Defining World Class

"courtesy of @8bitfootball"

“courtesy of @8bitfootball”

There is an old adage that is true across all walks of life, but is particularly poignant in the world of sport. It goes, ‘Form is temporary. Class is permanent’. But what does that mean? And with the topic being wholly subjective to personal opinion and preference how do we, as individuals, define the parameters to which the term ‘world-class’ can be donned upon a player. I’m certain somebody with more time and resources could make a fairly interesting book out of trying to provide a true definition but in lieu of those aforementioned gifts I’m going to try to do it in around a thousand words. Wish me luck!

Before I look at what world-class is I think it is pertinent to provide some context to my conclusions by defining the term ‘Form is temporary. Class is Permanent’. In my eyes, and remember this is just one man’s opinion, the magic of one moment whilst glorious and beautiful does not make a world-class player. Neither does a series of these moments sporadically appearing over a one or two year period. I would also suggest that for any players in their late teens to be dubbed as ‘world class’ without being prefixed or suffixed with word ‘potential’ somewhere around about it is highly unlikely, although not impossible.

For me, to be world-class, a player has to have a body of work littered with moments of outstanding skill, supplemented by both personal and collective achievements whilst possessing an almost Zen-like aura that demands the confidence of your teammates in every little thing that you do having earned the respect those who deem themselves man enough to stand up against you. What world-class should definitely not be is a catch-all statement for any player, especially a young player, who is billed as the next big thing, something that the likes of Adnan Januzaj and Ross Barkley have been lumbered with in this current season. They may prove to be in the future but at present they are nowhere near; but who is?

Let’s start by making things easy for myself. Lionel Messi is world-class. He’s a statistician’s wet dream, sending goal records tumbling and in this current season turning his considerable talents to the creation of goals over scoring them himself in a slightly amended role within Tata Martino’s Barcelona set up. He is already a human highlight reel of footballing excellence and has shown in countless Clasicos and Champions League finals that his level of performance is not lessened even when the skills of the opposition are at their greatest. There has been criticism levelled at him for the perceived lack of success in the blue and white of Argentina but his skills at club level, perceived by some as superseding international football asking of the modern game, more than make up for this and with a World Cup as close to home as it is ever going to be who’s to say that 2014 will not be his crowning moment.

So what of his perennial challenger for best in the world Cristiano Ronaldo, is he world class? Once again I think the answer would have to be yes, although not as decorated personally Ronaldo still has a goals and assists record that makes the mind boggle. He’s won titles and Champions leagues and in international colours for Portugal he is as close to a one-man team as you will get at the highest level, exemplified by the way he singlehandedly dragged his team to Brazil scoring a hat-trick just when it looked like Sweden had got the better of his nation in Stockholm.

Then there is his nemesis on that particular day, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Winning titles in Holland, Italy, Spain and now France playing for some of the most famous teams in world football. Often derided as being not as good as he thinks he is there is no question that he possesses an aura that demands your attention, and once he has it he is capable of some truly memorable things, would Messi or Ronaldo have had the audacity to attempt a 45 yard overhead kick, never mind score from it? The fact that on that playoff night in Stockholm that he too was moments away from dragging his team to what potentially could have been his last World Cup almost goes forgotten such was the performance of Ronaldo and although he may be at level just below theEl Clasico rivals he too has earned the moniker of ‘world class’.

Being world-class should not be solely reserved for those who strut their stuff in the final third of the pitch. For me the greatest player I have ever seen is Zinedine Zidane, and with a flick and a twirl he changed the meaning of the verb poise to simply read ‘Zizou’. The film, ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait is not only achingly beautiful from an audio and visual standpoint but essential viewing in understanding why he was so good. His symbolic walk past the World Cup in 20o6 after the head butt heard around the world perhaps tarnished the man but not the playing legend.

The captain of the eventual winners that year Fabio Cannavaro was another world-class performer. Diminutive by centre half standards he is rightly considered one of the greatest central defenders of all time as well as achieving the almost impossible for a defender by winning the Ballon d’Or. In Italy he was known as ‘The Berlin Wall’ so great was ability to make even the greatest strikers look like a Sunday league stalwart feeling the effects of the night before. Perhaps only Vincent Kompany currently has the ability and aura to do even a fraction of what the Italian did for the profile of central defenders in the modern game.

What about Suarez, Ribery, Rooney or Bale, surely they’re world-class? Some will argue they are but does the sum of their personal achievements to date even come close to comparison when stacked against those of just one of the aforementioned individuals? I don’t think so. Nor am I suggesting that the names I have mentioned are the only ones worthy of the title world-class.

Ronaldo, the Brazilian version in this instance, was a part of two World Cup winning squads with his performance in the 2002 final seen as redemption to the farce that was his appearance in the very same game 4 years earlier. Henrik Larsson, whilst spending the majority of his career in Scotland blew away those doubting his class with career defining spells at Barcelona and Manchester United and it would be remiss of me not to make mention to Barcelona once again and the midfield mastery of Spanish midfielders Xavi and Anders Iniesta. There will be a few more, but not many, and for each of these men all have individually contributed to the evolution of the game across the globe and in doing so forming the essence of what world-class should be. Not reserved for the best, or even the very best but for those that have helped form and continue to define footballing generations.

If you enjoyed this then maybe you will enjoy www.meatfilledpastries.com. My footballing adventure searching out the tastiest snacks at grounds across Scotland and beyond. The link is on the right hand side.

The Boys Who Cry Wolf

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The AFC U22 Championship is not usually where I would find inspiration for the things I write but an incident in the quarter final between South Korea and Syria was sufficient in prompting me into writing about something that more than a niggles. In this instance, with South Korea comfortably leading 2-0 they followed popular convention and kicked the ball out of play so treatment could be given to an injured Syrian midfielder. Syria, however, never got the memo and from the resulting throw in proceeded to score an ultimately meaningless goal in their sides 2-1 defeat in Oman.

It’s not the first time it’s happened, think back to 1999 and that infamous moment when Arsenal striker Kanu, galloping forward in a way that only he could, passed a ball through to Marc Overmars to score the winning goal in an FA Cup tie against Sheffield United. There was such an uproar that Arsene Wenger felt obliged to offer a replay which Arsenal duly won, would he have been so generous had it been against Manchester United, we’ll never know. There is countless other examples, including that of Luiz Adriano, who after scoring for Shakhtar Donetsk against Nordsjaelland in the Champions League from what should have been uncontested dropped ball, found himself handed a one game suspension for unsportsmanlike conduct.

This issue continues to evolve, highlighted most recently in a game featuring Arsenal once again. With 20 minutes to go and the scores level Arsenal were on the attack with Chelsea midfielder Ramires down in the centre circle, the ball was at the feet of Aaron Ramsey who, clearly unsure what to do, decided to kick the ball out. A decision that brought a handshake from opposition midfielder Frank Lampard but raised the ire of Olivier Giroud and a number of his teammates who believed Ramsey had thrown away a potential advantage in one of the biggest games of the season. Was Ramsey right to do what he did? And to that matter is it right that it should fall into the hands of the players to make that decision?

Well I think the answer should be a resounding no, in today’s footballing climate where going down injured is employed more as a tactic to break up play and time waste as opposed to the occurence of an actual injury. Why should a player place his trust in the fact that another player is not ‘at it’ for want of a better term. We’ve seen it hundred’s of times before, a player goes down, the ball gets played out and minutes later the he is running about at the peak of his powers without a physio even entering the field of play. It’s frustrating to watch and I’d imagine equally frustrating to play alongside as well.

Perhaps the referee should intervene, they already have the right to stop the game for a head injury why not expand that remit to include any injury that they see worthy of a stop in play? Surely a better idea than player intervention but on deeper contemplation still subject to the same fundamental flaws that are a result of a member of either team kicking the ball out of play. Well, except in this situation there is the added pantomime of the player being guided off the pitch only to be waved back on seconds later whenever it takes the official’s fancy.

Then there’s the third option, we don’t stop play at all. I’m not a heartless man, I’m just a man who is fed up of games being interrupted because a player who has got a blade of grass stuck up his nostril is dealt with in the same manner as a player who has torn a ligament or broken a bone. Now generally I’m not an advocate of rules of other sports being transferable to football. I think the addition of a video referee would be a step too far, taking away some of the controversy that we as football fans thrive on, and that sin-binning in a football context would not be as effective as a deterrent as it is in ice hockey and rugby. With that said the method in which players are treated during a game of rugby could and should be implemented in the football matches of today.

For those unfamiliar of the procedure when a player goes down but the game continues and a physio comes on to the field of play to administer treatment when and where required. If the injury is serious then a communication is made to advise of such and the game is stopped.

None of these actions require new technology, they would reduce gamesmanship and time wasting, stop the needless to and fro from the touchline of players and, in theory, as an action it is instantly implementable. I say ‘in theory’ as there would still be a bit of working out to do in relation to such a change. For example if a player is being treated on the field of play do they become inactive? I would suggest they would, meaning that if a defender is lying stricken they can’t play an opponent onside whist at the other end a striker can’t resurrect themselves suddenly whilst realising that they are clean through on goal.

As a resolution it’s not perfect, a first draft of any proposal is testament to that. When a foul is given and there is a natural stop in play then bring the physio on and let treatment be given but don’t then make the victim of the foul traipse off the pitch because you made someone else who was chancing his arm fifteen minutes earlier do the same thing. Like many things in football the best resolutions involve the mythical concept of common sense but until such time arrives in that the myth becomes a reality I think those with the ability to do so should empower themselves to ensure that yet another one of football’s more annoying foibles doesn’t continue to blight the game that we love.

It’s Obscene not Sportscene

The media is a wonderful thing. It gives information on absolutely everything, whether it be the country where the next opponent to put a Scottish team out of Europe will be from or the average attendance at Borough Briggs in 1923. It creates debate, forces opinion and provides a smorgasbord of avenues to keep up to date with the game we all know and love.

Internet, Social Media, Radio, Newspapers, Apps for your Phone and even television all contribute. Television is, in the case of the BBC, a publicly funded entity designed to provide everybody with fair and affordable access to a wide variety of events. Take The Premiership for example, dependent on how far away the journey to the match is a Saturday morning usually starts with an episode of Saturday Morning Kitchen followed by Football Focus a programme designed for discussing all the big issues across football in the UK that week.

In the afternoon they have Final Score with updates from around the grounds and a couple of ex pro’s , unfortunately including Garth Crooks, giving analysis on the action as it happens. Of course it’s a blatant rip off of the Jeff Stelling Juggernaut on Sky but still a good idea none the less. Then in the evening you have Match of The Day followed by The Football League Show a full three and a half hours of football covering every game in England. The MOTD studio screams, ‘this is a big deal’, the presenter Gary Lineker brings the right level of gravitas and charisma while the established set of summarisers, including the likes of Lee Dixon and Alan Hansen, bring a knowledge and a familiarity that means although not always right their opinions are respected.

The coverage done gives The Premiership that big league feel. Every game has its own moment in the sun whether it be Manchester United mauling Arsenal or Stoke scoring a disputed winner at The Hawthorns. There is a commentator for each match. The coverage itself does not feel rushed but in keeping with the events of the particular game being covered. They have a post match interview with both managers and any key protagonists in the game and then back in the studio it is for further discussion.

It’s not a hard format to replicate. Case in point: MOTD2, aside from its occasional tendency to fancy itself as a light-entertainment show on a Sunday night it too provides all the same things that makes MOTD so great. A host with a drop of charisma, a regular summarising team and discussion on the big points of the day.

The thing is if this is so easy to replicate, as has been proven, then what the hell is Sportscene all about!? There is great debate as to how the SPL is perceived across Europe and in particular down south and after watching the mammoth 45 minutes of coverage on Sunday night  (15 minutes less than the MOTD ‘B’ Show) I was left with the opinion that no one here cares so why should anyone else. I’m not asking for the world here, I understand financially it makes no sense have a Scottish version of The Football League Show. I doubt they would count viewing figures in the hundreds but really is that the best we can come up with for the top level of our national sport.

Lets break it down, the studio looks like somebody has decided to have a go at one of those Big Make’s they do on Blue Peter although I will argue with anyone that the papier-mache Tracey Island is an architectural masterpeice against the current Sportscene studio.

The lead anchors Rob MacLean ad David Currie although passable always seem to be just going through the motions, and some of the questions they dole out to the ‘experts’ beside them leave you wondering, ‘did he just ask that’? Chick Young may talk nonsense 75% of the time but at least you know he cares. The majority hate the english media for its incessant bravado about how ‘The Premiership’ is the best in the world and how England are going to win every major tournament but at least it shows a passion for their product.  Watching Rob and David plod through Final Score and Sportscene you can almost see the cogs turning saying ‘are we done yet?’.

Although they are not helped by what they get given to work with. Footballers in the most part are a pretty lethargic lot when it comes to intelligent conversation, Scottish footballers even more so. No offence to Callum Davidson, a solid full back but absolutely nothing he said enhanced any discussions that were attempting to be made. That’s another point,a discussion is not just two people it’s a conversation. A presenter, who isn’t allowed to have no opinion for the sake of impartiality, and a pundit/player/manager who has one opinion and no one to disagree with. Let’s be honest unless Pat Nevin decide’s he’s got nothing better to do then you’re as well sticking it on mute and doing the summarising yourself with your mates. Bring in a bank of 4 or 5 ex players, managers, referees or whatever with actual opinions and have two on a week to create a livelier programme. At the moment it’s like watching two people round at their Gran’s too scared to ask to turn the volume up.

Saying that it’s not like they actually get a lot to talk about,.I tuned in ten minutes late the other night and missed the ENTIRE highlights package for the Edinburgh Derby. That ten minutes would have included an introduction and some kind of preview package as well. At least that game got a commentator and the managers got to say their piece on proceedings but what about Dunfermline v Motherwell fro example. A six goal thriller covered in 3 minutes with a Jonathan Sutherland voiceover, that right the bloke that reads the emails out. Did we get to hear how Jim McIntyre felt about losing his unbeaten start or how far Stuart McCall feels his team can last the pace> Of course not.  Also is there really such a dearth of Scottish Commentators that Rob MacLean has to do a handover to himself, as is the weekly occurrence for whatever game he was covering.  Conversations like, ‘Hi Rob’, ‘Thanks Rob’, ‘Good Game Rob?’, ‘I thought so Rob’, ‘Bye Rob.’, really do whet the appetite don’t they?

How can the media bang on about how nobody has any pride in the Scottish game when they themselves are responsible for a programme and a format that makes the SPL look like nothing more than an after thought in the minds of the BBC. I understand there are restrictions in place and but that isn’t excuse for poor formatting, poor production and a general malaise that is only reflective of the national feeling about the SPL because there is nothing being done to change that perception.

I’m not a BBC basher, I think Sportsound and Open All Mics are two of the best pieces of sports coverage out there. I also think that Richard Gordon comes across as a knowledgable and intelligent anchor while at the same time not being afraid to muscle in with an opinion if he sees fit. I think the BBC website although lacking in true depth when it comes to the Scottish Lower Leagues is informative and functional and my only real gripe is the removal of 606 because people mistook a public forum for debate as a venue to slag off your rivals.

If I am wrong and people think that Sportscene is fine the way it is then I bow to your opinion. Your wrong but I respect it. The BBC have a responsibility to produce quality television for our licence fee and although the SPL may not have the Aguero’s, Torres’s and Rooney’s of this world, it still has the ability to serve up enough entertainment and debate for people to make it worth shouting about again.

 

The Last Man Stand Off

After a mishmash of ‘money-spinning’ friendlies, Monday night kick offs and early European exits, none of which constitute a proper start to the season, the SPL finally kicked into gear with all six games being played over the weekend, shocking I know. Apart from Aberdeen continuing their endless quest to prove that Jimmy Calderwood was actually not that bad and evidence once again that even Alan McGregor and Frank McAvennie would struggle to score if they were to go out on the pull in a St. Johnstone shirt, one of the increasingly more contentious issues in the modern game reared its head, not once but twice.

What constitutes a goal scoring opportunity and in the act of stopping that opportunity is a red card a punishment too far?

Lets look at the two cases from the weekend and take it from there: Firstly there was Ross Tokely for Inverness Caledonian Thistle against Rangers, sent off for what was perceived as a tackle from behind on Steven Naismith whilst stopping a goal scoring opportunity by referee Euan Norris. My verdict: Yellow Card, Penalty awarded.

Although Tokely won the ball the tackle itself involved a scissor motion that if Naismith tumbled in a different way could have resulted in a serious injury. Was it a clear goal scoring opportunity, debatable but I think the method of tackle left the referee with little choice but to award the penalty. If the referee has sent Tokely off for perceived dangerous play then the red card is the correct call, even if the logic is flawed, but if he is sending him off for a goalscoring oppritunity then I am afraid he is wrong.

The second big ‘last man’ call of the weekend came at McDiarmid Park where John Potter was sent off for a deliberate trip on Francisco Sandaza in the penalty area. Sandaza coming in on the angle had seemingly got past the defender but by using his trailing leg and extending the point of his toe out a bit further Potter brought his man down. My Verdict: Yellow Card. Penalty.

The double motion on Potter’s foot as Sandaza went round the back of him showed that the foul was cynical and intended to prevent the striker going any further forward but with two defenders within the vacinity including Jason Thomson who hoofed the ball clear moments after the incident had taken place it would be churlish to suggest that it was a clear goalscoring opportunity. Perhaps if it was Messi or Van Persie but Francisco Sandaza not so much.

In both of these incidents the defending teams were punished twice, although has already been mentioned John Potter probably knew St. Johnstone were going to miss, resulting in being a man down and the clear scoring opportunity being presented to the attacking side in the form of a penalty.

Before giving a final analysis on what should and should not constitute a red card in relation to goal scoring opportunities I would like to bring in the incident involving Kieran Richardson and Luis Suarez at the weekend. Suarez whilst clear through on goal had rounded Sunderland keeper Steven Mignolet narrowing the angle, whilst behind him he was caught by a chasing Kieran Richardson, quite rightly resulting in a penalty.

The decision by referee Phil Dowd to give just a yellow card was the sensible and correct thing to do. There was no clear indication of whether the foul committed by Richardson was intentional and therefore to send him off for a collision that could have been accidental would have been harsh. The penalty award punished the defending team and gave the opportunity for Liverpool to get their clear goal scoring opportunity, which Luis Suarez did his best Brazilian impression in sending it high and wide (Brazil’s penalties at the Copa America: WORST. EVER.).

The main question is, is stopping a clear goal scoring opportunity worthy of a red card offence? Well yes if you handle the ball in the final minute of extra time in a World Cup Quarter final or if a blatant foul professional or otherwise is committed clear for all to see then yes. However if there is even the smallest hint of doubt then surely a yellow card and a penalty has to be the only protocol.

A yellow card would have to be given as a recognition of a foul committed and the penalty will provide the precious ‘clear goal scoring opportunity’ that the attacking team have been denied. Just as if Suarez, Sandaza and Naismith had got clear through on goal there is scope for the penalty not to be converted just as there is scope for a clear scoring opportunity not to be converted, just ask Kenny Miller.

There will always be debate about what is and is not intentional when stopping a potential goal but to send a man off for a tackle that anywhere else on the pitch would have seen yellow is a punishment too far and where any element of doubt should be totally disregarded as its near the goal is wrong is wrong and the sooner there is clarity on this the better. I imagine it will be sorted round about the same time as corruption, goal-line technology, dissent, financial fair play, gambling syndicates……

Your video treat today those wonderful, wonderful penalties from the Copa America Quarter Final between Paraguay and Brazil