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Tiger – may the force be with you – again

Tiger Woods was probably the greatest golfer I have ever seen. I don’t think he was the best in any one of the 4 main areas – driving, long irons, chipping, putting – there are better players out there in all of those. Yet he had an ability to put it all together when it mattered – but what made him really special was his competitive intensity.

When Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods played in the early part of his career, everything about him was electric. His stride had purpose, his eyes sparkled with adrenalin and his focus was unrelenting. When Tiger took the lead the field was beaten. Not since a black shorted, black booted Mike Tyson entered a boxing ring have I ever seen opponents so evidently beaten psychologically. It didn’t matter whether it was the opening round or the final round – as soon as he hit the front, the title was as good as decided.

He turned pro in 1996 and quickly won his first major at the Masters in 1997 and despite a minor blip in 2003 & 4 he amassed 14 major wins before his last win in the 2008 US Open. Since then nothing – other than extra-marital affairs, a divorce, a new coach, 4 reconstructive knee surgeries,  a bad back and a few less endorsements to worry about – but on the golf course very little to write home about. Has Tiger reached the end of the road?

I don’t think so. The individual components aren’t too much different to how they were in his prime. Yes, his injuries haven’t helped and he has to manage his game within what his body allows him to do, but in some ways that might add to his game rather than detract. The secret ingredient he needs to find is that intensity.

Over recent years, when things haven’t been going well we’ve seen him shrink into himself – he’s looked fed up, he’s lost his temper, he’s stomped from green to tee – he’s looked like a tormented man. The day he can put the mistakes behind him and stride purposefully around the course again whether it’s going well or badly, the day he is so focused on the golf course he wouldn’t notice a streaker sprinting across the green 3 feet in front of him,  the day that sparkle return to his eyes – that’s the day I’ll bet on Tiger to win his next major.

It wouldn’t surprise me if it returned for the Open at Hoylake this week but I think that might have come a little too early – he’s only played one tournament since his latest return from injury and missed the cut.  The PGA remains the last major of the year in August and that’s also going to be a stretch so for my money it’s 2015 and I think we’ll see Tiger back on the winner’s rostrum in April.    I for one certainly hope so because in the same way athletics needs Usain Bolt, golf needs a winning Tiger Woods.

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Full Disclosure – I know what you’re thinking


In response to – A mad scientist friend offers you a chip that would allow you to know what the people you’re talking to are thinking. The catch: you can’t turn it off. Do you accept the chip?

The sales pitch went something along the lines of:

Enthusiastic salesman scientist: Hey there. Sir, inside this small box is something that will literally change your life

Me with a resigned “here we go again” look on my face: Go on then. What’ve you got?

Encouraged salesman scientist: Imagine what life would be like if you could read the mind of everyone you meet. To know exactly what they were going to do before they did it – great for poker. To know what everyone thinks of you and what they like and don’t like – great for impressing the boss, at work and at home (little chuckle) – just think you can change your behaviour so that you’re popular with whoever you want.

Me starting to engage: Sounds interesting – tell me more

Salesman scientist getting ready to deliver the punch line: Now I know what you’re thinking – there’s bound to be a catch.

Me, a little smug having spotted an opportunity: So you know what I’m thinking, which would suggest you have one of these yourself. Is that true? Go on tell me what am I thinking now!

Still confident salesman scientist: Your thinking – if he can tell me what I’m thinking then this thing really works, if he can’t then it’s a waste of time and if he won’t it means he hasn’t got one and how could I buy something from a salesman who doesn’t believe in it

Me now slightly perplexed: Spot on! But was that you telling me what I was thinking or simply stating the logic of your position – which happened to be what I was thinking? OK – let’s try this again. I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 20 – what is it?

Excited Salesman scientist thinking all is not lost: But you’re not thinking of a number between 1 & 20. You’re thinking about whether I can think of a number between 1 & 20 that happens to be the same as yours.

Me, intrigued further: I like that. You’re good – really good. 

Smart salesman scientistLet’s try this one on for size and perhaps this time I’ll show you how rewarding it can be.   Take the last two digits from the year in which you were born and then add it to the age you’re going to be at the end of this year.   I’ll tell you the number you’re thinking of and if I get the it right you give me £20. 

Me, now sure I’ll get to the bottom of this once and for allOk done it

Salesman scientist: I’m willing to bet that you got an answer of 114, right?

Me, now fairly hooked: Amazing.  You have one of these things don’t you?

Responding salesman scientist: Well Sir, if I had one do you think I’d still be here because it was quite plain when you first saw me that you thought I was just some mad scientist weirdo. And that might have been a little upsetting.

Me, trying to rescue the situation: No not at all. It’s just that you get so many people knocking on the door trying to sell you the latest wonder treatment. They’re all full of talk but little else. I just figured you’d be the same but with slightly worse hair. It’s been different though so how much is this thing? And is it safe?

Salesman scientist stepping up the sell: It’s fairly new but we’ve had no safety issues to speak of and it was tested vigorously a few years ago by a Mr N.Adamus who seemed to suffer no side effects.  In terms of price it’s 250k which is obviously a serious amount of money – but as I’m here I could fit one today at a discounted rate of 200k.

Me, picking myself up off the floor: 200k are you mad? Do you think I can afford 200k?

Salesman scientist: Well sir. If you had one of these you’d know exactly what I was thinking and you’d also be aware that I’d think you couldn’t afford to not have one of these.  There is however one catch and that is – you can never turn it off!

Me,  on the back foot but with a way out:   Never turn if off!  Sounds like it might be fun to start with but might it not get a little boring after a while?  Where’s the fun in poker if you win all the time – I mean part of the fun is not knowing what’s going to happen. And why would you want to be liked by everyone, always having to fit in with them and never really be yourself.  No I think I’ll keep my money.

Disappointed Salesman scientist:   Fair enough.  When you first opened the door I thought you’d say that.  But hey ho at least I go away with £20 and I hope you have a nice day sir.

And away he went.  But there was a nagging feeling I’d been had somewhere along the line.

England – learn the lessons and the future’s bright

So England travelled back from Brazil without the trophy, without a win and without too many people noticing. So where now and what can we learn from the nations that did the business.  Here’s a 5 point plan to future success:

  1. Play the English way:   English club sides have always played with a high tempo, pressing game that’s more blood and thunder than style and finesse.  Yet get those same players in an England shirt and you’ve never seen anything so limp in all your life.  Either they’re like rabbits caught in the headlights lumping the ball forward 40 yards to no-one in particular, or they’re retaining the ball at the back as if playing a 5 v 1 keep-ball training session.    Lumping the ball forward is no good because it makes a ball that was 100% yours into a 50:50 – which is plain daft.   Possession for the sake of possession is meaningless and retaining possession at the back achieves nothing other than annoying everyone watching.   Possession statistics only came into vogue because of the way Barcelona and Spain played, but goals win matches, not possession.   It’s not how much of the ball you have, it’s how you use it when you have it.  I’d much rather see a player lose the ball trying to do the right thing rather than retain it trying to do nothing.  One of the most obvious factors of success during the World Cup was tempo.  Teams doing well, played with a high tempo.  As soon as they had the ball, they looked to move it forward as quickly as possible  – not by lumping it – but by short sharp one touch football that didn’t give the opposition time to set up their defence.    We must play with a higher tempo – one touch football going forward.   We need to be brave and bold – where we’re not afraid to lose the ball if we’re trying the right thing.  It is a style of play that builds on what we see week in week out – fast,  attack committed football.   The sad thing is, that’s been the English way for years – look at Liverpool in the 70’s & 80’s and Utd in the 90’s & 00’s – that’s exactly how they played and that’s why they dominated but somewhere along the line we started to doubt ourselves and tried to become something we weren’t.
  2. Select a team, not individuals:  We have seen many experts talk about lack of players during the World Cup.   It’s an absolute nonsense.   There were more players at the World Cup playing their club football in England than any other league in the world – but only half played for the top clubs.  I mean would we really have considered any of the following small sample good enough for England – Giroud, Djourou, Schurrle, Mirallas, Coates, Fellaini, Sissoko, Cesar, Cameron, de Guzman, Lugano  – yet all of them played in the knockout stages.    We are obsessed with individual talent and we forget about the team.  We put a huge amount of pressure on individuals and never look at shape or what they’re being asked to do.   I bet all the discussion forums dissecting England’s plight are full of people picking their best players – who should be dropped and who should be brought in – but it’s like buying the ingredients to bake a cake but having recipe to put it all together and it completely misses the point.   The World Cup Final was billed as the world’s best team against the world’s best player – and you know the result.  The best teams win tournaments – not the best players.  We have to start to pick the best team and if that means better players are excluded for the good of the team then that’s the way it goes
  3. Be the fittest:   When England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003, Lawrence Dallaglio said one of the keys to victory was that they knew they were the fittest.  They knew stepping onto the field that no matter what the opposition threw at them, they’d be able to withstand it and come back for more, when their opponents would be out on their feet.  When tired bodies give way to tired minds they knew the opposition would start to make more mistakes than them.  Look at the work Dave Brailsford has done with cycling – analysing every single detail so that when the riders take to the track they know they are the fittest and fastest.   Their physical condition gave them confidence – a confidence that grew as the game or race progressed.    With the amount of money and expertise at our disposal there is no excuse for England players not being the fittest at each and every tournament we play in.     To have 6 players going down with cramp against Italy, and Stirling going down after just 62 minutes was little short of a disgrace.  Philip Neville said that Alex Ferguson would have been furious if that had happened to any of his players and rightly so.   To play our style of football England need to be the fittest team.
  4. The right management:   If we want the players to do the right thing then the management need to lead by example.  They need to be brave enough to pick the best team rather than the best players.  They need to be strong enough to stand up to journalists and supporters when things go wrong (and they will) by sticking to the plan and not giving in to pressure to select this player or that player.  They need to develop a style of play that suits our game rather than try to copy the Continentals.  They need to insist every detail in preparation is controlled and if players don’t have the focus to put in the hard work and turn up to each and every training camp then they don’t make the team – no matter who they are. It needs to be supportive rather than brutal but it just needs to be honest – “this is what we need to win the world cup and you’re either in or out”  Set the rules from the start, be brave and be bold.   One other point – ex-footballers are not often equipped to make good managers and it’s about time we started to see the FA introduce non playing managers who have the skills and potential to manager rather than the skills to play
  5. Go with expectation rather than hope:   The most successful nations expect to win.  They have no doubts that their preparations are the best, their tactics are the best and that their spirit will see them through.   Speaking with Jens Lehmann before the World Cup semi-final, he stated Germany would win the tournament – it wasn’t posturing, or bravado – it was belief.    Without that conviction, when the going gets tough you start to question yourself.   From the moment Greg Dyke mock-sliced his neck at the draw, England never believed they could win.   It was all “we’ll do our best”, “there are some great teams in this world cup”, “we’re looking really sharp in training”, “obviously we think we can win or what’s the point in being here” – but there was no conviction.   Put the foundations described above in place then tell the supporters, tell the journalists and most importantly tell the players we will win.

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Ode to Michael Gove

The teachers are delighted
He’s gone into the night,
His stay in office has been blighted,
He should have played more PLYT.

For David, wants to stay Prime Minister,
Wants a woman in that job,
That might be viewed as sinister,
Assuming she was never called Bob.

So Nicky Morgan’s in the hot seat,
Will she continue with reform,
Or maybe she’ll rise through Downing Street
Keeping David nice and warm.

So what exactly is chief whip,
It sounds a little kinky,
Getting MP’s in a vice-like grip,
before poking ’em in the eye with his pinkie.

But I do feel sorry for the man,
Because change is never easy,
Of improving education I am a fan,
But Michael just left me queasy.

What now for England

The dream is over for at least another few years – consigned to an early flight home post the Italian slump against Costa Rica.

Tom Sheen’s Independent report  attempts to look at individual players and whether they should stay or go.  To be honest, there’s not a lot to disagree with – getting rid of anyone approaching the end of their careers makes a bit of sense – but getting rid of Danny Welbeck shows a major lack of understanding of what he was asked to do and what he’s capable of.   In the whole article and in particular that very comment about Welbeck, Sheen highlighted what’s wrong with British football and football journalists.

Football is a team game and this World Cup, more than any other I’ve seen, shows what’s possible if you get the right blend.  Look how the likes of Costa Rica, Chile, USA, Algeria & even Australia have performed.  Yet we always focus on the individuals and not the collective.

England have played ok so far – certainly better than 2010 in South Africa when pulling your own toenails out seemed preferable to watching the team’s struggles.   England has the players to make a good impression on any tournament and the constant suggestion otherwise is ridiculous – would Clint Dempsey, Brian Ruiz, Tim Cahill, Medel – all heroes for their countries get into an England squad – not a chance.   It’s the  blend that hasn’t been right and that goes right back to every tournament since 1970.

Here’s an example.   In 1966 England had a great striker by the name of Jimmy Greaves.  Scored for fun.  First name on the team sheet and all that.  But did he play in the Final ? No !  For the good of the overall team he was left out.  A very hard decision for Ramsey to make, but he put the team before the individual and the rest is history.   Scroll forward to 2014 and Daniel Sturridge.  A gifted player who is regarded as the most natural finisher in the England team.  Yet a player known to be “team” challenged as shown with his struggles at Man City and Chelsea – his relative success at Liverpool owes much to the selfless players around him.  All of a sudden he has become a first choice pick, yet England have never scored more than one goal from open play when he has started (the only game we scored more came with 2 central defenders scoring from corners).   Yes he’ll score the odd goal (over the last 12 months pre-tournament he’d scored the same number of England goals as Danny Welbeck) but the team will suffer because of the way he plays.  I’m certain we’d be talking about progression to the next round if Lambert had been playing instead – I’m not saying he’s a better player, but he’d make the team into a better team.

So what next for Roy.    Set out the style that will get the most out of our best players – attacking football, high tempo, loads of energy and closing the opposition down quickly – a bit like the Premiership really. Then pick the best team to make that happen. If that means a few better individuals suffer for the good of the team then so be it.   He’ll need to be brace, but success will soon follow