Sport

How do you solve a problem like Di Maria?

First off, let me stress that the imminent signing of Real Madrid’s Angel di Maria by Manchester United is not a problem; this headline was just too tempting not to go with.

And B), the idea of this piece is to discuss the many ways that Louis van Gaal may look to fit the world class Argentine into his until now beleaguered and win-less United side.

The argument amongst football fans, of the Manchester United inclined mostly, has been how does this winger fit into a formation that doesn’t use proper wingers? We’re talking about van Gaal’s 3-5-2 formation here, the one that utilises two wing-backs, two central midfielders, and then a ‘number 10’ behind two main strikers. 

Therein lies the first problem, and it’s nothing to do with where di Maria fits in, it’s that most people don’t realise that di Maria’s best season at Real Madrid (last season) saw him play in central midfield beside Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso. Not unlike when Alex Ferguson shifted Ryan Giggs into central midfield after Paul Scholes’ career was threatened through an eye injury, Carlo Ancelotti moved Angel di Maria central and gave Real a lot more vigour and pace in central areas. This of course was Ancelotti’s answer to accommodating three wingers into the side in Ronaldo, di Maria and new signing Gareth Bale.

While Giggs ‘did a job’ for United there when necessary, di Maria made the position his own and was arguably Real Madrid’s second best player behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the last two seasons, and certainly last season. In the Champions League Final in Lisbon in May, when Bale, Ronaldo and Benzema didn’t show up, it was di Maria that took the game by the scruff of the neck, causing panic in the Atléti defence.

‘Versatility’ can be a dirty word in football these days, but di Maria’s Real tenure showed that the player didn’t just “do a job” in each position he occupied, á la an ageing Ryan Giggs, but he showed he was world class in each position, whether it be on the right wing, from the left, playing off the striker or playing deeper in a central midfield role.

At Manchester United, he will absolutely be occupying these same positions whenever necessary. 

Louis van Gaal, while utilising this 3-5-2 formation since the beginning of the World Cup, has always favoured 4-3-3 whenever he has the personnel at his disposal. At United, having so many capable strikers and few top class wingers, he has started the season with the former formation, though, as he suggested a month ago, he would use the latter formation should he have “a world class winger like Ronaldo or di Maria”.

Will he start di Maria wide right, with promising youngster and heir to Ryan Giggs’ iconic number 11 shirt, Adnan Januzaj, playing wide left? This would seem a very sensible option, but then what about the problem or picking Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie? Surely van Gaal must play both? Rooney, the player dividing opinion most amongst United fans, is now the club captain and dropping him would seem a surprising decision. Dropping van Persie? Not a chance. Not only is the flying Dutchman LVG’s pet but he’s Manchester United’s only true world class player, at least he was before Angel di Maria signed.

If a 4-3-3 is to be utilised, I can see van Gaal trying to use Wayne Rooney in a deep-lying attacking midfielder role just ahead of Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher (assuming United don’t sign up Arturo Vidal or Nigel de Jong late in the window). But what about Juan Mata? Mata can’t be played on the wing, and can’t be played in a deep midfield role as some have suggested. His only position, unless his immense talents are to be wasted is behind the striker or ‘in the hole’, where Rooney could play also. It will end up being one or the other in terms of either Rooney or van Persie, or Rooney or Mata, should LVG decided to go 4-3-3.

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Possible 4-3-3 formation?

If van Gaal decides to stick with 3-5-2, and it’s highly likely given current personnel, especially in defensive positions, then I would think it comes down to di Maria and Mata vying for that key central position. Again, neither can play in the base two central midfield roles, and while di Maria played deeper at times for Real Madrid, he did so with two other world class central midfielders never far away to cover him. 

The ‘5’ in the 3-5-2 would most likely, at least in my mind, be Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Darren Fletcher, Angel di Maria and Luke Shaw, with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie up front. Di Maria could also be utilised up front beside a front man in this formation, the way in which Arjen Robben did so effectively for Holland during the World Cup. 

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Possible 3-5-2 formation with everyone fit.

And let’s be honest, the likelihood of Manchester United having the luxury of picking from Angel di Maria, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Adnan Januzaj all at once on a regular basis is slim. Before Sunday’s draw at Sunderland for instance, you had to go back to March for the last time Rooney and van Persie last started a game together. Just look at Manchester City’s current attacking options in Aguero, Jovetic, Negredo and Dzeko up front. It’s rare that they are always fit at the same time, but whenever City line up, they always look a threat because they have top class players replacing top class players. 

What happens often with van Gaal’s teams is he will freely change formations when one isn’t working and a player like di Maria is perfect for this. He can seamlessly switch from playing wide in a 4-3-3 to playing more centrally and being more of a creative influence in the 3-5-2 formation. You see, there is no problem. United need pace in attack. Badly. Januzaj is very good, but they need world class ability. Juan Mata is top class and keeps play moving but while his passing is quick his movement isn’t. Wayne Rooney rarely runs past people any more. The last player United had that could ‘make things happen’ like di Maria can was Cristiano Ronaldo. 

So as I said, there’s no “problem” here with the di Maria signing. He’s a player United need and simply could not afford to pass up, despite the British record transfer fee of £59.6 million (around €75 million). United certainly need more, especially in the centre of midfield, and that position may yet be filled with the rumoured arrival of Arturo Vidal, but for now, it’s okay to get excited. 

World Cup Brasil 2014 Half-way Point – Golden Boot Frontrunners

It is with such sweet sorrow that we bid adieu and obrigado to the most wonderful of World Cup group stages, at least in my time watching the tournament. We witnessed some of the most incredible goals you’re likely to see in a World Cup and in total, just the 139 goals were scored, a modern day record. But what has been the most amazing aspect of the tournament so far has been that almost every one of the so-called “big players” has delivered for their respective nations. So I’ve gone an compiled a list of some of the best of the World Cup so far.

 

Arjen Robben – Netherlands

The Bayern Munich man has probably been the most impressive player in the World Cup so far. His link-up play with with his Dutch compatriots Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and others like Danny Blind and Nigel de Jong has been outstanding. In three games, he has the best player in two of them, and in the game he wasn’t he still managed to score one of the finest goals in the tournament. He has notched three goals so far and assisted a few more too. At 30-years old he’s still clocking up speeds that are rivalling if not besting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. It’s either the ‘Van Gaal Effect’ or it’s EPO. Either way it’s working.

Lionel Messi – Argentina

Coming into this tournament the best player of all time had a heap of pressure on his still quite young shoulders. This idiocy that he has to win the World Cup to be considered as good as, if not better, than Diego Maradona or Pelé has caused this. Argentina were most people’s favourites to win the tournament and while they haven’t been all that impressive in their three group games, they did win all three. But most importantly, Lionel Messi, captain fantastic, lead by example, winning the Man of the Match award in all three games and scoring four goals in the process. He’s the joint-leading goalscorer in the World Cup now after only scoring once in his previous two Copa Mundials. He’s getting better and you would have to fear for Switzerland in the Round of 16.

James Rodriguez – Colombia

“Hamez” Rodriguez, as the correct pronunciation of his name actually goes, is probably just behind Arjen Robben for me in the race for the Golden Boot. He has been the best player for the best team in the tournament so far in Colombia. Winning all three games, including trouncing Greece (3-0) and Japan (4-1), the young Monaco maestro has seen his stock rise drastically this June ensuring he is to be linked with any big team with one of those so-called ‘war chest’ transfer kitties. Rodriguez has scored three goals in three games so far, with one of them being one of the finest efforts of the tournament so far when dinked past the Japanese keeper in their final group game. A true world class star in the making and I fully expect another big performance when he and Colombia knock out Uruguay in the Round of 16.

Neymar – Brazil

Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney maybe have had unnecessary pressure on their shoulders, but none of those three have had it nearly as bad as young Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior. Simply put, anything but a Brazilian triumph on Brazilian soil is a disaster and the 22-year old is being tasked with more or less being the difference between failure and hysteria. Most 22-year olds would likely wilt under such pressure, but thankfully for not just Brazilians but those of us watching around the world, he has delivered. Boy has he delivered. In three games, Neymar Jr. has scored four goals and is the leading goal scorer in the tournament beside his idol and Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi. Brazil have motored along and look to be improving, but from minute one it is Neymar that has been their get out. He is a class act and I expect him to shine once again when Brazil beat Chile this Saturday. Dream scenario? Brazil versus Argentina in the World Cup Final. Neymar versus Messi for the Golden Boot and Golden Ball.

Robin van Persie – Netherlands

For me, the flying Dutchman has the goal of the tournament so far. That salmon-leap header from Danny Blind’s fantastic long-ball past a hapless Iker Casillas during the Netherlands’ 5-1 thrashing of Spain will linger long in the memory. He scored again in that game and then another – a typical RVP blast into the roof of the net – in their 3-2 win over Australia. Missing the Netherlands’ final group game against Chile, which the Dutch won 2-0, his absence was noted. Three goals in two games and his awesome partnership with Robben will ensure Mexico struggle to overcome van Gaal’s team in the Round of 16. I expect them to go through and van Persie to be right up there in the running for at least the Golden Boot.

Karim Benzema – France

France has been one of the surprise packages of the tournament so far. After a below-par qualifying campaign and not really doing anything of merit on the world stage since Zidane headbutted Materazzi in 2006, they came in with low expectations in terms of those of us looking in. What we’ve seen though is, at least in two of the games, and exciting France side brimming with talent that are actually gelling. Leading the line is Real Madrid’s oft-maligned Karim Benzema who has notched three goals in three games and been outstanding for Les Bleus. A second round match against Nigeria shouldn’t be too difficult to navigate but it’s the potential of a quarter final against Germany that could see them come unstuck. Benzema probably won’t end up with either the Golden Boot or Ball but he has been the star in a resurgent France side that were disgraced at the last World Cup.

Alexis Sanchez – Chile

Barcelona look likely to lose this little genius this Summer but whoever gets him signed up will be getting a legitimate star. Lost in the chasm of Barcelona’s dearth of talent, he has flourished in a Chile side that is centred around Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas and himself. He’s exciting to watch and is at the heart of everything great about this class Chilean side. A big test comes next for him in the shape of Brazil’s defensive partnership of Thiago Silva and David Luiz and a Brazil side Chile haven’t fared well against in the recent past. They were knocked out of the World Cup in this exact fixture four years ago in South Africa. If they can navigate Brazil it sets up a game against Colombia most likely in the quarter finals and then either Germany or France in the semis. And then, who knows? Big problem facing Chile is that Eamon Dunphy has tipped them to win it all. So for that, I’m going with Brazil to knock them out. But in the meanwhile, let’s enjoy Sanchez, the best Alexis since Ms. Texas.

Premier League Best XI 13/14

Goalkeeper: DAVID DE GEA (Manchester United)

“What?! You’re putting a United player in here and this season?!” Why yes, yes I am. Sure, the majority of the Manchester United squad have left a lot to be desired this season and there are few if any that will come out of this (their worst in Premier League history) with any credit. But one player that certainly does is their young Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea. He has been superb all season and become the finest keeper in the country and one of the best in Europe now too.

Right-back: SEAMUS COLEMAN (Everton)

Ah now isn’t it great to have a truly top class Irish footballer plying his trade in the Premier League again? The generation of Roy and Robbie Keane, Shay Given and Damien Duff a thing of the past, Coleman has emerged as truly Ireland’s finest footballer. He has had a wonderful season thus far for Everton, to the point where Roberto Martinez’s side are within a shout of a Champions League place. Seven goals scored from right back is nothing to baulk at.

Centre-half: MARTIN SKRTEL (Liverpool)

It pains me to include Martin Skrtel in this list, not because he is a Liverpool player. No, it’s because he is one of the sneakiest and downright cheating defenders in the Premier League. Never have we seen a player blatantly drag opposition players to the ground by the scruff of their neck on such a consistent basis and pretty much get away with it all the time. The absolute gall of the man. But in fairness, he has contributed not just fine performances but goal in what has been an incredible season for Merseyside Red so far.

Centre-half: JOHN TERRY (Chelsea)

Another defender I include against my every morsel of contention. Nobody likes John Terry, except for Chelsea fans who even then must question themselves in the way you sometimes think “how could I have been so thick to fall for the idea of Santa or the Easter Bunny?”. But alas, he’s had one of his finest seasons in years, notching a few goals, doing his whole ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ spiel on overdrive. His retirement from the England set-up has clearly been a blessing.

Left-back: LEIGHTON BAINES (Everton)

The one position on the pitch where England have an embarrassment of riches is at left full-back. There’s Ashley Cole, who hasn’t really featured much for Chelsea this season but is clearly still top class. Then there’s been the emergence of Southampton’s 18-year old Luke Shaw who is being tipped for a World Cup place and a big money move to Manchester United. But ahead of both of them this season has been the mercurial Leighton Baines. For years now Baines has been the league’s best full back, usurping previous kings Patrice Evra and Ashley Cole.

Central Midfield: STEVEN GERRARD (Liverpool)

Last season was not one to remember for Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. Brendan Rodgers’ first full season at the club was clearly one of transition and nobody more than Gerrard epitomised this is as he struggled to adapt to his new deep-lying midfield role. This season however, we’ve seen just why Gerrard is considered one of the best midfielders of the last decade. He has pulled the strings all season for his Liverpool side to the point where they are on the brink of their first Premier League title in 25 years. And for good measure, he’s notched 13 goals from midfield. Not bad.

Central Midfield: YAYA TOURÉ (Manchester City)

This guy is one of those Rolls Royce midfielders. A man that was wasted at defensive midfield at Barcelona has become the best all-round midfield player not just in England but arguably in world football. This season has arguably been his most impressive, at least scoring wise, seeing the Ivorian notch an astonishing 18 goals from central midfield. Only Luis Suarez (30) and Daniel Sturridge (20) have scored more. His importance is such to Manchester City that his recent injury has put a massive dent in any hopes City have left of regaining the Premier League title.

Right Side: RAHEEM STERLING (Liverpool)

This one was a toss-up between Sterling and Southampton’s Adam Lallana. Sterling just about shades it thanks his STERLING form (see what I did there?.. I’m ashamed of myself) in the run-in to Liverpool’s would-be title winning season. He has scored vital goals in the last few weeks, most notably his well-beyond-his-years composure-filled goal against Manchester City in Liverpool’s 3-2 win at Anfield. He then scored two against Norwich in another 3-2 win. Where Suarez, Gerrard and Sturridge have mostly been getting the plaudits, Sterling’s form is finally getting attention. So much so that almost everyone has forgotten he beat up the mother of his child a while back. Probably the PFA Young Player of the Year.

Left-ish Side: EDEN HAZARD (Chelsea)

I’m not at all confident that Eden Hazard deserves to be in this eleven. It should probably be Adam Lallana or Ashley Young (that’s not even remotely funny) but in fairness to Hazard he was outstanding in the first half of the season and has arguably been Chelsea’s best player this season. He has certainly been their best attacking option in a frontline consisting of the neutered Fernando Torres and geriatric Samuel Eto’o, who’s only contribution this season was a hat-trick against David Moyes’ Manchester United. Without him Chelsea are even more toothless, which is probably the best compliment you can give the man. Speculation is rife however that he may be off the Paris St-Germain this Summer, which would leave Chelsea well and truly fecked.

Forward: LUIS SUÁREZ (Liverpool)

Most people hate him, and justifiably so, but you cannot deny the world class talent of the man who is without question the best player in the Premier League at the moment. His stats are just astonishing. He has scored 30 goals in 30 appearances, with 12 assists to boot. He has been the key player in Liverpool’s astonishing season and return to prominence. Considering he wanted to leave the club in the Summer it’s incredible to see not just his form but where he has helped put Liverpool this season. How different it all could have been. A shoe-in for the PFA and FWA Player of the Year.

Forward: DANIEL STURRIDGE (Liverpool)

You can’t have Batman without Robin can you? Oh, wait, you can? You know what I mean. Daniel Sturridge’s strike partnership with Luis Suárez at Liverpool has been one of the most effective of its type since Manchester United’s Treble-winning duo of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. Sturridge has notched 20 league goals, bringing the tally of the ‘SAS’ duo to an incredible 5o in the league so far. Just like Suárez, he is quite difficult to like, not because he is a cheat, but because of that horrible celebration that only belongs on a dancefloor after too many sambucas. He’s good though.

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What an insufferable pleb

 

Substitutes:

DAVID MARSHALL (Cardiff City)

PABLO ZABALETA (Manchester City)

GARY CAHILL (Chelsea)

FERNANDINHO (Manchester City)

ADAM LALLANA (Southampton)

WAYNE ROONEY (Manchester United)

SERGIO AGUERO (Manchester City)

Manchester United Begin Champions League Hiatus After Defeat in Germany

David Moyes’ Manchester United side are set to begin an exile of sorts from Champions League football after a 3-1 defeat at the hands of European champions Bayern Munich last night in the Allianz Arena.

While United certainly weren’t disgraced in their 4-2 aggregate defeat in the quarter finals, the fact that they lie 7th in the Premier League means they won’t have any Champions League football to look forward to next season now either.

Coming into last night’s game, Bayern had the advantage having secured a precious away goal at Old Trafford last week in a 1-1 draw. The first half saw Bayern once again retain all of the possession but United actually have the better of the chances, with Rooney botching an attempt and Antonio Valencia having a goal being disallowed for being marginally offside. The second half then saw Manchester United take the lead when left-back Patrice Evra scored a thunderbolt, handing control of the tie to the Red Devils temporarily.

Unfortunately for them though, Bayern equalised almost instantly through Mario Mandzukic two minutes later in the 59th minute. Then only eight minutes later they took the lead through German international Thomas Muller. A quick turnaround and a despondent United were now struggling to come to terms.

A 2-1 lead and 3-2 aggregate lead meant Bayern now had their tails well up, and they capitalised on their dominance once again when Arjen Robben did what he always does, though somehow the United defenders couldn’t stop him. He cut in from the right onto his left foot, beating three players before smashing the ball into the back of David De Gea’s net. Game over. After the game, David Moyes admitted that this was likely to be United’s last game in the Champions League for some time:

“That’s how it looks,” Moyes told Sky Sports after the 3-1 defeat. “But I believe it’s not far away. Hopefully it will only be one year where we have to rebuild.

“My focus now is on getting this team back in the competition. It’s a great competition and we’ve really enjoyed it.

“There’s no shame going out to Bayern Munich – they are a good side. The players have played really well. We’ll show the quality we’ve got, re-group and start building towards being back in the competition.”

Midfielder Darren Fletcher doesn’t think the players will find it difficult to have motivation in the remaining Premier League fixtures, despite having little to play for.

“Players have got to play well to stay in the manager’s thoughts for next season – it’s as simple as that,” Fletcher told MUTV. “There’s talk of a lot of changes and who knows? If you get an opportunity to play you’ve got to go out there and perform, and show the manager that you want to be at United.

“A lot of people will say there’s nothing to play for in terms of league position or winning anything but there’s a lot to play for in terms of personal pride and to be in the squad next season.”

Next up for United incidentally is David Moyes’ first trip back to Goodison Park since taking over at Old Trafford when Everton host the champions on Sunday April 20th.

WrestleMania XXX Pre-blog!

It’s finally here! Arguably the biggest weekend in the history of professional wrestling, and almost certainly in the history of Vince McMahon’s wrestling empire, brings the biggest WrestleMania show of all time (yes, they say this every year, but this actually is!).

For so long so many had massive expectations of this event, dreaming up all manner of fantasy matches from CM Punk versus “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, to The Undertaker versus Sting, to The Rock versus Brock Lesnar and many more besides. Then once the ‘Road to WrestleMania’ began in earnest back in January, fans were subjected to some of the most worrying and unsatisfying decisions WWE’s Creative could have mustered.

The furore all surrounded the treatment of Daniel Bryan, who is currently the most ‘over’ (popular) WWE superstar since the likes of The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Beating John Cena back at SummerSlam for the WWE Championship only to lose it immediately to Randy Orton after a screw job by Triple H preceded a win over Randy Orton to retain the title only to be forced to hand the title back to Triple H and ‘The Authority’, allowing Orton to regain it. Bryan would then be moved out of the title picture altogether.

Then came one of the most controversial and downright disappointing Royal Rumble pay-per-views in recent memory. Randy Orton defeated John Cena to keep his belt before Batista, someone the fans really don’t care for, won the Rumble match to ensure he’d be facing Orton in the main event at WrestleMania XXX. To confound the fans misery, Bryan didn’t even feature in the match. Cue fan outrage.

With two of the fans’s favourite wrestlers in CM Punk and Daniel Bryan being horrendously booked in feuds with the likes of Kane and The Wyatt Family, something had to give. And it did. After the Rumble, Punk literally left the company. He took his ball and went home. He was burnt out and disillusioned with how he was being used. Daniel Bryan stuck it out though, and is now reaping the rewards of filling the void that CM Punk has left, hopefully only temporarily.

So onto the event itself.

Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan (Winner added to WWE title match)

The big draw of the card is definitely Daniel Bryan, as he faces Triple H with the winner being added to the WWE World Heavyweight title match against Orton and Batista. This feud has had a decent enough build-up, with Triple H beating seven shades of shite out of Bryan with a batshit mental Stephanie McMahon ushering him on. This week on Raw though, Bryan got his own back, taking out not just Triple H but also Orton and Batista. So who wins? It’s almost a certainty that Bryan wins this match. Anything else just makes zero sense. It won’t be straightforward though. Triple H will probably get the sledgehammer out after being pinned and add doubt to whether Bryan can make the main event.

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John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt

This feud could have been done a lot more thoroughly and started earlier but sure here it is. The WWE’s biggest star being so low on the card might seem a strange move especially for the biggest show the company has ever held, but there’s a method to this madness. Most signs suggest Bray Wyatt will get the win and receive an almighty heel push by beating the face of the company at WrestleMania, but I personally think Cena takes this. Expect Wyatt to take Cena to the limits with Cena eventually pulling the win out of nowhere, and the feud continuing on to Extreme Rules, where Wyatt then wins.

The Shield vs. Kane & The New Age Outlaws

This match really should be a showcase of how awesome Reigns, Ambrose and Rollins are as a team, but there are continuing doubts about whether the WWE plan to split the trio up. All signs suggest that this will happen. For one, The Shield have recently done a face-turn, becoming fan favourites, which might suggest an almost immediate reverse turn is imminent. Eventually, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins will form a heel tag team with Roman Reigns going solo as a babyface, but hopefully this doesn’t happen on Sunday. I expect The Shield to dismantle their ageing opponents with consummate ease. Believe that.

The Vickie Guerrero Divas Invitational

Whatever predictions I make won’t matter as I’ll be using this match as a cue to hit the bar and/or the toilets. No offence ladies. But while I’m here, let’s hope the keep the belt on AJ Lee.

Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Thirty WWE superstars vying to win a five foot bronze Andre The Giant trophy statue. This will most likely be quite fun and you can only be curious to see who the three ‘mystery’ entrants to the match are. The bookies’ favourite happens to be Alexander Rusev, who would be one of the ‘mystery’ entrants. One can dream that the other two entrants are genuine off-your-seat names, but will actually end up being WWE legends like Roddy Piper or Sgt. Slaughter. Personally, I’d love Dolph Ziggler or Big E to take this but it will probably be someone ‘meh’ like Rusev or Sheamus.

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The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (….to end The Streak?)

This one needs no prediction really. The Streak simply will not end, at least not this weekend. Why not? Because Brock Lesnar is only a part-timer and if The Undertaker ever was to actually lose at WrestleMania it would have to be against someone you were aiming to catapult to super-stardom almost immediately. The push of all pushes. Somebody like Roman Reigns perhaps. But don’t fret, this match will most likely be absolutely fantastic. Taker has stolen the show at the last five or so ‘Manias and Lesnar generally adds something special to a match that only he can add. This match will most likely see Lesnar demolishing Taker for the duration, before the Deadman makes a comeback and wins, probably by the Hell’s Gate gogoplata submission. In fact, this match could become somewhat of a pseudo MMA-pro wrestling match, with both men incidentally wearing MMA gloves and Brock also having using a kimura submission hold that comes from his MMA background. Taker to win all day long though. 22-0.

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Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan/Triple H (WWE World Heavyweight Championship match)

Everyone, including the bookies, has Daniel Bryan to be the WWE World Heavyweight Champion by the end of Sunday night. In my experience of watching WWE PPVs though, getting your hopes up is a surefire way of having your WWE world come crashing down around you. It happens all the time. They love to piss off the fans to get heat, but will they really drop the ball so massively by giving to the belt to someone like Batista? Even in my most pessimistic of views, I STILL can’t see anything other than Daniel Bryan winning the big one. It has to be far too tempting for WWE. Imagine the scene: Bryan overcoming all the odds after two gruelling matches, beating three men and FINALLY getting the belt after all his hardship, and WrestleMania ends with tens of thousands of people in the New Orleans SuperDome chanting “YES! YES! YES!” at the top of their lungs with their hero finally the champion. It will be amazing.

As for how the match itself will go down, it most likely won’t be a straighforward shoot. Triple H will no doubt be involved either before or during trying to sabotage Bryan’s win. Dream scenario? Triple H interferes to try and cost Bryan the title, only for CM Punk’s music to hit to one of the all-time biggest pops and he Second City Saint returning from exile to help his old friend. Bryan then hits the running knee to pin Orton. Or else something involving Steve Austin. We’re gonna get something awesome. Either way, Daniel Bryan will finally become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

 

Predictions in brief:

8-man Tag Team Pre-Show Match: The Usos

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt: John Cena

Divas Invitational: AJ Lee

Andre The Giant Battle Royal: Dolph Ziggler

Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan: Daniel Bryan

6-man Tag Team Match: The Shield

The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar: The Undertaker

WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Daniel Bryan

 

Getting Serious About Commercialisation in Sport…

The old adage from the grumpy old pundit goes something like this: “It was a harder game in my day.” Generation after generation belittle the current generation and claim they had it harder; they had it tougher. “These guys wouldn’t have lasted a week back in my day” they say. While this could be the case for many sports, most notably soccer, this of course is mostly down to an evolution of player safety, insurance and common sense.

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The main reason that modern sport “stars” are considered as “soft” or “pampered” and not as tough or as “hard” as players “back in the day” is because of the rise of celebrity and the brand, with this in itself stemming from the vast amount of money that television companies such as Sky have pumped into certain sports.

Back in the early 90’s, the old English First Division was transformed into the Premier League or Premiership, which ushered in the Sky Sports era of mass commercialisation and broadcasting of hundreds of games every season. Sky would dictate when certain games where played, and would decide if they’d rather big games such as Manchester United vs. Liverpool, for instance, should be moved to a Sunday afternoon so as to avoid it clashing with other televised or non-televised matches.

From these matches the exposure that comes with them, star and names were made, coinciding with this new celebrity fascination that was sweeping the world around the same time. Back in the 60’s and 70’s the golden boy of football, especially in the United Kingdom and Ireland, was Manchester United’s George Best. A European Cup winner and European Footballer of the Year, Best’s popularity rose due to a combination of his vast skills on the pitch, his good looks and his womanising ways. But Best’s celebrity was small scale compared to so many that came through in the 90’s, and those who truly burst the stratosphere in the 00’s.

The first name that comes to mind when you think of sport transcending the game and entering into commercialisation and the celebrity world is David Beckham. One could be forgiven for being unaware that Beckham was actually a very, very good football player. He may have played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, L.A. Galaxy, A.C. Milan, Paris St-Germain and captained England, but worldwide “Goldenballs” is known better simply for ‘Brand Beckham’. He’s a global icon, with his own line of clothing, cosmetics and underwear. He has made himself into one of the most recognisable face on the planet, not just in sport. Someone who has truly transcended his code into something much bigger.

So has this level of commercialisation damaged sports in any way? Using the example of soccer, you would have to think in most ways it hasn’t. Commercialisation has bankrolled the sport to such a level that soccer is hands down the most globally watched sport on the planet. The purity of the game may have diminished however, with players terrified of suffering with an injury that could keep them off the pitch and away from the cameras for too long. Such things affect sponsorship deals and bonuses. This brings us back to earlier where the older football pundit or fan might argue that these guys today are just not as hard as they were back in the day. This is most certainly true but it’s understandable when there’s a multi-million multi-year boot deal from Nike or Adidas on the table. The biggest players are such precious commodities nowadays that they’re wrapped in cotton wool and treated in the same ilk as rare, precious vase.

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Such is the scale and power of brands in sport that the likes of Nike has been alleged to have funded transfers in conjunction with teams for certain players. They were allegedly involved in helping to fund a potential bid by Manchester United to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford from Real Madrid, whom they had sold him to back in 2009 for a then world record fee of €93 million. The deal never came to be, but imagine it had. What kind of power would Nike have then when it comes to Manchester United’s future commercial dealings? And would other clubs they sponsor such as Arsenal and Manchester City and Barcelona have something to say about them helping out Manchester United in such a way? These are some of the questions that can arise from how commercial the game has become.

Not just in soccer though, fledgling and amateur sports such as mixed martial arts and Gaelic games, football and hurling, are hugely reliant on television and broadcast deals, as well as outside sponsorship in order to not even thrive, but to survive. The GAA need their television deal. Dublin GAA have just signed a monumental sponsorship deal with insurance giants Aon, the first of its kind in the sports and many other counties have signalled their displeasure at how unfair it is that Dublin now have even more money than they do. Is this sour grapes? Or is it an example of commercialisation upsetting the fairness in the game financially?

It’s all a money game nowadays though. From the amateurs up to the professionals. The traditional notion of sports is long gone. Sure, the reason you get into a sport is love of competing, but what keeps you being able to compete in that sport at the highest levels is whether you can make money for yourself and for other people. “Back in the day” you made only the money the club told you you were going to earn, but nowadays players have so much more power thanks to commercialisation that it has actually weakened smaller clubs to the point where they find it impossible to keep their best players if bigger clubs come in with a big bid.

Commercialisation has smothered sport to the point where it is controlled by outside interests and businessmen only interested in profit. But profit can only come from entertainment, and fans are entertained more so than ever watching as much of their chosen code as they can stomach on a bi-weekly basis. You just can’t avoid sport nowadays. It’s as common as your daily soap. There’s always something on, because sponsors and players and commodities have to be seen. The intent might not be wholly pure, but more money in the sport from commercialisation has meant these sports are now of a better quality. Without a doubt.

Interview with Irish Mixed Martial Artist Paul Redmond

June 1st, 2013 – One Paul “Redser” Redmond beats Marc Allen in the second round, by way of a toe-hold. This was not just Redmond’s fifth consecutive victory for the Cage Warriors promotion, but his fifth consecutive finish inside the distance. “Redser” was aboard an express train towards a shot at the Cage Warriors lightweight strap, formerly owned by Conor McGregor, now held by Ivan Buchinger.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2013, and Redmond’s train was momentarily derailed, being submitted inside two rounds against arguably the toughest opponent of his career, Mateusz Teodorczuk (11-2). It would be Redmond’s first defeat since March of 2012, and one in which he is fully aware of where he went wrong.

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“I was just trying to push the finish too quick rather than just let it flow like I normally do,” explained the 27 year old. “I pride myself in not biting down on the gum shield and coming out swinging but my god did I come out and try to take his head off in the second round and it’s something I never do, I never get careless. When I found myself underneath him, I just paused for a split second, and that level you just cannot pause.”

For many fighters, the last fight, especially one that was a defeat, would greatly influence how they approached training going into their next fight. “Should I change this? Maybe if I trained more on this aspect and put that on the back burner for a while..?”. This is most certainly not the case for Paul Redmond and the ethos at Team Ryano.

“[Training’s] going great,” he proclaimed. “The last fight was one of them stupid losses I just wanted to get out of my head. Literally the next day on New Year’s Day I had a big feed that day and straight back into the gym on the Thursday. I just wanted to get back training again. I had no injuries coming out of that fight, it was more my pride than anything.

“I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t think there’s a need to change a thing.”

This mantra is one shared between both Team Ryano and SBG Ireland, one where the training is focused on the fighter, and not their opponent. With both teams spearheading the MMA revolution in Ireland, Redmond remarked on how far it’s all come inside just two years.

“With Conor [McGregor] where he is, and other guys doing well for themselves; Chris Fields won a world title, Cathal Pendred won a world title. The Irish lads aren’t just there to make up the numbers,” said an emphatic Redmond. “There are good fighters here. They’re all knocking on the UFC – Cathal [Pendred], Chris [Fields], Ais Daly. With Conor in, it’s already bringing a big spotlight on us.”

The spotlight has been quite focused on Team Ryano as of late it must be said, and for all positive reasons. First off, they recently opened up a new facility in Finglas, which is being run by Neil Seery and John Donnelly. Redmond is clearly excited by the idea of both Andy Ryan and John Kavanagh being more or less forced into expanding due to demand.cwfc

“We were just talking about this tonight actually,” Redmond went on. “We usually have the boxing class on a Tuesday. You could not move on the mat. Just new faces, new bodies. Everyone down. Really good. For John Kavanagh to HAVE TO open up a super-gym (SBG Concorde), that’s great news for guys. He needs a gym to accommodate people coming in so obviously the numbers are there and Andy’s opening up a second gym in Finglas.”

Redmond went on to remark on the positive vibes inside the Team Ryano walls, describing the atmosphere and pointing out some of the recent successes not just in MMA.

“The atmosphere down here is great. Even the lads not training for fights. Everyone gets a bit of stick. It’s great, just a good atmosphere and everybody’s doing really well for themselves. Neil won the world title, Karl Roache won the gold medal in the Absolute Brown Belt (Brazilian jiu-jitsu) in Portugal and got a gold medal in the Euros as well. There’s people winning all over the place.”

Adding to that, Team Ryano recently added another Redmond to their ranks, John Redmond, who opted to leave Paul Cowzer’s team at Rush Fight Academy to focus more on advancing his own fight career.

“John’s always trained. Paul Cowzer’s always been affiliated with Andy,” Redmond explained. “John has always been more than welcome to come up if he has a fight coming up, it benefits everybody from sparring with each other.

“I don’t know the reasoning behind it, I was talking to him there earlier. There’s no animosity there. Andy’s a black belt though, and you just can’t get that level of training elsewhere. It’s just one of them things.”

It’s fair to say that Paul Redmond would rather speak about his training partners and their achievements rather than his own, but Redmond’s is a name that has been mentioned in passing as one that might be involved should the UFC return in September. “Redser” doesn’t see it that way though.

“I don’t think that far ahead. I wouldn’t put myself in that category, not yet. Of course if you put me in there I’d fight any of them, no problem, but I just don’t think I’m on the UFC’s radar the way that Neil [Seery] is or Cathal is. Cathal’s after beating Che Mills. Neil’s after dropping down to flyweight and run through four of his last five opponents. He lost to your man Sitenkov, but he just comes for the kneebar, and if he doesn’t get it he packs up after the first round but fair play, he got it. Then Neil stopped Marin with a kick to the liver, nobody had stopped him and nobody has since you know? Even if the UFC came there’s names ahead of me so far.

“I’d like to win the Cage Warriors lightweight title first. I’d like to get around two more wins and get a crack at that.”

The journey continues in less than two weeks at Cage Warriors 65 in Dublin, when Redmond takes on Damien Brown.

Paul Redmond vs. Marc Allen, The Helix, Dublin, June 1st 2013.

Team Ryano’s newest facility is located on the Jamestown Road Business Park in Finglas. For all times and classes check out their Facebook page at Team RYANO Finglas.

Photo Credit – Dolly Crew / Cage Warriors

Juan Mata Progress Report

After Juan Mata’s much publicised transfer from Chelsea to Manchester United in January for a club record £37.1 million, a high percentage of the spotlight has been put on the little Spaniard and how he will fit into David Moyes’ struggling United side.

The debut – Mata is hailed by the home crowd

Making his debut against Cardiff in a comfortable 2-0 victory, starting behind returning front man Robin van Persie in attack, it looked as if the two-time Chelsea ‘Player of the Season’ had taken little time to blend in, having a big involvement in both Ashley Young and Robin van Persie’s goals. The performance overall was poor though, and Mata was overall quite effective. The next step was seeing how well he’d gel with Wayne Rooney coming back into the side.

Back to reality…

Against Stoke City the following week at the Britannia Stadium, Mata started from the left, with Rooney playing in his usual position behind RVP. After Stoke took the lead through a fortuitous Michael Carrick own goal, Mata’s wizardry shone through as he slid a beautiful through ball into the path of van Persie, who duly obliged to score his second Mata-assisted goal in two games. You would have probably expected United to push on from here and win the game but alas, everybody’s least favourite Scotsman since Barry Ferguson popped up with an absolute cracking strike from 30 yards to give Stoke the 2-1 win. One win, one defeat, two Mata assists.

Can United cross? They always cross..

The next game was expected to be a routine home victory against bottom of the table Fulham, thought nothing about Manchester United this season has been routine. Once again fielding the trio of Mata, Rooney and van Persie, with Ashley Young playing wide left, David Moyes’ side, despite struggling all season were surely going to easily dispatch of relegation-threatened Fulham, right? Wrong. It was one of the most abject and confusing performances under Moyes’ reign. Utilising “conference tactics” according to one Fulham defender, United set a record for crosses into the box with 81 attempts. Disheartening. In the first half Fulham even took the lead through a breakaway move when Rooney and Fletcher lost Steve Sidwell who charged through the midfield to sent the ball past David De Gea. It wasn’t until the 78th minute that United equalised through Robin van Persie, before Michael Carrick’s deflected effort put the defending champions ahead 80 seconds later. Fulham weren’t going to go away though. Though they defended for their lives, they were always a danger on the counterattack, breaking United hearts in stoppage when Darren Bent nodded in from close range to make it 2-2. As for Mata’s contribution, it was hard to judge. The gameplan seemed to be to get the ball, and pass out wide to either Young, Rafael or Evra. Mata found pockets of space, but the imaginations wasn’t there. As many observers joked, “Giving David Moyes Juan Mata is like giving your grandad a smartphone”.

Was the Arsenal v United game called off too?

It was a match that scant United fans would have been optimistic about. Playing against perennial table toppers Arsenal in the own back garden is a daunting task for any team in the Barclay’s Premier League. The Gunners were coming off a 5-1 humbling against a rampant Liverpool side at Anfield. United were coming off an embarrassing draw against the worst team in the league. Both needed a win. Surely this would be one to remember? It was not to be. While United had the better of the chances, two missed sitters from the generally reliable RVP, Arsenal were more blunt in attack than they’d been all season. United defended stoutly, afraid to bring the ball out from defence too often. It was also one of Mata’s poorer performances, struggling to get anything going with an out of sorts Wayne Rooney. He tried but it just seemed like once again he wasn’t sure what his job was. The game ended nil all, in a match that both teams were so clearly happy to end. Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger even went as far as to admit that Arsenal were “nervous”. Against THIS United side? Strange one.

Overall rating so far: 6.5/10