Are the Memphis Grizzlies the NBA’s dark horses?

The Memphis Grizzlies have for a long time been a team who has been tipped to challenge in the NBA, however they have fallen short come playoff time on each occasion. After the disappointment of last year’s first round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, the Grizzlies had a rebuilding job on their hands. However, with some impressive acquisitions in the off-season, the Grizzlies have began to look like a team who can seriously challenge for their first NBA Championship, or at least improve on last season’s disappointments.

Memphis were extremely active in free agency, renewing the contract of star Point Guard Mike Conley, acquiring perimeter threat Chandler Parsons and also the hiring of new Head Coach, David Fizdale. Fizdale’s arrival has bought a change in style for the team, changing the familiar inside-first strategy to one which is more balanced, allowing for greater offensive freedom from behind the three point line. Despite the change in style, the Franchise’s ‘grit and grind’identify still remains, with the Grizzlies ranking 3rd in opponents points per game (97.3).

The start of the Fizdale-era has looked promising, with the Grizzlies finding themselves 11-8, and looking incredibly impressive on the road. Most notably, Memphis knocked off their arch rivals, the LA Clippers at the Staples Center, proving how formidable they can be. This year’s Western Conference is seemingly weaker than last year, and if the Grizzlies can get a high seed and importantly avoid Golden State, there is no reason why they cannot progress into the later rounds.

The playing style isn’t the only thing that has changed, the rotation has too. Zach Randolph, a stalwart in the Grizzlies starting five, has been moved to the bench in order to provide a well needed scoring boost to an inexperienced second unit. Z-Bo’s introduction to the bench has seen an increase in production from the reserves, with players like Troy Daniels, James Ennis and Andrew Harrison all coming up big in recent weeks. Bench production is something which Memphis lacked last season, and could prove pivotal come the end of the season.

Despite things looking rosy in Memphis, injuries are a major concern. With Chandler Parsons and Mike Conley sidelined, the Grizzlies are currently short-handed, and are expected to experience a difficult few weeks in terms of results. Conley, who became the NBA’s highest paid player in the summer, has elevated his game, shown in an increase in points per game from previous best of 17.2 to 19.2 this season. If the Grizzlies fail to keep these players healthy, they will be facing another early playoff exit.

The Grizzlies look well set to forge a serious challenge at the NBA Championship this time around, and if they can keep their key players fit come playoff time, nobody should overlook Memphis on claiming their maiden Championship.

 

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Kovalev vs Ward: Does Ward deserve pound for pound status?

Andre Ward (31-0, 15KO) survived a second round knockdown on his way to become the WBO, WBA and IBF Light-Heavyweight Champion by beating Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KO) on Saturday night in Vegas by a controversial unanimous points decision.

After a cagey opening round, the previously unbeaten Kovalev dropped Ward for the first time in his career, with well timed counter right hand. Ward recovered and took control of the fight late on, with all three judges scoring the fight 114-113 in favour of the classy American. Many felt that Kovalev had won the fight due to his high pressure style; however the judges clearly sided with Ward’s cleaner work and sharp jab, which was controlling the later rounds.

Not only were there titles on the line on Saturday night, the status of becoming the number pound for pound fighter was up for grabs. This ranking has been changing rapidly since the retirement of Floyd Mayweather. However, Ward will now claim that crown after this latest win, replacing Roman Gonzalez (46-0, 38 KO) atop of the list. Many will feel as if Gonzalez should have retained the number 1 position, following his impressive win vs Carlos Cuadras (35-1-1, 27 KO) in September. Others contenders such as Gennady Golovkin (36-0, 33 KO) will also feel they have a case to be listed as the best fighter on the planet.

However, although this win was not conclusive for Ward, his resumé is much stronger than those around him. A record consisting of wins over Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham is mightily impressive and it seems unlikely that his unbeaten record will disappear any time soon. If not for his recent inactivity, he would likely have been firmly placed in this position well before this fight.

With a rematch looking increasingly likely, Ward will have another chance to set the record straight, and prove that he is the best fighter in the world. If he goes on to win for a second time, there should no longer be a debate.

How high-profile players have fared in their first managerial jobs

As the speculation around Steven Gerrard’s possible appointment at MK Dons intensifies, we look at how other high-profile players have fared in their job in management

Zinedine Zidane

It was no real surprise when club legend, Zidane, became the manager of Real Madrid Castilla in 2014. However his start in management was far from smooth. After an indifferent first season, reports suggested that Zidane was close to the sack. This didn’t happen and somehow he was promoted to first team manager after 18 months in charge. Zidane has flourished since his promotion, winning a Champions League trophy and equalling the record for consecutive Spanish league wins (16).

James Beattie

A far cry from the glitz and glamour of Madrid, Beattie took the reins of lowly League 2 side, Accrington Stanley in 2012. Beattie guided the club to an impressive 15th in both of his full seasons in charge, operating on one of the smallest budgets in the league. However a poor start to the following season saw him sacked just 6 league games. Despite this failure, Beattie is still regarded as a bright young coach, and is now working under Garry Monk at Leeds United.

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Gus Poyet

After brief coaching spells at Swindon and Tottenham, Gus Poyet took his first managerial job at Brighton & Hove Albion in 2009. Poyet immediately spearheaded the clubs promotion to the Championship, with 13 games to spare! Soon after, Brighton became a strong force in the Championship, eventually losing to bitter rivals Crystal Palace in the Play-Off Semi-Finals. A fall out with the board led to Poyet’s sacking at the end of the season. Unfortunately, unsuccessful spells at Sunderland, AEK Athens and Real Betis has seen Poyet’s stock plummet at an extreme rate.

Gary Neville

After impressing in his punditry role on Sky Sports, Neville was unexpectedly appointed as the manager of Valencia in 2015. Performing this role alongside his coaching duties for England, Neville struggled greatly, winning only 10 of 28 games in charge. Fan protests and a 7-0 defeat to FC Barcelona made his sacking inevitable. Soon after, Neville and England were humiliated by Iceland in the European Championship, leading to his exit of this role as well. Since, Neville has stated that he does not envisage a return to coaching for some time.

John Barnes

After an illustrious playing career, John Barnes took over at Scottish giants Celtic in his first job in 1999. However, after an unsuccessful half a season, he was sacked and labelled one of the worst managers in the club’s history. 8 years later, Barnes returned to club management at Tranmere Rovers where he lasted even shorter, just 14 games! It should come as no surprise that Barnes has not managed since.

Injury-Prone Footballers – The Game’s Wasted Talents

As seen with Danny Ings’ injury this past week, injuries really can seem like a never ending cycle for some footballers, potentially ruining careers. This article will look at the top 5 English ‘sicknote’ footballers who frustrated their managers and fans alike with their lengthy spells on the sidelines.

  1. Ledley King

Prior to the 2006-2007 season, Ledley King was quickly emerging as one of the finest Central Defenders in the Premier League. However, a horrific injury to his knee cartilage meant his career would never be the same. From then on, King could only play every so often, depending on how quickly his knee would stop swelling after every game. Incredibly, his manager at the time, Harry Redknapp, revealed that King never trained in the week and would still play at the weekend. King retired aged 32, with many feeling barring injuries, he could have been one of the best in the world.

“He is the only guy who doesn’t hold players. He will get the ball off you without you even noticing. For me, that is a good defender.”

Thierry Henry on Ledley King

  1. Kieron Dyer

Once considered as the future of English football, Kieron Dyer’s career didn’t hit the heights that many had expected. Hamstring and knee injuries meant Dyer’s playing time became increasingly limited. Remarkably during his time at West Ham United, he cost the club £450,000 per appearance, and he only cost £6 million! Having only managed to make 77 appearances in his last 9 seasons, Dyer eventually ended his career. After showing so much promise at the start of his career, people will always wonder just how good Dyer could have become if his career wasn’t plagued by injury.

  1. Francis Jeffers

Prolific for Everton and England youth sides, Jeffers was one of the hottest young properties in English football. He then got his big move in 2001, when Arsene Wenger brought him to Highbury for a then whopping £8 million. Unfortunately for Jeffers the beginning of his spell at Arsenal was ruined by shoulder, ankle and hamstring injuries. Jeffers then failed to ever recover and left Arsenal after just 3 seasons. He then never rediscovered his form from Everton, and niggling injuries left him doing the rounds in the lower leagues of English football, and even Australia!

  1. Owen Hargreaves

Hargreaves had established himself as a regular for Bayern Munich in the early 2000’s, however his career soon became one of the game’s biggest cruelties. Countless injuries including adductor, thigh, leg, knee and hamstring problems meant that Hargreaves had quickly become the most injury prone player in the world. After just 5 appearances in his last 4 seasons of league football, Hargreaves retired having only made 173 league appearances in his entire career. This was a sad end for a player who had been named as England’s best player in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

  1. Michael Bridges

As an 18 year old at Sunderland, Bridges saved the club from relegation and was considered to be one of the most promising strikers in the country. He then earned himself a move to Leeds United; where he went on to score 19 league goals in his first season, guiding the club to 3rd in the Premier League. Unfortunately Bridges dislocated his ankle in 2000, which was eventually the end of his career in the top level of the game. Much like Franny Jeffers, Bridges then began to ply his trade in the lower leagues of England and Australia. Unbelievably Bridges is still playing now, for Australian side Jambton Jaffas in the Northern Premier League NSW.

 

Are too many governing bodies and belts holding boxing back?

It seems as if the Anthony Joshua vs Wladimir Klitschko fight is in jeopardy of happening. This is due to the WBA not sanctioning the fight. This shows how many different things are needed in order to make a mega-fight. This article will focus on how different governing bodies and belts have devalued the sport and the meaning of being a world champion.

With 17 weight divisions and over 100 different variations of world championship belts, it seems as if world titles are being handed out more easily than ever. Each of the governing bodies now operate with a minimum of 4 world champions. However the introduction of ‘regular’ and ‘super’ champions has only gone and increased this, making world championships less valuable by the day.

As well as this, there are different belts on offer to secure ranking positions in each governing body. Titles such as the ‘silver’, ‘international’ and ‘interim’ belts have made the standard of world championship champions diminish greatly. There is an argument that it is too easy for fighters to win world championships in this era with many people calling for a return to having one world champion per division.

These ranking based belts give the chance for fighters to work their way up into a ‘mandatory’ position for a world title shot. Although this provides a clear pathway for fighters, it can also lower the standards of mandatory world title defences which used to be a way of forcing exciting fights should boxers opt for easier voluntary title defences. Working in a way where the rankings for each governing body are so different makes it harder to make the most high-profile fights in boxing. For example, the likely fight for the WBA ‘super’ title is to be Lucas Browne vs Klitschko due to Browne’s ranking and affiliation with the WBA, rather than a more attractive fight between Wladimir and Joshua.

With so many political issues surrounding the making of fights in the sport, it is no wonder that so many fights are not being made; much to the dismay of many fans. Other reasons such as the choice of commentators and whose name will appear first on the fight posters have also been cited as reasons for fights falling through, making a promoters job almost impossible at times.

In addition to different rankings between the governing bodies, some bodies also have different rules regarding sanctioning fees and weigh-ins before a fight. The IBF have a 10 pound rule where a fighter cannot put on more than 10 pounds from the weigh-in until they step into the ring. This is a step which was taken for the safety of fighters as it prevents huge weight mismatches when it comes to fight night, meaning if one rehydrates more than his opponent, he has a significant size advantage. This means fighting for an IBF title is a much different experience and is another example of why fighters may not agree to certain fights.

It seems as if the big fights are becoming increasingly difficult to make due to the governance of the sport. Promotional and political disputes are more common than ever due to the numbers of belts and fighters contending for different prizes, meaning there is always a queue of fighters waiting for world title shots through fighting eliminators. This has gone a long way in devaluing the sport and it may take a drastic change to make these world title prestigious once again.

 

Can managers get second-time success by going back to former clubs?

Seventeen months after being sacked for not achieving promotion with the club, Steve McClaren has been appointed as the manager of Derby County yet again.

Returning to manage former clubs is something which has not proved success for a lot of managers and here we will look at five managers who must wish they never returned home:

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Kenny Dalglish – Liverpool (1985-1991) (2011-2012)

‘King Kenny’ began his spell as Liverpool manager in 1985, already as a Kop idol due to his legendary playing career at Anfield. His first spell in charge did nothing to change this status. Dalglish won three league titles and two FA Cups in six years; creating a dynasty during this period, making Liverpool the most feared team in England.

Trophies won in first spell: Division One (x3), FA Cup (x2), Charity Shield (x4)

Exactly twenty years since his first spell, Dalglish returned to the club in a time of crisis. Despite his best efforts, Liverpool finished the season in eighth place and he was later relived of his duties. Dalglish did win a League Cup in his second spell; however his tenure was marred with disappointment with poor results and issues surrounding Luis Suarez’s racism case. Kenny must wish he had never returned.

Trophies won in second spell: League Cup (2012)

 Kevin Keegan – Newcastle (1992 – 1997) (2008)

After arriving in one of the clubs most turbulent times, Keegan saved the club from relegation to the Third Division and then went on to take the club back to the Premier League the following year. He then guided the club to a third place finish, securing European qualification. Newcastle began to establish themselves as perennial title contenders and narrowly missed out on the title on more than one occasion. Unfortunately Keegan failed to win a major trophy in this spell, something the club have failed to do since 1955.

Trophies won in first spell: Division One* (1992-93)

*The second tier at the time due to the introduction of the Premier League.

Keegan was unexpectedly brought back to the club in 2008 in an attempt to save the club from relegation to the Championship. After failing to win any of his first eight games in charge, the pressure began to mount on ‘King Kev’. However, a great run towards the end of the season saw the club finish comfortably in mid-table. Despite this relative success, Keegan’s reign was over due to disagreements with club owner Mike Ashley over transfers, leaving fans furious.

Trophies won in second spell: None

Steve McClaren – FC Twente (2008-2010) (2012-2013)

Yes, Steve McClaren has indeed returned to a former club before. After a reputation shattering period in charge of England and Nottingham Forest, McClaren found himself in charge of the fast improving Dutch club FC Twente. McClaren’s astonishingly went on to secure the clubs first league title in their history, in just his second season in charge. Despite having a great rapport with the fans, McClaren left the club to join Wolfsburg in Germany the following year.

Trophies won in first spell: Eredivisie (2009-10)

McClaren returned to Twente in 2012 after a failed spell in Germany. Twente themselves hadn’t faired very well since his departure and his return to the clubs was well received by the clubs supporters. Unfortunately his second spell proved to be a disappointing one and after growing pressure from the supporters for questionable transfers and tactics, McClaren lost his job with the club languishing in sixth place in the Eredivisie.

Trophies won in second spell: None

Jose Mourinho – Chelsea (2004-2007) (2013-2015)

‘The Special One’ entered English football with a glowing reputation following his Champions League triumph with FC Porto. The hype later proved to be worthy. Mourinho ended the clubs fifty year wait for a league title and also broke English records for points won (95) and least amount of goals conceded (15). Chelsea also won the league the following year, making Mourinho the most successful manager in the clubs history. However, failure to win the Champions League and a fractured relationship with owner Roman Abramovich meant that ‘The Special One’ left the club much earlier than anyone anticipated, leaving many fans disillusioned and disgruntled.

Trophies won in first spell: Premier League (x2), FA Cup (2006-07), League Cup (x2), Community Shield (2005)

Mourinho famously returned to Chelsea in 2013 following pressure from the clubs supporters to bring him back. The squad he inherited this time around was much less competitive and Mourinho himself admitted that winning the title in his first season was unrealistic. Chelsea ended the season in third position. However, the following season Mourinho led the club to yet another league and cup double, losing just three games all season. Despite such success, a poor start to the following season saw Mourinho’s relationship with his players became strained and once again, Jose was rushed out through the exit door of Stamford Bridge.

Trophies won in second spell: Premier League (2014-15), League Cup (2014-15)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ever Diminishing Pool of English Talent

The task facing Roy Hodgson as England manager seems to be a tough one. Only 2 of the 41 summer signings made by the top 7 clubs from last season are eligible to play for England, those players are Gareth Barry, now of Everton and Tiago Illori, the London-born Portuguese under 21 international who made the move from Sporting Lisbon to Liverpool. It’s clear to see that the pool of talent in this country is dwindling and it doesn’t bode well for England considering that the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole will all need replacing soon after the World Cup next year. The percentage of English players in the Premier League has fallen from 48% to 32% in the last 15 years which just goes to show what a difficult task Roy Hodgson has ahead of him.

A reason for this is that managers in the Premier League are under such high pressure these days that they need instant success and they don’t necessarily have the time to develop young home-grown players as the average job expectancy for Premier League managers is only 10 months. Instead, with the increase of foreign owners, brings in foreign managers who will then buy foreign players who they are familiar with, rather than bringing in English players. For English football to be successful, a change in the rules could be crucial and a quota system which requires a certain number of English players in a match day squad could lead to more English players becoming more accomplished and in turn, help improve our national team. A similar system was employed in Italy after they realised that the money coming in to the country was harming their young players and a quota system is still in place now to ensure that as many Italian players are playing in the top league as possible.

In the transfer window just gone, maybe only Nathan Redmond and Jonjo Shelvey have moved to other Premier League clubs and seen regular first team football. We do have good young English players in the shape of Luke Shaw, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Ravel Morrison, Ross Barkely etc. but it isn’t enough and some of these players are struggling to find a regular place in their club sides due to the quality their sides now posses. The signing of Mesut Ozil for Arsenal isn’t likely to help Jack Wilshere nail down a regular place and the same applies to Chamberlain when he returns from injury, which will worry Roy Hodgson and make his team selections even tougher, which I’ve mentioned before.

Having just a few good young players playing in the Premier League isn’t enough, we need a squad full of very good players which the likes of Spain do and only when that happens we can go and challenge with those countries in the major tournament. Despite England looking in pole position to qualify for the World Cup finals in Brazil next year the pool of English players is diminishing at a rapid rate and the next few years could be worrying for English football unless the rules in the Premier League change regarding the amount of foreign players allowed in match day squads.