their toll on his body. 

The most successful being Roberto Carlos and then in more recent seasons, Marcelo. Both allegedly defenders yet more devastating in attack than in their primary roles. Although Casemiro is a favourite of Zidane, in the middle of the park, it remains to be seen whether he hits it off with thee more agile players like Eden Hazard. Who is what Madrid need given the talented Luka Modric is now on the wrong side of thirty-three – and last year was facing possible prison time in Croatia. A charge which has now been cleared. 

Though an argument can be made that Neymar fits well into that left-wing spot left vacant by Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Juventus, it is Gareth Bale’s more natural position as he has been second fiddle to Cristiano for the past three seasons. The Welshman made his name at Spurs rampaging down the left flank and that was what made him attractive to Madrid and saw him debut for Wales side under John Toshack. Himself a former Real Madrid manager. 

What does seem very clear is that James Rodriguez is not making a return to the Spanish capital from Bayern Munich after his two-year loan period. With an unsettled Matteo Kovacic now moved to Chelsea’s, it leaves Karim Benzema has one of the highest buyout clauses at £886 million and not going anywhere at 30 years of age. But Zidane is keen fan on his fellow Frenchman at number 9 and so Karim won’t be leaving. As all managers find out when they arrive at Madrid the club’s commercial needs overrule the playing needs and so attacking midfielders Isco and Marco Asensio once tipped for a bright future at the Santiago Bernabeu - and have hefty release clauses. But they were on the Zidane sell list as he looks for funds to buy another Frenchman, Paul Pogba, a move proving difficult. With Asensio now seriously injured in preseason and Isco looking very fit they won move. 

The German Tony Kroos has also attracted interest from the Premier League and at 28 - with three Champions league medals and a World Cup - might feel a change might be good. But he just signed a new deal until 2020 amidst rumours that either of the Manchester clubs were keen on signing him. But Real Madrid perhaps couldn’t afford him to lose him if Perez is targeting the 2019 La Liga title. Although as a life sided player he does add to the clutter with Bale. 

Summer  transfers will be defined by the arrival of Eden Hazard, yet the former Chelsea player has yet to impress those in the Spanish capital and started pre-season notably over weight. 

Zidane is being frustrated on his return and unable to get all the purchases done as he wishes and knocking heads with Perez more than is safely recommended. They say one should never return to a place where success was tasted because it’s never the same second time around. .That deja-vu is obviously dawning on ZZ and he may find it a tougher job this time around.

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Thursday 25 July 2019

So Rory Where did it all go Wrong?

“So, George, where did it all go wrong?” asked the hotel bellboy who delivered champagne to Best’s room and found him entertaining a scantily-clad Miss World on a bed covered with his winnings from the casino the night before. The now infamous tale captures the enigma and legend that was George Best, that great footballer from Northern Ireland and Manchester United. A winner of two league titles and the European Cup (Champions League) in 1968. In a brilliant but all too brief career given that Best chose to retire at the ridiculous age of 28. With the world still at his feet. 

Best was one of a number of sporting legends to emanate from Northern Ireland and who sprung onto the world stage. Some of the fulfilling their potential and others who - like Best - did so but fell short of perhaps their true potential in the pantheon of sport. Alex Higgins did so in snooker winning world title on two occasions - albeit a decade apart – in 1972 and 1982. A flamboyant snooker player he was named Hurricane due to the speed of his play not unlike Best - in so far as alcoholism affected his life – making him a tabloid story for most of his life rather the talented snooker player he was. The total contrast to fellow countryman Denis Taylor who beat Steve Davis in 1985 and who to this day still is the steady as a BBC commentator. 

At times if seems to be the way Northern Ireland likes their sports stars if you add the names of Norman Whiteside, Darren Clarke or Eddie Irvine. However, it cannot be true algorithm when balanced with the likes of Barry McGuigan, Dame Mary Peters, or Pat Jennings. Just to name just a few. Yet it leads to the very question of where in that list will Rory Mcilroy be when he reflects on his career and the what might have been – following after another disastrous week in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills last week. A golfing wizard since his birth and a gifted at the game he probably fails to realise at times how talented he is. Given he has always been capable of doing magical things with a bag of clubs. 

That talent coined with a grit and determination of a Tiger Woods, competitiveness of Jack Nicklaus and work ethic of Arnold Palmer, McIlroy would have set greater standards. Perhaps fulfilling the promise, he showed ever since he could walk and his rapid progress through the amateur ranks, Walker Cup, Junior Ryder Cup in 2004 and then the professional game. An assumed trajectory since his arrival in 2008 that under his own terms looked as if the Holywood man would wrote his own script in the game. His first PGA Tour win at Quail Hollow in 2010 coming at the age of 21 and surprising none of those outside his immediate following. But perhaps it was the manner in which he slayed the field on that Sunday - with a final round 62 - that woke up the greater golf world. 

Then Rory’s rich promise then took him to hold the lead at the 2011 Masters for three days and head into the back nine at Augusta on that Sunday floating easily at the top of the leader board. When suddenly a rush of blood to the head saw him rip a driver from his bag and slam the ball down the left side of the tenth fairway almost out of bounds. In an instant the infallibility of youth was laid bare for all watching. A sense of tragedy brought to the three days achievements as Rory's round unfolded in front of millions. It was the Sunday that the leader of the tournament began to de-combust. The Major dream disintegrating in moment with caddie JP Fitzgerald helpless, as were Rory’s parents, Chubby and others. The day making the wrong type of history with a round of eighty strokes. 

Naturally for the next few months Rory became invisible with every manner of expert predicting a doomsday scenario following his Augusta collapse. Who could have thought otherwise about as the Green jacket leaked from within his own very grasp. A chance few golfers even see in a life time but in a game littered with names of golfers who never made it at Augusta: Lee Trevino, Peter Thompson, Greg Norman, Nick price and Ernie Els. So, no shame in that really as there were other majors to be chased. Albeit that Sunday in Augusta would make it a tougher road to travel. Then after a few months McIlroy showed up at Congressional, quietly, avoiding the spotlight, sticking to his pattern and looking up as little as possible. This was after all the first major since The Masters. 

Then with a margin of eight shots Rory McIlroy stormed the U.S. Open at record pace to become the first player to reach 13 under and the first to card a 72-hole aggregate score of 268. Beating records previously held by Jack Nicklaus at Baltusrol in 1980, Lee Janzen also at Baltusrol thirteen years later; Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000, and Jim Furyk at Olympia Fields in 2003. More importantly McIlroy became the youngest winner since Bobby Jones in 1923. In fact, by 2012, McIlroy was well-placed to match the major winning feats of Nicklaus and Woods had his own win rate not faded. Now on his way to 30 years of age next May, Rory has now slipped through a couple of seasons where he has not been in a major mix for a while. As Woods career proves, leaving all the winning to later years becomes harder when injuries start to take their toll. Already that Nicklaus major record looks unreachable for even Woods. 

Rory’s win at PGA Championship win at Kiawah Island is now six years ago, and his last major four years ago at The Open and that first title win at Quail Hollow now back further. Albeit he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this year and was Tour Championship in 2016, this weekend’s inclement weather in New York state certainly ended another major assault despite all the great preparations. The winning streak, hunger or good fortune now seems to have abandoned McIlroy and so the question is can he get it back like Woods. Although in Tiger’s case you could argue that his overbearing Father gave the young Woods a need to win that is still visible today - despite all the reconstructive surgery. In Rory’s case the natural talent doesn’t seed the same ambition or work ethic. Or at least that how it seems from this distance, 

In addition, Rory has brought on many changes for himself by needing club’s after Nike got out of the club business, a high profile fallout with his management company Horizon Sports; then a change to his long serve caddie for a friend and his recent marriage in Ashford Castle. Each one of which, in themselves would be enough to affect any golfers form in their own right by becoming added distraction. But coming together and self-infected for the most part must have affected his concentration levels. 

Which maybe the difference between being very good and the greatest – and more than just natural talent. Perhaps it takes a greater will, stringer discipline and a ferocious focus to match the greatest names in golf. So, at twenty-five years of age Rory was one of the few talents that could have filled that void when the indomitable Woods stepped back. But now that gap has been filled with the next batch such as Jordan Spieth, Brook Koepka, John Rahm. However, when McIlroy won his second golf major title at 23 years and three months, he was the fifth youngest player ever to do so in the history of the game, and joined an elite club that includes Young Tom Morris, Gene Sarazen, John McDermott and the Seve Ballesteros. One wonders whether McIlroy’s best days are behind him. 

So Rory, where did is all go wrong?

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Nicholas Roche - Profile

It is no easy task following your parents into their chosen profession. This is even more difficult if it is the exact same profession or sport. Yet the list is lengthy of young men and women who have chosen to exactly that and risk the caparisons; Jordi Cruyff electing to become professional footballer following in the footsteps of his famous father Johan; Enzo Zidane Fernandez similarly battling the shadow his Father Zidane, Conor Daly the Indy Series driver tracing his father  steps- former F1 driver - Dubliner Derek Daly. Whatever about following into another sporting discipline, the choice of pursuing the exact same discipline can only lead to unenviable comparisons. Particularly if your Father established some unrepeatable records. 

Yet such is the life of Nicholas Roche. Who was only three when he stood by his Fathers side on the Champs Elysee in 1987 when Stephen became the first Irishman to claim the Tour de France. Only months after also winning the Giro and was then to make it a treble year with the World Championship a few months after. But such is the character of Nicholas he is now the bearer of an impressive CV starting with the win Irish National Road Race and in doing so joined the family business as two of Nicolas’s uncles are former professionals while his cousin Dan Martin currently rides for UAE Team Emirates. 

Having set his mind on becoming a hotel or restaurant manager his thoughts changed n 2002 Mario Cipollini beat Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel to win the World Championship in Belgium. From that moment he wanted to make it as a professional cyclist, a decision surprised his family, who encouraged him to continue with his studies. Nicolas’s determination took him to start with French amateur club VC La Pomme in Marseille and eventually turning professional with Cofidis in 2005. His all-round ability led to French based Credit Agricole and AG2R La-Mondiale teams and still remains one of the most consistent riders in the peloton today and currently with BMC Racing. 

Roche has ridden in the Beijing Olympics, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. However, his breakthrough came in his first Tour de France in 2009 where he recorded 5 top ten stage finishes on his way to finishing 23rd overall. Over the last few years Nicolas continued to develop and in 2013 he signed for Team Saxo-Tinkoff, supporting teammate Alberto Contador. Nicholas achieved his best ever finish in a Grand Tour race, securing a top 5 position in the three-week Tour of Spain. His performance was even more impressive given he won an individual stage and became the first Irishman in 25 years to wear a race leaders jersey at a Grand Tour.

In 2014, Nicolas changed his race programme to accommodate the Giro d'Italia, which began in Ireland for the first time. The opportunity to ride a Grand Tour in front of home fans was a very special experience for Nicolas. Unfortunately, in the latter stages of the race he was involved in a crash which put an end to his chances of competing for the Overall GC. In June, he won his first stage race as a pro with an impressive performance at the Route du Sud. In July, he made his thirteenth Grand Tour start at the Tour de France. Though the team suffered a blow in the second week when Contador crashed out. In the September, Nicolas finished 5th at the Tour of Britain after which he moved to Team Sky in 2015. Proving and was an integral part of the team that aided Chris Froome to victory at the Tour de France. A month later at the Vuelta the Irish man he won stage 18 in impressive fashion.

Nico began his 2016 season with a 2nd place overall finish at the Tour de Yorkshire. Then in May he was named on Team Sky's Giro d'Italia team. In the summer, Nico won the Irish National road race and time trial championships and was subsequently selected to ride at the Olympic Games in Rio. The following tear he debuted with his new team BMC Racing and supporting of teammate of Tasmanian, Richie Porte, at the Tour de France. However, Porte’s misfortune continued and a bad crash on stage 9 end his post Sky ambitions, and so Nico was given freedom to attack in the remaining weeks of the race. In August, he lined up at the Vuelta as joint leader of BMC and the team got off to the perfect start winning the opening team time trial stage. Nico rode consistently over the remaining three weeks, which included three top 10 stage finishes en route to finishing inside the top 15 on the Overall GC. 

Full name: Nicolas Roche
Pro since 2005
Date of birth July 3, 1984
Place of birth Conflans, France
Height 5 ft 10 inch / 178 cm

2018 BMC Racing Team (WT)
2017 BMC Racing Team (WT)
2016 Team Sky (WT)
2015 Team Sky (WT)
2014 Tinkoff - Saxo (WT)
2013 Team Saxo - Tinkoff (WT)
2012 AG2R La Mondiale (WT)
2011 AG2R La Mondiale (WT)
2010 AG2R La Mondiale (WT)
2009 AG2R La Mondiale (WT)
2008 Crédit Agricole (PT)
2007 Crédit Agricole (PT)
2006 Cofidis (PT)
2005 Cofidis (PT)
2004 Cofidis (TT1) (Trainee as from 01/09)

Top results
2x stage Vuelta a España ('15, '13)
GC Route du Sud - la Depeche du Midi ('14)
Stage Tour of Beijing ('11)
5th GC Vuelta a España ('13)
2nd GC Abu Dhabi Tour ('16)
6th GC Vuelta a España ('10)
5th GC Volta Ciclista a Catalunya ('10)

1st Team Classification (BMC Racing Team), Arctic Tour of Norway
10th Stage 4, Arctic Tour of Norway
5th General Classification, Arctic Tour of Norway
10th Stage 2, Arctic Tour of Norway
1st Team Classification (BMC Racing Team), Dubai Tour

3rd General Classification, Gree-Tour of Guangxi
3rd Stage 4, Gree-Tour of Guangxi
5th Overall, Giro dell’Emilia
10th Stage 13, Vuelta a Espana
7th Stage 3, Vuelta a Espana
1st Stage 1 Team Time Trial (BMC Racing Team), Vuelta a Espana
10th Overall, Classica Ciclista San Sebastian
6th Stage 15, Tour de France
4th Stage 8, Tour de France
4th Road Race, Irish National Championships
2nd Individual Time Trial, Irish National Championships
1st Stage 1 Team Time Trial (BMC Racing Team), Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana