It's that time of year again when the wheeling-and-dealing of football coaches and clubs reaches a climax, as each bid to capture their desired player before the European transfer window - gateway to the most lucrative leagues in global soccer - slams shut.
As the clock ticks down to midnight of 31 August (or the slightly earlier time of 1700 GMT in Britain), contracts are feverishly written up and signed, medicals completed and agents assuaged in order for the teams' top transfer targets to be captured.
Many moves have happened in the last few weeks - striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has switched from Barcelona to AC Milan (albeit on loan), Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano has moved from Liverpool to Barcelona while James Milner completed his transfer from Aston Villa to Manchester City - but question marks remain over the movements of some other big names.
Brazil's Robinho - who famously signed with Manchester City in a last-minute deal from Real Madrid back in 2008 - is again subject to rumor. Will he join Ibrahimovic at AC Milan to complete an all-new strikeforce for the Rossonerri?
Rafa Benitez cut a lonely figure,as he stood in front of Inter Milan’s substitutes' bench as his side were beaten 2-0 by Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup.
A poor second half saw the Nerazzurri, an all-conquering force under Jose Mourinho, outclassed by a surprisingly effective Atletico side in Monaco’s Louis II stadium.
As I watched Rafa staring into oblivion with the full time whistle approaching, I wondered whether he was regretting taking the job at the San Siro. The honeymoon has come to an abrupt end and there is no doubt this is going to be a long and arduous season for the former Liverpool boss.
Having taken over from Mourinho after Inter won an unprecedented treble, Benitez must have realized it was something of a poison chalice. This season, every time his side wins, it’s thanks to the work of his predecessor, while when they lose the finger will be pointing at him. That’s what you call a no-win-situation.
The allegations are damning, and the evidence of match-fixing produced by the British newspaper The News of The World could be devastating for the sport in Pakistan, where cricket is an obsession and a way of life.
That their players – their heroes, their icons – may have been involved in such a monumental scandal will be hard to swallow. That would be true at the best of times, but especially now, with Pakistan grappling with catastrophic flooding and a destabilizing terrorist insurgency.
The ray of hope and inspiration the players could have provided in the overseas Test series against England has been dramatically extinguished. The team was thrashed by their hosts, and have been publicly humiliated.
Many sports can be the victims of match-fixing, especially in the era of spread-betting where pundits can gamble on anything from the winner to the tiniest details of a match. Cricket is especially vulnerable, and it has been tarnished often in the past. Pakistan cricket has been faced with such allegations since the 1990s and already this year, several serious claims - yet to be proved - have been made.
Heard the one about the Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman? Well, it’s no joke for the Scotsman because Colin Montgomerie also has Spaniards, Swedes, an Italian and a Welshman to choose from when he picks the wildcards for Europe’s Ryder Cup side on Sunday.
It’s almost too much choice and I have some sympathy with Monty’s claim that this has been the toughest ever team to qualify for.
Just look at the quality of European players relying on a captain’s pick – England’s Justin Rose, twice a winner this season on the USPGA tour, the toughest on the planet. Paul Casey and Luke Donald haven’t qualified either and they are ranked 9th and 10th in the world.
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington isn’t guaranteed a place and he’s won more majors than any player on either side, bar Phil Mickelson (at the time of writing Tiger Woods wasn’t a definite starter either).
Is it ever right to challenge the status quo? Should you not say yes when you mean no? Should you ignore the consequences to question, criticize and reject that which you find unpalatable?
Well, if you’re anything like Nicolas Anelka, you should. "Le Sulk," as he’s known, has just completed a typical period of extremes in which he was banned from international football for 18 games following his dismissal from the French World Cup squad for insubordination.
His response was to laugh at the French Football Federation’s (FFF) public show of righteous indignation before promptly showing that he’s unaffected by their finger wagging. Two goals in Chelsea’s 6-0 defeat of Wigan in the English Premier League, followed by a mock act of contrition with Didier Drogba during one of the goal celebrations, suggested the Frenchman remains unbowed.
In the absence of any action on the track for a month, the world of Formula One has instead been sidetracked by an unseemly spat between two of its household names.
The war of words between Ferrari and three-time world champion Niki Lauda seems all the more cheap and unnecessary given the Austrian won two of his titles with the Italian team in the 1970's and was a decade later appointed to a consultancy role by current Ferrari chairman Luca Di Montezemolo.
The controversy was sparked by the continuing fall out from the German Grand Prix, when Ferrari appeared to instruct their Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, who was leading the race, to allow teammate Fernando Alonso, in second, to overtake him.
The actual words used by Ferrari’s race engineer Rob Smedley over the radio were as follows: "Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understand?" Seconds later, Massa slowed down, Alonso moved into the lead and the Spaniard went on to take the checkered flag.
In the not so distant past, the U.S. Open was dominated by American tennis legends such as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and before that John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, but going into next week's final grand slam home hopes are slim at best.
Andy Roddick may have moved back into the top 10 in the world rankings and Mardy Fish pushed Roger Federer all the way in the Cincinnati final, but it's really hard to make a case for a home player to triumph at Flushing Meadows.
Strip away the Williams sisters (Serena is injured for the final grand slam of the year) and Roddick and the cupboard is worringly bare, and none of that illustrious trio is getting any younger.
The USTA, rather like their counterparts at the LTA in Britain, has come under heavy criticism for not producing the successors to the likes of Sampras and Agassi, or even Roddick, despite the huge revenues raked in by their home grand slam.
New season, same old story. In my mind, there is no way Barcelona's dominance of Spanish football will end this year, even if you consider Real Madrid will no doubt improve under the guidance of Portuguese coaching maestro Jose Mourinho.
The two-time defending champions are just too strong and too solid to finish below their old rivals in the league table. And while I'm in the predicting mood, here's my forecast for the other movers and shakers for the forthcoming season in the Primera Division
Champions – Barcelona
Last season, Barca and Real staged a duel of epic proportions. It was a case of "whatever you can do, I can do better." When the dust settled, Pep Guardiola's side had set a new record for points, while Real came close to beating the mark for most goals scored.
On the eve of the new Bundesliga campaign, there are two players who in many ways symbolize the changing of the guard in terms of the leading talent that will now drive the German national game.
The World Cup often proves definitive in the careers of footballers, and considering the pedigree of German participation at the most prestigious tournament in global soccer, any progress is invariably watched by fans across the planet.
The experience of Michael Ballack and Mesut Ozil over the showcase in South Africa, however, could barely be more contrasting.
Ballack, prior to June, looked set for an awesome finals. The free-scoring captain of the side, coming up for his hundredth cap, was aiming to better his second and third finishes at previous World Cups by lifting the trophy in Soccer City.
The theme of the week at Whistling Straits was the relentless march of golf's young guns as they continue to sweep away the old guard and sure enough 25-year-old Martin Kaymer became the latest major winner.
But it was a massive controversy centered on another rising young star, American Dustin Johnson, that will be the abiding memory of this year's PGA Championship.
Leading Kaymer and Bubba Watson by a stroke playing the 18th, his tee shot found one of over 1,000 sandy hollows which pit the links-style course in Wisconsin.
Surrounded by a mob of fans and marshals, Johnson had little other thought than locating his ball and then finding the green with his second shot because a par-four would be enough to secure his first major title.
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