Who Next For Real Madrid?

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Photo by Vienna Reyes on Unsplash

As mentioned several days ago, Julen Lopetegui has been relieved of his duties at Real Madrid. So now, the question on every football fan’s lips is: Who will be the next permanent manager?

As it stands, ex-player Santiago Solari has taken the role as caretaker-manager. This basically means, “You are the manager until we find someone who is actually worthy of the position.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Solari has no chance of being named the permanent manager. Historically, many clubs use caretaker-managers to give themselves a chance to make the right appointment, and then end up giving that individual a full-time position, especially if those in power see a rejuvenated team start to perform.

It is also very important to know that a club like Real Madrid prefers to appoint managers who have grown up with, played for, or been involved with the club in the past. They need people at the club who understand the Madrid way, so they can eliminate the need for a honeymoon period. Solari fits the bill in this instance, as he was the manager of Real Madrid Castilla (Real’s reserve team) and, prior to that, was in charge of the youth team at the club. He also played over 130 games for the club between 2000 and 2005.

When you put these aspects together, Santiago Solari is rightfully the bookies’ favourite to be given the permanent manager role, especially if he can get the team playing well. He will be following in the footsteps of Zinedine Zidane, who was promoted to Real Madrid manager whilst being in charge of the reserve team.

Unfortunately for Solari, I don’t think he has the technical nous or knowledge to be successful at the top of the game, meaning that Perez will need to look elsewhere.

That leads us nicely onto the most obvious candidate … Antonio Conte.

Conte is currently available, which makes him a fantastic target. As Real Madrid will not need to pay any compensation to another club for stealing their manager from them. After forking out a fortune to sack Lopetegui, this might be the best option for them. Plus, it’s not like Conte is a terrible manager. He brings with him a fantastic record, winning five trophies in his three years in charge of Juventus (3x Serie A, 2x Supercoppa Italiana), receiving plaudits as Italy manager, and picking up a couple of trophies in England with Chelsea (Premier League and FA Cup). Conte is a winner, and Real Madrid need to find a way to win.

Yet, Perez will be tentative to go knocking on Conte’s door just yet. Last thing anybody at Real Madrid wants is a manager who will happily criticise the board members in front of the media, or sulk at not getting what he wants (both of which were things that Conte was happy to do regularly before getting the boot from Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich).

My Italian isn’t up to scratch, so, I can’t verify what he is saying … but going on his facial expressions, he isn’t being very nice…

Other alternatives may include Roberto Martinez (Belgium’s coach), Joachim Lowe (Germany’s coach), or Jose Mourinho (with Manchester United). Unfortunately, those options wouldn’t be of any use to Real Madrid, as they are all tied up in well-paying jobs elsewhere.

So, it comes down to one of two options, as I see it:

Mauricio Pochettino (left) and Arsene Wenger (right)

Perez’s first choice is likely to be Mauricio Pochettino, who would be an exceptional fit for Real Madrid. Pochettino is a manager who has won plaudits wherever he has gone, despite not having any trophies to his name as a manager. Unfortunately for Perez, he is unlikely to get his wishes right now, and would have to wait until the end of the season before finalising any deal for Pochettino. The added bonus for waiting would be that Pochettino would probably be able to convince star striker Harry Kane to come along with him.

The only other possibility for Real could be to hire Arsene Wenger. Wenger has been out of work, by choice, since he resigned as Arsenal’s manager at the end of last season, after 22 years in charge. This opportunity with Real Madrid may be the one that brings Wenger back into management, as it’s a club that has the right tools for him to be successful.

It is important to know that Real Madrid do have time to make the right decision for them, as neither Mauricio Pochettino or Arsene Wenger are likely to be signing a contract anytime soon. Pochettino will not leave halfway through a season; he has clarified that on many an occasion. As for Wenger, he is only likely to join a top team from a top league, and that list is not very expansive. Especially if you rule out that he would unlikely go to Arsenal’s rival team, and all the other major teams are pretty happy with their managers, as it stands.

What will happen then?

For me, one of the following two possibilities will materialise, but it all depends on how Solari gets the team playing.

Option No. 1: Hire Solari until the end of the season and then approach Pochettino. He will very likely take the job. This option would be perfect, knowing that Wenger could be a very likely back-up.

Option No. 2: Approach Wenger now, knowing that he will definitely want a long-term contract. As a result, approaching Pochettino would be out of the question come the end of the season.

Whatever way you look at it, there will be a quality manager at the helm next year. Teams like Real Madrid don’t stay in a slump for too long.

Not a “Real” Shock to See Julen Go

“I’m from the future and it doesn’t work out very well for you!”
(So says the wise comment below a YouTube video)

I understand that this could be said to many: Donald Trump; Prince Salman; Theresa May; the list goes on and on. On this occasion, it’s Julen Lopetegui who has been the unlucky recipient. In fact, it turned out to be very true a mere three days after the humiliating 5-1 defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals, Barcelona, when Lopetegui was sacked.

Let’s wind back five months or so …

Spain are being classed as one of the favourites for the 2018 World Cup after a magnificent qualifying campaign, and their coach, Julen Lopetegui, is being hailed as one of the best in the world. It was hard to argue with the claim.

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2018 World Cup qualification – UEFA Group G (Via Wikipedia)

Unbeaten in 10 games, winning 9 of them. They only conceded 3 goals and scored a whopping 36! For many people, Spain was back and ready to get their hands on the title they had given up to Germany four years prior.

With a week left to the start of the highly anticipated tournament in Russia, Zinedine Zidane decided to step down as Real Madrid’s coach. And there are no surprises in guessing who Florentino Perez, Real Madrid’s president, eventually wanted at the helm. Yep, you got it: Lopetegui accepted the job, giving up his chance to take charge of Spain at the World Cup as a result. (His decision to take the Real Madrid job was seen as disrespectful by the Spanish football association (RFEF), and so they relieved him of his duties.)

From Day 1, Lopetegui was thrown in at the deep end.

Task 1: Try to keep the club’s talisman and star, Cristiano Ronaldo, at the club.

Failed.

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Cristiano Ronaldo – Joined Juventus (Via Wikicommons)

Task 2: Find replacements who can provide the goals that Ronaldo provided.

Failed.

Task 3: Have a good start to the season.

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Spanish La Liga 2018/19 Season (Screenshot from Google)

… Failed!

Most football fans know that a seven-point gap in football is not that big. However, that idea can be thrown out the window in some countries. At seven points ahead, teams like Barcelona in Spain, Bayern Munich in Germany, and PSG in France are practically uncatchable.

Not only were the results not going well, but the team was performing very poorly. During Julen Lopetegui’s short reign as coach, Real Madrid won only six of 16 games, scored a mere 21 goals, and conceded 20. These are figures that are unheard of for the “best” club in the world, (termed so in terms of financial clout, trophies and an international fan base). After defeats against Sevilla, Alaves, and Levante in the league, a draw against Madrid rivals Atletico and a somewhat unlucky defeat against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, everyone knew that a defeat in the El Clasico (the term for Barcelona vs Real Madrid games) could be the final straw for Florentino Perez. And so it proved to be.

Left: Julen Lopetegui. Right: Florentino Perez.

So, what next for Lopetegui?

Let’s get one thing straight. He is financially in very good stead. As his contract has been terminated by the club, he is due to receive a good compensation package.

Have a guess how much.

A reported €18 million (£15.9 million).

For that sort of money, you can sack me any day. I would happily sack myself. However, once we look past the money, it is important to understand that Lopetegui is unlikely to get another opportunity at one of Europe’s major clubs. So, he will more than likely return to international football. Spanish national team selectors are unlikely to take him back, and most of the major footballing countries prefer their own countrymen. This leaves the only viable option as a Middle Eastern national team, especially as they seem to love a foreign coach.

Sounds enticing, doesn’t it?

Come to think of it, I bet Julen Lopetegui would have appreciated the aforementioned YouTuber’s help five months prior. After all, it would have saved his reputation, and helped him avoid two sackings in quick succession.

NBA: Will It Be The Warriors Again?

After 120+ days, we have finally tipped off with the start of the 2018/19 NBA season. The pre-season was one of activity to say the least, and many questions were being asked. Most important of those was answered by the L.A. Lakers, who ended up securing the signature of “The King”, LeBron James. Despite the media frenzy surrounding his departure from where he referred to as home, there were other major moves that have resulted in a potentially exciting NBA season ahead of us. A season that won’t be easy to predict for a change.

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Lakers, looking to return to winning ways.  (Photo by Ramiro Pianarosa via Unsplash.com)

Major Movers and Potential Impact

As previously mentioned, LeBron has moved from “The Land” to “La La Land.” He has been followed there by a bunch of experienced players, like: the feisty Rajon Rondo (who already got himself into trouble for punching Chris Paul); Lance Stephenson; and Javale McGee. All very good players. Add the incredible youngsters they already possess amongst their ranks, and you have a franchise that is not only going to make the playoffs, but could even go all the way.

The second major move was that of Kawhi Leonard. He made sure everyone knew he no longer wanted to play for the San Antonio Spurs. This news got the attention of all the general managers. After all, Leonard is one the best two-way players in the league. Not convinced? Well, the fact that the Toronto Raptors traded the face of their franchise, DeMar DeRozan, for him, tells you everything you need to know. This signature is a bit of a risky one, though, to say the least. Toward the end of the last season, his attitude was more reminiscent of that of an adolescent teenager. Combine that with the question mark of an injury he is still recovering from, and you have a very shaky foundation beneath your feet. Having said that, a fully fit Leonard, with the right attitude, is unquestionably better than DeRozan.

Other major movers: DeAndre Jordan (Clippers to Mavericks); Carmelo Anthony (Thunder to Rockets); Trevor Ariza; Ryan Anderson (Rockets to Suns); and DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans to Warriors).

Will it be the Warriors again?

For some people, this is easy to answer:

“Absolutely!”

“No doubt!”

And it’s very hard to disagree with them. After all, they are a great team. The best I have ever seen, and maybe the best ever. My home in Beijing has more weaknesses than the roster they had last year. (Unfortunately, that’s not even a joke. Ah, a new crack’s appearing on the wall …)

Yikes.

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Kevin Durant (foreground) and Steph Curry (background) during a pre-game warm up.  (Via Wikicommons)

I do believe, though, that the Warriors’ domination is nearing its end. It should have ended last year, but injuries to key opposition players aided the Warriors on their way to a third title in four years. This year, they are unlikely to go down without a fight, likely because of the addition of DeMarcus Cousins. That improves their starting line-up, as long as Cousins can adapt. By adapt, I mean, understand that Draymond Green tells you what to do, Steph Curry controls the ball and Kevin Durant gets the ball when he wants it. I’m not sure if Cousins will be very happy with that. Losing McGee (who’s now with the Lakers) is a huge blow, as he brought a ton of energy and scoring off the bench. It is the lack of bench scoring that will be Warriors’ downfall come the playoffs.

Last year, the likes of the Rockets, the Thunder, and the Jazz, amongst others, were able to compete with their starters, giving the impression that the Warriors were in trouble. Let’s say Durant, Curry and Thompson (Klay) go to the bench. The game is tied. Your coach thinks, “Right, better give my guys a rest, too.” Then, the next time you’re back in the game, you’re facing a 10+ point deficit. Last year, this scenario was happening again and again, against every different team.

This is not likely to be the case this year. Don’t get me wrong, the Warriors are still the team to beat. However, they are more likely to be beaten for a change. The Lakers have beaten the Warriors in a competitive-looking pre-season friendly, and they haven’t looked very convincing. Then again, the Warriors never stress themselves until the playoffs. After all, they will be regarded the team to beat, even if they are the lowest-ranked outfit in the playoffs.

Who can stop them?

James Harden
James Harden doing what he does best.  (Via Wikicommons)

Houston Rockets should have won last year, and despite losing two key defensive players, Ariza and Anderson, they are still full of talent. The biggest worry for them is that they have a very injury-prone Chris Paul, aka CP3. CP3 seems to solidify his importance to a franchise by making sure he misses some key playoff games through injury every year. His absence always results in defeats. The Rockets are led by the reigning MVP, James Harden, the most lethal scorer in the league. They have also signed some very good players to bulk up their bench. Defensively, the Rockets will be much weaker, and will probably concede a century in most games, which is a huge X towards their chances. Having said that, any team that keeps them below 115 points will have done well.

The likes of the aforementioned Lakers, as well as the Nuggets and Jazz, will provide some worthy opposition to the Warriors in the Western Conference. All three have a balanced squad. These sides are sharing the ball and making sure that the points get spread around, whereas previous contenders, such as the Spurs and Trailblazers, are expected to fall away drastically as the season progresses.

From the East, expect the Boston Celtics to do very well. Last year, they were being touted as potential title winners. They had just signed two superstars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, only to witness Hayward break his leg at the start of the season. Think of this season as, “Take Two.”

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Gordon Hayward looking to make up for a lost season. (Via Wikicommons)

The Raptors will need Kawhi to perform, and the Philadelphia 76ers will need the likes of Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons to stop thinking they are amazing, and actually show that they are.

Whatever happens, it will be an intriguing season with a lot of possibilities. My prediction: The Western Finals will see the Rockets and Warriors face off for a second year running. The Eastern Finals will be between the Celtics and Raptors. The Rockets will eventually beat the Celtics in the NBA finals, and put an end to Golden State’s domination.

Oh wait …

Did you guys hear that?

Yep. CP3 just twisted his ankle at the thought of winning a title.

UFC 229: The Aftermath

I wish I could be waxing lyrical about the fight, writing about an incredible performance by Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov, and talking about how no one has ever dominated Conor “The Notorious” McGregor in such a way. (And no one ever will again, unless there’s a rematch … which is very likely in a sport where money talks as much as Conor does. Unlikely to be in Las Vegas, but I’m sure New York will jump at the opportunity of hosting.)

The funny part of it all is that I didn’t even get to see the fight – or the aftermath – until nine hours later. My partner and I went on a day trip to the neighbouring city of Tianjin, in China. I managed to avoid the result by doing the impossible: avoiding all social media, and then getting my aforementioned partner to find the highlights on YouTube. She kindly obliged, and I got to witness everything without any knowledge of what was about to happen.

The Fight

Khabib absolutely dominated the fight from the start. Very early on, he was able to exert his will over Conor. In rounds 1 and 2, Conor was unable to resist the take down attempts and found himself trapped under the Russian. Round 2 was especially brutal for the Irishman, as he took some hefty blows to the body and face. The most telling blow, though, came from the right fist of Khabib as he went toe-to-toe with Conor. It showed he was capable of beating McGregor in every way possible.

Round 3: Conor actually managed to defend against Khabib’s take-down attempts on a couple of occasions. The Irishman also landed a few hefty blows of his own in what was the most even round of the fight, so far. That “glass chin” that Khabib supposedly had was standing firmer than a bulletproof windshield, though. This windshield fired back, and fired back with menace.

Round 4: After a minute of circling and baby jabs, Conor was on his back, thanks to a bear hug and leg sweep from Khabib. Within seconds, the Irishman was on his side. Then he gave up his back to Khabib. People with any knowledge of UFC know that once you are in that position, you are seconds away from defeat. Khabib had Conor’s neck locked in tightly and started to choke him.

As predicted, Conor had to do what he loves to do best …

 

So, what actually happened?

The fight ended. Khabib won by submission. 27th win. And then the cries of, “NO KHABIB! What are you doing??? NO!!”

It was too late. Khabib had brushed aside one of the security personnel, jumped out of the cage and into Conor’s team. His target: Dillon Danis. That was the cue for the rest of Khabib’s team to attack Conor.

See for yourselves …

In the famous words of Ron Burgundy:

I agree, Ron. That did escalate quickly.

As a good friend of mine, Ramaize, who traveled over from England, explained, “It genuinely didn’t feel safe, mini riots were breaking out everywhere and a lot of it stemmed from the fact that the Irish fans were super upset at Conor losing.”

Ramaize then went on to say: “They (McGregor fans) threw things at Khabib as he walked back through the tunnel. I literally exited the building as soon as they announced the winner because of the backlash.”

Who is to blame?

Easy answer: Khabib.

Honest answer: The UFC.

There comes a point when the governing body, Dana White (the general manager of the UFC) in particular, should have stepped in and had a word with Conor. In his post-match press conference, Dana White described the event as “not sport.”

I completely agree!

But I am not just referring to the brawl.

I dare anyone to go into their workplace and say the kinds of things that Conor has said to Khabib. Bringing up another man’s family, nation and religion are not necessary in any situation. These topics should never be used to attack another human being. Yet, Dana White can be seen laughing at the comments on many occasions, when instead he should have been putting a stop to it.

What happens now?

Unfortunately, the sports commissioner for the State of Nevada was among the people to leave the venue when everything kicked off. As a result, Khabib will undoubtedly face the risk of a lengthy ban, which could result in him having to give up the belts that he currently holds. Furthermore, Khabib faces the potential of losing his visa and having to leave his base in California. He is at risk of losing his purse for the fight – he may receive no money at all. After all, his post-match actions did almost lead to a full-arena brawl.

You know it’s bad when Mike Tyson comes out declaring, “(It was) crazier than my fight riot!”

As for Conor McGregor: He was interviewed after the fight, and then cleared by the authorities of any wrongdoing. He was then given his money for the fight and went on his merry way. Albeit, he was greatly humbled, and (hopefully) Conor left with a better understanding of where to draw the line with his insults.

As for the three men who attacked Conor McGregor: They were arrested and then later released after Conor opted not to press charges. Very noble of him. I’m not sure I would have done the same, but then again, I wouldn’t have done any of the things that Conor did in the first place.

Whatever way you look at it, the lasting memories from the fight will be the demolition of Conor McGregor, a dominant win by Khabib Nurmagomedov, and the collective outcry of, “No Khabib, what are you doing? No!”


For those of you interested in a closer look at what happened, here’s a first-hand account from my aforementioned friend, Ramaize:

Ramaize’s full account of the night, in his own words:

  • It was a great fight, Khabib obviously answered all the critics…his chin, his striking and his ability to deal with the spotlight. Was impressed with Conor’s ability to defend a couple takedowns, but overall Khabib enforced his gamelan and made Conor quit. 
  • It genuinely didn’t feel safe, mini riots were breaking out everywhere and a lot of it stemmed from the fact that the Irish fans were super upset at Conor losing. They threw things at Khabib as he walked back through the tunnel. I literally exited the building as soon as they announced the winner because of the backlash. 
  • As a massive Khabib fan, it was great to see him living up to what he said he was going to do, but he shouldn’t have jumped over the cage (even though Dillon Danis was shouting things at him). They should’ve embraced each other and buried the rivalry.
  • Also Conor with the bus, the Bellator incident where he assaulted a refereee…all is forgiven because it’s Conor and now they’re saying Khabib could face all types of consequences due to his behaviour.

UFC 229: Khabib vs Conor

It’s no surprise, on a night out, to see the occasional bunch of men firing off empty threats, trying to intimidate one another. Sometimes, it ends up in some minor handbags. And then, somehow, these “tough” men are separated by a bunch of their tiny friends, or even a girlfriend who is minuscule in comparison.

Well, that’s how it usually goes, unless you are a trained killing machine.

Welcome to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

This weekend, Saturday 6th October, sees the much-anticipated fight between Khabib “The Eagle” Nurmagomedov, and Conor “The Notorious” McGregor. Unless you’re a fight fan, I highly doubt you have heard of the prior. But the latter is a celebrity in his own right, (if a very annoying one).

But before we go into too much detail, let’s have a look at the fighters.

Khabib Nurmagomedov (at left)

  • Russian
  • 5 ft 10 in
  • 26 fights
  • 26 wins (8 by knockout, 8 by submission)

Conor McGregor (at right)

  • Irish
  • 5 ft 9 in
  • 24 fights
  • 21 wins (18 by knockout, 1 by submission)

So, why is this fight so special?

Well, both of these men are incredible fighters. Khabib is a master at getting his opponents into difficult positions, and pushing them to the brink of a bone break, leaving them no alternative other than to tap out. Conor, on the other hand, is more of a stand-up fighter who prefers to use powerful strikes from distance.

This will be Conor’s first fight in two years, ever since he knocked out Eddie Alvarez in New York. In those two years, he did manage to convince Floyd “Money” Mayweather to come out of retirement for a boxing match. (A match that was designed to line both these money-grabbing so-and-so’s pockets.) They were successful in doing that. The result was an expected 50th win for Floyd, lots of champagne for all involved, and a pair of athletes who were much better off by the end of the night.

As he puts it, “When I hit you, you stay hit.”

Even though this fight will not be able to generate the same amount of revenue, it is expected to break the record for a UFC fight, beating the previous record set at UFC 202 – Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor rematch.

Having said all of that, Khabib vs Conor isn’t all about the money. It’s more about a pure hatred they seem to have for one another. Conor has outright insulted Khabib in every way possible, even targeting his father (who is also his manager) by labelling him a terrorist and snitch. Conor’s also talked about Khabib’s “glass” chin, how Khabib always fails to make weight – he even offered the Russian, a devout Muslim, some of his own brand of whiskey.

They clearly don’t hide their disdain for each other.

This is all normal behaviour for The Notorious, but he did take it a step too far by attacking Khabib’s team bus after a UFC event.

This wasn’t the only time Conor’s bad behavior went too far …

Recently, while watching a teammate compete, he tried to jump into the cage on a couple of occasions, which ended up with the referee intervening. Obviously Conor, the guy who does what he wants, wasn’t happy about it.

Yet, somehow, he has avoided prison.

Why behave like an idiot?

Well, this post is a great example of why! Conor wants to remain relevant. The guy loves himself and wants everything to be about him. He knows that people will continue to talk about him while he does outrageous things, whether it be attacking a referee or referring to Vladimir Putin as a “friend and one of the greatest leaders of our time.” (Yeah, sure he is Conor! Seems like someone landed a hook to his own head.)

In contrast, Khabib doesn’t like to be in the limelight as much. He does most of his talking in the ring, and so far no one has been able to shut him up. He currently holds the longest unbeaten streak in all of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) with 26 wins. His wrestling and grappling skills are the best of any fighter I have seen. When you combine that with his relentlessness, you can begin to understand why he is deemed unbeatable.

So what will happen in the fight?

Khabib will go into it as favourite, partly because Conor has been out of The Octagon – the name of the ring as it is an octagon shape – for two years. He is also the more resilient fighter and able to slug it out for the full five rounds if needed. In doing so, he needs to make sure that he doesn’t allow too many strikes to his weak knees. But Conor is incredible. He has lethal punches that are too much for any fighter to handle, and accurate kicks that can end any fight in an instant. That said, the last time Conor fought a grappler was in 2015, and Chad Mendes threw him around like a rag doll, before eventually losing to The Notorious one.

Khabib will go for the take-down and Conor will try to outbox his opponent. It’s as simple as that. If the fight goes to the floor, which I am expecting to happen, it won’t last very long.

Either way, it will be an intriguing fight ,and as always Conor “The Notorious” McGregor will come out of it bragging about his pay-check more that what happened in the fight.  After all, he will still be the biggest star in the UFC no matter the result. Whereas a defeat from the fists of Conor will turn Khabib into a nobody. Just like it did to Eddie … what was his name again?

Welcome To My Page!

Hi!

My name is Mehmet. Also known as Galafan (Galatasaray Fan) and now The Sports Gent.

It’s always important to introduce one’s self, as any gentleman would, whether a gentleman of nobility, or one that is self-proclaimed by force. (Or perhaps all other potential names were taken or vetoed by my partner …)

Oh well!

So, firstly, you’re probably wondering who this “Manfriend” character is. That’s me! Yes, I realise I am “The Sports Gent” as well. You see, I have been a guest writer on my partner’s blog, and she asked me to come up with a name and material as it would “help improve (my) writing,” which is vital for me as I want to write a novel in the future. … Keep to the point, Manfriend Gent, or whatever the hell your name was, or is, or …

Erm, where was I??

So, yeah, those posts were my entries on her blog, and I didn’t want to alter them.

BTW, she is an excellent writer (much better than I am), and she has plenty of humorous stories that will definitely tickle some of you. Please do check them out. (No, she didn’t make me do this.)

After months of guest blogging, I have decided to set up my own site and try to “Educate, Elaborate and Evaluate” on or about different sports from all around the world. As an avid fan of all sports, it was only a matter of time before I forced my ideas onto wider society. But first, I want to infiltrate the blogging world.

That’s enough chatter from me. I’m sure there’s some sort of match or competition I should be watching right now!

See you soon.

Manfriend’s Mumblings | Sports Chat: The Ryder Cup 2018

So, do you fancy walking in zig-zags around a field, often searching for a tiny white ball (which is usually hiding mischievously under a solitary leaf, making it almost impossible to spot)?

Well, then you’d love golf, a sport so difficult to play that it can sometimes lead to rage, even more so because of the amount of money you’ll spend to look “the part”.

I guess if you can look like a pro, you can play like a pro, right?

(Of course, then your first ever shot may just send the ball trickling inches off the tee, leaving it a good 30 yards behind the golf club you lost grip of on the swing. You look at the ball, and the club, and you scratch your head.

“How could I be so bad?” you think.

I mean, you look “the part” after all.)

Thankfully, the pros are a little better, and this week will see some of the best in the world go head to head in what is the best team tournament in golf: The Ryder Cup.

When getting set for this tournament, the first thing that was decided were who the captains and vice captains would be. The U.S. captain is chosen by the Professional Golf Association (PGA) of America. They went with Jim Furyk.  He then, in turn, picked a team of vice-captains to aid him. Furyk is an interesting choice, as he is the joint record holder with Phil Mickelson for the most defeats in matches at the Ryder Cup (at a hefty 20). 

Jim Furyk’s opposite number* was chosen by the European Tour’s Tournament Committee, and they went for the equally experienced Dane, Thomas Bjorn.

Both the captains then went on to choose five vice-captains to help them. Basically, they chose their mates. It is important to remember, though, that neither of the captains, or their vice-captains, are able to compete.

So what do they actually do?

Before we get to that, it is important to understand who the players actually playing are and how they are chosen for the team, and what the format of the tournament is.

Let’s start with the American team. 

  • The first eight players are the top eight from the World Points List;
  • The captain picks the remaining four players

And for the European team:

  • Four of the players are the top four in the European Points List;
  • The next four are leaders from the World Points List;
  • And the captain picks the remaining four players.

As for the format:

The Ryder Cup
The Ryder Cup (Photo Courtesy of WikiCommons)

The Ryder Cup is played over three days and follows match-play rules. So, the lowest number of shots taken wins that hole, and the team gets a point. If the competing players hit the same number of shots, then the point is halved and they continue until someone wins, or the match is tied.

Days 1 and 2 will be played on Friday, September 28th and Saturday, September 29th. Both days follow identical schedules, with four games of four-ball, and four of foursome matches. (Not the kind of foursome you might be thinking of, so take your mind out of the gutter …)

To clarify:

In four-ball: Each player plays their own ball, and the lowest score is taken. So, for example, if the American team players score 4 and 5, their overall score is 4.

In foursomes: Each pair plays the same ball by taking alternate shots. One player tees off on all of the odd-numbered holes, and the other on the even-numbered ones.

Day 3 will be played on Sunday, September 30th, and consists of all 12 players playing head-to-head matches against a single player from the opposition side.

The first team to 14.5 points wins. If they are tied at 14 apiece, then the reigning champions – the U.S. –  will retain the trophy.

This is where the captains come in. As you’ve seen, they make the initial four picks, decide on the pairings and on who should tee off on which holes. They then follow their players, giving them continuous advice along the way. Now, this latter role is probably a little silly, as the players competing are often better golfers than the captains. In this matter, you can think of the captain as the broke uncle who keeps trying to give you advice on how to save money.

By this point, I’m sure you’re extremely excited for the competition. I also realize the next sentence may force you to frantically search for the red cross in the top corner, but I’m willing to take the risk.

It’s time now to see how the teams compare.

Nice, you’re still with me!

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson (Photo Courtesy of WikiCommons)

Everywhere you look, the American team has an advantage. They have the best player in the world in Dustin Johnson, and their lowest ranked golfer is Phil Mickelson, who has won many tournaments throughout an illustrious career. He is ranked 25, which is already better than four of the European players.

In terms of team quality: Advantage, America.

What about the rookies?

America has three (Justin Thomas, Bryson Dechambeau and Tony Finau), whereas Europe is giving a debut to five players (Alex Noren, Thorbjorn Olesen, Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood). So, not only will Europe have more rookies, but the American rookies, on paper, are much better.

Advantage, America. Again.

Come the end of their careers, most golfers are judged on their success in major tournaments, and there are four of them (US Masters, The Open, The US Open and The PGA Championship). Unfortunately, Europe fall a little short here, too. American team have won a combined 31 majors spread amongst nine players, albeit Tiger Woods won 14 of them. Whereas Europe has 8, split between 5 players. Hmmmm, not looking great.

Advantage America, yet again.

So, does Europe actually stand a chance? Well, the American team always seems to struggle outside of the U.S., and despite coming here with the better team and as reigning champions, there is a sense the Europeans may be able to win on home soil again. In fact, the last time the American team was victorious on foreign soil dates as far back as 1993.

It is also important to know that the venue is Le Golf National in Paris, France, which I’m sure we are all familiar with. (Hold on, I’ll go check Google images, just in case.)

Le Golf National
Hole 15 at Le Golf National, in Paris, France. (Photo courtesy of http://www.gitedudonjon.fr/?page_id_9)

This is a huge advantage for the Europeans, as 11 of the 12 players have finished in the Top Ten of a tournament held here, with two of them winning. In contrast, only three Americans have even competed here, and two of them never made the cut.

To further add to Europe’s claims, they have won three out of the last four Ryder Cups, despite being huge underdogs in a couple of them.  A lot will depend on whether or not the home fans will be vociferous enough to upset the American players and give Europe the advantage that they need. (This is something the American fans always provide whenever the tournament is played across the pond.) Obviously it will be up to the players to provide the fireworks to get the crowd cheering early. That’s something Boo Weekley, (yes, it is a stupid name), did in a not-so-subtle way in 2008.

Thankfully, none of us will ever have to see that again, especially in slow-mo!

Anyway, Advantage Europe!

So who will win?

Despite the U.S. coming over as reigning champions and boasting players who are in-form, I would still have to go with the European team. This is partly due to defiance, as it seems even the European media have written off the home side. More so, I say this because recent history points towards a possible “under-par” performance from the Americans, who are being captained by a player who never really managed to “cut it” at the Ryder Cup. Couple that up with past performances of the Europeans at this course, and it goes a “fair-way” to arguing Europe’s case.

(I won’t lie, I was just reminded by my partner that I first said the Americans were going to win, but after seeing that Boo Weekley video again, I changed my mind.)

Come on Europe! Get in the hole! … No, not like that you dirty #@$$%#@&.

European Flag
The European Flag (Photo Courtesy of WikiCommons)

“Opposite number” is one of those Britishisms, meaning the same as counterpart, or simply opposite. So in this case, the captain for the opposing team.