Mayweather vs Pacquaio – The Biggest Fight of All Time or Just The Biggest Fight of Right Now?

By Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (February 26th 2015)

Fight of the Century?

Five years later than originally desired, and with both combatants having shown significant signs of physical decline, Floyd Mayweather and Emmanuel ʻMannyʼ Pacquaio will finally face each other on May 2nd 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Nevada.

Billed as the ʻFight of the Centuryʼ (we are less than 15 years into said Century) the title may be – albeit unintentionally – perfectly accurate. The last great ʻsuperfightʼ, fittingly at the same weight limit of 147 pounds, between Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad, took place in September 1999 and was billed as the ʻFight of the Millenniumʼ, by which stage we were at least some 999 years into the millennium in question.

That fight, which purported to determine the Championship of the Welterweight Division, ended in farce as a seemingly-dominant (but hardly destructive) De La Hoya faded badly down the stretch and elected to run for the final three rounds. Trinidad finished the stronger of the pair and was awarded, bizarrely, a majority-decision victory. A big fight, yes. A great fight, no.

Most boxing fans have steered clear of the more acute hyperbole, preferring to refer to the fight as being just ʻBigʼ. How then, is a ʻBigʼ fight defined?

Distinctions

Before we begin, we draw a distinction between ʻBigʼ and ʻGreatʼ, with ʻBigʼ applying to fights which are scheduled but yet to take place and ʻGreatʼ applied to those fights which have reached stirring conclusions, irrespective of how they were billed or how eagerly they were anticipated.

Boxing cannot be viewed or interpreted in a vacuum. It is a unique sport in that it is a fringe sport with the potential to, at a momentʼs notice, and for one night only, go Global. In this regard, Pacquaio vs Mayweather may well be the biggest fight of this Century, of All-Time, of Right-Now depending on what criteria we apply.

There are fights which mean nothing to the overall historical perspective of boxing but which attract interest and notoriety beyond the talents and accomplishments of the individual participants. Arturo Gatti vs Mickey Ward. Jerry Quarry vs Ron Lyle. Diego Corrales vs José Luis Castillo. Fights which lacked either pedigree, prodigy, or both. Stand-alone bouts, maybe even Championship bouts, that we either looked forward to, or looked back on with fondness, but which did not significantly shape the sport or alter its route in any appreciable fashion.

Mayweather vs Pacquaio may not fall squarely into this category but it comes a lot closer than many might assume.

If the named fights represent the entry-level ʻBig Fightʼ that every hardcore fan wants to see, or recalls with fondness, then Lewis-Tyson, amogst others, expands on the general concept.

Tysonʼs notoriety, violent pre-fight outbursts and the ridiculous perception embedded in the minds of die-hard Tyson fans that Mike was somehow the perfect foil to the ʻchinnyʼ, ʻvulnerableʼ Lennox Lewis, combined to create an event which was far greater than the sum of its individual parts, those parts being a fragmented heavyweight title, a good champion in Lewis, a finished-fighter in Mike Tyson and an average venue in Louisiana.

However this fight did have pedigree and it did have prodigy. Both men either were, or had been, outstanding Champions, and Lewis would go on to cede his title upon retirement, but only after a dogged wretched victory over Vitali Klitschko, who absolutely went on to become the Heavyweight Champion and defend that title.

Lewis, however awkwardly, passed the torch on.

Ticking Boxes

There are then the fights which tick all the boxes. George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard vs Roberto Durán, Joe Frazier vs Muhammad Ali I and possibly III, Sugar Ray Leonard vs Thomas Hearns I. 

It helps that all of the above were exciting bouts, but before they were fought the conclusion had been reached that they were ʻBigʼ fights. The pedigree of the combatants, their proximity to their respective physical peaks, the title at stake, the cross-over appeal between the boxing community and the broader public, the subsequent flourishing careers of both men … were all satisfied to one extent or another.

Does Mayweather vs Pacquaio therefore stay within the rubric of what a ʻBigʼ fight is?

It depends on who one asks.

To some in the boxing community, it is undoubtedly a big fight. We may take this with a pinch of salt, due regard being had to the physical decline of both men. Originally billed for 2008, the intervening period has culminated with Mayweatherʼs recent ʻstrugglesʼ with little more than a glorified bar-brawler in Marcos Maidana. Pacquiao has had his own struggles, being knocked out cold by Juan Manuel Márquez and going the distance with the solid if underwhelming likes of Chris Algieri, Brandon Rios and Tim Bradley.

The Biggest Fight Now?

Is it the biggest fight in Boxing right now? Yes, it is, but simply because there is nothing else comparable out there. The pedigree of both men is assured but not beyond revision. Mayweather cautiously cherry-picked his way up from 135lbs. He fought an ancient Shane Mosley and an ancient, part-time Oscar De La Hoya. He put off fighting Pacquaio for five years. He fought Ricky Hatton at 147 and only fought Miguel Cotto after Cotto had been through the ringer vs Pacquaio and Antonio Margarito.

Pacquaio for his end has been dogged by accusations of performance-enhancing impropriety and has, recently, been knocked cold. Neither Mayweather nor Pacquaio have scored a knock-out victory in years and the suspicion is that both men have agreed to fight merely because each has exhausted whatever cluster of fighters his respective network permitted him to fight.

Aspersions?

Aspersions therefore must be cast on the ʻBigʼ nature of the fight, ab initio.

Hardcore fans of this fight will claim that Cotto was still good, going on to beat Middleweight Champ Sergio Martínez. Some basic examination of this superficially sound observation reveals it to be little more than a trite convenience. Martínez, already pushing 40 years of age, had been showing serious signs of decline before being dragged down to 159lbs to fight Cotto, an example of the ridiculous inequality of bargaining power that riddles the sport.

An old, drained and injury-prone Martínez had already arguably been beaten by Martin Murray in Argentina and was within one clean blow of losing to the utterly disinterested and undeserving Julio César Chávez Jr.

Interestingly, the very same American fight fans who are such religious observers of alleged ʻrobberiesʼ in Germany saw fit to look the other way when Murray twice floored Martínez.

Martínez was no more a Middleweight Champ than he was a Middleweight by the time he fought Cotto. Cotto himself was half-ruined by the time he fought Mayweather, and his purported ʻtriumphʼ over Martínez does nothing to detract from that reality.

Then there also are questions regarding the progeny of Mayweather vs Pacquaio. The suspicion is that both men have exhausted their supply of easy, money-making cannon fodder and have been steered into this fight by Networks tired of the expensive soporific meander that both men have been on as of recent.

Preposterous

Should Mayweather win, he will be undoubtedly steered towards another ʻEpicʼ, ʻMassiveʼ showdown with the alleged Middleweight Champion, Miguel Cotto. Any serious fight fan not already smiling wryly at this preposterous charade could do worse than to ask themselves why the consensus-best Middleweight on Earth, Gennady Golovkin, is being studiously avoided by Cotto.

Cotto, desperate to fight Mayweather again at 160 for a massive pay-day, will not risk his title against a man sure to obliterate him. This is justified on the grounds that Golovkin, an undefeated former World and Olympic amateur star, is not a ʻPay Per View Forceʼ. His not getting a fight with Floyd Mayweather is justified on the grounds that he is ʻMuch bigger than Floydʼ. Mayweather fought De La Hoya at 154 pounds in 2007 and paid Juan Manuel Márquez $600,000 as compensation for coming in over the agreed weight limit for their fight in 2009. This perversion is loaned added hilarity by the suggestion that Golovkin, a Middleweight, can alleviate this injustice by fighting much bigger men, like Sergei Kovalev.

Pause them to consider these points. We have Cotto loitering at 160, freezing out Golovkin, like Marvin Hagler, and Tiger Flowers and others were frozen out in their time. We have Mayweather fans claiming that his win over Cotto was good by dint of Cottoʼs win over Martínez . We have Cotto and Floyd refusing to fight Golovkin and Cotto holding out for a pay-day with Floyd after Floyd has finally beaten somebody he should have fought years ago.

Newspeak

Clearly, those looking to tell us that this is a Big Fight based solely on boxing criteria have been obliged to come up with some magical thinking, some Orwellian Newspeak, to convince us that the opposite is the case. Accordingly, they have injected new impetus into their claim with phrases such as ʻPay Per View Forceʼ, ʻPound For Pound Greatnessʼ, ʻPublic Imaginationʼ, (the public must clearly have one, after all, they regard Miguel Cotto as the Middleweight Champ), ʻAmerican Audiencesʼ, ʻLive Gatesʼ and ʻTV Figuresʼ.

This fight will sell and will make more money than any other fight before it. Apparently this is what counts. Notwithstanding the fact that Foreman and Ali were paid bigger purses – $5m is worth over $30m in todayʼs money – the ʻfiguresʼ for this fight will be unprecedented. For years now social-media has dictated what is hot and what is not. Mayweather is heavily hooked into this set-up and Pacquaio – in a more traditional, iconic form – offers an aspirational image to the destitute of the Philippines.

Intriguing

None of this has anything to do with boxing per se, however. The next biggest fight out there for either man, irrespective of who wins, is against another man that both men have already soundly beaten, the afore-mentioned Cotto, who, as discussed earlier, is masquerading as the Middleweight Champion.

At least with De La Hoya vs Trinidad, there was an impression that the winner would be the Consensus best 147lb fighter on the planet. When that did not materialize, at least both Trinidad and Oscar went on to engage in a great many meaningful fights. I see no such outlook for Floyd and Manny. Both are much much closer to retirement than Trinidad or De La Hoya were. A fight with Cotto would reek of farce and convenience.

Mayweather vs Pacquaio is a good fight. It is an intriguing fight. It is an interesting fight. I will watch it. I might even pay to watch it, but I will not be regarding it as closing any chapters nor opening any new ones. I advise fans to approach it with the same mentality. Coming as it is five years too late, the outcome will not satisfactorily tell us who was the better man. Given the charade that is likely to follow, and the advancing years of both men, the fight has no progeny worthy of the name. Enjoy this fight by all means, but approach it, and depart from it likewise, with no small caution.

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Respect

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 21st 2015)

Reputations

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Carlos Velasco Carballo rapidly established himself as Spainʼs top referee since deciding to concentrate on officiating in 2010. He had built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement. It was not unusual for there to be several yellow cards and the odd red card too.

Armed with the appropriate FIFA badge, Velasco Carballo refereed his first international in 2008. His first season refereeing past qualifiers for the Championʼs League coincided with a meteoric rise. In that season he was awarded the 2011 Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao García Zárate – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

It was a niggly match settled by a solitary goal scored by Falcao and liberally peppered by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was a typical Velasco Carballo performance. The following season, he continued where he left off. Velasco Carballo refereed 19 Primera División matches and brandished 16 red cards.

He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012 ahead of the more experienced Alberto Undiano Mallenco. He refereed the opening match in Poland against Greece. Sokratis Papasthapoulos was controversially sent off, having received two unfortunate yellow cards.

Stock

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Velasco Carballoʼs stock plummeted at the World Cup in the wretched quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. Some say the occasion got to him, but that does not explain his performance. It wasnʼt just the record tally of fouls – 54 – some of which were appalling. Flagrant encroachment at a free-kick was not only unpunished, but rewarded. It was a performance that defied explanation.

He permitted over 40 offences before brandishing a yellow card in that match in Fortaleza and the first was for a comparatively trivial offence compared to what had gone before and later. FIFA insists that there was no directive to referees to show leniency when it came to showing cards and refused to criticise Velasco Carballoʼs performance in Fortaleza.

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Diego Maradona and Falcao were scathing in their criticism, but they werenʼt to know that Velasco Carballo had officiated against type. It remained to be seen how the Spaniard would perform post Fortaleza. If FIFA was correct and there was no directive then Velasco Carballo must have chosen to abandon his previous style and referee in an alien fashion, which he would no doubt stick to.

The Renaissance

His reputation had taken a mauling during the World Cup. But the signs were there after the World Cup that Velasco Carballo had refereed that match in an alien manner. Last December he refereed Eibar versus Valencia. There were 21 fouls, but 10 yellow cards, four in the last ten minutes. His first match of the new year took place on January 3rd between Sevilla and Celta de Vigo. There were 45 fouls. Velasco Carballo showed nine yellow cards and one red.

It was nowhere near as dirty a match as that infamous quarter-final. A league match between Real Sociedad and Villarreal last month had 24 fouls. He brandished ten yellow cards and a red card too. Just over a month ago he refereed a local encounter Levante versus Elche. Velasco Carballo showed a red card to David Navarro after just 6 minutes. He also showed six yellow cards. There were 26 fouls in the match. Clearly, this was not a referee who would not use his cards if the offence warranted it in Spain. What about in European competition?

He officiated the match between Schalke04 and Maribor in September. There were 24 fouls and five yellow cards were shown, all in the second half. He refereed FCK versus Bayer Leverkusen last August. Each side committed 12 fouls. He showed six yellow cards. Anderlechtʼs home defeat by Arsenal resulted in just three yellow cards with 27 fouls. Ajax beat the Cypriots APOEL comfortably at home in December. The 4-0 drubbing had 16 fouls, 8 each. Two Cypriot players were the only ones booked. It was hardly a dirty match deserving a flurry of cards.

His latest international after the World Cup was a Euro2016 qualifier between Iceland and the Netherlands. Iceland won 2-0. There were 23 fouls and only one booking – Nigel de Jong in the last ten minutes. But all of these statistics donʼt necessarily tell the whole story – not all fouls deserve cards. I have seen only two of his matches since the World Cup – Sevilla versus Celta de Vigo and last Thursdayʼs Europa League tie at White Hart Lane. His performances were true to form. Fortaleza was an aberration.

The Return

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Fans of los Cafeteros present at White Hart Lane would be forgiven a double take or two at his performance on Thursday night. It was the same referee who lost control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. There was never any danger of a repeat dose tonight as long as there were no ludicrous directives. It soon became clear that there were not.

Just three minutes into the match those familiar with the style and performances of Madrid-based referee Carlos Velasco Carballo – remember him – saw a familiar sight. The real Velasco Carballo jogging over to Spursʼ right wing with intent. Gonzalo Rodríguez brought down Andros Townsend. It was a bad foul that deserved a booking and got one.

Velasco Carballo had made it clear where his line was and the match quickly settled down. There was no danger that this would degenerate into foul fare. The referee was in control. The whole match had 24 fouls and just three yellow cards. The refereeʼs authority was never in doubt and it flowed. There was no need for more cards. This is the real Carlos Velasco Carballo.

Legacy

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 19th 2015)

Sepp Blatter’s Final Act

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Which is the most powerful office in the world? The office of the President of the United States. Wrong. The most powerful office in the world is the office of the President of FIFA. Right. Why? Because football is the most popular sport in the world and money – vast amounts of it – talks.

The FIFA President Joseph Sepp Blatter has thrown his hat into the ring for the 2015 FIFA Presidential election again despite his assurances that last time would be his swansong.

The only reason Blatter would disregard the consequences of setting aside his public declaration made on the eve of the last elections that he would not run for the office again, and dare to seek the office one more time is because he is confident he will win it. The early declared competitor Jérôme Champagne – eased or forced out FIFA five years ago has fallen by the wayside.

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UEFA have grumbled put its President Michel Platini refused to mount a challenge. David Ginola was never a credible challenger, so Blaterʼs confidence was not misplaced. It is simply the reality of the situation on ground. However, new contenders emerged. The first to declare was Jordanian Executive Committee member Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, followed by the President of the Dutch Federation Michael van Praag. Portuguese legend Luis Figo joined the race late, but has credibility. Blatter however remains confident. He knows that he has big support in Asian and African federations.

Unloved

Blatter knows that he will win not because the rest of the world loves him so dearly, or considers him indispensable, but because he seats atop the most powerful office on planet earth and will use the awesome power of that office (which he understands very well) and of his incumbency to check-mate all other contenders. Remember how he saw off the challenge of Mohammed bin Hammam. Where is the Qatari now?

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Americans donʼt talk about Chuck Blazer now, but that wasnʼt always the case. Blazer brought down bin Hammam and with him former CONCACAF leader Jack Warner – all of which suited Blatter. Bin Hammam was disgraced and thrown out of FIFA. He won that appeal after the damage was done and was brought down on new charges. Blazer faced his own troubles as Warner got even with his former protégé. Warner had to go as well. Not even the corruption charges laid against FIFA could shift Blatter. Even the report of Michael Garcia was so purged that the author disowned it! Not even that had any effect on Blatter.

Transparency and Integrity

He had served his apprenticeship and inherited the crown – he will not abdicate – even if his predecessor João Havelange had to sever his ties to FIFA after being implicated in a bribery scandal. He escaped prosecution partly due to his age. The former head of the Brazilian Federation Ricardo Teixeira was forced out after investigations in Brazil proved sufficient for criminal charges to be laid – a huge story that somehow vanished with barely a whimper.

Blatterʼs Argentinian ally Julio Grondona died soon after the World Cup. The corrupt former head of CONMEBOL Nicolás Leoz resigned ostensibly on health grounds. He too was named in corruption inquiries. One by one allies fell, but Blatter emerged unscathed. Even knowing of Havelangeʼs dubious activities made little difference. 

The product of such thinking is that even in the face of global rejection of fascism and totalitarianism as an acceptable system of governance, the world can do nothing about FIFA. President Blatter, at almost 80 years of age, four times already as President, knows that under normal ‘temperature and pressure’ he should not be seeking another term in office. 

Yet, but for the few ‘pretenders’ that have joined rather grudgingly the race, the world would be looking on hopelessly and helplessly, frustrated by the rules of engagement crafted in FIFA through the decades.

FIFA which holds football in trust for the entire world should be promoting best global practices in the promotion of global peace, friendship, equity, democracy, integrity, fair play and transparency. But here we are with a powerful office that bestows upon its occupier the perks and powers reminiscent of the darkest days of dictatorships in the world.

A Tarnished Legacy

It was not always so with Blatter. Given that Blatter has surely done a great deal more than any human alive for football in his four decades long romance with football, he should be the champion of the deepening of the tradition of true democratic practice that ensures that no office in the world today should have an unlimited term. FIFA runs a no-term limit for the office of its President. That should go.

Even the Presidency of the most powerful nation on earth, for good reason through past experiences, has a two-term limit. Anything longer than two terms in any office will breed dictatorship. The situation in FIFA has become a canker-worm trickling downwards through all levels of global football administration.

Local Football Councils, State and National Football Associations and Federations, and even the Confederations are taking a cue from the practice in FIFA, and self-perpetuation in office now has become the norm and dominates the administrative football landscape. Take CAF for example.

Trickle-down

Issa Hayatou has been President for almost 30 years. The rules have been changed several times through the decades to accommodate his self-succession plots. The last one was a rule that only members of the Executive Committee could contest for the CAF presidency. These are all members loyal to him because he helped them all to get there.

As his present tenure draws to an end, there are reports of moves already seeking another term in office for him, even though the present constitution of CAF forbids anyone above the age of 70 from holding the office. Hayatou is now 68. Using the awesome power of the President, the goal-posts are to be shifted and the age limit restriction will be removed to enable him to contest again, despite even his poor health.

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At National Federations level, from country to country, particularly in the Third World, attempts at self-perpetuation in office have become photocopies of the FIFA model. That’s why there is crisis when election times come. This practice must be stopped. For now, only Sepp Blatter can do it.

The statutes of FIFA and all its Confederations and Federations must be amended before he leaves office, so that a two-term limit for the Presidency of FIFA, as well as all its affiliate Federation and Confederation members, is introduced. This should be the Sepp Blatter’s final act and the legacy that he bequeaths to football and the world.

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Sepp Blatter and Issa Hayatou exchange pennants.

Honours Even

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 19th 2015)

Dominant

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Mauricio Pochettino was disappointed with the result after his Tottenham Hotspur team were held to 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane tonight by Fiorentina. Pochettinoʼs decision to rest the in-form Harry Kane backfired, despite Roberto Soldado Rilloʼs 6th minute strike – his first goal of the year. In the first half hour Spurs dominated, running Fiorentinaʼs back three ragged, but despite creating chances, the hosts failed to profit.

After 5 minutes Nacer Chadliʼs effort was saved at the expense of a corner. Paulinho took it finding Soldado. The former Valencia strikerʼs shot beat Romanian keeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to give Spurs a platform they failed to capitalise on. Half chances at the other end were made by Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez, resulting in a weak effort by Mario Gomez and for Mohamed Salah, on loan from Chelsea as part of the deal that took Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello the other way, but Federico Fazio blocked the Egyptianʼs shot. Despite the threat posed by the visitors, led by their captain Manuel Pasqual, but Spurs were more dangerous.

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Christian Eriksen had almost converted a chance created by Chadliʼs excellent approach play, but shot just over. After his goal Soldado was profligate, but spectacular. Eriksenʼs cross found Soldado after Stefan Savićʼs block rebounded to him. Soldadoʼs bicycle kick was spectacular, but straight at the keeper from point blank range with the goal gaping.

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Recovery

With half an hour gone Fiorentina came into their own. Borja Valeroʼs cross field pass found Pasqual and Fiorentinaʼs captain set up Gomez. The former Vf Stuttgart and Beyern Munich strikerʼs effort went just wide. Two minutes later Salah slipped Gomez through, but recovering from a long injury lay-off Gomez had to settle for a corner.

That five minutes of pressure culminated in Soldado tripping Joaquín after the former Real Betis and Valencia winger had got past him. Soldado was rightly booked. Chilean international Matías Fernández Fernández took the free-kick. It was pushed out to his right by Hugo Lloris onto Savićʼs back and rebounded into path of José María Basanta, who took advantage of his good fortune to smash in the equaliser from close range.

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Just Deserts

Just before half time Spurs almost regained the lead. Kyle Walkerʼs cross was met by Soldado, whose header was saved by Tătăruşanu. Chadli latched on to the rebound. His shot was lashed onto the crossbar. Appeals for a goal were rightly turned down as the ball bounced on the wrong side of the goal-line. Vincenzo Montella changed his formation at half time and contained Tottenhamʼs threat, despite the introduction of Harry Kane.

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After 90 minutes we were better, we created more chances”, Pochettino said, “but it’s true that in the second half, in the last 15-20 minutes, we maybe didn’t create many chances. It’s a shame because at half-time maybe the team had deserved to score more than one goal and then it was 1-1. We have 90 minutes in Florence to try and win the game”.

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Return to Form

The decision to rest Harry Kane raised a few eyebrows, although it may indicate where Pochettinʼs priorities lie. At first he was vindicated by Soldadoʼs goal, but the equaliser and Montellaʼs changes in formation saw la Viola become a different proposition in the second half. Shortly after the restart Joaquín created space for himself on the right flank to tee up Salah. The Egyptianʼs curling shot from just outside the area went close with Lloris beaten.

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Savić deserved his booking for hauling back Chadli after 5 minutes of the second half. With an hour play Spurs pressure was absorbed by Fiorentinaʼs defence. Andros Townsendʼs cross was headed clear by Savić to Nabil Bentaleb. The Algerian defenderʼs long range shot failed to trouble Tătăruşanu. Five minutes later Pochettino made a concession of sorts. Kane was introduced for the last 25 minutes, but despite his red hot form, not even a front two of Soldado and Kane could find a way past Tătăruşanu.

We have a lot of games ahead, six in 17 days”, Pochettino said in defence of his decision to rest Kane. “It’s difficult. We need to rotate and give the possibility to play for all. It was a very open game. I think that we made a big effort in the first half, a great effort. I’m a little bit disappointed with the result because I thought we could have won.”

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Development Path

the ICC,by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Test

Two days ago cricketʼs 50 over-per side World Cup produced its first major shock – well Ireland outplayed the West Indies, chasing down a target of over 300. The West Indies had recovered from a rocky start and Ireland had a major wobble near the end. Nobody could argue that Ireland deserved their win. At least one cricketing great, the West Indiesʼ superb fast bowler Michael Holding, sees no reason for Ireland to have to wait.

Holding wants Ireland to be fast tracked to Test Match status. We agree. It is essential for Ireland to continue to develop and that cannot happen as it should if Irelandʼs best players have no option, but to seek eligibility for other nations – England – if they want to test themselves. For top cricketers Test Matches are the real deal.

Twenty20 is the popular format and the one that carries riches, but Test matches are the measure of greatness. As Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sagakkara told us in 2009, “No player talks about scoring 2000 runs in Twenty20 internationals, but they all want to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket”. So what choice do the best Irish cricketers have? If they want to test themselves they have no choice at the moment – itʼs England or no Test Matches for them.

Joyce

Almost five years ago we secured an exclusive interview with Ed Joyce – a player who has experienced everything possible as an Irish cricketer. He made his name with Ireland before they achieved their great upsets and played First Class (county) cricket in England. He developed as a cricketer as far as he could with Ireland at that time.

He wanted to test his skills in the cauldron of Test cricket. He had no choice. It had to be England. He was in and out of Englandʼs side – too good for Ireland, but not good enough for England. Joyce was eligible for England between 2006-2010. He wanted to play Test cricket, believed that he was good enough, but never played one. So what remained for him?

Joyce chose to play for Ireland again in 2010 and was fast-tracked through eligibility in order to play in 2011 World Cup. He played in the ODI World Cup of 2007 as well, but for England, thereby missing Irelandʼs most successful World Cup to date. Ireland announced their arrival in that tournament with wins over Pakistan and also Bangladesh.

Reward

In 2011 they beat the old enemy England and this year they added the scalp of the West Indies, albeit a team in disarray after an ugly spat between Board and players over payments. Nevertheless, Irelandʼs performance is impressive. They chased down 304 with 25 balls to spare, winning by 4 wickets.

It could have been more as with victory in sight, mainly thanks to 92 from Paul Stirling, 84 from the 36-year-old Joyce and an unbeaten 79 from Niall OʼBrien, Ireland suffered a wobble. But Ireland has a strong case to join the élite nations. Scores of 300+ have only been chased down 5 times – three of them have been by Ireland.

They have performed consistently in the last three World Cups, knocking off their supposed betters. Itʼs time the ICC rewarded the progress they have made with the ultimate prize. For a decade they will most likely be awful. So what. Everyone else was too when they first became Test playing nations.

They must not be afraid to lose – they need to learn a new format. It may take several years. Again, so what? If the popularity of Test cricket is to grow, the ICC must not duck the Ireland test. It is the only way that future Ed Joyces and Eoin Morgans will stay and play for Ireland – they need to keep their best players if they are to continue to develop and achieve their potential.

Return

Well I’ve thrown my hat in with Ireland, being an Irishman”, Joyce told us, “so I just came over and played for England and as I’ve always said before I wouldn’t give those England memories up for anything, but I feel my future is with Ireland”.

But why? “They’re an improving cricketing nation and I would like to be a part of that improvement, so hopefully I’ve got five or six years playing for them and do good things for them in the World Cup and what not”, he said.

Forward-Planing

So how did he see Ireland progressing? “I think it’s important that we keep getting into the big tournaments”, Joyce said. “That’s the most important thing. Exposure’s important at home, because it’s one of the lesser games. There’s obviously three or four sports much bigger than cricket, so we’ve just got to keep trying to get to the big competitions – the World Cups – and keep performing and keep getting games against the big teams and putting in decent performances, because I think that’s the key to keep the exposure there and all the young players will come up and hopefully the standard will improve and there’ll be a bit more money coming in and it becomes a virtuous circle where everything starts improving”.

He wasnʼt wrong. Joyce didnʼt think that Ireland was ready for Test cricket. In fact he thought it was a long way off. It seems that five years is a long time in cricket. No less an authority than Michael Holding wants to see Ireland take the next step in their development – Test status. Who are we to disagree?

Life After Cuadrado

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Won’t be Missed

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino told a press conference that Fiorentina won’t miss Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. The Colombian winger – one of the stars of los Cafeteros’ best ever World Cup – went to Chelsea in the January transfer window. Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah went in the opposite direction on loan for the rest of the season.

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Salah has already said that he wants to stay in the renaissance city. He scored at the weekend and will be keen to impress. Salah’s rapid return to English soil with a point to prove will grab the headlines, but a forgotten Englishman returns too for the first time since his departure for sunnier climes in the summer – former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards

But most column inches will be about the Cuadrado-sized hole in the Viola’s plans, plugged by among others Salah. “Juan [Cuadrado] is an unbelievable player, but it is true Fiorentina have a strong squad”, Pochettino said. “We have seen a lot of their games and they have a very good team. They have a lot of players and I’m sure they will do fine without him”.

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Impact of the Loss of Cuadrado

Vincenzo Montella the young coach of the Viola would rather talk about the players he still has or brought in than the versatile Colombian winger, but talk he must. “Well I think we pulled of a bit of a coup ourselves to be honest with you in signing Salah, but joking aside of course, itʼs almost a source of professional pride that someone wanted to pay so much for Cuadrado and that he developed so much as a player, because he certainly wasnʼt at that level when he first arrived to play for us, so I think us, the management and the players are very proud of how far heʼs been able to go with our help, but we havenʼt just replaced him with one player”, Montella said. “Weʼve replaced him with several players”.

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Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence last year even before the World Cup. His erstwhile Viola team-mates must get used to his absence and to his replacement. “Salah is a very good player”, Montella said. “Heʼs used to playing at this level and although heʼs only been with us for a short while, heʼs already shown very quickly thatʼs heʼs up to playing very well in Italy and playing very well for us”.

Veteran defender Manuel Pasqual agrees. “Cuadradoʼs a great player, the kind of guy who could make a difference on the pitch, but I think that Salahʼs got off to a flying start”, he said. “Heʼs being doing really well and I hope that he just continues playing the way he is at the moment”.

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The Shop Window

Fiorentina did not want to sell him, but money talks and Cuadrado had put himself in the shop window by having an exceptional World Cup. It was going to be a tough job to keep him. The Viola did well to stave off interest in the summer transfer window.

James Rodríguez Rubio had starred in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao García Zárate and got the move both coveted to European champions Real Madrid. Falcao moved to Manchester United on deadline day on loan – a move that hasn’t worked for either party yet.

But while those stars got their moves Cuadrado stayed put in Florence, but his heart was already wandering. Cuadrado wanted to capitalise on his successful World Cup, but the hoped for move to Barçelona failed to materialise – he was the one major Colombian star not to get a big money move.

For a while at least it looked as if the Fiorentina might just keep their star. “He’s very important”, Fiorentina’s Administrative Delegate Sandro Mencucci told us exclusively at the Europa League Draw. “He’s one of the best players in the world in my opinion and it’s important that Cuadrado is with our team. We are a strong team – very tough”.

Going, Going, Gone

Cuadrado was not happy, but the Camp Nou faded into the distance as the transfer ban on the Catalan giants ended any hopes of a transfer there this season or in the summer. “Yes, he’s very important,” Mencucci.

Fiorentina had made him a better player than when he joined them from Udinese in 2012.Montella was quick to point that out. So how much was he worth? Mencucci laughs. “It’s difficult to talk about a sum”, he says determined to avoid tipping off potential suitors to the likely price. “I think that’s great valuable”. The message from Mencucci was clear. “No, no”, he said. “I don’t want to sell”.

But money talks and Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence. Chelsea knew his buy-out clause and got permission to talk to him. Before long their bid was accepted. Cuadrado – a boy who grew up in poverty without his father, because he was murdered during the appalling drug-related violence that tortured that nation in the 1990s – had joined the Premier League’s millionaires row.

He’d come a long way from his origins when the boy with a passion for football would go to extraordinary lengths to play the sport he loved, despite his mother’s and then grand-mother’s disapproval. He made his Champion’s League bow for his new club from the bench on Tuesday against Paris Saint Germain.

Familiar Faces

If he’s watching his old team tonight he will see plenty of familiar faces, including an unexpected one. “As far as officiating, then, no [he has no concerns] as far weʼre concerned”, Montella said. “The referees do their job. We respect their decisions; thatʼs it”. Cuadrado will beg to differ when he sees who the referee is. Carlos Velasco Carballo was the official who lost or never had control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

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If the Spaniard referees as he normally does (see Tatters at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/2007/), Cuadrado’s incredulity will turn to bemusement and then incredulity and anger. Velasco Carballo was a very different type of referee before the World Cup and returned to form afterwards. Colombians still await a satisfactory answer of why he refereed against form in Fortaleza.

Ambitions

Ambitions

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Test

Vincenzo Montella wants success. The current coach of Fiorentina, known as the Little Aeroplane due to gis goal celebration has made the transition from player to coach. His opposite number Tottenham Hotspurʼs Mauricio Pochettino has too. Both teamsʼ league positions suggest that qualifying for the Championsʼ League through their respective leagues will be difficult, but there is another option – winning the Europa League.

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Thereʼs no doubt of course that itʼs a really important game tomorrow and yeah, this is what we work for, this is why we are involved in football”, Montella said. “Weʼre very, very passionate about the game and Iʼm sure that tomorrow will be a fantastic experience and weʼre focussed on tomorrowʼs game. Of course we want to go as far as possible, but we want to focus on tomorrow and the rest will take care of itself”.

Montella knows that Spurs will be a difficult side to beat. “Tomorrow, itʼs going to be very difficult”, he said. “We need to ensure that weʼre extremely focussed out on the pitch. We need to be full of energy, but by the same token not get too carried away, because that could perhaps make things difficult for us, perhaps even have a slight bit of fear that could keep us on edge during the game”.

Ready

Veteran defender Manuel Paasqual has no illusions either. “… weʼre in the Europa League, direct knock-out round”, he said. “We know weʼre playing a very good team, perhaps one of the favourites for the competition. We know that theyʼre fast, tough, very physical. And this year weʼre up against Tottenham, but weʼre going to go up there and do our best to carry on in the competition”.

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His coach is ready too. “I think whatʼs really important for us is to be ready, to be prepared, physically, tactically, mentally as well and I think that is something which we all are”, Montella said. “My team is ready for the game. We know itʼs a big game. Itʼs a big game against a strong team, playing at home with their own crowd behind them, which is not necessarily something weʼre always used to playing in this kind of atmosphere, but yeah weʼre ready”.

Important

Itʼs not a season-defining match, but both teams know that victory is important. “Well I think itʼs a very important game for us, because obviously weʼre playing a very strong team in Spurs, but I think we ourselves in the past and at the moment, we are showing ourselves to be a very good team”, Pasqual said. “We know that Spurs are going to be difficult.

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Montella is keen to play their own match. “Well I think that we know that we have to play our game”, Montella said. “We have to display what weʼre capable of doing We have to be combative; we have to be energetic. We have to know match the opposition, whether itʼs physically, mentally. We need to play well, stay true to our style, be brave and also a little bit humble and be aware of what might happen if we donʼt play to our top level”.

Commitment

Among the players returning for their first taste of football in England since leaving these shores are Mohamed Salah on loan from Chelsea and former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards. Montella doesnʼt think that will matter much. “I think that what is important isnʼt so much being used to play here in England, itʼs being used to playing at this kind of level against these kind of teams,he said.

He has no illusions that Fiorentina face a tough tie. “Tottenham are a complete team”, he said. “Thereʼs nothing missing from them whatsoever and theyʼre pretty special in that they combine a Spanish style of play and an English style of play, so a lot of possession and the slow the ball down, but then theyʼre also very quick in the transition phase. Theyʼre able to speed things up. Theyʼre able to be very direct as well, so thatʼs something you have to get used to and yeah, theyʼre strong opposition. We know that. Theyʼre a very, very complete team”.

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Pasqual shares his coachʼs opinions. “Itʼs going to be tough, but the important thing for us to give our best, play well on the pitch in exactly the same way as weʼve done in any other game weʼve played whether it be the Cup Italia – the Italian Cup – or in the Italian Championship”, Pasqual said.

Montella tempers his enthusiasm with a note of caution. “We need to be extremely enthusiastic”, he said. “We need to be very brave. We need to enjoy the opportunity, but by the same token we canʼt get too carried away. We canʼt be too euphoric, because obviously that might lead us to become a little bit careless and thatʼs when mistakes can happen”.

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