The Lighter Side – This Week In Sport : Episode 10

Welcome to the another edition of ‘The lighter side – This week in Sport’, a weekly-once-in-a-while review show of all the goings on in the world of sport over the past week.
Before we get to the show,

a disclaimer: All the reports here are based on completely baseless unreliable sources. We only compile them and present it to you. If we catch hold of our reporters, we will sue them on your behalf.

On tonight’s show:

Dada is back
The IPL rolls on
Man United and Barca
Saina-Gopi
Man City

 

Dada is back

Sourav Ganguly fans rejoiced as they saw Dada in action again. Only this time, he turned out in the colors of the Pune Warriors. He stroked a fluent 32* in his first game back against the Deccan Chargers. Fans all over India were heralding the return of the charismatic ex-captain and were hailing it as a new dawn in Indian cricket. Said one supporter, ‘this is truly a new leaf in the book of Indian cricket. Dada has moved to Pune and has shown that moving all over India is now simple and easy. He has proved once again that India is becoming like Pakistan. Retired players are coming back to play and then going back into retirement. All he has to do is get a ban and soon he will be offered honorary Pakistani citizenship because he has almost fulfilled all the criteria to be a Pakistani player. He has also been a captain. We would like to wish Dada all the very best!’

When asked on how it felt to be part of the Pune franchise, Dada replied, ‘well, it’s not really that different. When I was in KKR, the first season, we played in a black jersey. Now I am in Pune and playing in a black jersey. When I played for KKR, we were at or near the bottom of the league. And now Pune are near the bottom of the league. The only difference is that Shah Rukh Khan is not here. But that is ok. Now that, from Kolkata, the King is gone, the King is Khan’, he said, clearly in his self-modesty mode. With the left being walloped by the Trinamool congress, there is talk of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee following Dada to Pune and contesting for re-election.

 

The IPL rolls on

After an exhilarating world cup, the cricket just does not seem to stop. The IPL juggernaut continues to roll on with exxxxttraaaa innings, more exxxxtraaaaaa innings and even more exxxxxtraaaa innings. When asked about the naming convention, the head of Sony said, ‘see, we are very committed to the promotion of traditional values in cricket. Even though the IPL is a T20 tournament, by giving extra innings, we are promoting test match culture. Also, we promote viewership of technically correct batting by placing the likes of Arun Lal and Navjot Sidhu on the screen. They were technically sound batsmen on their day.’ When asked what about when it was not their day, he responded, ‘they were batsman.’ Insightful.

Chris has whipped up a gale in the IPL storming to the leaderboard of the orange cap standings. With hitting prowess as this, other teams have been left pulling their hair out at missing out on signing him for a measly $400,000. When asked, Gayle said, ‘Ya mon! Those men did not buy me but here I am in Bengaluru. I’m royal, mon! I just want to hit the ball and I am hitting the ball very well mon! I also like that flashy orange cap, mon. That’s why I’m scoring this way.’ Indian captain M.S Dhoni seems to have discovered his brutal streak once again. When quizzed, he said, ‘well of course.’ Typical.

On a side note, Sreesanth seems to have developed a thought that he is the best batsman in the league. ‘I have orange cap’, he said, referring to the Kochi Tusker’s cap color, and continued, ‘but in that cap purple color is also there. So I am best bowler also. I am best all-rounder. I will win Kerala election’, he said and wheeled off in a dance of triumph.

 

Man United and Barca

Manchester United have all but wrapped up their record 19th title with a win over reigning champions Chelsea. United only need one point out of their remaining two games to secure yet another title for Sir Alex Fergusson. ‘We knocked them off their perch’, read many a tweet, the ‘perch’ was apparently very clever since it was used on twitter with all the birds and all that. ‘Whoa! I’m gonna be a champion for the first time! Proud of myself. Awesome! I am epic! Wow! Awesome! They couldn’t have done it without me’, tweeted Michael Owen, whose chief job these days seems to be that of a cheerleader on twitter.

Barcelona have sown up their third successive title with a 1-1 draw in midweek. The players were expectedly ecstatic and partied hard into the night. Pep Guarliola sipped wine and threatened to quit in mental exhaustion. Lionel Messi kept running around between the other players shouting, ‘Goal!’. Dani Alves kept running up and down in straight lines. Puyol could not see anything through his mop of hair. Iniesta shied away. Mascherano did not know what to do. Xavi kept possession of the ball.

Sergio Busquets fell to the ground clutching his face.

 

Saina-Gopi


After months of speculation, it seems that a formal split is on the cards between World number 4, Saina Nehwal and long-time mentor and coach, Pullela Gopichand. Gopichand has revealed that Saina has written to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) that she wanted to train under P. Bhaskar Babu, a coach of the national team.

‘It is only a rumor. I have no problems with Gopi sir’, said Saina. Gopi said, ‘I don’t really have a problem with that. She has written to SAI, that she wants to work with Babu. I have heard that she was an ardent admirer of Sai Baba and now that he is no more, she wants to continue with SAI Babu. It is a purely emotional decision and I cannot help it. But, I have been approached by Sania to coach her. Apparently, Sania is tired of tennis because the racquet is very heavy and wants to take up badminton. Also, the Shuttle Federation’s new rule of wearing skirts seems to appeal greatly to Sania. She is very interested in taking up the sport and I am sure she will be a great success. Also, it won’t make much of a difference to me because ‘Saina’ and ‘Sania’ are anagrams.’


Man City


Facing a major PR disaster, Manchester City have come out and apologized to their hardcore fans about The Bluffer’s guide to MCFC that they published on their site. The page is an entry into the world of Man City for the new fans who according to the club ‘will start following the club now that there is champions league football.’ The old faithful are enraged about this document and feel that it is an insult to the existing supporters. ‘How dare they insult us this way? Do they think that they are being clever? How dare they say that “traditionally we don’t like red as a color?” This is an outrage. In fact, even outrage is generally represented in red to show the anger! They think that they are improving the marketing and branding when all they are doing is improving the … wait that did not come out right. They think they are being very clever by getting more people to support the club when they are clearly going to have more sup… No wait. That did not come out right either. Bah! You get my point. What they are doing is wrong. Don’t ask me why it is wrong. But it is wrong.’

Roberto Mancini, in his accented English said, ‘Congrats to AC Milan for winning the title. I think they played very well throughout the season. Good for them. But they won the title in Italy and we finished fourth in England. There is a difference, you see. That is Italy, and this is England. You see?’ We did see but were tempted to ask him the context of these comments. Before we could, he added, ‘that’s why it is different.’ Before we could clarify the situation, he was ushered away by a member of the Man City staff who claimed it was an ‘emergency’.

We later learned that Mario Balotelli had problems putting on his training bib again. Also, apparently, it was meal time and Mancini had to feed him Cerelac. After that, Balotelli drove off in his Maseratti.
 

That’s it from this week’s bulletin. We hope you enjoyed it. Until next time, its good bye from us …

El Beatle – A tribute

May 22nd, the day of the Champions league final, was what would’ve been the 64th birthday of one of the greatest of all time, the first real “superstar” of the game – George Best. When I saw a few videos of El Beatle on Youtube, I simply couldn’t believe the amount of skill that he had, the brilliant body balance, the fantastic technique and most of all, just that bit of specialness that made him ‘El Beatle’!

 

I watched a documentary called ‘George Best – footballing genius’ and was floored, to say the least. The amount of skill he possessed was out of the world. Back in the day, the hair was longer, the shorts shorter. The ball was made of leather and the pitch was no manicured carpet but was rather a not-so-healthy combination of grass and slush. Amongst these conditions, one stood above the rest. His name was George Best.

 

Now I’ve seen Messi play and a lot of Maradona clips. Both absolutely great footballers but having seen George Best, I can safely say that he is right up there amongst them. Sir Matt Busby once said, ‘He’s got the greatest natural talent in a footballer I have ever seen.’ Now that has to count for something.

 

The amount of abuse he was subjected to in terms of hard tackles, potentially career ending, and the appallingly miniscule amount of protection the referees offered him make his brilliance all the more, well, brilliant! If even half of those tackles went in today’s game, there’d be an avalanche of red cards and sending offs.

 

He did have his problems with the bottle but on the pitch, it was pure magic. He did things the only way he knew how – magically! He was a prima donna and left people wanting more; much more. He held together a crumbling team and left his legacy on the world of football.

 

Sir Matt Busby once said, ‘We’ve had our problems with the wee fellar but I prefer to remember his genius.’ In what turned out to be one of his final interviews before his death in 2005, Best said, ‘When I’m gone, forget all the rubbish. Remember the football. If one person in the world thinks that I am the best, that’d do for me.’

 

In the argument of who was the greatest footballer ever, there are 2 names that are oft repeated; an amazing Argentine and a brilliant Brazilian. Yet the ultimate truth lies engraved on a signboard somewhere in Northern Ireland. It reads thus:

Pele – Good.
Maradona – Better.
George – BEST !!!

May your Legend live on for all eternity!
May you rest in peace among your real equals – the stars in the sky !

 

 

Links : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nplemK3Y4ns
             http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3pwFgr8mPI

 

 

Cheers

The riddle of the Berbatov enigma

Manchester United had just won the League and Champions League double the previous season. Rooney and Tevez were forming a formidable strike partnership. Yet, the complaint was that they were too similar and that there had to be a different approach too. Enter Manchester United’s new Number Nine. Dimitar Berbatov. When he was signed on deadline day of 2008 from Tottenham Hotspur for a fee of close to 30.75 million pounds, there was little doubt that he would become a success story at Old Trafford. He would be the skill and panache to all of Tevez’s grit and graft. He would be the focus of attack. He would provide that piece of magic and that flash of brilliance at will. Fans were heard singing ‘Ooh! Aah! Cantona!’
What has transpired in the following two years at Old Trafford has been a story that is different from the ideal one in many counts. What was supposed to be a match made in heaven has turned into a series of nights of lull interspersed with brilliant one night stands. To say that Berbatov has set Old Trafford on fire would be a lie but to say that he has been an utter flop would be an even bigger one. Here I attempt to understand the complex riddle of what has gone wrong, where it has and why it has; the riddle of the enigma that is Dimitar Berbatov.
Berbatov first arrived on the scene with a fantastic piece of skill at the edge of the box, a small dribble and a cut back to Tevez to score against the old enemy. Things couldn’t have looked brighter but somehow, things did not materialize as expected. Berbatov’s early season performances were encouraging with good performances and great combination with both Rooney and Tevez. It was in mid-October that something happened. El Ron was back.
Having missed the early part of the season with ankle surgery, Ronaldo returned to the United fold and straight away, was thrust into the limelight. Sir Alex increasingly started using the 4-5-1 with Rooney up top but as the games wore on, Ronaldo ended up top and Rooney relegated to the wing. Berbatov was tried in the system but out of his natural habitat and playing in a new team, Berbatov didn’t quite flourish.
There were of course the brilliant flashes, tricks, flicks and backheels but these were few and far in between. When they did come off though, they were a thing to behold. The one moment that really stands out in my memory is that piece of skill in the league game against West Ham where he did a 360 on the by line and passed it to Ronaldo to score. Pure genius.
As the season wore on, he was being in rotation with Rooney and Tevez and many a time, it was a case of one among the three to partner Ronaldo up front with Rooney out wide.  The season ended with a poor penalty taken in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton which drew flak from all directions. 14 goals from 43 appearances was not a bad return but not one that was expected from a 30 million pound man. There were more than 15 assists too but the overall return was disappointing.
The next season came with the departure of Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester City and Real respectively. Michael Owen was signed but he was always going to be the third striker. The stage was set for Berbatov. His time was now. Yet, the season did not go according to the script.
If Ronaldo was ‘it’ in the previous season, Rooney was ’it’ this term. Quickly stepping out of the shadows of Ronaldo, Rooney was given the central role that he always craved and the effects showed. He ended the season with a phenomenal return of 34 goals. Again, it was Berbatov who made headway. Sir Alex again preferred the 4-5-1 in the big games with Rooney being the lone striker. In a 4-4-2, Berbatov did play but with him playing only every other game at best, the continuous run of games that is necessary for any partnership to flourish never materialized. Added to this, there was the lingering knee problem that just would not go away. Berbatov’s contribution was sporadic and although he did finish as joint second top scorer (along with ‘own-goal’) his performances have left fans polarized.
Why has Berbatov not worked? One, he has been playing a different role to the one at Tottenham. In his first season, he played ‘in the hole’ essentially when he was paired with Ronaldo, which his natural position. The one game where United absolutely wreaked havoc was the second half performance against Tottenham, ironically. United scored 5 goals in a 20 minute blitz in the second half, with ‘the fab 4’, Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Berbatov playing together. With Tevez, Rooney and Ronaldo playing in a fluid system, Berbatov was free to drop deep, collect the ball, play one-twos and show his entire repertoire of tricks and flicks. It was a sight to behold.
Berbatov’s is not an all-action style; it’s one of style, panache, finesse and skill. He will not chase lost causes. His economy of movement is something that not everyone will understand or appreciate. When he has been severely criticized for his lack of goals and his contribution but that argument has come in from quarters that do not really look at his other contribution to the way United play when he’s in the squad.
When he drops deep, invariably, he draws 2 defenders towards him. This opens up space for the others to exploit. He seems to hold on to the ball for a lot longer than necessary but all that while, he draws more defenders onto himself, thereby opening up more spaces and hence making the opposition lose their shape. Berbatov thrives on the ‘give-n-go’ system where he gives it and expects it back immediately.  The game against Tottenham is case in point. At United, this has not been the case most of the time. Admittedly, he has not got himself into goal scoring situations, or ‘at the end of the cross’ enough but that must not be the sole criterion to judge the man.
At Tottenham, he was the pivot around which the team operated. He was the lynchpin in attack and all moves went through him. His style is usually to drop deep, keep the ball, make a quick pass and get the ball back. At United, he has been doing the first three parts but seldom does he get the ball back immediately. Usually, Fletcher or Carrick or Scholes receive the ball and look to the wings to expand play rather than giving it back to Berbatov and build play more centrally. Now, I’m not in the least suggesting that this system is wrong and detrimental but merely stating the difference in the styles between United and Tottenham.
Another factor that influences Berbatov is confidence. He’s a form player who, when high on confidence, will pull off some of the most outrageous pieces of skill but when low on confidence, will look like a sorry man ambling on the pitch without any sense of direction. Sadly, this was the case on many an occasion this term. This can partly be attributed to his being in and out of the team and partly to the hefty price tag that has clearly weighed him down. 
At Tottenham, he was the pivot around which the team operated. He was the lynchpin in attack and all moves went through him. His style is usually to drop deep, keep the ball, make a quick pass and get the ball back. At United, he has been doing the first three parts but seldom does he get the ball back immediately. Usually, Fletcher or Carrick or Scholes receive the ball and look to the wings to expand play rather than giving it back to Berbatov and build play more centrally. Now, I’m not in the least suggesting that this system is wrong and detremential but merely stating the difference in the styles between United and Tottenham.
There are talks of him being let go but I believe that he needs one more season to really prove himself. Next season, if given a fair and steady run in the team, it is very likely that Manchester United will see the best of Dimitar Berbatov. There was a video on Youtube with the title ‘Is Fergie looking for a new Cantona’ just after Berbatov was signed. As is quite evident, I am a huge fan of United’s number nine and I’m sure that given time, he can reach the charismatic heights. There can be only one king but he could well have an heir.
Cheers

A night of opportunities lost

It was another fantastic European night at Old Trafford; it had goals, red cards, heroic defending and moments of pure magic. At the end though, Bayern Munich emerged with a loss on the night but a place booked in the semi-finals.

 

The drama unfolded even before kick-off. Wayne Rooney started. Clearly, he was only half fit but Sir Alex saw it prudent to pick him over Berbatov. The decision was certainly risky but what a decision it was! Rooney’s presence seemed to galvanize United who started off with an absolute blitzkrieg that left the Germans shell-shocked.   First, it was Gibson(another surprise starter) who put his foot through a Rooney lay off and squared Hans Jorg Butt all ends up. One nil inside three minutes. Then it was Nani’s turn. Valencia shimmied and conned Badstuder and fed in a ball that was finished off by Nani with a ‘Ronaldo-esque’ backheel. Two nil in seven minutes.

 

If the Germans were rattled after the first goal, they were literally in jitters after the second. They just didn’t know what hit them. Butt made a meal of a straightforward clearance and it went straight to Carrick who skewed his shot marginally wide. Bayern were looking to get a toe hold in the game but were simply being outplayed. The much fancied duo of Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery were all but anonymous with Ribery well cornered by a combination of Rafael and Valencia. On the half hour mark, Rafael had another glorious opportunity when he ran half the length of the pitch with the ball but poor decision making meant that he could not play in either Nani or Rooney.

 

Then in the 41st minute, United were at it again. Fletcher played a fantastic cross-field ball into Valencia who squared it to Nani, who unleashed an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. Three nil and seemingly, game over. Just before half time however, Olic pulled one back for Bayern when he took advantage of some slack defending and beat Van Der Sar. Three one at the break.

 

The second half started with Gomez coming on for the ineffective Muller. Bayern started the stronger and clearly, the goal had galvanized them. Then in the 50th minute, Rafael pegged back Ribery and the referee awarded a free kick. Initially, the referee did not appear to show any indication of reaching into his pocket but a swarm of Bayern players surrounded him, and he soon showed Rafael a second yellow which meant that United had to play the best part of the half, a man down. United were now effectively playing with nine and a half men with Rooney looking increasingly like a passenger. He was taken off in the second half and was substituted by the returning O’Shea.

 

Bayern were now firmly in the ascendancy and were putting more pressure on United. United held on till the 74th minute. That was when a moment of absolute magic put United out. Ribery took a corner which he clipped to the edge of the box towards a waiting Robben. The Dutchman showed fantastic technique and finesse to guide a brilliant volley into the corner of the net. Three two, on the night; Four four on aggregate; Advantage Bayern.

 

Bayern then controlled most of the game, playing it about at will. United did bring on Berbatov and Giggs for Carrick and Gibson but it was too little, too late. Three two at the end. Bayern through on the away goals rule and they now go on to face Lyon in the semi-finals.

 

The game was a fantastic mix of beautiful attacking football and shrewd tactical calculations. Bayern read the situation wonderfully after the sending off and played to the hilt. Nani and Valencia both had stellar games with the former showing his full array of tricks and flicks. After the sending off, he looked United’s main threat and at times, Bayern had 5 men on him. Fletcher ran his socks off, as usual, and the defence held up pretty admirably, apart from a couple of moments of slacking off, which in the end proved costly.

 

One can’t help but think that Sir Alex’s quite evident lack of faith in Berbatov may in part have been the deciding factor. Starting with a half-fit Rooney might well have paid off with the start United got but bringing on O’Shea and not Berbatov for Rooney probably was where he missed a trick. Sure, O’Shea came in to shore the defence up and shut up shop but he could have come on for the pretty woeful Michael Carrick. Both Valencia and Nani were constant outlets throughout the game but in the latter stages, there was no central lynchpin for them to really play their game. Even with 10 men, United attacked but somehow had to check back on breaks because of the lack of a central figure.

 

In all, it was a night of missed opportunities. Sir Alex will be fuming, more at the manner of the defeat(over the 3 legs) than the match result in itself. A couple of moments of bad defending over the 2 legs (Olic, the beneficiary on both occasions) will certainly be infuriating. For the second time in a week, united slacked off from being in a position of strength and Bayern made them pay. Another  European season of ‘what if?’ has just ended. The Premier League awaits.

Europe tonight: A preview

Yesterday is history now. Once the dust settled in Spain and Russia, two of the four semi-finalists of the UEFA Champions League 2009-’10 have been identified. It will be a clash of Italian guile and steel against the Spanish flow and beauty.

 

A couple of massive matches tonight.

First, the battle for France, with Bordeaux taking on Lyon. On paper, it looks to be Lyon’s for the taking. Having lost their crown to Bordeaux last season, Lyon were very much the wounded animal in the first leg and ran out comfortable 3-1 winners. Bordeaux though, will be buoyed by the away goal and its more than likely that Blanc will instill confidence in his charges and a mouthwatering clash may well be on the cards; Lyon out to prove that they are still top dogs in France, and Bordeaux looking to show the world that last season was no fluke.

 

Old Trafford, the theatre of dreams. The big question tonight will certainly be one of whether the dream for the club from Manchester will continue or will it be a resurgent Bayern who will quash the dream. Their talisman, Wayne Rooney, who has been nothing short of sensational this term and has more than once been the spark that has really galvanized Manchester United’s quest for glory this season. With Wazza on the bench (at best), United look to have their task cut out. With Berbatov leading the line over the weekend against Chelsea, the cutting edge did indeed seem to be missing. For all of his touch, suave and panache, Berbatov has been found wanting on occasion. United’s backline looks to be coming good but an ageing Neville could be exposed. John O’Shea is fit again, but having not played a competitive game since September ’09, it remains to be seen if he will be risked in such a massive game.

 

Ferdinand and Vidic look to be recapturing the old magic but its early days yet. The midfield is likely to have Nani and Valencia on the flanks with Scholes, Park and Fletcher in the middle.  Sir Alex, over the past couple of seasons has been known to favor the 4-5-1 in the big games but always had either Rooney  or Ronaldo leading the line. It will be interesting to see if Sir Alex opts for a bolder 4-4-2 approach with either Macheda or Diouf alongside Berbatov. However, this appears most unlikely with a 4-4-1-1 with either Giggs or Park supporting Berbatov, looking the most likely option.

 

On the other hand, Bayern will be full of confidence after a fantastic week which saw them do a “99” on United and regained top spot in the Bundesliga with a win over Schalke. With Robben back In their ranks, their wings look formidable. With a plethora of options up front, Van Gaal looks to have a plan for every situation. Add to that, the return to fitness of Van Buyten, and Bayern look to be at full strength and at their peak.

 

With United seemingly struggling and Bayern in full force, Bayern look to be the favorites, regardless of what Van Gaal says. Trust Sir Alex to pull the rabbit out of the hat though. One thing is for certain, another glorious European night awaits at Old Trafford tonight.

 

 

Cheers