1. “The summer of 2008 was sullied by another doomed pursuit involving Gareth Barry, though this time he was the target of the chase with Rafa Benitez openly courting him in the apparent hope of shipping Alonso off to Turin. Over those few months, figures were exchanged, transfer requests were handed in, and Benitez was scribbled furiously off Martin O’Neill’s Christmas card list. Barry, however, remained at Villa. And so Alonso stayed at Liverpool. And, though he was coming off the back of a below-par season, those of us with an active collection of brain cells breathed a quiet sigh of relief.”
In an extract from a new book, Alex Hess pays an extensive tribute to Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso.
2. “Instead the restraint exercised by most teams has been pleasing, as has the speed with which the TMOs have generally gone about their work. We ask for consistency and the new tool is helping to give us that while clinical arbitration always tends to take the heat out of contentious situations. A few bad decisions and a couple of games where the TMO becomes the story could lead to an abrupt change of view but, as a coach, I know I often “read” a game very differently when I review it on tape as opposed to in the heat of the moment from the sidelines.”
It’s not often that rugby refs are portrayed in a positive light by the media, and this article by Shaun Edwards examines the current standard of officiating in an intelligent and insightful manner to boot.
3. “The point is it shouldn’t be allowed to work. It shouldn’t be allowed, period. No club should be able to put out an entire starting XI of loan players, plus three subs. No club should have 10 players, almost a team, registered to one generous donor. Watford has been transformed overnight into Udinese’s finishing school, with all the loss of identity that entails. Champions of the loan system see its contribution as necessary, even beneficial, spreading talent and helping bring through young players who would otherwise find their first-team opportunities limited. Many of the world’s finest footballers have at some time gained valuable experience through a temporary transfer.”
Not many sports writers could make an article on Watford FC interesting to the average sports fan, but The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel manages to do just that.
4. “Buggies zip silently about, ferrying players to practice greens and vice-captains to the players. Miguel Angel Jimenez, veteran of five Ryder Cups and European vice-captain here, speeds past with cap pulled low and ponytail wedged out the back. Spectators crane for a clear view, whoop at their compatriots and, for now at least, applaud politely when the enemy come into view.”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock this week, you’ll have noticed that the Ryder Cup is underway. BBC Sport’s Tom Fordyce provides the perfect scene setter.
5. “No one has captained the All Blacks on more occasions or led them to as many victories and a clean sweep in the Rugby Championship will see him become the first player to reach the 100 Test victories landmark. It is not really surprising he has only tasted defeat on 12 occasions and while his winning percentage may not quite rival that of centre Conrad Smith (90%) his team-mate has about half the mileage on his Test rugby clock.
“It makes him the most marketable player of his generation but you will not see him in his pants on a billboard. Aside from those appearances on behalf of those companies that have paid handsomely to be tied to the All Blacks brand including the likes of adidas and Air New Zealand, you will be hard-pressed to find his face on anything but for the occasional bottle of flavoured milk. An amazing fact considering he is probably afforded more air time and exposure than even New Zealand Prime Minister John Key.”
With Richie McCaw announcing his intentions to play in another World Cup, ESPN’s Graham Jenkins gives his take on what makes the player special.