European race to finish first!
comedy of errors
athletics hit a new low
Arthur Ashe resurrection?
From Sunday (today), Federer embarks on a mission; a mission to regain his lost aura.
By Umaid Wasim
The European football season is well and truly upon us. The English Premier League is already two weeks old and this weekend saw La Liga and Serie A kickoff. The draws for the Champions League are complete -- and it has thrown in some tasty matchups. The husle and bustle of the transfer window closes this week and the competitive nature of football will be back in full swing.
And like every season, clubs have added new players to their squads but the flurry of transfers that are seen usually after a World Cup year were not seen and the biggest transfer deal so far has been brockered by Manchester City! When have we heard that before?
And surprisingly, those deals were of England winger James Milner and Italy striker Mario Balotelli. While Milner was part of England's dreadful campaign at the World Cup, Balotelli wasn't even part of Italy's squad at the spectacle -- and that's another first.
Top performers during the quadrennial event are usually in high demand after the showpiece -- Brazil's Ronaldo in 2002 and Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 prime examples of that. That hasn't been the case this year though with the likes of Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder and Spain's Andres Iniesta sticking with Inter Milan and Barcelona respectively. The German duo of Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil were brought in by Real Madrid in smart deals with both the players having a year left on their contracts with their clubs Stuttgart and Werder Bremen.
There is however no denying that Manchester City are here to stay; their dominance in the transfer market even accepted by 'The Special One'. Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho's admission that City had been the top club in the transfer window came after Real wered beaten by City in the race to sign Lazio's Serbian left-back Alexander Kolarov.
And City showed that money spent in the market can be translated into success on the pitch with a resounding 3-0 victory over Liverpool on Monday. And they couldn't have chosen a better occassion to turn on the style. City owner Sheikh Mansour was at the City of Manchester stadium for the first time since buying the club last year and saw his investment annihilate the Merseysiders. Who said money can't buy success?
By the look of things, this time around City are looking to crack into the top-four and given their financial muscle, it wouldn't be a surprise if they even go higher. After all it has been a pre-season of firsts at Eastlands.
While Chelsea and Manchester United have been tipped as favourites in the race to be first in England, there is a lurking threat from Arsenal. If the 6-0 demolition of Blackpool last week was a statement of intent then theat performance surely reverberated across England. But Arsenal have shown intent over the past few years, eventually to fall off in the closing stages of the season.
Mourinho's jibe at Arsenal being a "young squad" on their inability to win a trophy for a long period of time would certainly give Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger the impetus to take his side to title glory this season.
Ever since Arsenal reached the Champions League final in Paris four years ago, Wenger's side have shown great promise to do something big. This time around, good performances need to transform into trophies and Arsenal's boys need to grow into men!
Another trophy-less season this time around and Wenger may not be able to make an excuse for his side being young and inexperienced. The likes of Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott are no more in their teens and it is high time that they live up to their early promise.
It is however Spain where the battle to come out on top is the most interesting. According to many, Barcelona are yet again expected to finish first in spite of the arrival of Mourinho at bitter rivals Real Madrid.
The arrival of Spain striker David Villa has given the club a look of Spain FC with the squad consisting of a good number of players who lifted the World Cup in the summer. What remains to be seen is how Villa links up with both Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- who may or may not be at the club come the end of the transfer window.
But the fact that Villa linked up so fabulously with Barca's midfield trio of Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta at the World Cup could give clues to why many still favour the Catalans to win the La Liga. Villa moved to Barcelona before the start of the World Cup for 40 million euros in one of the biggest deals of the summer. Had he waited to do that after the World Cup, his transfer would have topped that of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid last summer.
And Barca's biggest rivals haven't been quiet this year around as well. The arrivals of Ozil and Khedira along with young starlet Sergio Canales, Getafe's Pedro Leon, Argentine winger Angel di Maria and Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho has added strength to the club looking to primarily win the Champions League for the first time in nine years.
The thirst for being European champions made Real opt for Mourinho -- a coach who has a phenomenal track record in Europe's premier club competition. But all eyes would be on German sensation Mesut Ozil.
The young midfielder holds the key to Real's title ambitions and the German made a promise to emulate Real legend Zinedine Zidane at his unveiling. Zidane helped the club win the Champions League in his first season following a then record transfer from Juventus and how Madrid fans would be hoping that Ozil could do the same.
To do that, however, Mourinho would have to mould his team around Ozil -- just like he did with Sneijder at Inter last season. That would mean a limited role for star winger Ronaldo and how much is Mourinho prepared to do that would be seen during the course of the season but Ozil nevertheless has the quality to do for Real exactly what the French legend did.
After Manchester City and Real Madrid, Europe's third biggest close season spenders were Italian side Juventus. A season of change at the club after a disappointing seventh place finish in Serie A saw former Sampdoria coach Luigi Del Neri take over the managerial hotseat from Ciro Ferrara and the arrival of an exciting midfield duo of Milos Krasic and Albeto Aquilani may have given Juventus fans a sense of nostalgia.
Juve legend Pavel Nedved look-alike Krasic has the style of play that has seen many experts say that he could fill the void left by the retirement of Nedved at the start of last season. Fast, intelligent and with a good eye for goal, Krasic could well be the player Juve so desperately need to complete their midfield jigsaw especialy after Diego's struggles in Turin. The Brazilian who was brought in last season to replace Nedved, flopped miserably and may well be shipped out before the transfer window closes on August 31.
Aquilani too gives a close resemblance to one of Juventus' former midfield generals in Alessio Tacchinardi. Nedved and Tacchinardi were crucial in Juve's finest moments of glory in the early part of this decade. Doubts are, however, over Aquilani over whether he can produce the form that he had during his days at Roma.
Meanwhile, Italian champions Inter Milan have a new manager at the helm after Mourinho's departure and Rafa Benitez has had a positive start at the Nerazzuri and yet in spite of Juventus' rebuilding programme, Inter are still bookies' favourites to finish first in the title race in Italy.
By Malik Arshed Gilani p.s.n.
It would be funny if it was not a matter of Pakistan Cricket. If the great bard had been named Ejaz Shaikh Peer and had been around these days, he would probably write a play based on the antics of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Where else in the world of international cricket would a Cricket Board officially announce that one of the Permanent Members of the ICC was all set to travel to Pakistan to play cricket and raise funds for the floods. I can just imagine the alarm on the face of the CEO of that Board when he read about it. He was probably rung up by the chairman and all his directors to explain his position. He probably wondered how or what could have conveyed such a message and probably re-read all or any email that had been sent and was relieved to find that it was a figment of the PCB's imagination. He obviously hurriedly wrote a clarification. Yet another brilliant scheme of Ijaz Butt to bring cricket back to Pakistan bites the dust.
Quite by accident, I suppose, it has transpired that finally the PCB could not ignore any longer the repeated demands of the ICC and had to send them a report on the Sri Lanka disaster. ICC quite professionally responded by a favorable statement. To more serious matters; it is a matter of shame that false pride and an ego which is not justified by any ability has continued to deprive the touring Pakistan Team of the services of one of our great batsmen. It appears that for whatever reason, Mohammad. Yousuf was prepared to compromise his stance but Younis, quite rightly, was not. Let us face it, he was not even told his crime! Perish the thought that the Authority should have had the grace to climb down from his mighty high horse even for sake Pakistan.
Having been in England during the period when our cricket was having its nose rubbed in the dust by the other team, every commentator repeatedly stated that none of them could understand what kind of system would allow top line cricketers to be banned for life and then selectively forgiven. They all wondered whether a Mogul Emperor and a bad one at that ran the PCB. To add to this total nonsense we now have the great buddy of our erstwhile Chairman who has jumped in to say that he had no reservations towards Younis Khan. Considering his part in pushing our great ball biter to stab Younis in the back and subsequently play the part he has in the selection process he should not have had the brazenness to say this to the press. But then with no accountability and in an organisation where daily all in authority make and deny statements why should he also not say what ever suits him is and not be deterred by any need for accuracy.
Great cricketers and commentators who are friends and supporters of our cricket were at pains to understand what kind of cricket sense allows young kids to be thrown in at the deep end before teaching them swimming. I refer to number three and four batting positions of our team in the first two Test matches versus England. I can say with no fear of contradiction that an honestly selected team and this statement has the support of greats like Boycott, Holding and Blofeld, we would have probably beaten both Australia and England during these 'home tours'. As to calling it a 'home tour' when the PCB had surrendered all financial authority to the ECB and also agreed to share 50 percent of their earnings (after deducting considerably high expenses) can only suggest that our Cricket Board has joined the ranks of confused 'desi's'.
The English press in numerous articles wrote with glee about the inexplicable actions of selection and management by our Chairman. By and large they were fair enough to opine that historically and even today Pakistan has enough talent to not be so thoroughly beaten and that our young cricketer does not have the same facility as of old to play county and league cricket in England to thus have some understanding of the conditions that prevail. Whilst at times I felt that due to its make it was swinging very expansively making it a difficult proposition, I was less convinced when I saw the great Mohammad Yousuf play with consummate ease. The flowery praise by one and all about our phenomenal young bowling attack and the quality of Yousuf was the only things that allowed one to face the world. On the other side of this coin was the jokes made about the team fielding, the wicketkeeper and about the unexplained life bans on our senior players. They commentators and journalists shared my view that considering the glaring weakness in the team it was surprising that there was no batting coach.
May I end on the note that it is hugely coincidental that some 95% the coaches and the accompanying team management come from the same city as the Chairman.
By Alam Zeb Safi
These days Pakistan's athletics is passing through a critical phase in its history as eight of our national athletes, some of them having a good standing in the national circuit, failed to clear a dope test early this month. Seven of them were slapped with a two-year ban as per WADA rules while long-racer Sumaira Zahoor's punishment was delayed for a few days as she could not appear before the disciplinary committee which recorded statements of the athletes under the chairman Khwaja Farooq Saeed on August 23 in Lahore.
It is certain that like her colleagues, she, too, will have to face a two-year ban after appearing before the tribunal. Javelin-thrower Muhammad Imran Tahir's involvement was a big disappointment as he was considered an athlete of strong character. He was the national champion for the last three years and his name was also sent for the Commonwealth Games. Even his fellow athletes still don't believe that he used banned drugs. Sprinter Asif Javed, Muhammad Waseem, pole-vaulter Zara Razzaq, sprinter Nadia Nazir, high-jumper Rozina Shafqat and 400m and 800m specialist Shagufta Noureen are the others who have been penalised.
They could appeal against the bans within 14 days. The other month female sprinters Olympian Sadaf Siddiqui and Javeria Hassan too met with the same fate for using steroids. In July 2008, just before Beijing Olympics, Noshi Parveen and Muhammad Shah were banned for two years for the same offence. Though it's not a new thing in the sports circles especially in athletics, but here evil looks to be deep-rooted which has destroyed the careers of 12 promising athletes of Pakistan in a span of only two years.
Is it not a huge loss? Though the secretary of the Athletics Federation of Pakistan (AFP) Khalid Mehmood is optimistic that the loss would be overcome as the country has strong back-up, I think it would take more time to compensate for the damage. Ironically, the evil devoured even those athletes who could easily maintain their supremacy at national and international circuits without opting for banned drugs.
Though it is not only limited to athletics as the country's former top boxer and Asian Games gold medallist Mehrullah Lassi and Faisal Karim had also met with the similar fate when they tested positive for using cannabis during the 10th South Asian Games in Colombo in August 2006. Initially, they were banned for life by the Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) but then the stringent penalty was converted into two-year suspension. An entire bodybuilding squad of Pakistan was dropped from Doha Asian Games in December 2006 after the bodybuilders failed to get the clean chit for entry into the prestigious continental event. But in athletics, the ratio looks alarming and is a challenge for the authorities. The frustrating result also leaves a question mark on the role of the Anti Doping Organisation of Pakistan (ADOP). Among other factors, it also looks clear that the athletes don't have proper awareness of the issue. Whether they take food supplements and other multi-vitamins on the instructions of the concerned doctor, or not? What measures should be taken to arrest the menace which has left the athletic arena truncated. Ask an experienced former international athlete and Tamgha-i-Imtiaz Muhammad Talib and he will share his experience with you about the issue.
"First of all I appreciate the intervention of the Pakistan Sports Board (PSB) who took bold step to conduct tests of the athletes which helped a lot in finding the culprits. I would also advise the Board to continue conducting such tests ahead of every national and international event because only a "random test system" could minimise the offence as it would keep the athletes in perpetual fear and they will prefer to depend only on their natural abilities," the 75-year old former Pakistan hockey team trainer said.
"But I would also say that only athletes are not responsible for the crime and every effort should be made to reach to their coaches and supervisors who are behind it. And if they are found guilty then they should also be punished severely," he suggested.
Talib said that he does not feel that Pakistan suffered a great loss as a result but he would rather say that it is a great job to identify and punish the athletes for violating discipline.
"But I would like to bring into the notice of the authorities that those athletes who are clean and have faith in their God-gifted potential should not be deprived of featuring in international competitions like the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games," he said.
"Olympic charter says that those players who achieve something purely through their own abilities are called sportsmen while the rest are not," he said.
The ADOP has the responsibility to also invite World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) experts during national championships to observe the athletes. "The doctors and the coaches certainly know what is happening around them. Because the side effect of the anabolic steroids normally could be seen from certain symptoms which develop in the athletes who use it. It affects the pitch of the voice, besides other concrete changes in physical traits of the addicts," he concluded.
By Abdul Ahad Farshori
If you have any doubts over the invincibility of Roger Federer, log on to youtube.com and watch the most recent of the Federer's videos -- a metal bottle whacked off a guy's head with a single majestic serve -- depicting his true master class. Do I need to say more?
From Sunday (today), Federer embarks on a mission; a mission to regain his lost aura.
The destination will be Arthur Ashe Stadium, where he'll walk without any pressure -- pressure to defend the title, pressure of keeping up the consecutive run in the Grand Slams.
The only thing upon his shoulders will be the backing of the history. A history he has written with his name stoned in as the best player ever.
People even doubt his age to as the factor come the final Grand Slam of the year. But here is a piece of information: Pete Sampras won his last major at the US Open in 2002 at the age of 30, which would turn out to be his last tournament. Interestingly, the same man who guided Sampras to the crown, Paul Annacone, is now helping Federer. Federer over the week has broken out of his recent slump with a win on the hardcourts of Cincinnati last Sunday and his daughters may provide him with enough inspiration to produce one last bit of a magic like Sampras.
But the Swiss is not alone as the contender, right there along with him, he has two primary rivals, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray.
Nadal may not remember the US Open as his best of tournaments but more than his game, he will be worried about the fact that his knees have bothered him in the past in New York. But not every loss there can be attributed to poor health.
Four US Open defeats hung on him by James Blake, Mikhail Youzhny, Murray and Del Potro can be attributed to his opponents' on court decisions and abilities. It's almost impossible to slide effectively on hard courts unlike what Spaniard loves doing on the clay courts; Winning his first US Open is his main goal and if he can become comfortable attacking early in the tournament, he will be super dangerous by the final weekend. Simply put, he's the player that the others fear the most at the majors.
Murray is also coming off an outstanding run in Toronto where he knocked off the entire elite of the game one game at a time -- David Nalbandian, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer without dropping a set. So for the Scot, confidence will be oozing the time he leaves the dressing room, for the court.
The US representation will be completed by the four men in the top 25 No 9 Andy Roddick, No 20 John Isner, No 21 Mardy Fish and No 22 Sam Querrey.
But the question remains can any of these man can live the American dream for the enitre country? Probably not. But Isner is the man who can force an upset in the ranks.
No 3 Novak Djokovic's has been struggling with his conditioning all year and might not pose much threat to any of the top contenders.
Roddick, who will turn 28 the day the Open starts, is the only men representing USA in the upper echelons, but is yet to win a second Slam. Last year, Del Potro broke the shackles on his way to the title. But the Argentinean is out of this event, recovering from a wrist injury.