Wednesday, 27 October 2010

John Higgins- The Road To Redemption

In two weeks time snooker's Players Tour Championship series hits the German town of Hamm. Here a significant event will occur, the return of disgraced three time world champion and former World Number 1 John Higgins.

On 2nd May this year, the day the World Championship final between Neil Robertson and Graeme Dott started, the sport was rocked to it's core by the revelation Higgins was alleged to have accepted a bribe to deliberately lose four frames during the current season. Having seen the News Of The World video myself, I didn't see how Higgins could escape from this.

However he did. Higgins' side of the story was that he believed the meeting which he and then manager Pat Mooney attended in Ukraine was with members of the mafia and he only agreed to the deal to get out of the meeting. Mooney was banned for life from World Snooker with Higgins suspended for six months.

Next month that ban ends and in December Higgins will play his first match in front of the TV cameras since the allegations as he competes in the UK Championship. What sort of reaction he will get from the crowd is anyone's guess. Is the reputation of one of the game's modern greats tarnished for ever? Almost certainly. Steve Davis said in an interview that some people still believe his famous 1985 World final against Dennis Taylor was fixed. If some still believe that after 25 years, there is no way Higgins will have won round the fans universally in half a year. Yes there will be fans who will want to move on from the situation, but others who won't.

It's also anyone's guess as to how he will play on his return. The last time he played professionally was a shock 13-11 defeat to Steve Davis in the World Championship second round in April. By the time the PTC event in Hamm begins, that will be seven months without playing in a competitive match. For someone of the many years of experience Higgins has, this may not be too much of a problem. However, you are likely to get very long odds on Higgins winning the tournament.

Only time will tell how the ban will affect Higgins' form and standing with the fans, but what is for certain is that there will be plenty of press interest when the UK Championship begins on December 4

Monday, 25 October 2010

Portsmouth- a warning for all of football

On Saturday it seemed that Portsmouth FC would go into liquidation, a threat which has been looming over the club for many months. Fortunately, the club have been able to negotiate a takeover which has secured their future, but it looked as if a club with over a century of history, who only five months ago were playing in the Premier League, would go out of business. It's been coming and this must surely be the wake-up call I believe football so desperately needs.

Leeds' sharp decline from Champions League semi-finalists and League One in just a few years should have acted as a warning to clubs about over-spending, but since then many clubs have gone into administration. Twice Cardiff City have had to fight a winding-up order, while on the very day England's 23-man World Cup squad was named Crystal Palace were only minutes away from going out of business. Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter talk the talk about getting tough on clubs with massive debt, such as Manchester United and Liverpool, but it seems to be just that, talk.

I have no doubt that under the current situation within the next two or three years a league club will go out of business. It happened to Blue Square Premier Chester City last season and has so nearly happened to three clubs currently playing in the Championship. During the Five Live commentary of Blackpool v Man City commentator Alan Green quipped: "Blackpool's sponsors represent one of the biggest problems in the game today, too much Wonga". While the comment was made in joke, it is a serious point.

To find a solution to this problem we may consider taking a leaf out of the book of the Bundesliga, yes I really did suggest we follow an example from Germany. Bundesliga rules state that all clubs must be 50.1% owned by shareholders. No clubs in Germany have major financial difficulties. A coincidence? I don't think so somehow

Friday, 22 October 2010

Manchester United- The uncomfortable truth

Over the last few days, one name has dominated the football headlines- Wayne Rooney. On Tuesday he dropped the bombshell that he wanted to leave Manchester United, hardly what the club needed to hear a day before a Champions League match. Then today comes the news that Rooney has done a complete u-turn and signed a new five-year deal.

Despite the fact Rooney has opted to stay at Old Trafford until 2015, the reasons he cited for his initial desire to leave are still very valid. In his statement on Tuesday Rooney spoke an uncomfortable truth that no-one connected with the club had dared speak until then. United are not as able to compete financially with the other big clubs for the top players. This is due to the crippling debts at the club, which are well over £700 million.

As a United fan myself major alarm bells began to ring at the publication of the club's accounts which revealed United only made a profit last year due to the £80 million sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid. I thought to myself surely Manchester United, of all clubs, hasn't got to the point where it is now a selling club. Losing Ronaldo and Tevez last summer was a major blow to the club, as shown by their stuttering start to the league season which has seen them draw 5 out of their first 8 games, but losing Rooney as well would have been disastrous.

Edwin Van der Sar, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are all approaching the twilight of their careers, with suggestions Van der Sar and Scholes will bring the curtain down on their illustrious careers at the end of the current season. The question is can United buy replacements of the quality needed to stay competitive? I have my doubts. Michael Carrick seems to have regressed, while surely not much can be expected of Owen Hargreaves when he eventually escapes his two-year injury hell. Anderson hasn't shown much promise since his arrival and while Darron Gibson looks a fantastic prospect, he may be too young to take over the mantle from Scholes right now.

United only need to look down the East Lancs road at arch-rivals Liverpool to see the problems debts can cause, with Roy Hodgson's men languishing in the relegation zone, seemingly unthinkable for a club which holds the joint record for league title wins.

My only hope is that the club's hated owners, the Glazer family, move on and allow the debts to be cleared and for the club to move forward and improve the squad because if the current situation remains for too long, I honestly fear for the future of the club.