December 24th, 2012
01:57 PM ET

RVP controversy: Has Ferguson gone too far?

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was furious with Ashley Williams for kicking the ball at Robin van Persie's head.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was furious with Ashley Williams for kicking the ball at Robin van Persie's head.

Alex Ferguson is a master of the post-match interview, but you have to wonder if he has maybe overstepped the mark this time.

The veteran Manchester United manager furiously demanded that the English football authorities take action after his star striker Robin van Persie was hit on the head by a fiercely struck ball when he was lying prone on the pitch during Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Swansea.

“He could have been killed,” raged the Scot in an interview with British match broadcaster Sky Sports. FULL POST

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Filed under:  Football
October 31st, 2012
03:38 PM ET

Is loyalty Barcelona's greatest strength?

Lionel Messi celebrates with his Barcelona teammates after scoring his 300th career goal on Saturday. (Getty Images)
Lionel Messi celebrates with his Barcelona teammates after scoring his 300th career goal on Saturday. (Getty Images)

When Lionel Messi declared this week, at the relatively young age of 25, that he wants to spend the rest of his career at Barcelona, it provided an insight  as to why the Spanish club has dominated world football in recent years.

A hot favorite to be named the world's best player for an unprecedented fourth time in January, Messi has already won every title that Barca have competed for - surely at some stage you'd think he'd like a new challenge?

Compare his stance to that of his biggest rival Cristiano Ronaldo, whose future at Real Madrid seems constantly under speculation - not least because of the Portugal star's comments earlier this season that he felt "sad" at the Bernabeu. The latest rumor is that he and his manager Jose Mourinho will join big-spending French club Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi has the football world at his feet, but he is happy to remain at a club where he moved from Argentina as a boy blessed with undoubted talent - but held back by a slight body that required growth hormone treatment if he was to make the grade.

He is not the only player so committed to the Nou Camp. The club's famed La Masia academy has produced a conveyor belt of talent that has helped win three Champions League crowns in the last six years, plus four Spanish titles.

Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta were either in the starting XI or among the substitutes on each occasion for the European triumphs of 2006, 2009 and 2011, while Messi, Gerard Pique, Pedro and Bojan Krkic (now of AC Milan) featured in the latter two.

Add to that octet the 24-year-old Sergio Busquets - who like Xavi, Iniesta, Pique and Valdes was in Spain's victorious 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship squads - plus a new generation of La Masia graduates and you have a core of homegrown talent throughout the squad.

With such conviction from their star player Messi and such continuity in personnel, it begs the question – is loyalty the most potent weapon in Barca’s considerable arsenal?

The list of nominations for the 2012 Ballon d’Or suggests the answer is yes. Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Piquet and Busquets are all in the 23-man shortlist. 

Consistency has even been maintained in the dugout, with former assistant Tito Vilanova taking over when all-conquering coach Josep Guardiola ended his trophy-laden four-year reign at the end of last season.

Its a club where loyalty swings both ways - many coaching and administrative appointments are made from within the Barca family. Guardiola joined as a 12-year-old and spent more than a decade there as a senior player before finally moving overseas.

The familiarity which exists between the squad could also go some way to explaining why some big-name recruits have struggled to settle at Barca.

Samuel Eto’o may have scored for Barca in the 2006 and 2009 Champions League finals but, despite his undoubted talent, Guardiola was eager to ship out the reputedly disruptive Cameroonian, which he did in a swap deal with Inter Milan in 2009.

In exchange for Eto’o and a reported €46 million, Barca received the equally mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede is another undisputedly world-class goalscorer who was jettisoned from the Camp Nou after just one year in the famous scarlet and blue shirt.

Recent arrivals in the Barca dressing room who have succeeded include Pique, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa and Jordi Alba. It is not hard to see why.

Pique and Fabregas both rejoined their childhood club after attending finishing school in England with Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, while Villa has played alongside many of the Barca team in Spain's national team and Alba recovered from being released from the youth ranks in 2005 to make his name at Valencia.

Barca’s stability is at odds with archrivals Real Madrid, whose policy has been to buy up the world's biggest names and create a stable of "Galacticos" - and their coaches don't have much time to bring success.

Since missing out on the title in 2005, Real have been through seven coaches compared to Barca’s three, collecting just four trophies in that time: three league crowns and one Copa del Rey.

Last season Mourinho delivered Real's first La Liga title in four years, but now finds his team eight points behind Barca after only nine matches amid reports of dressing-room discontent.

The prize Real crave above all others is a record-extending 10th European crown, and first since 2002. In Mourinho, they have a coach with proven pedigree - he is seeking to become the first to win the Champions League with three different clubs - but his task has not been helped by constant reports of a split between the Portuguese and Spanish players in his camp.

If Real are to achieve their ultimate goal, they could do worse than than following the Barca blueprint.

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Filed under:  Football
August 22nd, 2012
01:02 PM ET

Are footballers on a par with bankers?

Manchester City's owners have led the way in offering bigger and bigger salaries to players. (Getty Images)
Manchester City's owners have led the way in offering bigger and bigger salaries to players. (Getty Images)

With the Olympics afterglow now starting to fade, football is stepping back into the breach to fill the sporting public’s thirst for entertainment.

The big question has been, in Britain at least, whether the positive vibes created by the buzz of athletes giving their all for victory will survive now that the focus has returned to a group whose behaviors have generally been decidedly more questionable.

An Olympian who trips at the last hurdle is usually applauded for having a go, but spoilt millionaires whose off-field indiscretions are regularly reported in the tabloid press don’t get much sympathy when they writhe around on the pitch trying to con match officials. FULL POST

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Filed under:  Football
February 22nd, 2012
12:58 PM ET

Should Manchester City accept Tevez's apology?

Carlos Tevez had a police escort when he arrived back at Manchester airport on February 14. (Getty Images)
Carlos Tevez had a police escort when he arrived back at Manchester airport on February 14. (Getty Images)

So Carlos Tevez has come crawling back to England, offering apologies to his club Manchester City.

Just over a week after his return to the UK - on Valentine's Day – the Argentina international has finally said sorry for going missing for the past three months, having fallen out with City manager Roberto Mancini.

It’s hard to tell exactly what has gone on behind the scenes in the past seven days at the English Premier League leaders, but Tevez now appears ready to show a commitment that he has notably lacked so far in his highly-paid stint at the Etihad Stadium. FULL POST

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Filed under:  Football
February 1st, 2012
01:07 PM ET

Does football really need transfer windows?

Would Carlos Tevez still be on Manchester City's books if there were no transfer windows? (Getty Images)
Would Carlos Tevez still be on Manchester City's books if there were no transfer windows? (Getty Images)

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then football’s transfer windows are a super highway to sporting madness.

The concept of defined periods of buying and selling players has been enshrined in international law for nigh on a decade now, but every time January 31 comes around, whenever August 31 looms on the calendar … well, I don’t look forward to it with any joy.

It’s a system that’s supposed to stop big clubs with big budgets gaining an unfair advantage over smaller teams. But, unless UEFA’s new financial fair play rules are more strictly adhered to, that is plainly a nonsense in Europe at least. FULL POST

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Filed under:  Football
January 30th, 2012
12:01 PM ET

Can anyone stop champion Djokovic?

Novak Djokovic poses with a stuffed wombat the day after winning his third Australian Open title.
Novak Djokovic poses with a stuffed wombat the day after winning his third Australian Open title.

The contrast between the men’s and women’s finals at the Australian Open could not have been greater.

On Saturday, Victoria Azarenka thrashed Maria Sharapova to claim her first grand slam title and the No. 1 ranking. It was a result that suggested this year’s WTA season will be just as much as a free-for-all as 2011 was.

On Sunday, however, Novak Djokovic won his third successive major title as he overcame Rafael Nadal in one of the most amazing finals in tennis history. We can debate until the cows come home about whether it was indeed the greatest, but it was definitely the longest.

And what are the odds against the world No. 1 becoming the first man to hold all four grand slam titles since Rod Laver in 1969, when he goes to Nadal’s stronghold at Roland Garros in May? FULL POST

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Filed under:  Tennis
January 13th, 2012
07:12 PM ET

Who will be 2012 Australian Open victors?

Kim Clijsters, left, and Novak Djokovic took home the winners' trophies in Melbourne last year.
Kim Clijsters, left, and Novak Djokovic took home the winners' trophies in Melbourne last year.

There are two burning questions ahead of the tennis season’s opening grand slam in Melbourne: can Novak Djokovic repeat his stellar form from last year, and will the women’s No. 1 be a major winner ?

Djokovic’s Australian Open preparations have been relatively low-key again, an approach that worked last year as he launched a 43-match winning streak in Melbourne and ended the year as world No. 1 with three of the four coveted crowns.

While in 2011 he played in the non-sanctioned Hopman Cup mixed teams event, this month the Serbian made do with scooping $250,000 at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi. FULL POST

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Filed under:  Tennis
January 9th, 2012
12:16 PM ET

Olympic countdown: IOC president answers your questions

Belgium's Jacques Rogge has been head of the IOC for more than a decade.
Belgium's Jacques Rogge has been head of the IOC for more than a decade.

With London 2012 just 200 days away, this is a significant year for the International Olympic Committee.

The British organizers of the four-yearly sporting showpiece have contended with ticketing controversies and faced transport, security and budgeting challenges in their bid to follow in the footsteps of Beijing four years ago.

Illegal gambling has also been on the rise in worldwide sport, and London chiefs have identified it as a bigger threat to this year’s Games than drugs. FULL POST

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Filed under:  Olympics