You are browsing the archive for Opinion.

Why the FA Cup needs to be protected

January 12, 2017 in Opinion

The idea that the FA Cup is losing its status is more than just a theory; it has become an indisputable reality. Even the most extreme of romantics would admit that football’s oldest knockout competition is not what it once was.

Muscled out by the twin behemoths of Premier and Champions Leagues, and with even Championship clubs downgrading its importance, it is in the lower leagues where the Cup now finds its strongest allies.

Smaller clubs do their upmost to compensate for the neglect shown by the bigger ones, and that is why they need to be protected.

Wycombe Wanderers players reacting to getting Tottenham away in the fourth-round draw on Monday did the rounds on social media.

Ball number 18 was drawn out and they were off their chairs and into party mode. As a trip to the Lane beckons later this month, try telling the Chairboys that the magic of the Cup has faded.

Back seat

“The Cup is only devalued for Premier League clubs. The excitement is still there from the Championship down,” said Sutton boss Paul Doswell, manager of the lowest ranked club left in the draw, and it is hard to disagree with him.

Especially when Southend v Sheffield United in League One attracted more supporters (7,202) than the all-Premier League third-round tie between Hull and Swansea (6,808).

Admittedly, this was in part due to the ongoing battle between Hull fans and the club’s owners, but Premier League clubs just don’t care for it and it evidently rubs off on the supporters.

The absurd amount of cash at stake thanks to the current £5.1bn Sky-BT Sport TV deal dictates that Premier League clubs’ priorities lies with their league form.

Throw in European commitments for some of those clubs as well, and it’s not hard to see why the FA Cup has taken a back seat.

Squandered

And yet… Take Bournemouth for example, perched nicely in mid-table, seemingly safe from relegation fears but well adrift of a European place. Surely, the Cherries were in a perfect position to have a crack at the Cup.

“Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages”

Instead, manager Eddie Howe rang the changes – the whole starting XI – and they lost 3-0 away to League Two side Millwall.

Howe was berated by fans and the media for squandering what could have been a promising Cup run, but it was apparent that his and the owners priorities lies elsewhere.

Merit payments are due to every Premier League club based on league position at the end of the season, on top of their £85m equal share payout. Bournemouth currently sit in ninth place, which would secure another £24m.

To put that in perspective, the payout would yield over 12 times the amount the winner would receive for winning the FA Cup outright (£1.8m). Even nudging up to eighth would itself be worth more than that. This is huge for any club, not least for one of Bournemouth’s size.

No coincidence

Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages, so more needs to be done to protect the clubs that keep this competition alive.

Not scheduling Fulham away to Cardiff in an 11.30am kick-off when the earliest train arriving there from London was at 11.10am, with a 25-minute walk to the stadium.

“Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week”

A club’s fans are its most valuable asset, but they given scant regard by the FA and their broadcast partners who, let’s face it, call the tune over such scheduling madness.

It is no coincidence that all of Manchester United’s past 55 FA Cup games have been aired live on TV – a big audience is guaranteed.

But 15 minutes into their third-round tie with Reading, they were 2-0 up and the game was pretty much over. Surely other ties had the potential for more excitement and upsets?

No-win situation

Take Sutton United v Wimbledon – a ‘proper’ Cup clash that saw two smaller clubs dreaming of a lucrative fourth-round tie. But then again it wouldn’t have pulled in millions of viewers from Asia, Africa and the Far East like Jose Mourinho’s team do.

The money that  Sutton could have made had their game been televised would have been like winning the lottery for the National League outfit.

New changing rooms for the kids, suggested Doswell, along with a general revamp of the facilities and a healthier-looking budget. Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week.

Of course, broadcasting – like football itself – is a business, not a charity. The BBC would argue it has a right to chase for high viewing figures in return for their investment in the FA Cup.

In their defence, imagine if they had not aired the United match and Reading had won at Old Trafford. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.

Replays

But the BBC is a publicly-funded organisation that should not be all about numbers; there needs to be a compromise. Live coverage of Sutton’s replay with Wimbledon is worth £75,000 – a quarter of their annual budget.

It should not be perceived as them doing Sutton a favour, it may not pull in a mass audience, but they would be airing a good old-fashioned cup tie with history behind both sides.

“The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake”

Replays have been on the forefront of debates and continue to divide opinions. The small teams love the revenue they generate, but the big clubs would banish them in an instant.

They bemoan the fixture congestion replays cause, hence why there has been talk of them being scrapped – further evidence of finding ways to protect the interests of bigger clubs.

Surely, a better idea would simply be to put out a strong team, which would more than likely save a tie from going to a replay in the first place.

That replay away at Old Trafford or Anfield could be the biggest day in a lot of clubs’ season – or even history – the biggest game their players have ever played in and the biggest their fans have attended.

That should not be in jeopardy for the sake of shaving a game off an elite club’s schedule. The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake.

Do we really need boxing’s bad blood and feuds?

December 14, 2016 in Opinion

How far do boxers need to go in order to grab our attention when it comes to hyping up a big fight? And how far is too far?

These are questions that came to mind when Dereck Chisora threw a table at Dillian Whyte during a news conference to promote their recent contest in Manchester.

Are the months of sweat, pain and dedication that goes into preparing for a bout not enough to attract viewers? Does there have to be bad blood – or at least what appears to be real animosity between boxers?

“There was mutual respect shown in the end, but then we all know that they didn’t really hate each other’s guts in the first place”

That certainly seemed to be the case in 2002, when Mike Tyson sank his teeth into Lennox Lewis’s leg during a press conference brawl in New York.

A few years down the line, it was David Haye gatecrashing the media event after Vitali Klitschko had beaten Chisora (that man again).

A heated exchange of insults quickly descended into chaotic scenes in which Chisora was hit with a bottle and threatened to ‘shoot’ and ‘physically burn’ his fellow British heavyweight.

Ahead of their fight at West Ham’s Upton Park stadium, the two Londoners were kept apart by a fence and a battalion of security staff.

Sworn enemies?

Back to Chisora v Whyte, and was that airborne item of furniture really necessary just to sell a few more satellite and cable TV pay-per-views?

It resulted in their bout being stripped of its British title status, and could have resulted in someone – a journalist, photographer or passing PR person – getting seriously injured. All in the name of selling a fight.

As it turned out, that fight was a bona fide thriller, with Whyte winning by a split decision and the general consensus being it was one of the year’s best contests.

There was mutual respect shown between the two fighters in the end, but then we all know that they didn’t really hate each other’s guts in the first place.

Isn’t it fascinating how we lap up the pre-fight narrative of boxers being sworn enemies, only to commend them for sharing a warm embrace at the end of the fight.

Trash talk

Boxing is particularly prone to opponents trash-talking each other, and has a long tradition of fighters ‘calling out’ rivals and threatening to do all sorts to them once they step into the ring.

“There is a serious side of ‘the noble art’ that is being completely being ignored in favour of the gimmicky, the soundbite and the video clip that goes viral”

Surely what makes a fight is the match-up, the clash of style and tactics, the test of character and one’s chin inside the ropes, not at a press conference or weigh-in.

True, nobody was better at winding up opponents that Muhammad Ali, but this was a form of verbal showmanship – you never saw ‘The Greatest’ throwing tables at George Foreman or Joe Frazier.

Their fight build-ups involved no flying furniture, or any need for an army of heavies to keep two adults apart in case they couldn’t possibly resist the temptation to knock each other’s blocks off there and then, with no cheque, title or win-loss record at stake.

Struggles

Perhaps ‘the show’ is losing its credibility as a result of too much window dressing. Instead of magnifying meaningless spats that happened years ago, why don’t promoters focus more on the human stories of these boxers and their backgrounds?

Okay, so when Whyte fought Anthony Joshua in yet another ‘grudge’ bout, they were indeed former amateur opponents, with Whyte the winner over three rounds.

But when it came to Whyte v Chisora, we were told their feud was all down to a few sparring sessions in the gym a while back.

What about the struggle that each boxer has had to face throughout their careers? Why do they fight? Why do choose to risk their health every time they enter the ring?

There is a serious side of ‘the noble art’ that is being completely being ignored in favour of the gimmicky, the soundbite and the video clip that goes viral.

Reckoning

Nick Blackwell had to be placed in a medically induced coma for a week after his fight with Chris Eubank Jr earlier this year.

Eduard Gutknecht underwent surgery after his fight with George Groves, and Mike Towell died after his fight with Dale Evans as a result of severe bleeding and swelling to the brain.

Whyte and Chisora are both family men. Is there not a better story to be told here in light of recent events?

Chisora’s £30,000 fine and his suspended two-year ban isn’t going to do much in the way of deterring this sort behaviour in the name of selling a fight.

The irony is, when the hour of reckoning came, their fight proved to be truly memorable one.

But while actual tickets to a fight night are limited by the size of the arena, there are always more PPVs to be sold, so the hype and the press conference antics will continue.

One day, someone is really going to get hurt…

Review – The Battle by Paul O’Connell

December 13, 2016 in Opinion

To rugby union fans, the name Paul O’Connell is synonymous with the northern hemisphere game; he is one of the modern greats of the game, but has an incredibly humble background story.

He won over 100 caps for Ireland, won a Grand Slam in the Six Nations, been on three British and Irish Lions tours, and played in numerous World Cups, not to forget Heineken Cup wins as well.

Had it not been for Brian O’Driscoll’s brilliant career at the same time as his, he would have arguably been the best Irish player of his generation.

He was a die-hard second row forward, putting his heart into every tackle and getting stuck in at most of the breakdowns. He finally retired at the age of 35 in 2015, after an illustrious 14-year career with Munster, his home province.

Having played rugby for 10 years myself, I was keen to learn about his experiences playing the game at the top level, and this frank and honest memoir explains just how brutal rugby can be – not only physically, but mentally as well.

Calling it quits

O’Connell was a player who strived for excellence throughout his career, be it playing for Munster, Ireland or the Lions. He wanted to be the best, and he wanted to be in peak physical condition whenever he played.

“O’Connell is an honest man, and he knew he had run out of steam, which is fair enough for a player who had given his life to the sport for the best part of 20 years”

He recalls how, after years of doing it, he took the big decision to quit whilst swimming, a passage which resonated with me about my own childhood experience of playing sport.

He recounts having to tell his father of his choice, and how hard it was to get the words out, because, having put so much effort in to help him, he was worried his dad wouldn’t be happy with his decision. His reply? “It’s your decision and I’ll back it” – a similar reaction to the one I encountered.

Towards the end of my rugby career at youth level, I was finding the sheer physicality was taking its toll on me mentally, and even though we are completely different people, O’Connell was in a similar state of mind towards the end of his career.

Aftermath

O’Connell talks about getting injured in Ireland’s final game of the 2015 World Cup, saying: “It came into my head that I’d be stronger in the second half. And then, on 39.42, I got pulled out of the ring.”

This resonated with me after looking back at my career, playing one of the best games of my life, only to break my collarbone in a tackle.

The mental battle during the months of recuperation ahead is the toughest part of injuries – a key topic O’Connell which dwells on throughout the book.

He recalls how as entered the final phase of his career, the aftermath of matches began taking an increasingly tough toll. “When I got into my thirties, the same aches and pains were telling me it was time to retire.”

O’Connell is an honest man, and he knew he had run out of steam, which is fair enough for a player who had given his life to the sport for the best part of 20 years.

Choking

Nor was was it just on the field of play where the stresses and strains of an increasingly professionalised sport manifested themselves.

“He was a brutal player too, and reminisces about the dark side of rugby”

O’Connell recalls one training session where “we collapsed the maul and the digs were flying… I rained five or six punches down on the back of Quinny’s head… In the dressing room afterwards, he was laughing about it. He couldn’t believe I’d belted him.”

Contrast that with another episode in 2007 when, during Ireland training, he got into a scuffle with Ulster player Ryan Caldwell. O’Connell punched him, fracturing his jaw and knocking him out, and was terrified he was swallowing and choking on blood.

This was a turning point for O’Connell. “What happened to Ryan Caldwell changed me,” he reveals. “It was the worst moment of my career. I never threw a punch in training again.”

Brutal

I got great enjoyment out of reading this book simply due to the fact that I could relate to a lot of the issues that O’Connell discusses.

Of course, he’s a legend in his sport and captained his country, but having skippered my youth team for the last five years of my playing career, I could buy into where he was coming from.

O’Connell wasn’t your everyday modern rugby player. He flitted between sports, trying to find his niche throughout his teenage years, and didn’t begin to excel at rugby union until he was 16 years old.

He was a brutal player too, and reminisces about the dark side of rugby. “The first thing you do after kick-off, find your opposing player, and give him a shoeing without getting caught.”

As bad as it sounds that was kind of the enjoyment of rugby – there were never any hard feelings after the game, a shake of the hands and you just crack on with it. This is something that O’Connell emphasises throughout his story.

 Mental strain

The mental battle O’Connell went through was the most interesting topic of all, though. He’d beat himself up if a performance wasn’t up to standard, and even went through stages of depression when he knew he wasn’t good enough.Paul O'Connell in action for Ireland. (Credit: Irish Daily Star)

O’Connell was always in a battle with his mind about his fitness, for the last 10 years of his career, he doubted whether he was good enough.

He was so passionate about the sport he didn’t want to let himself or his team-mates down.

He was a player who took this kind of thing to heart. Perhaps it was the thing that spurred him on to achieve greatness.

This is something that many people can relate to, whether they play sport or not, I know I took some comfort in knowing that I can relate to someone who was as good at rugby as O’Connell was.

What I enjoyed the most is the connection you can have when reading an autobiography; you look for the similarities and whether you have been in similar situations. In this case there were many similarities and that’s what made it such a good memoir for me.

The Battle by Paul O’Connell is published by Penguin Ireland.

Who is the 2016 team of the year?

December 8, 2016 in Features, News & Features, Opinion

2016 has been yet another fantastic year of sport, one well worth celebrating, be it the remarkable story of the underdog or persistent dominance at the top level.

Below are Elephant Sport’s top five teams of the year, which range from the record breaking Team GB Women’s Hockey squad, how a rugby-loving nation went football mad and the fairytale story of Leicester City.

5) Mercedes F1; the continuing domination

The Mercedes F1 team sealed their third successive double of Constructors’ and Drivers’ World Championships in 2016.

The team clinched both accolades in 2014 and 2015, and now 2016 when the constructor’s crown was sealed in Japan and Nico Rosberg clinched the driver’s title, in the last race of the season at Abu-Dhabi.

mercedes-celebrate-third-consesive-construtors

Mercedes celebrate a third consecutive Constructors Championship

Not only are Mercedes on a fantastic run spanning three years, in 2016 they managed to break several records on the way.

The German works team won a record 19 of the 21 races in the season, helping them to notch up another record; an impressive tally of 765 points in a single campaign.

They also bagged the most poles in a season; 20, one away from a whole season of Mercedes poles.

Their 10 consecutive race wins could have been another history-maker; if Lewis Hamilton’s engine wouldn’t have failed in Malaysia (effectively costing him the drivers trophy), Mercedes would have 16 consecutive race wins.

“Making history along the way and re-writing the record books, what we’ve achieved together is mind-blowing”

After helping to secure the constructors championship with a win in Japan, Rosberg said: “I’ve been here since day one of this project in 2010 and it’s really phenomenal the journey we’ve taken together towards being the best team in Formula 1.

“Making history along the way and re-writing the record books, what we’ve achieved together is mind-blowing and I’m really proud to have played my small part in that”

The standards Mercedes have set in 2016 will take some beating.

4) England’s rugby union winning streak

A year on from the disappointment of a dismal home World Cup, England rugby union’s squad completed a perfect 2016, equalling their record of 14 successive wins, set in 2003.

edjon

England coach Eddie Jones celebrating one of the teams 14 successive victories this year

Eddie Jones’s side equalled that mark by achieving their highest ever score over rivals Australia at Twickenham; a 37-21 win on December 3.

England can surpass their current record in February 2017, when they face France at Twickenham in the RBS Six Nations opening fixture.

Since Jones’s arrival in November 2015, England have made tremendous progress, with a Six Nations Grand Slam, a whitewash of Australia in the summer Test series down under, and a first win in a decade against South Africa.

According to the wily Australian, “10-15 English players” could feature in the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

“We are not looking at records, just the next game. But we can draw a line under this year with a good victory against a quality side [Australia],” England captain Dylan Hartley told BBC 5 Live.

“I’m very proud of the guys over the last few weeks, and it’s nice to go back to our clubs knowing we have done English rugby and the shirt proud.

“We leave it in a good place until the Six Nations,” added Hartley.

3) Wales impress at Euro 2016

A rugby-loving nation went football mad over the summer, when the Welsh national side qualified for their first major tournament since 1958 and outstandingly reached their first ever major semi-final.

wales-v-slovakia-euro-2016-group-b

Wales score their first goal at a major tournament since 1958

More than half the population watched the Euro 2016 semi-final defeat to Portugal, beating the record set for a sporting event, which was in fact only previously set by the Welsh in their Euro 2016 quarter final victory over Belgium.

It was only five years ago that Wales were ranked 117 in the world, and in 2016 they finish an impressive 12th according to Fifa’s rankings; one place above England.

Thanks to their successful surge, Wales were seeded for the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, which could set them in a great position to qualifying for only their third major finals next year.

Star man Gareth Bale has also been nominated for the 2016 Footballer of the Year award. The Real Madrid striker scored three goals at Euro 2016, making him Wales’ all-time top goal scorer in major tournaments.

“When you start playing around with the top 10, that’s a good feeling”

Wales manager Chris Coleman told the Evening Standard that after 2016’s success the nation must “not get carried away”.

“We have had some dark times when we have dropped outside the top 100. So when you start playing around with the top 10, that’s a good feeling.

“But there’s a different kind of pressure on us, we can’t be ‘plucky old Wales’. People will expect us to deliver.”

2) Team GB Women’s hockey gold

At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Team GB’s women’s hockey squad became history-makers by winning the nation’s first-ever female field hockey gold.

hockey-girls-celebrate-gold

The GB women’s hockey team celebrate gold

Danny Kerry’s squad were huge underdogs when they faced the Netherlands in the final.

The Dutch comfortably won gold in both the 2008 Olympics (Beijing) and 2012 (London). They were also ranked number one in the world.

The final finished 3-3 in normal time, with Britain’s keeper Maddie Hinch making a string of remarkable saves.

And the Dutch could not beat Hinch in the resulting shootout, which Britain won 2-0. Helen Richardson-Walsh and Hollie Webb scored the decisive penalties to seal a famous victory.

Captain Kate Richardson-Walsh and wife Helen Richardson-Walsh became the first married couple to win gold for Britain since Cyril and Dorothy Wright in the sailing in 1920.

“That will change the face of British hockey”

After the game former Team GB men’s hockey bronze medallist Simon Moore told the BBC: “I am genuinely struggling to put this result into words.

“GB were under pressure for huge chunks but we thought if it went to penalties we could win. Fair play to Maddie Hinch, just incredible.

“That will change the face of British hockey.”

And according to the University of the Arts hockey president Dhalyn Warren, the sport has already seen a huge “rise in participation”.

1) Leicester City; Premier League Champions

In at number one; the greatest underdog story of all time; in May 2016 Leicester City were remarkably and deservedly crowned champions of England, and not one of us predicted it.

_89204280_lineker

Former Leicester star Gary Lineker was one of many to doubt the appointment of Claudio Ranieri

Having pulled in manager Claudio Ranieri, sacked from the Greece national side in November 2014, the whole of England expected to see Leicester relegated back to the Championship from which they were promoted in 2014; especially after flirting with relegation in 2015.

The Foxes are now in the elite club of only six sides to have won the Premier League since its inception in 1992.

A number of newspapers described their title win as the greatest sporting upset of all time. Not forgetting the huge record pay outs by the bookmakers on early-season odds of 5,000-1.

lcfc-champs

Leicester City lif the Premier League trophy

Star striker Jamie Vardy also broke a record; scoring 11 goals in 11 consecutive league games. Vardy was also the ninth player to score 20 top flight goals in a season.

Ranieri’s side had the fewest away defeats in any top flight season; defeated only twice on their travels. The club produced a further record for the most consecutive wins in the top flight (five).

The club have also continued their underdog story; successfully progressing into the Champions League knock-out stages.

Former Foxes midfielder Robbie Savage told the BBC: “I’m speechless, it is unbelievable. I’ve seen England win the Ashes and get OBEs and MBEs.

“This Leicester team’s achievement is greater than any of that. They should be recognised in the honours list”

Overall the fairytale of Leicester City makes this side, the team of the year for 2016.

Elephant Sport’s NBA Quarterly Report – Pt 1

December 6, 2016 in Opinion

With every team in the NBA having reached a minimum 20 games, we have arrived at the second quarter of the regular season.

The first was enthralling, unpredictable and offered up many exciting moments. Elephant Sport breaks it down into some fun categories.

Best Team: Golden State Warriors

ccurry

Curry lets fly from three-point range

It’s hard to look past the Golden State Warriors for this one. Despite losing their opening game to the San Antonio Spurs, and then suffering defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers a few days later, many were quick to attribute issues of chemistry to this Warriors side.

After all, this was the team to beat prior to the season. But how do elite teams bounce back? By winning. Golden State went one step further, though.

They swatted each and every single opponent out of their sight, notching a streak of 12 wins before falling to the Houston Rockets on their 20th match. They are currently nurturing a 17-3 record.

Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, contrary to popular belief prior to the season, have grown a strong on-court bond together.

The former is posting up career-highs in every single department – not least of which, points. Meanwhile Curry has embodied the role of facilitator, aptly putting his ego to the side.

Worst Team: Dallas Mavericks

It’s tough to argue against a side who has only won four of their 21 encounters this season. Unfortunately, there have been two teams that have recorded an identical record.

The difference between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Mavericks? The former have at least looked entertaining and have some young stars that are lighting up the league, eg, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor.

dirk

Dirk’s injury has crippled Dallas

The 76ers have also taken the biggest of teams to overtime and tend to lose by small margins. The Mavs, on the other hand, are completely devoid of any quality.

Dirk Nowitzki – their only star – has been injured for the majority of the season, which has exposed how frail and disappointing the Dallas side is without the 38-year-old.

The most disappointing thing about the Mavericks is that players like Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut – two former NBA champions – have turned in good performances sporadically at best.

Bogut has been inconsistent when protecting the rim and has fouled out twice already this season. Whereas Barnes is failing to dish out assists, averaging only one per game. By having the highest ball-usage on the team, he should be producing more often.

Most Improved Team: Houston Rockets

482px-james_harden_rockets_cropped

Harden is producing his best numbers to date

The Rockets were lambasted in the off-season when they appointed Mike D’Antoni as head coach. This was seen as a signing that would continue to allow the Rockets to play shoddy defence.

But what most seemed to forget was that defence matters very little in the regular season, especially if you can create All-Star numbers on the other end of the court.

But, even then, many punters had the Rockets failing to reach the play-offs once the season ends. As of right now, the Rockets are sitting in fourth place behind only the Spurs, Warriors and Clippers – inarguably the three best teams in the Western Conference.

D’Antoni has assembled a team of cut-throat three-point shooters, including new boys Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.

With this maximised potential on offence, the Rockets have broken two records already this season: most three-point shots attempted in NBA history (51) and longest streak of three-points made in NBA history (17).

James Harden is posting MVP numbers and very close to averaging a triple-double for the season. D’Antoni’s influence has allowed ‘The Beard’ to both orchestrate play and run it too.

The Rockets are currently 13-7 and are the only side in the league to have beaten both the Spurs and Warriors already; both on the road.

Who Needs to Trade Immediately: Boston Celtics

The Celtics are struggling more than most expected. Despite being third in their conference, a 12-8 record has been seen as a disappointment from inside the franchise.

Boston are in dire need of a strong rebounder – something they thought Al Horford could be. While Horford has been fairly good this season, his role seems to be more focused on getting points in the paint rather than winning possession off the board.

demarcus

The Celtics could prosper from a move for Cousins

With a consistent rebounder, the Celtics would lose a lot less. In fact, they currently lead the NBA in most second chance points conceded. This is, without a doubt, due to their lack of proficiency in the air when leaping for a rebound.

Who could they trade for? The Celtics aren’t devoid of pieces that they could put up. And they are also not a franchise unrecognisable to most.

With superstar Isaiah Thomas leading the floor, and a consistent army of good players surrounding him, now is the chance to join up with the Celtics.

In an ideal world, the Celtics move for Sacramento’s Demarcus Cousins. The often-aggressive centre is becoming disillusioned with what is shaping up to be another season of disappointment for his team.

He’s averaging over 10 rebounds per game, which should ring shouts of excitement in the ears of Boston. After all, how hard could it be to tempt a disillusioned player away from his suffering franchise while he’s in his peak years?

Sacramento needs picks in the draft to start building for the future. Boston could offer a pick or two, along with outcasts such as Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk. It makes sense.

Surprise Package: Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers at Wizards 12/2/15

Julius Randle, at just 22, is having a fine season

The Lakers post-Kobe Bryant were supposed to be an incoherent mess on the court. Plays on offence were going to diminish, meanwhile defensive presence was to continue being non-existent at best.

Having finished bottom of the West in the previous season with Kobe, one would be forgiven for thinking this season would be worse. Except they are already seven wins away from bettering last season’s measly 17 victories.

They are also one win away from a play-off spot already.

This is the first quarter they have had to play without Kobe’s influence in over 20 years. And they couldn’t look freer from his shackles.

Offensive play has been smooth, with sophomore D’Angelo Russell facilitating play from the point-guard position. His rotation partner, Jordan Clarkson, has also been posting up monster numbers from the bench.

Nick Young, often ridiculed for being a veteran with a kid’s mentality, has won two games for the Lakers with buzzer-beater shots and is leading the team effortlessly.

And then you have Julius Randle – by far the Lakers’ finest player this quarter. The 22-year-old has already registered a triple-double this season and is averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game.

A supporting cast of Lou Williams and Timofey Mozgov has enabled the Lakers to flourish and, with a 10-12 record, they look like a dark horse for a play-off spot in a season where everyone expected the franchise to hit rock bottom.

MVP at the Quarter: Russell Westbrook

Wizards v/s Thunder 03/14/11

Russ is clinching historic numbers

Many predicted this, but nobody quite predicted the enormity of Russell Westbrook’s play.

Following the departure of Oklahoma team-mate and long-term friend Kevin Durant, it was expected that Westbrook would play out of his skin in every game to compensate for the fact that he is the only remaining superstar on the Thunder.

Fast-forward 20 games and the point-guard is averaging a triple-double per game, including six in a row, which has equalled and bettered greats such as Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.

With his outstanding play, Westbrook is now averaging a monster 31 points per game, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He has single-handedly dragged a quality-depleted Thunder side to fifth in the conference with an admirable 13-8 record.

James Harden seems like the closest contender but, if Westbrook does not slow down, elite names such as LeBron James, Curry, Durant and Chris Paul won’t even stand a chance next to the 28-year-old.

Rookie of the Year at the Quarter: Joel Embiid

Can anyone genuinely look past the eccentric 7’0″ Cameroonian centre?

After two long years of injury, nobody expected Embiid’s first NBA season to be one of such pure dominance on both ends.

sixers

Joel Embiid warms up with a dunk

Despite being restricted to just 23 minutes per game, Embiid is averaging 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

Consider the fact that he is only appearing in half of every match, this is a fascinating return for the 22-year-old.

While honourable mentions such as Pascal Siakam and Jaylen Brown look impressive, they are nothing in comparison to the 76ers behemoth.

He moves as though he is several inches shorter on offence, and operates as a man possessed when protecting the rim on the other end. His entertainment factor is sky-high, often lighting up what is a very poor Philly side.

He already looks like an All-Star in the making.

Offensive Play of the Quarter:

A game-winner? Some fancy handles? A three-point shot?

How about all three combined into one smooth play by the Rockets’ James Harden against the Utah Jazz:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0eNj7pcHzA

Defensive Play of the Quarter:

Two plays rolled into one, watch as Kristaps Porzingis cements two monster blocks deep in the fourth quarter and OT to deliver the New York Knicks a victory against the Charlotte Hornets:

Elephant Sport will be continuing this four-part series throughout the NBA season at every quarter. 

Is video gaming a real sport?

December 6, 2016 in Features, Multimedia, Opinion

There is a grey area when it comes to determining if certain activities are a sport.

These can range from card games, chess and wrestling to fishing or pool. In recent years however, a new pastime has become part of the debate – gaming.

As with the other activities touted as sports, opinions are sharply divided. But those who argue that gaming should be considered a sport make a surprisingly strong case.

At first glance it might seem downright silly to call gaming a sport but there are a lot of commonalities between classic sports and playing on a console or PC.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the definition of a sport is: “A game, competition, or activity needing physical effort and skill that is played or done according to the rules, for enjoyment and/or as a job”.

The key word here is, of course, ‘physical’. Gaming is not a physical activity (button-mashing Tekken doesn’t count), no matter what level you compete at.

However, I don’t think that the lack of a physical aspect to gaming completely rules it out as a sport.

Similarities

Here are a few similarities between sport and gaming:

  • There is a competitive, individual/team activity.
  • They draw crowds (and big crowds at that). The big events even take place in stadiums and arenas and are broadcast on TV with pundits, analysts and commentators.
  • Both involve a high level of strategy, especially games like Defence of the Ancients (DOTA), League of Legends and even Call of Duty.
  • There is also the classic argument made by every gamer ever that playing requires high levels of reaction times.
  • They have rules and codes of conduct.

Experiment

So now we’ve established that there are a lot of close similarities, but re-read those points with the context of TV cooking shows.

Can it be both?

Can it be both? (Image Credit Pixbay)

Done? Again, apart from the stadiums and reaction times, they seem to somewhat match the aspects of sport, but that doesn’t mean that cooking should be considered a sport.

Michal Blicharz is a former judoka who now organises events on the Intel Extreme Masters circuit, an elite global pro-gaming tour.

He told the BBC: “I’ve sweated on the judo mat enough times to have a good opinion about it.

“Judo and e-sports are not that dissimilar. In terms of training you have to put in the same amount of hours, perhaps even more in e-sports.

“You study strategy, technique and opponents. All the elements are there – the excitement, the adrenalin, players crying tears of sorrow and joy.”

Prize pool

On top of all of that, professional gaming is becoming an exponentially growing business.

The prize money on offer at major tournaments such as League of Legends World Championship, Halo World Championship, and DOTA 2 International are now reaching similar levels to those of major sporting events.

E-sports has become a big bucks pursuit (Image Credit: Flickr)

The entire prize pool for the 2016 Defence Against the Ancients Championship reached over $20m with the winning team (Wings Gaming) receiving just over $9m.

Each team consists of five people which works out as $1.8m per player. The total of the prize pool at the US Open tennis was over $36m with the singles champions getting $3.5m.

It’s also worth pointing out that each year the prize pools at major gaming events have increased so it is not unrealistic that eventually pro gamers will be earning as much as top athletes.

Gaming also has a similar format as in sport when it comes to making it to the major tournaments.

A pro-gaming team first has to get into a Secondary Pro League which is a national event by competing in local and regional events. The winners and runners up of the Pro League are then seeded into the world championship.

 Verdict

So is gaming a sport? My personal opinion is that it isn’t, even though there are undeniable similarities.

I believe that it is acceptable to call it e-sports but it should become its own establishment with its own governing body rather being approved by sporting councils.

For me, watching someone playing Fifa on an Xbox or PlayStation and calling it a sport is almost an insult to all those athletes who put in the many hours training to improve their skills.

By no means am I saying that improving skill, ability and intellect in gaming doesn’t take time and effort and dedication, but rather that there is a difference.

Just like cooking is cooking, art is art, and music is music, so should pro gaming be pro gaming, or in this case, e-sports, but not sports.

Feature image of the League of Legends tourney courtesy of Wikimedia.

Review – I Am Bolt

December 5, 2016 in Opinion

Feature length documentary ‘I Am Bolt’ culminates with Jamaica’s spring king winning an unprecented ‘triple triple’ of golds at 100m, 200m and 4x100m at three successive Olympics in Rio, but winds things back to where it all began in rural Trelawny 30 years ago.

“For his height, they say Usain shouldn’t be running so fast, for where he’s from, they are saying he shouldn’t be who he is,” says manager and best friend Nugent Walker, referring to the fact that Bolt grew up poor.

Directors Benjamin Tuner and Gabe Turner capture the humble roots of the world’s fastest man, with contributions from his parents Wellesley and Jennifer, and clips of a young Bolt, his face bearing the mischievous  grin now familiar to billions of people around the world.

They trace Bolt’s journey from when he burst onto the athletics scene as a skinny young boy, through to him beating his chest as he crossed the line at in the 100m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, onto London 2012 and finally to Brazil this summer.

Along the way there are flashbacks to key events such as the World Junior Championships for U20s in 2002, at Kingston’s national stadium, where Bolt, aged, 15, won the 200m in front of his hard-to-please home crowd. Bolt still regards it as his best moment ever.

Inspirational

If  you are able to make the Jamaican crowd chant your name at 15, you know you have real potential – and the film shows how Bolt has realised that youthful promise.

The film-makers have no doubt created an inspirational documentary, one which captures the hard work behind Bolt’s seemingly carefree attitude, but it’s not perfect.

“Is success hasn’t come as easily as his laid-back persona sometimes suggests”

In a sporting context, questions are left unanswered, such as the drugs scandal that looms over athletics, and the problems Jamaica has had in this regard.

The issue of doping does come up, but it’s at the expense of the former American drug cheat, and once Olympic and world champion Justin Gatlin, stumbling over his words, and angrily responding to a journalist’s probing question on his doping history.

With exclusive access to Bolt, his team and those closest to him, the film-makers missed an opportunity to address the shortcomings in Jamaica’s drug-testing regime.

This could directly impact on Bolt if relay team-mate Nesta Carter alleged use of a banned stimulant at the Beijing Olympics is proved and the 4x100m squad are stripped of their gold medals because of it.

Lifestyle

“Work for what you want” – Bolt is captured reminiscing about his father’s message to him as a young boy, and it’s advice he has respected and adhered to.

Training hard twice a day under the tough auspices of long-time coach Glen Mills, altering his lifestyle and diet – all in hope of being regarding as the greatest athlete ever – Bolt is truly shown as his father’s son. His success hasn’t come as easily as his laid-back persona sometimes suggests.

The film also shows Bolt using his rivals’ words as motivation, such as an interview Gatlin gave to TMZ.

“What makes me strive is the fact that they talk all the time,” Bolt says. “When you talk and tell me what you’re going to do, all it makes me want to do is work harder, big up to yourself, Justin Gatlin.”

And yet, it’s often overlooked that Bolt has often not been at his best going into major championships, and Rio was a case in point.

‘Gigantic task’

With his season and training regime disrupted by injury in the build-up to the 2016 Games, the film reveals Bolt to be plagued by doubts and sometimes struggling to find the motivation needed to succeed at the Olympics once again.

He is shown seeking advice from friends including four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson and Australia’s 200m Commonwealth champion John Steffensen.

“The documentary ends with Bolt joining some exalted company in a humble setting that takes the audience back to his origins”

If was as if  Bolt felt that there was nothing left prove. As coach Mills puts it: “He’s faced with a gigantic task, it will be like starting all over again.”

Ultimately, it wasn’t his coach or friends, but arch-rival Gatlin who finally awoke the sleeping beast.

The world gets a rare glimpse of Bolt looking frustrated and annoyed as his medical exception from the Jamaican trials has members of Team USA, including Gatlin and Mike Rodgers, making insinuations and casting aspersions.

Famously relaxed by nature, and as an athlete with a completely clean drugs-testing record, he uses their disrespect to ignite the fire within ahead of Rio.

Saviour 

It’s clear from that scene onwards that Bolt finally has all the motivation he needs to defend his own – and his sport’s – reputation, and cement his unbeaten Olympic legacy in Brazil.

A medium close-up shows him to be visually angry over the negative spin of the Americans. He shakes his head, stares into the camera and says: “It’s not going to be the same.”

In that moment the audience can see that the man viewed by many as the saviour of athletics – with all its corruption and drug issues – is ready to show the world how a race should be won. It’s safe to say that Gatlin and Rodgers had no idea what they had done…

Job done in Rio, and retirement now beckons for Bolt after the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London next summer.

But, as the documentary shows, he has already joined some exalted company in a ceremony in a humble setting that again takes the audience back to his origins.

The sprinter sees his portrait join those of Jamaican national icons Nanny the Maroon and Marcus Garvey on the wall at his old school, William Knibb Hill Memorial High.

It captures the love, appreciation and esteem that Jamaicans hold for their finest-ever athlete – one for whom ‘I Am Bolt’ delivers a fitting visual portrait.

For more information about ‘I Am Bolt’ visit the film’s website.

Review – Book of Isaiah

December 5, 2016 in Opinion

Picture being 5’9” in a sport where the average man towers over you with a seven-inch advantage. Now picture being one of the best players in your position, despite that height differential. That’s Isaiah Thomas. 

‘Book of Isaiah’ is a documentary that gives a voice to the Boston Celtics’ elite point guard who this season has averaged NBA career-highs in points, assists, rebounds and steals.

For a player of his size, Thomas’ average of three rebounds per game is staggering. Even a glance at his 26 points per game, in a sport where the man guarding him is always a stronger and more imposing physical specimen, is bewildering.

But this is a testament to the man nicknamed the Conductor’s hard work and growing appreciation for the game – something this documentary explores effortlessly.

The start

One of the most regularly searched things on Google regarding the 27-year-old is: ‘Are Isaiah Thomas and Isaiah Thomas related?’ For the uninitiated, this documentary – right from the get-go – answers this question once and for all.

While the Celtics’ point-guard isn’t related to the hall-of-fame Detroit Pistons guard, it is revealed that Thomas’ father named him after the legend due to losing a bet with a friend.

Perhaps, as the film suggests, Thomas was always destined for success in the NBA – regardless of his height.

In school, Isaiah was often the smallest kid on the court. In college, the smallest on the team. Now in the entirety of the NBA? He’s the smallest in the league.

Humble beginnings

isaiah-iverson

Thomas (right) and his childhood hero Allen Iverson

Some stock footage of Thomas’ college years is inserted into the second act of the documentary, which helps to establish the chip on the shoulder of this outrageously gifted guard.

It’s easy to see him dominate in the NBA and just accept it; but true appreciation grows when one sees his humble beginnings and how he has always been at a disadvantage in any tier of basketball.

“I just want to be the modern-day Allen Iverson,” Thomas states. Hall of Famer Iverson is someone that Thomas admired when growing up, particularly in his formative years as a college superstar.

This is due to the fact that Iverson, in his day, was also the smallest guy in the league. But he was also one of the most mercurial point guards, inventing various dribbling moves to size-up his towering opponents.

In that regard, Thomas is the same. When you spend all game struggling to see the basket over the man guarding you, you have to develop special moves to give you some sort of an advantage.

Development

“This kid spends so much time in the gym just inventing the sort of handles that I have never seen before,” says Celtics coach Brad Stevens in ‘The Book of Isaiah’.

The images support that quote, too. The documentary is shot and promoted as a quasi-motivational video. Scored by a collection of Thomas’ favourite hip-hop tracks, most of the runtime is dedicated to 27-year-old just straight-up training.

In said training, his handles are revealed. Some of the moves that Thomas pulls off are mindblowing, purely because they are born from the need to succeed in a sport where his height should see him rejected immediately.

“This kid spends so much time in the gym just inventing the sort of handles that I have never seen before.”

At one point, assistant coach Jay Larranaga says: “First in the gym? Isaiah. Last in the gym? Isaiah! Last year he called me on Christmas day to come and watch him practice his core.”

Technical 

By allowing Thomas and those around him to almost dictate the story on camera, ‘Book of Isaiah’ becomes a documentary that is held back by a lack of insight. It feels more as though a piece of work that announces Thomas’ hard-working nature, rather than one that relentlessly focuses on why he’s had to work hard.

There are sporadic mentions of his struggles, but these are more visual aids than anything spoken to camera.

This is frustrating since anyone familiar with the point guard’s life knows that he struggled to find a college team due to his size, or even the fact that he was the 60th pick in round 2 of the 2011 NBA Draft – again, a downside to his height.

As a side note, that was the final pick of the draft. Essentially, the league had told Thomas he was the worst player out of a possible 90 candidates.

Thomas is now one of the top five point guards in the league. Those above him have a solid five inches extra of height to work with. The fact that this is sporadically explored makes ‘Book of Isaiah’ a disappointing watch for those looking to learn about his struggles.

Verdict

What grows throughout the runtime of Book of Isaiah is a genuine admiration for the Celtics’ point-guard.isaiah

Regardless of the fact that it is a self-loving and clearly biased documentary that focuses not on negatives, it is still incredibly inspirational.

A true testament to the fact that physical difference shouldn’t matter if one works hard enough and develops ways around their size.

If one is looking for an insight into the psyche of a hardworking man with a clear chip on his shoulder, then ‘Book of Isaiah’ is a must-watch.

Otherwise, you have to be pretty crazy about basketball – or the man himself – to wholeheartedly enjoy it.

Encouragement

Iverson called up Thomas after the documentary ended and, allegedly, spoke just one sentence to the guy who has idolised him his entire life: “Keep doing your thing. I’m watching.”

Except now the entire NBA is watching. Thomas could very well, if he keeps these numbers up, enter the all-star team for the first time in his career. He would be the second smallest player of all-time to do so behind Muggsy Bogues.

A brief showing of Thomas’ aforementioned handles and how exactly he manages to dominate in a sport where he is always at a disadvantage

Five famous footballing returns

November 29, 2016 in Opinion

Many Liverpool fans were hoping against hope that club icon Steven Gerrard might have one last hurrah at Anfield after leaving MLS club LA Galaxy.

Gerrard, 36, opted to end his playing career last week, but may one day return to Liverpool in another role – possibly as a coach and potential manager?

For a footballer, leaving the club where you are seen as a legend is an incredibly hard decision, but the chance to return as a player or manager can be an even bigger one.

Remind everyone why you became a hero in the first place, or ruin your reputation; which way will it fall?

Here are five of those who did it best:

5 – Graeme Le Saux – Chelsea

Graeme Le Saux’s first spell at Chelsea ended in anger but the second was glorious.

Le Saux was the most expensive defender in England at the time at £5m – a far cry from the £30m Chelsea recently paid for David Luiz to return to the club after a £50million move to PSG two years earlier – when he returned after a controversial first spell in west London. 17 Sep 2000: Graeme Le Saux of Chelsea in action during the FA Carling Premiership match against Leicester City at Stamford Bridge in London. Leicester City won the match 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Dave Cannon /Allsport

In 1993 Le Saux was a regular starter at Stamford Bridge, but rarely lasted the whole match, and when he was taken off at Southampton, it proved too much for him to take and he ripped off his shirt in disgust, throwing it on the feet of manager Ian Portfield.

The defender was soon on his way to Blackburn Rovers, where in his first full season, he helped them win the Premier League title and became an England regular.

In 1997 he returned to Chelsea, making him English football’s most expensive defender and in the next three years, they won the FA Cup, League Cup, Cup winner’s Cup and UEFA Super Cup.

Leaving Chelsea as the “villain” for showing disrespect to the manager was tough enough, but returning to the club that sold you after your misdemeanours is a risk Le Saux took and evidently it paid off.

4 – Thierry Henry – Arsenal

When Arsenal’s record goalscorer Thierry Henry left for Barcelona in 2007, after eight years, 245 appearances and 174 goals, a huge part of his heart remained in north London.

So in some ways it was no surprise when five years later he returned to train with the team, and, inevitably, play for them again. Henry celebrates after scoring the winner on his return to Arsenal.

By then Henry was playing for MLS side New York Red Bulls, and during their 2012 off-season, he trained with the Gunners to keep in shape.

But when they suffered an injury crisis, manager Arsene Wenger looked to his former talisman and he signed a two-month loan deal. ‘King’ Henry was back.

He made four appearances and scored twice; the first came in his debut when he scored the winner goal in an FA Cup tie against Leeds.

His last ever Gunners goal came in his final match under Wenger – again, the winner, in injury time for a 2-1 triumph at Sunderland. No wonder there is a statue of him outside the Emirates Stadium.

Henry is now Belgium’s assistant manager and a pundit on Sky Sports. Many Arsenal fans would love to see him succeed Wenger as manager one day. Is another hero’s return too much to ask for?

3 – Ian Rush – Liverpool

Ian Rush’s 346 goals in two spells at Liverpool make him the club’s all-time record goalscorer. At his peak in the 1980s, there was no-one to rival him in English football. Ian rush celebrates scoring at Wembley for Liverpool.

Having won four league titles and two European Cups in six years with the Reds, in 1987 Rush left to join Serie A giants Juventus. It did not go well, with just seven goals in 29 appearances for the Italians.

Loaned back to Liverpool for the second year of his Juventus contract, Rush’s Midas touch returned, as he scored 30 goals in 42 matches.

A permanent return home was just a matter of time, and the Welsh striker spent another eight seasons at Anfield, making 245 more appearances and adding a further 90 goals. During this time he also won another league title, two FA Cups and became their record goalscorer.

A legend? Unquestionably.

2 – Didier Drogba – Chelsea

Didier Drogba was not just a legend as a player; over two spells at Chelsea, he helped change the history of his club.

His first spell, after joining from Marseille in 2004, saw Chelsea win their first league title in 50 years, in his debut season.

Another Premier League title followed the next year, setting up a glorious era in which he became the first ever player to score in four different FA Cup finals, as well as the first African player to score 100 Premier League goals. But nothing compared to how he signed off his first stint at the club.

His 88th minute equaliser in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, in Munich, took the game to extra time and then penalties. And who scored the winner? Drogba, of course.Drogba celebrates scoring the winning goal in the Champions League final.

When he left that summer to join Chinese league side Shanghai Shenhua, after eight years, 226 appearances, 100 goals and eight trophies, a fan poll by Chelsea’s official club magazine saw the Ivorian named as the club’s best-ever player.

Supporters probably thought they would never see his like again. They were wrong.

Drogba’s stint in China was short-lived, and soon he was playing for Galatasaray in Turkey, where he added the 2013 Turkish Super Cup to his medal collection.

The following year, he was back at the Bridge, signing a one-year contract for manager Jose Mourinho – like Drogba, enjoying his second spell at Chelsea.

Drogba managed four more goal in 28 appearances, before announcing that the final game of the season against Sunderland would be his last for the club.

After half an hour, he had to come off injured, but rather than limping off, he was chaired off the field by his team-mates. Now that’s a stylish exit.

The success Drogba enjoyed in his first spell at Chelsea meant that coming back for a second time he had to be as good, if not better than he was previously. Undoubtedly, he was a good playing an integral part in saving Chelsea’s season and thats why he is second.

1 – Paul Scholes – Manchester United

An increasingly rare one-club man, Paul Scholes’ 466 appearances for Manchester United over 17 years make him one of the modern greats.

In his testimonial match in August 2011, the midfielder signed off with a 25-yard finish, showing that even though he was retiring, he had still not lost his touch and he could have played on for a while yet. But no-one expected that he would actually do so.

Five months later, with United going through an uncharacteristic rough patch, he was back, making his ‘second debut’ by coming on to score in the Manchester derby, and also finding the net in his first start second time around. Scholes makes his second debut for United in a Manchester derby.

He was persuaded to sign another one year contract extension, keeping him at United until the end of the following season, and retired for good at the end of the 2012-13 season – fittingly, picking up a yellow card in his farewell match. Well, he never was much of a tackler…

His total of 25 major trophies makes him the most decorated English footballer of all time, and he is now co-owner of Salford City FC, a coach at United and a pundit on BT Sport.

The fact that Scholes completely retired from football before returning to top level football looking fitter than ever, makes his comeback the greatest of all.

Review – The Wenger Revolution (Twenty Years Of Arsenal)

November 28, 2016 in Opinion

In September 1996 a Frenchman, so little known in English football that fans asked ‘Arsene Who?’, walked into Arsenal.

In his subsequent 20 years as manager, he transformed the club from ‘Boring Arsenal’ to a worldwide phenomenon.

A total renovation of the training, stadium, style, economics, diet and the attraction of a global audience has taken place under Wenger’s stewardship.

This fascinating era is chronicled in ‘The Wenger Revolution’ with distinctive photographs taken from inside the inner sanctum of the club by official Arsenal photographer Stuart MacFarlane while award-winning journalist and long-time supporter Amy Lawrence introduces each section to set the scene.

‘Arsene Who?’

When Wenger arrived from Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, the vast majority of the football public, Arsenal supporters and many of the players were sceptical. Could a foreign manager succeed in England?

Although he was new to almost everyone in the English game, Wenger, 46 at the time, didn’t see himself as a novice. His intellectual rigour, workaholic determination and human touch gave him the value of using his own ideas with an open mind.

“I could understand my acceptance would depend upon that mix,” he says in the book. “I didn’t want to compromise what I thought was important in order to push through the elements needed for the success. I wanted to adapt to the local culture.”

That manifested itself in the way the team evolved. By using English players with a never-say-die attitude like Tony Adams and Steve Bould, as well as the technical refinement that arrived with the likes of Patrick Vieira and Marc Overmars, Wenger’s mix came to fruition.

The most surprising thing for many people when they look back at Wenger’s first full campaign in England, was how quickly the team’s style came together.

Wenger’s ability to identify and recruit outstanding talent was paramount in them winning the double in the 1997-98 season. That general air of scepticism about the manager soon evaporated.

Unbeatable 

“You work in a job where you never really know how good you are, but I didn’t think you can do more than go a whole season undefeated. To realise that life dream is a bit frightening, but it didn’t kill my hunger.”

To complete an unbeaten season at the highest level was an ambition Wenger had harboured for many years.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

During the 2002-03 season, Arsenal were the dominant force in the early stages. However, with his team going strong in autumn, Wenger told journalists in a pre-match press conference that his team could go a season unbeaten. “It is not impossible,” he said.

However, Arsenal lurched suddenly into a first defeat of the campaign, and the critics who thought Wenger was arrogant and disrespectful relished that loss.

After missing out on the Premier League title that season, Arsenal rallied the following year and dominated the league. Their 2-2 draw at arch-rivals Tottenham ensured they won the league and with four games to go, Wenger’s dream was near reality.

Here was the chance to make history. “Make yourself immortal,” Wenger told his players. The players didn’t miss their chance.

Trailing at half-time to already relegated Leicester City in the last game of the season, the pressure was on. The team’s outstanding will-to-win, and the class of some of its most talented components – Thierry Henry who scored the equaliser and Vieira and Bergkamp who combined for the winner – made the difference.

Wenger does not think anyone will be able to emulate the class of 03-04 as the competition is much harder, but Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ seized their moment. His controversial prediction that it was possible, mocked at the time, became a beautiful truth.

Regrets 

Wenger is one of a handful of managers who can be said to have made a truly lasting impression on the Premier League.

Throughout his time at Arsenal, Wenger has revolutionised the club. With the Frenchman at the helm, they have moved from Highbury to the Emirates, built a new training ground at London Colney whilst also winning numerous of trophies, including three Premier League titles and six FA Cups.

(Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

But despite the many highs Wenger has experienced, he has also suffered much heartbreak. According to the Frenchman, the Champions League final defeat in Paris against Barcelona in 2006 will forever hurt him.

“It is my biggest regret,” he says. “I feel there was not much in it. The regret on the night is that we could not get the second goal.

“Thierry Henry, who has been magic for our club, had the opportunity to do that. We were 13 minutes away from winning the biggest trophy. Maybe I will have to die with that but it will still hurt.”

Ambitions 

Wenger typifies longevity and loyalty. Despite getting offers from the biggest clubs in the world such as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, he has stayed put.

When trophies were hard to come by after the stadium move and competition was harder due to the influx of money put into the Premier League, Wenger remained loyal and consistently got Arsenal into the Champions League each year.

Mesut Ozil reading The Wenger Revolution book

Yet he was not delivering the trophies that Arsenal fans craved, and as the voices of dissent grew louder, the FA Cup win against Hull City at Wembley in 2014, was a huge moment in the club’s history.

“Winning this FA Cup was an important moment in the life of this team. When it comes after a long time it sometimes comes with suffering. We had such a feeling of relief and happiness,” Wenger said.

After back-to-back FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015, Wenger’s hunger for winning trophies hasn’t diminished.

He now has a team capable of challenging the big guns and he insists his commitment to the club is still the same as when he first started.

“The club has grown a lot. I am still completely committed to it every day. I am today more nervous, more keen, to win the league than when I arrived here.”

Must-buy

The book achieves what it sets out to do. With the words of Lawrence and the images of MacFarlane, ‘The Wenger Revolution’ is a must-buy for Arsenal fans – but even non-Gooners will find it fascinating.

The book’s 11 chapters each focus on a different theme or period at Arsenal under Wenger. From his arrival to the stadium move to his opinions of current and former players, the book recounts every minor detail of Wenger’s reign.

His vision for Arsenal was in place when he first arrived, and since then the club has gone on a remarkable journey and achieved great feats. Much of this would not have been possible without the determination and ambition of one man: Arsene Wenger.

The Wenger Revolution (Twenty Years Of Arsenal) is available via Amazon for £20.00. Featured image by Stuart MacFarlane 

Skip to toolbar