Nani might just have good reason to celebrate his chances en-route to the throne of the biggest diver in world football given his recent displays, but he’ll have big shoes to fill if he manages a successful swipe of the crown; as I hear Ronaldo’s boot size is a 13.5.
While I usually shy away from picking on individual players when it comes to certain aspects of the game of football, one of the few exclusions to the rule happens to be on the issue of diving. A little history before I start taking names though. Diving, also conveniently refferred to as simulation by individuals that would prefer to hide from the truth that this has been a part of the game of Football for decades by giving it a fancy modern sounding name, is a phenomena that has become increasingly prevalent within the game at club and national levels especially in the last decade. While techniques tend to differ from national team to national team, the idea of exaggerating the contact recieved from a member of the opposing team seems to be a relatively universal phenomena. The Italians in particular have produced fine stock that have managed over time to fine tuned this aspect of the game into a near art form with plenty of Oscar worthy acting jobs that got them ahead even if the Italian National team lost out in the long run more World Cups than not. While there is no doubt on the subject of whom the best divers in World Football are on an international team level, the real masters of the dark art that tend to shine on an individual level seem to no longer be able to hold on as tightly to their crown of ‘Biggest Diver in World Football’ than before. Reigns on the throne seem to have gone from being remembered in years to now mere months as there seems to be someone better out there on a near weekly basis, trying to unseat his highness with one even more desperate attempt at getting a free-kick or penalty he never deserved, than the next.

I thought FIFA took a step in the right direction by adding a rule in a few years ago to make simulation a punishable offence. To be honest, for a few months thereafter, everything seemed to be right in the world of football until the game was confronted with the problem of what to do when an International Superstar that promotes the game globally decides to go to ground every time the crowd chants too hard. Its good for the sanctity of the sport for him to get a yellow card, but its not good for the game in terms of the big bucks and advertising revenue to see him get sent off. So instead referees have decided to not give a foul in certain situations, but not book for simulation either. As to what the hell that is supposed to mean, in terms of the decision they have just made, I’d like an answer. Most referees will tell you they didn’t see the incident clearly enough to make a call either way, but thats flawed logic if I’ve ever heard it when one cares to look at the macro view of the officiating system for a second. If the guy went to ground, either the man marking him put him there or he put himself there. Its that simple. If you can’t see things clearly enough four and five times a game, how are you representing a federation that insists instant replay isn’t necessary because it would taint the game? How do you go to bed at night knowing that you don’t have the courage to take a strong stand against a serious evil that is plaguing the game? What the heck is the point of the 4th official and two assistant referees that are getting paid good money if they can’t tell you what happened? Aren’t all of the individuals on the officiating team being paid good money to make tough decisions?

The real truth is that it isn’t really the referees whom at at fault in the first place, its the players that need to be whipped into shape by their managers, many of whom are irresponsibly promoting this kind of ‘take a dive to win the match’ attitude which is despicable. I think that as much as managers might try to hide their true feelings on the subject with the public, their discussions with their players in the locker room are definitely influencing players behavior on the pitch in the long run. A classic example of this would be analyzing whom has taken the throne of ‘biggest diver in world football’ over the last few years. Lets start with Louis Figo who was a downright shameful diver. He passed the crown safely to one Franchesco Totti who got exactly what he deserved when Australia booted Italy out of the 2002 World Cup and didn’t have a legitimate penalty given. Lets call it Karma. Totti passed the baton onto a young Christiano Ronaldo who is now struggling to hold on with an advancing Nani trying to end his reign prematurely. Two Manchester United players, both from the same era, one flopping around in the La Liga the other in the EPL. If you don’t believe that there is a co-relation between Manchester United stars and diving as of late then you are either too big a Red Devil fan to be honest with yourself or are just simply blind. Which brings me to the problem larger than managerial instruction and tutalage in the art of diving. The fans.

Yes you. That I am a Milan fan made the 2-0 loss to Real Madrid in the champions league earlier this year tough I admit, but I like to think I can be objective and recognize good football when I see it. Christiano Ronaldo went to ground so incredibly easily in the 3rd minute of the game, that I thought he would be sent off for sure. Prior to the 2 goals being scored, I took the liberty of asking the Real Madrid fan sitting next to me, a first team member at Karachi United no less and clearly a man who knows a thing or two about the game of football, as to why Ronaldo has to dive left right and center if he is such a talent. Why such a huge difference between his track record on the subject and say Messi to whom he is regularly compared by any remaining non-believers. To which I received the response, “Yeah well the thing is, Ronaldo trips over his own feet and he gets confused because thinks someone brought him down”. My exact response to that statement isn’t fit for print media. Simply put though this, is the biggest problem in World Football. Not players diving, not managers coaching them to, but fans actually making pathetic excuses for their self proclaimed demi-god heroes on the pitch. Fans actually condone and overlook simulation which allows the trickle down effect to make it okay for managers to tell players to dive, for referees to look the other way and yes inevitably for players to dive.

The sad truth is that real football enthusiasts don’t stand a chance of setting the record straight on this subject because they will always be outnumbered by a band of jersey buying, bumper car sticker sporting bunch of band wagoners that really don’t care about the greater good of the sport because all they want to see if their team win. Football has turned into a heavily commercialized numbers game where World Cup votes are sold for ‘personal projects’ and some of the most talented players in the world are tempted to dive to get ahead. The only possible way out of this mess in my mind is video replay technology and while I too am a purist to a degree, my logic is simple you need to be able to expose fraudulent behavior one way or the other if the current method isn’t particularly effective and people are taking advantage of the system. Lets just hope they implement video replay technology in our lifetime else the so called purity of football that is being guarded by not introducing it might just become tainted beyond repair.

Advertisements

These three men have more in common than you would ever believe.

For those of you that had the pleasure of watching Real Madrid take on AC Milan at the San Siro mid-week, I can say with some certainty that no one had their money on Fillipo Inzaghi scoring a quick fire double at the ripe old age of 37 against a squad worth some 300 Million Euros.

What made the night even more significant was the fact that the two goals scored against Real Madrid put Fillipo Inzaghi into the position of top goal scorer in all European Competitions with 72 goals above German legend Gerd Muller and none other than former Real Madrid captain Raul who left the club earlier this year. It also co-incidentally pushed the total number of goals scored by Inzaghi for AC Milan to the highest ever in the clubs history with a whopping 125 goals. Surpassing none other than Dutch genius Marco Van Basten who stands on 124 goals for the club.

This list of the three top scorers in European Competitions tends to come as a surprise to even the most seasoned of football fans. What is even more shocking is the number of similarities in their careers. The recipe for success it would seems to consist of five major ingredients.

I. Success comes to those who don’t hop from club to club

One thing is for certain. The lure of a better contract at another club and thinking with your bank book won’t make you one of the most prolific strikers in the world if the top three in Europe mentioned earlier didn’t get there by luck alone. Gerd Muller, Raul Gonzalez and Inzaghi all seem to have commitment to their respective clubs as their highest priority. Muller remained at Bayern Munich over the great majority of his career. Raul was a product of the Real Madrid system and was one of the greatest captains the club had the pleasure of handing the armband to, he spent his entire career with Real until his recent departure at the hands of Jose Mourinho. Inzaghi moved from Napoli to AC Milan and never looked back. Having spent over 10 years with the club now at the age of 37, he turned down countless offers from some of the best clubs in the world to remain at AC Milan. Players that don’t change their allegiance every time their contract is about to expire seem to thrive, especially strikers and quite frankly I wish that idea made more sense to this generation of footballers.

II. Being technical or quick hasn’t got much to do with being a goal scoring machine

You don’t need to be able to pull off a step over with the grace that Lionel Messi does or have the 100 meter dash speed that Theo Walcott can clock in his sleep to be one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time in Europe. That seems to be the case with the most successful trio at least. Muller wasn’t known for his speed, Raul was one of the slowest strikers to play for Real Madrid and Izaghi wasn’t exactly Usain Bolt. In fact, when Raul was still in his youth, one of the major criticisms he faced was he was too slow to play up front and perhaps even too slow to play top flight football. Now tied first for all time scoring in European Championships is more than enough to have silenced the critics one would think.

As for technical ability, Muller was probably the most gifted of the three and although plenty of people would be surprised to hear it, it is a coin toss between Inzaghi and Raul in terms of whom was more technically gifted. I say this because as a die hard AC Milan fan over the years, casual observers of the man they call Super Pippo rarely saw the dozens of goals he struck in an offside position only to be informed that the goal would be ruled void. A great example of Inzaghi’s arsenal of technical abilities would be the half volley he smashed in past Julio Caesar in AC Milans home leg against Inter Milan in 2008. Which probably would have been one of the most significant goals of his career were it not ruled offside, that too incorrectly as fate would have it. So there is plenty of Inzaghi that doesn’t make the highlight reels that I am substantiating my stance on. This is not to say that the most successful trio in striking history were devoid of any technical skill whatsoever, each definitely possessed a fair level of technical ability, but nothing outstanding in that department if compared to individuals like Lionel Messi, Allesandro Del Piero or the ever popular Brazilian, Ronaldo.

No more than average technical ability and no speed required to be one of the best. None of this sounds right at all does it?


III. Strength and Height are over rated

The title says it all. In stark comparison to the Zalatan Ibrahimovich’s and Peter Crouchs of this world, none of the three most prolific goal scorers in Europe are particularly tall. Raul is 5″10, Inzaghi is 5″11 and Muller was only 5″9. Thats three dwarfs in a sea of giants, especially when you put the average height of defenders in the modern game into perspective. It is the same in terms of strength, which is a quality none of the members of that trio are known for compared with individuals like Adriano, Clarence Seedorf or Didier Drogba.

I know what your thinking. You could have been a prolific striker had you known you already met these requirements earlier right?

How height can largely be discounted and strength somewhat, is explained best by the way in which these three scored the great majority of their goals.


IV. The best in the business let their feet do the talking

Muller, Inzaghi and Raul all used their head to score goals sparingly. The overwhelming majority of their goals actually came in open play and almost none of them were the product of dead ball situations other than the odd penalty they took. Which is almost impossible to believe given the importance of heading the ball well especially in the modern game. That they were mostly scored in open play actually further vindicates their position in the pecking order when it comes to strikers in Europe, in that they had to work the hardest the get to where they got and deserve their record beyond a shadow of a doubt.


V. Hard work trumps pure talent, not forgetting lady luck

With less than stellar technical ability, less than significant height, little to no dead ball opportunities and forgettable speed, how did these three manage to overcome so many disadvantages? The answer is plain ol’ hard work and hunger to score goals. To those of us that have been fortunate enough to have seen these men in action week in and week out, it would make perfect sense. Raul was fortunate enough to have an incredible midfield to back him, as were Izaghi and Muller but the truth is that they were all known for being incredibly persistent in front of goal. So much so that in an interview with Inzaghi after his second champions league victory with Milan, he was asked about whether he thinks his persistence pays off in the long run, he responded by saying that if he was offside 30 times during a match, he would assume that after a while even the lines mans arm would be too tired to lift the flag on his next attempt to score.

Raul was known for setting the bar in terms of focus during training at Real Madrid, which was well appreciated and recognized by David Beckham who is known for the same. So hard work and persistence seems to be able to overcome every single potential deterrent to trying your hand at becoming the next star striker, the only thing they all have in common happens to be their luck on the pitch in terms of not having sustained serious injuries during the course of their career. This translated into more playing time and as a result of which one would think, more opportunities to put the ball at the back of the net.

So there you have it, the recipe for success. Start training at a young age. You don’t have to worry about being incredibly fast, naturally gifted, strong or tall. You just need to work hard, not get greedy, hope you don’t get injured and devote the majority of your career to just one club. Whether or not this generation of delicate players who think largely with their bank accounts instead of their hearts, remains yet to be seen.

Because sometimes being able to take that hairpin in Monte Carlo just one more time is more important than where you get to stand on the podium

 

 

Four names in the world of sport have captivated the headlines over the last 10 years with respect to their decisions to return to their chosen fields. Micheal Jordan, Zinadine Zidane, Micheal Schumacher and Justine Henin.

While each has got a mixed response and some comebacks have already ended in what might have seemed tragic circumstances, I think most sports fans think too selfishly of themselves, instead of putting themselves in the shoes of the legends of sport that choose to return.

For many of these demi-gods of sport that choose to return, there can be no doubt that they have one thing in common, they all want to come back to their respective sport and win. However, scratch beneath the surface and most sports fans will realize that winning isn’t necessarily their primary motivation for returning. Their primary motivation is an undying love for the sport that they excel in and a feeling of utter helplessness when they prematurely exit from it. I get the feeling not every fan realizes that, in fact the great majority don’t from the kinds of reactions the aforementioned individuals received and still get in popular media as some of their come-back stories unfold.

A few things that are often overlooked by the average fan that has already elevated their sports hero to demi-God status, need to be put into full perspective to appreciate what it takes to return at a late stage in a sports personalities career.


I. The battle for fitness

At forty something, if you think taking on a couple of G’s of force with every single turn Micheal Schumacher rolls through is just as easy for him as when he was in his twenties, guess again. The battle for getting back into top form only gets harder as the years roll by and while experience peaks at a certain level for all intents and purposes, it is impossible to roll back the clock on your bodily condition. Unless of course your name is Alessandro Del Piero in which case you are somehow exempt from this rule.

The fight to get back into shape is such a huge mountain to climb that subjecting yourself to a yet another full year of grueling punishment is often cited as the single biggest deterrent to most players coming out of retirement. That Zinedine Zidane could dance around players in his mid-thirties at the 2006 World Cup, should be seen as an achievement in and of itself.

That Justine Henin could just pick up a tennis racket and make it back to the finals of a Grand Slam with just 3 months of training after over a year away from the sport, shouldn’t be possible. The battle to get back into shape is indeed worthy of our praise and admiration. Something that we often neglect when judging our favorite athletes on their comebacks.

 

II. The mental toughness required to push yourself towards further success

When the media asked Micheal Jordan which one of his titles meant the most to him, he said it was his sixth and final title in 1997. Surprising, because it seemed the easiest of his six to attain owing to a lack of competition in the league at the time. Not to mention the fact that Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and Tony Kukoc were all veterans by the time win number six rolled around, giving ‘Big Mike’ less responsibility to shoulder. The reason Micheal Jordan cited his 1997 championship win as his most significant was an insight into the mind of a successful athlete.

After 2 Gold Medals at the Olympics, 5 MVP Awards, 6 MVP Finals awards and anything else you could imagine, motivating yourself to win something you’ve already won multiple times is one of the hardest feats an athlete comes up against. Put into perspective, that makes perfect sense. Waking up knowing that you are a legend of the sport you are still playing, that somewhere a placard with your name on it has already been prepared for future placement in the hall of fame, that you have reached the pinnacle in terms of achievement of whatever your respective sport has to offer you and for some stupid reason you are working your backside off on a near daily basis to win the same awards all over again?

With the mental aspect of the sports we watch usually put on the back burner in terms of importance, as we are usually glued to the physical feats before performed in front of us, any sports fan would be advised to consider the mental aspect of the sport they watch and realize, there is often a far greater battle being fought in the minds of athletes with themselves rather than the players around them.
III. Risking Leaving Behind More Regrets Than The Last Time You Retired

Ironically, it seems that fans of every sport are either in denial or are completely oblivious on this particular front. Sports writers and the media the world over often harp on and on about how coming back to the sport would tarnish a particular athletes legacy if they didn’t come back and dominate. The individuals we revere that are contemplating a return to a sport in which they have dominated, do not seem to think on the same wavelength as fans when it comes to the reasons why they want to come back. For champions that decide to come back for one last tour of duty, it is a personal decision that is usually borne from a premature exit from the sport of their choice, not from the perspective of wanting to have achieved some championship or goal but purely because they have not got the sport out of their system yet. Herein lies a rarely exposed dichotomy.

Fans watch their favorite players to escape from their rather ordinary lives, these players perform feats of brilliance for which they are afforded near demi-god status. On the other hand, players entered the game in the first place not just because they were talented but because that happened to be their passion. Once you’ve won everything that there is to win, yes as a player one would imagine that you have competitive instinct flowing through your veins, but winning at that point is trumped by being given a chance to be part of the sport you are beginning to fall in love with all over again. Which explains why players aren’t deterred from coming back to the sports they love even if it means they might not win. The legacy of a true champion and defender of ones sport is therefore, less important than being given the privilege of being invited to play just one more time.

 

I hope that the average fan, gives these factors some serious thought before they issue a tirade over whether or not it was a good idea for their idol to return for one last hoorah. Maybe we should be a little more grateful for what our heroes gave us in years gone by instead of judging their legacy based on what they do during the last twenty minutes of their 2nd tenure, after all if we applied the same standard that we do with plenty of our heroes that return to Zidane, we would all consider him a head-butting villain. Something that none of us in our right minds should do! Perhaps we should be affording the same consideration to our other heroes that decide to don their kits and pick up their weapons one last time.

Well, it certainly isn’t business as usual in Spain. Last year, between them Barcelona and Real Madrid amassed a “****ing barbaric” total of points (according to Barca coach Pep Guardiola) – 62 wins from 76 games between them, and their nearest rivals (Valencia) 25 points behind.

This year, with five games played, Barca have already been beaten at home by lowly (but heroic) Hercules, and Madrid have been held to nil-nil draws by Mallorca and the most unlikely of resistors, Levante. Valencia, meanwhile, have streaked ahead with four wins and a draw; Unai Emery’s men have played fast, organised attacking football, scoring goals at will and piercing defences with a combination of tactics and speed. You’d hardly be able to tell that they lost their two’ best’ players in the summer break: David Villa to Barcelona, and David Silva to Man City. Then again, Valencia’s success should not surprise many. With Ever Banega marshalling the midfield (currently injured, though), and the finishing and skill of Juan Mata and Joaquin (who is now finally delivering on the promise he showed at Real Betis all those years ago), not to mention Pablo Hernadez and Aduriz’s  renewed form, Valencia have been firing in all the major areas. The question, of course, is whether they can keep it up for 38 games..

Mourinho, meanwhile, is still settling in at Real Madrid. Tinkering with the system, firing volleys at all and sundry, and just generally being Mourinho, he’s so far failed to get the team to mesh well together. His system against Auxerre (in the Champions League mid-week) was, frankly, bizarre, with both Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra on the pitch, but with Diarra pushed up along with Khedira (who looked like he was, to put not too fine a point on it, just a bit lost. As if he’d just nipped out to grab a sandwich, and suddenly found himself on a football pitch in central France). Ozil, though, has been a revelation, slotting into a attacking midfield playmaker role, just behind the strikers, feeding whichever of Higuain, Benzema or Ronaldo happens to be in a free position. Ozil is not quite Xavi; he is more of a young Kaka – controlling the play in the area 20-yards from goal, delivering defence-piercing passes and making himself available. Ronaldo, though, has been shooting as if he’s got spot-bets going on the side. Last year, he, together with Higuain, saved Real from difficult situations by showing pieces of extravagant individual skill. This year, under Mourinho, the Real project is to build a side that works: one that wins by judgment, not luck. Ronaldo and Benzema in particular need to realise this, and find their place.

Barcelona have looked . . . well, like Barcelona, to be honest. Beautiful. Sublime. But now, unlike two years ago, also fallible. No better illustration of this than Hercules’ trip to the Camp Nou, where they came away with a, it must be said, deserved 2-0 win over the champions. Hercules played the Inter (and Chelsea) strategy of defeating the formidable Barca 4-3-3-high pressing-possession-attackingfullbacks-game: narrow the pitch by concentrating defenders and defensive midfielders in the middle of the park, giving Barca the wings and possession, and attacking on the counter when Barca have overcommitted and lose possession through a mistake (also capitalising on diagonal balls into the box . . Barca has, for some reason, never been good at dealing with those).
Against Atletico, who are traditionally a bit of a bogey-team for Barca, though, Guardiola managed to pull of a tactical masterpiece. And it’s all down to Sergio Busquets, who has proved that he is not quite as useless as I had initially thought. Busquets now plays the Yaya Toure role, but instead of the previous system, where the defensive midfielder would only slot back when defending, he now plays as part of almost a 3-CB system, with Puyol going left and Pique going right . . . allowing the full backs (Maxwell and Alves) to work more as wingbacks. This creates almost a 3-4-1-2 system, with Messi and Villa as roaming strikers and Pedro playing off them on the right. For a much better, full description of this set-up, read this excellent post by Zonal Marking. [In related news, I recently tweeted Jonathan Wilson asking why more European teams don’t play this 3-4-1-2 system. To my utter astonishment and joy, he responded: because it doesn’t make sense to have three at the back against single striker formations. Against Atletico, though, Barca’s modified 4-3-3/3-4-3 seemed to work, even when they didn’t have the ball – the key to this is in Busquet’s versatility and in Xavi and Iniesta being able to marshal the midfield on their own, without needing a third ‘pivot’ point. It also allows you to defend in ‘bands’, much like Mexico at this World Cup] Read the rest on Zonal Marking, who has summed up my thoughts far better than I could hope to.

So what happens through the rest of the season? Expect Mourinho to figure out a formula that works for Madrid fairly quickly. Barca need to address their traditional weaknesses, though, of not dealing with cross-balls into the box at head height, and not having much of a plan B. Againt Kazan midweek (in the Champions League), you could seem them settling into familiar passing patterns, but with a packed central defence, sometimes the option of going for the habitual pass to the open wide fullback was the wrong option . . . Barca, after all, now have no tall Ibrahimovic to cross the ball to, when other gaps fail to materialise.

Sergio Busquets, pictured celebrating the fact that The Offside Trap
no longer thinks he is utterly useless.

– el kapitan

Diego Maradona would rather the world stop turning if he weren’t the center of the universe for Argentinian Football.

The buzz on the streets of Buenos Aires has come full circle since the start of the World Cup. Everyone seems to be talking about Diego Maradona yet again. A country obsessed with one man that won them a World Cup. Were I president of the A.F.A (Argentine Football Association) I wouldn’t be getting such great sleep these days with the impending task of choosing a new manager for the national side.

We all probably remember that Diego Maradona was denied a 4 Year contract extension immediately after the World Cup owing to his unwillingness to budge on the subject of key members of his back room staff. Particularly long time assistants Alejandro Mancuso and Hector Enrique, whom  the A.F.A didn’t get along particularly well with. Faced with the objections of just two members of his staff, Maradona in yet another moment of madness, decided to stand his ground and refused to replace them or to budge on the issue altogether.

Then the unthinkable happened. The President of the A.F.A Julio Grondona actually showed some backbone when the A.F.A decided that Maradona’s contract would not be extended since he refused to accommodate their demands. Pele must have busted out his favorite samba moves to the tune of that news byte, having come to the conclusion that the final nail in the coffin of Diego Maradona’s career in football was now over.

Legacy intact, Pele and the great majority of the South American continent went to sleep content that they wouldn’t ever have to entertain the possibility of Maradona running across a football pitch with the golden trophy of dreams gleaming under the spotlights as he ran, in what would have seemed like an eternity. Love him or hate him, lets face it we all had our own personalized rendition of what that would have looked like once his side got to the knock out stage of this last World Cup in nothing short of dominant form.

That being the case, I wonder what went through Pele’s mind this last week when Diego Maradona dropped a bombshell on the Argentine press literally begging the A.F.A for the head coaching job back minus the bravado and pre-conditions he was so adamant on before. Having asserted itself to be a strong institution not willing to succumb to the demands of its national heroes the A.F.A are now in a bigger hole than the one they thought they’d dug themselves out of when they refused Maradona the first time around. Murphy’s Law appears to be in full force for the football troubled nation once again.

The reason the A.F.A are in a bigger hole than they were before, is because in the immediate aftermath of Diego’s tantrum and on the back of a 4-0 spanking at the hands of Germany in the quarter finals, none other than Sergio Batista took the reigns of the national side becoming the Argentinian provisional head coach.  Batista is still  remembered by many as a footballing legend in his own right and ironically was a long time team mate of Maradona playing along side him on the Argentinian national team during their illustrious careers.

No one knew what to expect from Batista and quite frankly I don’t think anyone really expected much, but after just two games in charge, Batista’s selections saw victories over Ireland and even World Cup winners Spain by a three goal margin on the 7th of September 2010 in what was a friendly in all but name. Leaving plenty of Argentina’s faithful holding their heads, left to think long and hard about whether they sent the wrong team to the World Cup or the wrong man to lead them.

The question on everyones lips now has to be what the A.F.A will do next. Sandwiched between the legacy of one of the greatest players the game ever saw and Sergio Batista who has delivered success against the freshly crowned champions of the world, I don’t think anyone envies the men sitting in the A.F.A’s headquarters these days.

In the next few weeks, as the situation in Argentina unfolds like a melodramatic latin soap opera, don’t be too surprised if events follow the usual soap plot lines. A marriage to a man she didn’t want and having to live with until she could no longer stand the shame of his poor management of his affairs dishonoring the family name and a messy divorce to follow. Lets hope we aren’t looking at the situation in a few weeks drawing parallels because if that is how things go, I just want to say Argentina, sweetheart. You deserve better.

Pakistan’s Sherlock Homes or another jester trying to usurp the court?

We all know the story of how three cricketers might or might not have made fools of Pakistan in their potential pursuit of riches. We also know that the chairman of the PCB made an incredibly serious accusation in anger that might have cost the country the next few years of international cricket. We might or might not also think that all of the aforementioned individuals are the worst thing that ever happened to the nation, wondering why Suo Moto Notice has not been taken of the issue already. We might or might not be being too sarcastic for our own good.

Now try to digest this part, everything mentioned in the paragraph above is absolutely and totally irrelevant. The most pressing matter at hand is not to tend to what DID happen, it happens to be making some tough decisions regarding what NEEDS to now happen with the past firmly behind us in our minds. Having thought about the issue extensively, I’d like to share with the nation a potential four point strategy any portion of which I would welcome decision makers to use if they should see it fit.

#1 – Show the world that Pakistan does not support institutions or leaders that make outrageous and potentially reputation damaging claims without having credible evidence or facts to base those claims.

How I’d do it: Issue a formal notice to Mr. Ijaz Butt explaining that the board is incredibly disappointed that he with held information on the subject of the English team participating in match fixing until after the fact, which is against the mandate of the ICC and its participating institutions in the first place. Then ask him to share the proof with the PCB for verification prior to it being forwarded to the ICC and appropriate officials. Failing to do so would result in his termination from the PCB within a period of 30 days which he has to submit the evidence, since failing to provide evidence would suggest that he used his position in the PCB as a platform to commit slander against the ECB.

Why this is so important: Why? Because Pakistan is not a nation of match fixing cheats that don’t respect other countries and their cricket boards. Some Pakistani’s might be match fixing cheats and others might not respect other cricket boards, but that is not an accurate reflection of the remaining 149 million+ Pakistani’s out there. Something which no one will realize unless you hold the culprits accountable.

#2 – If a politically neutral international body like the ICC finds the players guilty, ban them for life.

How I’d do it: I’d just do what the collective conscious of the country has been clamoring for since 1947, a sense of justice. Except this time, I’d actually muster up enough courage to effectively follow through on it and would definitely ban these individuals from participating in local cricket as well. Indefinitely.

Why this is so important: So that the nation sends a strong message to its playing representatives in that playing for Pakistan is a closely guarded privilege not a God given right after you have handed over enough money in a manila envelope to some selectors Uncles, nephews best friend for that one year they managed to remain in college together before getting collectively booted out. The nations citizens can only make heroes of individuals it genuinely respects, not thieves. Banning them for life IF they are guilty sends that message loud and clear.

#3 – In the event that the ICC does indeed ban Pakistan from International Cricket

What I’d do: Accept their decision and not cry about it in any fashion whatsoever.

Why this is so important: Two reasons, firstly it sends a clear message to any other nation out there cheating that they too will be held accountable. Since the whole world thinks the rest of the world is cheating at cricket, Pakistan would be restored in a flash if a few others were proven to be frauds as well. Allowing us to find out once and for all if it is only Pakistan committing these sins. Not to mention it would be a rare show of humility for Pakistan to accept a decision that affects the nation for the greater good of the sport globally.

Secondly, because South African cricket developed considerably during the period of time it was cut off from the rest of the world owing to the cardinal sin it committed by promoting apartheid. There is a time and place for everything and maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for the game to develop internally a little better if the nations external cricketing opportunity were non-existent. It would definitely give the selection committee post ban jitters, knowing that the most capable cricketers in the country are well known to every person that follows local leagues and any inconsistencies in terms of choosing the best talent would be tough.

#4 – Give the media and population that cares an oppertunity to put their money where their mouth is in terms of selection

How I’d do it: I’d set up a non-affiliated body that invited well known sports writers and ex-Pakistan Team players that won something significant during their careers to choose three players for each tour. This might sound like the most impractical suggestion in the world, but its not because a working model of a far more complex system in sports already exists on the other end of the Atlantic in the United States.For those of you not familiar with it, college football in the United States is ranked not by wins and losses but by historic head to head records that are crunched through a computer model and an opinion poll asking every college football team coach in the nation along with members of the associated press as to whom they think are the top 25 teams in football.

Why It’s Important: The system isn’t perfect, but it works well enough where the entire sports community gets their say and no one can blame the teams for their performances because they were put in that position by the same critics that get paid to publish stories about the game. Similarly, if such a system was devised here in Pakistan, the press and population couldn’t do much but blame themselves for their poor choices. Before you go off and kill the idea, don’t forget that when a guy named Bill Gates told a board full of the greatest minds of the time that the future was a bunch of simultaneous tasks running in an operating system called windows, they laughed at him. Yet, you are reading this article using his very idea to load this page.

Conclusion

If we are going to affect positive change in Pakistan’s institutions then we need to be ready to take unprecedented steps since we all accept that previous measures have not had the desired effect. However lets focus on future strategy instead of crying over spilled milk.

A lion hearted Champion of the sport with a conscious.


Will We Ever Witness Another Talent like Ronnie O’Sullivan Again?

The answer to that question is a very definite ‘No’ in my mind.

First, we need to put Ronnie O’Sullivan’s career into perspective. World No.1 ranked player five times, won the World Championships three times and has won an incredible twenty two rankings titles in his career so far. Last but not least, second on the list of all time competitive match century breaks at a whopping six hundred and five, second only to the much loved legend of the game Stephen Hendry.

While there has been a lot of hot talk about whom the greatest player in Snooker really is between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry, two events in the recent past should have all but put any lingering doubts to bed.

The first was after Stephen Hendrys shocking loss to O’Sullivan in the semi-finals of the 2008 888.com World Championships, where Stephen Hendry went up 4-1 on frames only to be beaten for 12 straight frames thereafter. At one point Hendry was forced to remain glued to his seat while Ronnie “The Rocket” O’Sullivan scored an incredible 448 unanswered points. All credit should go to Stephen Hendry who immediately applauded and recognized O’Sullivan’s achievement going so far as to say that O’Sullivan was the greatest talent the game had ever seen hands down. A view that was further supported by Steve Davis, another legend of the game who now commentates for the BBC on snooker events worldwide and is nothing short of an authority on the game.

The second event that will remind us that Ronnie O’Sullivan is second to none took place at the World Championships at Glasgow just a few days ago. Three balls into the frame, O’ Sullivan sought clarification as to what the purse was for a perfect game of 147. Some will call this utter audacity and an embarrassment to the sponsors but I see it as the most transparent show of self-confidence in a sport since Babe Ruth pointed to the stands behind center field in the 1932 World Series, a declaration that he would hit a home run right up the middle and out of the park on the next pitch, which he did.

I see the world through the lens of probabilities when it comes to sporting feats and one slug out of the park is a lot easier than declaring you are about to make  thirty plus consecutive shots without a mistake. Simply put, Ronnie O’ Sullivan’s declaration was the greatest single show of belief in ones talent I have ever seen in my life. What happened next though, was somehow even better.

Having reached 140 with only the black ball to pot. O’Sullivan left the ball on the table and went over to shake his competitors hand, in effect giving up a perfect game. He cited the fact that there wasn’t enough money involved as an incentive for him to pot the black, which he later did after he was guilted into it by the referee but I think there was far more going on than met the eye of the average fan.

In my personal opinion, O’ Sullivan was taking the opportunity of having caught the lime light to highlight the subject of a lack of monetary incentives to players in the modern game of snooker. In doing so, he has sent a strong message to sponsors urging them to come up with funds so as not to embarrass themselves in the future.

Whether or not he will be successful in his crusade is relevant, that he used a moment that should have been about him and transformed it into a moment to try and benefit the well being of every professional snooker player world wide is probably his careers greatest accomplishment. Nothing that any other player has done in the history of the game has sent such a clear message of a champions affection for the sport he plays and the games ultimate best interest over his own.

While Ronnie O’ Sullivan is on a roll, I urge sports fans globally that have not had the chance to fully experience Ronnie at the snooker table to take a few minutes out of their day this week to watch a few of his matches at the World Championships or at the very least re-live the memories with him potting the fastest 147 of all time in the link below. I can guarantee it won’t be time you’d ever want back, because as far as I’m concerned there will never be another Ronnie O’ Sullivan. Ever.

Ronnie O’ Sullivan – Fastest 147 Break in The History of Professional Snooker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McThDshEgU0