Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Guest Writer

The Ballon d’Or for 2011 goes to...
By Bereng Molapo
Ladybrand, South Africa

The "Mess-Machine"...
So says Bereng Molapo
This year Lionel Messi, Xavi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been nominated for the prestigious award.

For Cristiano it’s about matching up to Messi, for Xavi it’s about joining the lists of greats while for Messi it’s about making and equaling history.

Messi is on the verge of becoming the first man to win the Ballon d’Or three years in a row and in the process, go into a club of the elite with three titles. Only Zinedine Zidane and of course the legendary Ronaldo have achieved this feat.

For Xavi he just wants the title, having been in this business for more than a decade, it would nice for him to win it... but it doesn’t always work that way, the likes of Ryan Giggs, Stoichkov, Hagi and David Beckham have never won this title and they are some of the best of all time.

Cristiano, who won the title in 2008, wants to checkmate the “Mess Machine” in their battle that has raged on for three years. However, most pundits say that Cristiano cannot match Messi’s big match temperament, especially when it comes to the Grand Clasico, so the most expensive player might have to wait another year.

Each player has a legitimate reason to be nominated for this award; most pundits say that Messi is nothing without Xavi who provides him with the goods – week in, week out. Xavi is a master tactician on the field, he is a leader, a visionary and his honesty deserves recognition. And if Xavi was to retire now, Messi would no longer be the MessMachine – the great player that Messi is, Xavi is the cog.

Messi did win Barcelona the Champions League, scoring that wonderful goal against Manchester United. Messi himself scored an unbelievable 53 goals – including equaling the great Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 13 goals in the Champions League – but he underperformed at the Copa America on home soil, which once again raised the Xavi saga.

Cristiano won Real Madrid the Copa Del Rey and also scored 53, that included 40 in the league, but he underperforms when it comes to facing Barca so Messi always has an edge.

In the end I believe that Messi should win it for 2011, but in 2012 if Messi wins it I’ll stop watching football.

Past Winners
1991: Lothar Matthaus
1992: Marco Van Basten
1993: Roberto Baggio
1994: Romario
1995: George Weah
1996: Ronaldo
1997: Ronaldo
1998: Zinedine Zidane
1999: Rivaldo
2000: Zinedine Zidane
2001: Luis Figo
2002: Ronaldo
2003: Zinedine Zidane
2004: Ronaldinho
2005: Ronaldinho
2006: Fabio Cannavaro
2007: Kaka
2008: Cristiano Ronaldo
2009: Lionel Messi
2010: Lionel Messi

(Written: Monday, 26 December 2011)

The Legend of Sir Alex
By Matela Lechesa

The Legend... Sir Alex Ferguson
The great American football coach Vince Lombardi once famously proclaimed: “If winning isn’t everything why do they keep score?” This maxim could easily be ascribed to the greatest manager in the history of club football (not the American type), Sir Alexander Chapman ‘Alex’ Ferguson.

Since taking over in 1986 as manager of Manchester United, Ferguson has outworked and dominated the football landscape in the United Kingdom and Europe like no one in the history of the game.

Football is a funny old game. Often the gods of football turn back to laugh and mock mortals who value their ideologies more than they are worth, and this is exactly what happened this past season.

Going back to the start of the 2010/2011 season, Manchester United were considered an average team by majority of experts and pundits. Many felt the squad was not deep enough and lacked cutting edge quality especially as the club had still not invested to fill the gaping hole left by the concurrent departures of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez at the beginning of the previous season. 

The pundits’ logic was simple – United’s senior players had not had a good 2010 World Cup in South Africa by any stretch of the imagination. Rooney had seemingly lost his scoring boots as evidenced by his lacklustre performance for England. Captain Nemanja Vidic was barely average for Serbia while Patrice Evra was at the middle of the whirlwind debacle of France’s World Cup appearance.

What the experts forgot to factor in though is ‘The Legend of Fergie.’

Though the Red Devils had never really gone on a real shopping spree since the departure of the 60 goal a season duo of Tevez and Ronaldo, one thing remained intact; Sir Alex Ferguson was still at the helm, and while that is still the case Manchester United has to be the favourites at the beginning of any season. This is a right United have earned under the tutorship of the canny Scotsman.

Sir Alex Ferguson has Manchester United at his heart and his ability to strive on for success when the odds are visibly against him is something that has been woven into his club’s fabric. It seems when the naysayers are at their loudest that’s when Sir Alex is most able to rally his troops around a common mission.

When United kept grinding out results when their rivals could not the pundits began to change their tune but only to say, ‘the team is winning but lacks the flair and charm of Manchester United teams of past.’ Needless to say Fergie used such statement to fuel his troops with further fire. The end result was a league title which was won quite comfortably in the end and a loss in the final of the Uefa Champions League to Barcelona – arguably the best assembled team in the history of the game... far from a season the pundits had predicted at the end of it all. 

No doubt before Ferguson United was already one of the elite teams in the United Kingdom and to a lesser extent Europe – the Red Devils had already won seven league titles, six FA cups and one continental title – but the hiring of the Scot would catapult the club into the pantheon of legends over the next quarter century. Twelve league titles later, along with two more European titles, Manchester United has become the most successful club in the history of professional football in the United Kingdom. Along with that, the club has also gone on become the most recognisable and most financially valuable sports brand in the world.

Now, you may ask what makes Sir Alex Ferguson so special. Is it his ability to motivate? His unparalleled record? His loyalty towards to one club, or perhaps his understanding of the game? No. Though all of the above are commendable and have made Sir Alex a legend of our time, what strikes me the most about this man is his ability to carry on. Many have come and gone but Fergie has remained at the summit at the highest level, year after year.

When a man becomes so dominant in one field whereby it becomes impossible to find comparisons within the sport it always leads to comparisons with others in other sports. For me Sir Alex is the equivalent of a Vince Lombardi in the NFL or a Phil Jackson in the NBA. But, having said that, football is a global sport unlike these two American sports and perhaps even this comparison does him a disservice.

At 69 years Sir Alex Ferguson still looks fresher than ever and he should go on for at least five more years. In football this is a long time and you would be foolish to bet against Fergie breaking all the managerial records he is yet to.

When it is all said and done Ferguson’s life will serve as a manual for anyone who aspires to be a leader in any vocation of life. And one thing is for sure: Manchester United will be favourites for the English Premiership title this season for Fergie has reminded the pundits one again that it is he who is the true talisman at this legendary club.

(Saturday, 6 August 2011)

The Inter Milan Diagnosis
By Thomas Mofolo

Not so long ago Inter Milan were the Treble winners and acclaimed as the best team in Europe. However, the Italian giants have fallen on some hard times over the past 12 months made even worse by the rebirth of their arch-enemies AC Milan. But with Samuel Eto’o still around there is always hope and die-hard Inter aficionado Thomas Mofolo gives his ‘two cents worth’ on the Nerrazurri’s prospects this coming season.

The good 'ol days... Inter, 2010 Champions League winners
Having suffered a terrible decline in morale and quality since the departure of the Special One last year everyone has tipped Inter to flop this coming season under the new management of Gian Piero Gasperini.

Unlike last season though Inter have painfully learned from their mistake of participating poorly in the transfer window after their 2010 heroics and have bolstered their squad with new signings in order to better compete with their red and black next-door neighbours who did the opposite of Inter last year and brought in a host of household names to the San Siro such as Robinho, former Inter star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Cassano!

Thus far Inter’s new acquisitions include: Brazilian rightback Jonathan Moreira from Santos, Dutch striker Luc Castaignos from Feyenoord, Argentinean playmaker Ricky Alvarez while there is still speculation around the possible arrival of Carlos Tevez.

Known as a generally “old club” because of the predominantly plus-30 year-old players in the squad, these new signings are just the healthy dose of youth Inter need to rejuvenate their 2010 form.

With the exception of Carlos Tevez, whom Inter are yet to sign, all the new players are generally unknown in the greater football world but have shown immense potential to do well during the current pre-season campaign: both Castaignos and Alvarez have scored in almost all their matches thus far and have been praised by the manager and spoken well of by their veteran teammates!

Currently in Ireland for the Dublin Super Cup, Inter beat Celtic 2-0 today (Saturday) with both their new strikers Luc Castaignos and January signing Giampaolo Pazzini finding the back of the net. Their big test against Man City on Sunday will show whether the squad have gelled enough to take on Europe's stronger sides, but regardless of the result, there is no reason why Inter should not win the Serie A this season and hopefully even the Champions League should they land Tevez.

The new manager’s 3-4-3 formation has been a cause for concern among many critics but the system has proved highly effective and attractive thus far. Inter are playing a hybrid form of football with the appeal of the fast-paced passing of Arsenal and the collective composure of a consistent Man United side which is very different to anything Inter used in the past under Mancini, Mourinho, Benitez or Leonardo. This should therefore work in Inter’s favour and give them an advantage over teams presuming they’ve got the Nerazzuri’s number based on previous seasons.

Wesley Sneijder will play deeper in the midfield area than in a traditional 4-4-2 formation but he will still maintain the same trequartista role from where he will set up plays for the three strikers; Eto’o (left), Milito (centre) and Pandev (right) who themslves will be reinforced by Castaignos and Pazzini on the bench. Next to Sneijder will be Thiago Motta on the left, new signing Alvarez on the right and Esteban Cambiasso behind all three as the defensive shield.

Christian Chivu and Davide Santon will compete for the leftback position, while Walter Samuel, Lucio and Yuto Nagamoto will most likely battle it out for the centreback position. Lastly, the best rightback in the world, Douglas Maicon, will gradually groom Jonathan Moreira to fill in his position as he begins to fade into the twilight years of his career at Inter.

Although the new manager has no silverware to his name yet he will do a far better job than Benitez or Leonardo because of his familiarity with the Seria A. Gasperini did a wonderful job last year in making a lacklustre Genoa side play attractive football similar to the way in which Redknapp rejuvenated Tottenham, and that is why Inter have hired him.

Inter’s most fierce competition domestically will come from Roma and Milan while in Europe Barca and Madrid remain the teams to beat. Inter need to sign Carlos Tevez to ensure any success and also possibly have to consider replacing their aging defensive midfielders with Portuguese wonderkid Miguel Veloso whom they let slip into Genoa’s hands from Sporting Lisbon last year. However, having been badly stung by their recent signing of Ricardo Quaresma (at one time considered better than Christiano Ronaldo in their Sporting Lisbon days) Inter may now be reluctant to sign another promising Portuguese player because of this huge disappointment. Quaresma was brought in during Mourinho’s reign as a potential match-winner but he failed to adapt and even had a loan spell at Chelsea under Big Phil Scolari before he was shipped off to Beskitas.

Other disappointments that have been offloaded by Inter include Honduran striker David Suazo, Brazilian attacking midfielder Mancini and French winger Jonathan Biabany. The remaining ones that still have to be let go include Colombian rightback Nelson Rivas and Ghanaian defensive mid Sulley Muntari.

Inter’s technical director Marco Branca is preparing the team strategically in line with Uefa’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules to be enforced in two years time which state that clubs have to spend within their means. Carlos Tevez will therefore have to be the Nerrazurri’s last risky major signing. Unless the club turns over substantial revenue in the near future they just won’t be able to bring in any more costly superstars to the Giuseppe Meazza, but for now Inter look strong for the coming season.

(Monday, 1 August 2011)