Hardman's Thoughts

Pretty much everything…


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Ramble #16

The Derby

I wonder what it must be like to wake up on derby day morning and actually feel like your team has a chance of winning?

Everton have not won one since 2010, we’ve only won four in this millennium and the last victory at Anfield saw Francis Jeffers sent off. Our last three performances at Anfield are amongst the worst I’ve ever watched (Jagielka’s last minute leveller two years ago was brilliant but lucky). 

So I’m not excited for today. I’m not even expecting a draw. We will lose, there’s no doubt about that. Especially without Seamus Coleman and Morgan Schneiderlin. 

But BBC Breakfast’s coverage has annoyed me. They started the segment on the derby by talking about how Liverpool have lost two key players, therefore making today harder for them. But they didn’t mention in the same breath how Everton have also lost two key players (and, for the record, Funes Mori and James McCarthy as well). 

They ended it by finally talking about Coleman, except they even got that wrong. They said Koeman had an argument with Martin O’Neill over the Irish managers treatment of Seamus. I mean, did the writers ever stop to ask themselves if that made sense? The argument was about the Irish treatment of James McCarthy who they selected even though he wasn’t 100% fit. For all of O’Neill’s faults, he couldn’t predict Coleman’s leg break! 

I don’t mind that we’ll lose the derby, I’m honestly used to that. I mind when the coverage is biased and wrong. Both clubs have pretty big histories, both clubs are in the top half of the biggest league in the country. Neither have ever won the Premier League, so give both the same level of detail and fairness to your coverage. 

If organisations like BBC can’t give fair coverage, then we have to get all our news about our club from local sources and the club itself, which is far from ideal.


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Ramble #14

Why Koeman was wrong

Rather surprisingly, I wasn’t that upset by Monday’s predictable loss to Liverpool. From the moment the second half started, we looked devoid of energy, dropped back and welcomed pressure on. Holding out until the 95th minute was impressive.

Honestly, I thought Mane had a great game and thoroughly deserved to score the winner. Does that make it any easier? Of course not! 

I don’t buy into the blame culture. A loss is a loss at the end of the day, and a loss in the Premier League only means you don’t gain any points but have opportunities to do so pretty soon after. We build football up to the point where every moment seems to somehow matter when, in reality, very little of it counts. A 95th-minute winner in a World Cup Final matters, in a league Merseyside derby? Not so much! 

However, I think the finger of blame has to point squarely at Ronald Koeman for Monday’s defeat. 

When we beat Arsenal last Tuesday, Gareth Barry required a rest and Koeman placed Gueye and McCarthy together. It worked a treat. McCarthy’s energy allowed Gueye to clean up at the back while the Irishman bombed up and down the middle. Gueye is a holding midfielder (and a very good one at that), McCarthy is box-to-box, which allows him to link up with Barkley, Lukaku and our wingers. It’s no surprise that, against Arsenal, Barkley and Valencia had their best games this season.

And for the first half against Liverpool, it was working again. Barkley wasn’t as good as he was before, but McCarthy was better. And then he got injured. Barry replaced him at half-time, and as Barry is also a holding player, it was why we dropped back. It’s a shame because Gareth Barry has been a wonderful player for us, but he can no longer play with Gueye – the space between the midfield and the front four becomes too large. 

Quite reasonably, you’re probably thinking: “it’s not Koeman’s fault that McCarthy got injured”. Yes, you’re right. It’s not. But it is his fault for putting Barry on the bench and not Tom Davies, or not having both there. Tom Davies isn’t as energetic as McCarthy, but is more so than Barry. Davies, for those who don’t know him, is a young centre-midfielder who has made a handful of appearances over the past six months and has excelled in all of them. He’s composed on the ball, he doesn’t look lost on the field or with the pace of play and can pick a pass better than most. Before he made his Everton debut, Roy Hodgson invited him to train with the England senior side. It baffled me at the time, but I completely understand now. I’d be very surprised if Davies doesn’t become a regular England international in the next five years. 

Koeman seems reluctant to use our young players. We have a particularly good crop of them at the moment. Davies is alongside Keiran Dowell, Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Brendon Galloway (on loan at WBA), Callum Connoly, Matthew Pennington and Jonjoe Kenny as academy players who have made their Premier League debuts in 2016. We finished third in the U21 league last season, but are leading the U23 one this. This crop of youngsters should all have Premier League careers.

And the fans have been restless about their lack of game time. So Koeman responds by bringing DCL on against Arsenal. The tall striker did well on the wing and had a decent opportunity to score. It worked once, so Koeman tried it again against Liverpool. Except, it was clearly the wrong tactic.

DCL did ok. His heading ability is clear, he batted away a corner with more authority than either of Williams or Funes Mori had all night. But apart from that, he can’t defend, and yet was utilised on the wing. Which seemed odd given that Kevin Mirallas was on the bench. 

Koeman got it badly wrong. When he could have had fresh legs and someone who ran at the opposition, he instead prioritised a long ball strategy which only invited pressure. And, this is very cynical of me, but it smacks of a manager trying to prove to his fans that the youngsters aren’t ready yet. 

Given what I’ve seen of our current crop, I really hope I’m wrong. His use of Davies, DCL, and the rest over the next few months is going to be very interesting.


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Ramble #12

Poppy-mania

FIFA are wrong to ban England and Scotland from wearing the poppy during their match on Friday. It’s a deeply significant symbol within the two countries. 

People are wrong if they get offended by people not wearing poppies, and feel the need to attack them.

Companies and people need to stop producing bigger and bigger poppies in order to try and show the “most respect”.

Poppy makers should stop making poppies designed to fall off and make you buy more than one. 

The whole issue needs to be put to bed once and for all.

If you wear a poppy because you are honouring all fallen soldiers in all wars and trying your best to prevent future wars then great. You are using the symbol for what it should be used for.

If you wear one out of fear of abuse from poppy wearers, then stop. It’s your decision. You can honour the dead in more ways than wearing a red flower on your chest. 

That’s such an important point.

Some people don’t wear poppies.

It’s their choice.

To the Daily Mail, Daily Express, Sun, Star and all the folk who openly criticise those who don’t, I have a message for you:

Get over it. 

There are bigger fish to fry in this world. 

(Although attacking judges is not one of them).


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Ramble #11

Ignoring the future

I don’t think we cover tennis right in this country. 

That sentence, realistically, could open up an entire can of worms I’m not, quite, willing to go into any detail about. But, while obviously masquerading as an opinion, it’s a fact. We don’t offer enough excitement or interest in a sport which, unbeknown to most of the country, runs all year round. 

There should be comprehensive highlights of all tournaments on free-to-air tv, not just live coverage of a couple of the slams. We should be analysing all of the Masters and Premier Mandatory tournaments in depth, predicting draws and using the results to shape how pundits believe the slams will unfold (also, kudos to anyone reading who knows what a Premier Mandatory tournament is – I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest less than 10% of the population have heard of them). Football takes up too much time in this country, relegating tennis, and other fantastic sports. 

But hey, I’ve just finished studying Sports Journalism, I know the argument that the public just isn’t interested. Strangely enough, the media has the power to control what the public are interested in, simply through their coverage (but that’s another can of worms I’m not willing to open!).  

The Shanghai Masters are on at the moment. To be fair, people who follow the BBC on twitter will probably know that. Andy Murray has the World Number One ranking in his sights, and crucially for this ramble, Nadal lost early on. Two tennis players who are half of the only four the media in this country, and therefore the population, care about.

BBC have made a big deal about Nadal in the last few days. Because, for the first time since 2003, neither the Spaniard nor his old rival Roger Federer are in the top four of the rankings. And it seems they are losing their minds over it.

Except, no-one who actually follows the sport is actually surprised. In fact, the only thing we are surprised about is that it’s taken so long for that to happen. Look at the two guys who have replaced them. Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka. Both have reached Slam finals this year, Wawrinka went one step further and won his. Stanimal has won three different slams in three consecutive years. 

In those three years, how many have Nadal and Federer won? Some of you could probably work out the answer to that is one, Nadal’s 2014 French Open. Of the second most important tournaments in the calendar, the two have won five of the 26 available.

So why are we so fussed about this stat that they’ve fallen out of the top four? 

And it highlights a problem with sport coverage in general. We focus too much on past glories rather than looking towards the future.

This year has been fantastic for tennis. Alex Zverev, Dom Thiem, Nick Kyrgios and Lucas Pouille have proven themselves as future top tenners. Kyle Edmund has broken into the world top 50, with further progression looking likely. Juan Martin Del Potro’s return from injury has been scintillating and inspirational, Gael Monfils and Grigor Dimitrov have rejuvenated their careers and David Goffin has shown his ranking is not a fluke. 

Predicting how next year will finish is near impossible. Murray, Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic aren’t going anywhere fast, all of the names mentioned above will be in the frame for a top ten finish and can we really discount Kei Nishikori? 

Why then, with such exciting prospects desperate for the exposure they need, are we still obsessed with Nadal and Federer?

What they did for tennis was fantastic, and to keep it up over such a long period is scarcely believable, but there is a genuine risk we won’t appreciate this next generation as much as we should because we’re too caught up on the one previous. 

Stop it.

Take an interest in tennis, look beyond Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray and you will see a sport more competitive than ever, more exciting than ever and with a brighter future than most. 

A lot of people have called the generation ending the golden one of tennis, but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the one just beginning is going to be even better. 

P.S. As a little side, I was watching Pointless the other day and there was a question on the Blair Years. One of the clues asked for the tennis player who won Sports Personality of the Year in 1997. The answer was Greg Rusedski, and it scored two points. What did Greg do in 1997? He reached the final of the US Open.

Fast forward 19 years and Andy Murray has won Olympic Gold, conquered Wimbledon and is chasing the top spot in the world, three achievements Rusedski only got close to in his dreams. And yet, Murray is far from guaranteed to win SPOTY. How fantastic is that?

We may cover sport wrong in this country, but boy are we getting it right on the field!


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Falling Behind and Fading Away

Alastair Cook breaching the 10,000 test runs barrier. Alex Hales breaking England’s highest individual ODI score. England setting a new world record in a format at which they’ve traditionally been woefully unsuccessful. All in one summer. Easily the most competitive summer since the glory days of 2005, hope and belief for English cricket was plentiful in 2016. The problem is, even in the absence of the Premier League, and especially following a disappointingly boring European Championships, no one cared.

Nobody was stopping strangers in the street and asking them “did you see Alex Hales score 171?” or “were you watching when Alastair Cook went past 10,000 test runs?” Ask yourself this; have you talked to a fellow Briton about Jason Kenny joining Sir Chris Hoy on six gold medals, or his fiancé Laura Trott gaining her fourth? I’m fairly sure you would have discussed Andy Murray’s Wimbledon and Olympic double, touched upon Max Whitlock becoming the first Briton to win gold in the gymnastics or witnessed Mo Farah’s successful defence of his double double.

When it comes to BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY), all the Olympians above will be on the list. All going well in the Paralympics, Dame Sarah Storey and Jonnie Peacock, at least, will join them. On the list of ten, or even 12 if they expand it again, will there be a place for Joe Root, James Anderson or Alastair Cook? Will there be one for Chris Woakes, whose summer has propelled him from part-time international player to the first name on the team sheet? There wasn’t last year, why would there be this? SPOTY offers a rare opportunity for free exposure. Cricketers are once again finding themselves cast out.

This summer is no different to 2012, or 2008 before it. Cricket takes a backseat when the Olympics come around. For some, the cricket buffs, this prospect is sickening. For most, the Olympics only exist on a four-year cycle. Cricket happens every year, and if you miss one day, you can watch the next. If you miss Usain Bolt’s 100m gold, the same is not true. Cricket loses significance during Olympic summers, and before it could cope with that. But now, every Olympic summer drives another nail in the coffin of cricket’s slow death.

We know that participation levels are falling; we’ve seen that the ECB have had their budget cuts due to failing to meet growth targets. For those without Sky, the only cricket they can see all summer on TV is BBC highlights of wickets or sixes or channel 5’s hour long show every evening of test cricket. And even then, why watch cricket when you can watch the Olympics? I consider myself one of the aforementioned cricket buffs, yet even I preferred the Olympics.

Cricket needs the Olympics more than the Olympics needs cricket. In England, the five most popular sports, by participation level, are swimming, athletics, cycling, football and golf. All five are Olympic sports. Table tennis participation is growing; cricket is falling – yet another feather in the Olympics’ cap.

And it’s not just in England where the Olympics could help cricket. Outside of India and the rest of the subcontinent, cricket has no relevance. When hockey was introduced into the Olympics in 1908, only three countries took part. Argentina didn’t arrive until 1968. This summer they won gold in the men’s tournament. Hockey’s legacy at the Olympics will be introducing more countries to the sport than just Britain and Northern Europe. Cricket could find itself with a similar legacy in 30 to 40 years time.

The biggest criticisms of cricket made by people are that it takes too long, is too complicated, and nothing really happens. But then, realistically, you could argue the same about golf. And that had a successful reintroduction to the Olympics this summer. Also, cricket has a ready-made format perfect for Olympic digestion. Olympic sports are short and snappy, which is what T20 is. But if 40 overs is too long, then why not try a ten over a side shootout, or a five? Would that really reduce the skill set required by the players? Or would it not increase specialisation and allow more youngsters the chance to sample the furious and exciting nature of the sport? Is it not the case that the shorter the sport, the more likely it is to be exciting?

Picture this: a five-a-side cricket match played with five overs each on a pitch with short boundaries. Only three bowlers are allowed to bowl overs, two with two and one with another. In your five, you’d realistically pick one bowler, one batter, one wicket-keeper and two all-rounders.

Wouldn’t it be exciting to see Great Britain sacrificing Moeen or Rashid to gain an extra batter and giving Root an over of spin to bowl? Or South Africa having to choose between Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn? The West Indies, competing, of course, as individual nations, would have all their stars on show. With the shorter format, more matches could be packed into the same session – much like the successful Rugby Sevens. For the price of a ticket to one T20 match in this country, you could see hours of exciting action. The pitch wouldn’t deteriorate; the action wouldn’t let up.

Cricket has been at the Olympics before. In 1900, in Paris, a two-day match between a British side and a French one comprising of mainly ex-pats was a dull affair. The Olympics have moved on since 1900, and cricket has too. The exile has been too long; the need for exposure is now too great. In 2012, this country got so swept away by golden fever that we forgot all about England’s awful summer. In 2016, the country was once again caught up in a gold rush, but this time, we missed an enthralling summer. No longer can cricket be ignored, no longer can cricket sit at home while other sports get the attention, interest and free airing cricket so desperately needs.


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Ramble #10

Murray’s Night

Andy Murray has won singles gold for the second Olympics in a row. 

While the 2012 run was relatively comfortable – even the 7-5,7-5 semi against Novak felt reassured compared to matches we’ve watched since – the 2016 was anything but. An easy couple of rounds were followed by massive scares when playing Fabio Fognini and Steve Johnson. Still, he pulled through – and an easy semi against Kei Nishikori was followed by a nervy final four-set victory over Juan Martin Del Potro.

Del Potro is an amazing story – he beat Djokovic in the first round, then Rafael Nadal in the semi-final, and surpassing his bronze from London in the process. He was knackered going into the final, but didn’t let that stop him from giving Andy a huge test. I believed he would win, but he fell (just) short.

(And boy, what a final it was. I didn’t watch it – instead I followed it on live scores unable to sleep. The fourth set was just hell. They exchanged breaks, with Del Potro the first to consolidate one. That led to a painful game at 5-4, especially with the many long rallies that were happening. Somehow Andy won, and I’m still not sure how.)

But, last night was history for Andy Murray.

On a day when Great Britain continued to exceed expectations at this wonderful Olympics, Murray secured second place in the medals table, at least overnight. 

For Andy personally, he’s just become the first tennis player to win two singles titles at the Olympics.

(And yes, John Inverdale made it sound like he was the first player ever to win two gold medals at the Olympics and yes, Andy Murray’s response was fantastic. Inverdale made a mistake, that’s all. He has flaws, but stop hounding him for a slip of the tongue.) 

In an era when Andy has reached landmarks second, third, fourth, that is such a huge achievement. It’s a record which is his own and no-one can ever take that from him. 

In an era when Andy has had to settle for second best in so many events, he’s found a field which he loves, and he can dominate. 

Andy has always said the Olympics defines his career. His first round loss to Lu in Beijing inspired him to improve his fitness and dedication. His 2012 gold led to four years in which he has secured 3 Grand Slams and is starting to knock on the door for the World Number 1. 

His 2016 effort? Well, it’s too early to say.

However, I’m starting to believe that as good as Andy’s individual career is, he’s going to be remembered for his efforts when competing for Great Britain.

He’s wonderful when for himself, he’s inspired when for country. 


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Ramble #9

No To Big Sam

Sam Allardyce would be the worst possible manager England could choose. 

Talk about a backwards step!

Ok, yes, the Hodgson reign was bloody awful. And the scars from the last two tournaments are still raw, and won’t be forgotten for a long time. 

But Sam Allardyce as England’s saviour?

Give me an effin’ break! 

At least Hodgson tried to bring some youngsters in. He’s played Stones, Dier, Sterling, Alli, Barkley, Kane, Rashford etc  – the problem was he seemed to lose faith once the tournament started. 

BBC have written an article about what Big Sam would bring to the England set-up. It’s terrifying, and I can’t believe anyone would ever want it!

I quote:

with his love of veterans, could he tempt Major League Soccer duo Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard out of international retirement?

Only a hypothetical, sure, but a terrifying one – no? Haven’t we left our not-so Golden Generation behind?

Sam Allardyce has managed 467 games in the Premier League. He’s only won 33.6%. His sides have conceded more than they’ve scored. I’m sure that’s exactly what we all want from our new England manager!

For comparison, David Moyes has a win percentage of 41.2% from almost as many games. And before you say he’s managed better sides, I ask you this: was his Everton better than Allardyce’s Bolton? Even as the most biased of Evertonians, I would dispute anyone who says we were. 

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Tell me that inspires you, tell me you’re optimistic?

Do any of those stats really inspire you that he’s the man for England? Because God help you if they do.

Ok, Allardyce for England. Why do people want him? Well he brings a level of confidence, he’s well drilled, has good tactics and takes no nonsense from anyone.

Quite frankly, they aren’t super-special qualities. They’re strikingly average, and I would expect them from any manager we pick. 

Sam Allardyce is a poor man’s Harry Redknapp (who, by the way, has a win percentage of 36.8% in the Premier League – another awful “legend”). Allardyce is great at helping teams survive and manipulating the transfer market to suit them.

Take Sunderland for example. Allardyce has done well there. I saw it with my own eyes when they thrashed the awful Everton side we had at the back end of last year. Sunderland is where Allardyce can thrive. Not England. 

Do England have a transfer market? No. Have England really sunk to being just “survivors”? I’d like to think not.

Maybe we have, maybe I’m being naive. But I’m not expecting us to go out there and get a Guardiola, Conte or Mourinho. I wouldn’t even expect Van Gaal.

I just want someone with international and  Champions League experience. Someone who’s managed the big boys and dealt with their egos, who can relate to the press and not turn people off and who has a winning mentality. 

Jurgen Klinsmann, anyone?

Not Sam bloody Allardyce, that’s for sure. 

We made progress under Hodgson. He was the wrong man to see it through, but we laid groundwork for a brighter future. 

Groundwork which is now being undone because we seemingly have an obsession with narrow-minded, brain-numbingly average English managers.

Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe, in 2018, we will reach the semi-finals of a major tournament. Andy Carroll will be heading in our only goals in the 70th minute, and then we will put our necks on the line to hold on (probably with John Terry and Joleon Lescott at the back). Sam Allardyce will be praised as the hero of English football.

Likely?

Give me a break.