Friday, January 15, 2010

On Clarke, Vieira and the Title Race

There are few better sights in world cricket at the moment than watching Michael Clarke in full flow. The last couple of years have seen Clarke fulfil some of his remarkable potential by combining enterprising stroke play with superb temperament. Without losing any of the exuberance that he possessed as a young cricketer and without curbing any of his natural instincts, Clarke has added tonnes of steel to his batting and has matured into one of the finest batsmen in the world. His century against Pakistan at the Bellerive Oval contained a beautiful blend of pleasing drives and sumptuous cuts and in the process exhibited a form of refined elegance which is rarely seen in today’s T-20 crazy days.

Watchful at the beginning of his innings, Clarke slowly unleashed the full range of his strokes and together with a resurgent Ponting, Pakistan’s attack was put to the sword in typically ruthless fashion. Clarke was particularly splendid against Danish Kaneria, using his nimble feet to dazzling effect, never for one moment allowing the leg spinner to settle into any form of rhythm. In many ways, this innings of Clarke’s, exemplifies his journey as a cricketer, which has seen a brash young talent transformed into one of Australia’s most trusted and responsible batsmen. By adding method to his flair, Clarke has developed into a batsman of supreme international repute and the years to come could see Clarke realise the full value of his outstanding potential and take his place amongst the pantheon of cricketing greats.

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Patrick Vieira’s signing is viewed by many as a gamble, but it’s a gamble worth taking in my opinion. Manchester City are in desperate need of leadership and someone like Vieira is just the kind of commanding presence that City requires to take them up the ladder. Vieira may be past his prime and may be incapable of donning the ‘box to box’ role that he once performed with marvellous vigour for Arsenal, but he still brings with him an abundance of experience and undoubted nous, which are qualities that City are certainly lacking at the moment.

Vieira’s physical prowess often overshadows his composure on the ball and his metronomic passing ability, which are attributes that put him together with Roy Keane at the summit of the best midfielders that the Premier League has witnessed. At the moment, with Carlos Tevez in exceptional form, all looks merry for City, but when the going gets tough, having someone like Vieira in the line-up is likely to do more good than harm. I believe the signing represents a win-win situation for the club, considering that they have only temporarily loaned Vieira and therefore possess the option of releasing him at the end of the season if his performances fail to match up to Mancini’s lofty expectations.

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The title race this season has probably been the most open ever in Premier League history, but its more a product of the increasing mediocrity amongst the bigger clubs than a case of any drastic improvement from the others. Of course the likes of Aston Villa, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have shown a definite advancement, but the performance of the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool have unquestionably dropped. Liverpool’s plight has been well documented and there is little left to be said about the scale of their tremendous decline. With Gerrard, Torres and Benayoun picking up new injuries and with scant funds available for any significant purchases, there may well be no light at the end of the tunnel for Liverpool. Chelsea may be top of the league and may have showcased reasonable consistency, but the evidence of their form over December and the loss of Drogba and Essien to the African Cup of Nations, would suggest that Chelsea’s best form is probably past them and that they are far from the potent force that many believed they are at the start of the season. Manchester United have done little to alleviate the loss of Ronaldo and strangely seem to be incapable of any creative invention on the field. To go with the terrible injury crisis at the back, Ferguson seems to be stuck in some sort of new found conservatism, which has seen the United attack looking woefully blunt and incapable of unlocking even the most pedestrian of defences.

Arsenal are perhaps the only club amongst the so-called big four who have moved up a notch this season and the signing of Thomas Vermaelen, represents a rare success for Wenger as far as signing central defenders is concerned. The likes of Alexandre Song, Aaron Ramsey and Bacari Sagna have all been quietly impressive and with the belief and emphasis that is laid on attacking play, Arsenal have not only been the best side to watch this season, but have also been the strongest. The Gunners haven’t lost any of their fluidity in attack and have solidified significantly at the back, but there is far too much football left this season, to state with any level of confidence that they are best placed to lift the title. The coming months of football are sure to make fascinating viewing, but I only hope there is an improvement in the quality of football to go with the astonishingly open title race.

    6 comments:

    Rahul Saha said...

    Both Liverpool and ManU are being held back by the levereged debt model which was used to buy both clubs. Both teams needed investment in the summer (and perhaps even more so in the transfer window) but have been told to balance the books by their owners. This is a trend I see continuing for sometime until the yanks sell up and leave. This will be more difficult for ManU than for Liverpool because of the enormous debt ManU have compared to Liverpool.

    Suhrith said...

    Ya possibly so. The moves were never advisable right from their conception. But, from a purely footballing point of view, the Glazers have mostly done fine at United. They have a better understanding of how sports teams work in comparison with Hicks and Gillette. I think the sheer extent of Man United's popularity should get them fresh investment if the need be.

    Rahul Saha said...

    The glazers have done very well on the pitch. Till now. But their long term business strategy is more flawed than the idiots at Liverpool (which is saying a lot). The kind of debt which Liverpool have (£240 Mn) is manageable so long as the club consistently enter the Champions League or have a decent Europa League run. Manu on the other hand have the kind of debt (over $1Billion) and interest payments which leads to losses even in a season in which they win the treble (eg, 2007-2008) barring the sale of a Ronaldo or Rooney (eg 2009-2010). The £500mn bond which has been issued by the glazers now is being viewed by highly risky by city analysts (at least according to the Merchant bankers I spoke to)and even given Manu's popularity may not be fully subscribed. So come 2017, even assuming that the club doesn't borrow any more (which they will have to to attract star players) you are looking at over a billion pounds in debt (precisely, 1.14 Bn pounds - 500 mn at 9% pa = 914 over seven years + existing debt of 250).Even given the popularity of ManU (and I dont think theyll be all that popular in 2017 if they don't borrow heavily to buy players) no one, and I mean no one, has that kind of money to throw around (all this is assuming that the Glazers are willing to exit without making a profit and this new guy will not need any money to invest in the club). Frankly, I predict mid-table mediocrity for ManU in 10 years time and the same for Liverpool over the next 5 years before recovering. Do you see another way out?

    Suhrith said...

    Well, I agree with you on the financial bleakness surrounding Man United, but mid table mediocrity in 10 years time is something which I don't envisage. Considering the way football in England has changed over the last decade or so, it really is difficult to make predictions on what would happen in 10 years time. I think United's biggest troubles could arise when Ferguson finally choses to retire, which could be pretty soon. The managerial succession plan could be make or break for United.

    Liverpool on the other hand, I believe could struggle massively, especially if they lose either Torres or Gerrard in the summer, which is a strong possibility, even if they manage to qualify for the Champions League. Of course the Yanks are to blame for much of the trouble, but barring his first season jackpot in the Champions League, Benitez has been exceedingly ordinary. He spent whatever money that has been made available to him pretty unwisely. I think couple of seasons back, Liverpool had a squad of more than 60 players, but in terms of quality, most of the reserves were barely Premier League quality, let alone the Champions League. Benitez would have done well to divert his resources more towards acquiring one or two quality players instead of acquiring ten ordinary players, which is what he has done during his time as manager

    Rahul Saha said...

    While I admit that Benetiz could have done better in the transfer market so could probably all the top managers apart from maybe wenger. Benitez's spending is highly overrated and a careful look at the accounts will show you a net spend of 28mn over 5 years. He has not been handed the kind of money most people think he has. What is more frustrating is his insistence to buy players and play them out of of position (Kuyt, Babel, Lucas etc.) As far as his transfer record goes its a mixed one. While picking up Babel and playing him the way he has was unwise as was the Keane mess (I sincerely believe that Parry forced Keane on Benetiz, Benetiz's first choice was always Barry) Benetiz has made a few good bargain buys like Reina (unbeliveable for 6 mn), Alonso (sold at a hefty profit)and now N'gog for 1.5mn who is turning out to be a handy reserve striker. As far as whether he should stay or go I am not sure but he has bought the club much further than the days of Houllier (with the same level investment) and is one of the most sought after coaches in Europe.

    My financial anaysis is of course carried out keeping in mind the current footballing and economic scenario. Of course things might change in 10 years in ManU's favour but they may also change to ManU's disadvantage (as the Yanks at Lpool found out when suddnely there was no money to build a new stadium because of the credit crunch). All I am saying is if things remain the same ManU are in big trouble in 10 years.

    Suhrith said...

    To confirm your point, Man United's bond issue is apparently one of the market's worst performer this year.