Wednesday, 25 April 2007

...Fuss in Soccer II ...European soccer curtains about to fall....

As the Champions League gets to its penultimate stage, the curtains are about to be drawn for the league for the year 2006-07 season. This is the case for the top Leagues as well in England, Spain, Germany, France to mention but a few.
A lot has happened given that last year was a World Cup year hence the calendar for most players was quite full. From the successes and disappointments of the World Cup to the highs and lows of the Champions League, with the spicings of the top leagues this season has been another thrill to enjoy.
I'll try to cover the periods preceding the World Cup up to and until the Champions League which is currently at its semi-final stages;
May 2006: Champions League Finale- this saw Europe's most lively sides battle it out in the final. Arsenal got to their first Champions League final having gone for 11 games in the League without a loss. They also had the safest pair of hands in one Jens "Mad" Lehmann who had not sneaked in a goal in 6 games. They also had their talismanic striker T. Henry having led them to great wins over Real Madrid and Juventus.
Barcelona on the other hand were boasting of the World Player of the Year-2006 one Gaucho Ronaldinho and the deadly striker the African Player of the Year 2006 Samuel Eto'o. They did go ahead and win the game and do a double with the Spanish La Liga
June-July 2006: World Cup in Germany:
This was held albeit with a bit of concern over the exhausting season that has become of the European League. Sample this, for a top-tier team in England there are 4 competitions to play in, Carling Cup,FA Cup,Premiership and Champions League. That makes up an average of about 60-75 games played in total if the team were to all the way to the Final as Arsenal did.
There was hype about the best teams as usual being the Brazilians, Argentines as well as hosts Germany (won't say the English team cos that's going to make my blog look like some British tabloid !). Against all form books the Final was against France after putting up resilient but not glorious performances and Italians who had grown from strength to strength. Italy wins the World Cup
SIDESHOW: Zidane's headbutting to one Marco Materazzi.
August-December 2006: Start of top European Leagues
After a brief holiday for most of the players the top flight leagues started in earnest with most of the 2005-06 winners starting from where they started from. In England Chelsea had started off well but a mid-season crisis, coupled with injury to their top players almost toppled them off the top 4. Man United seemed to have regained their glorious days and kept knocking teams off except for the small blip of Arsenal's defeat at home. Early pretenders had themselves to blame but Reading continued its exploits at mid-table by Christmas. Arsenal having sent the largest number of players to the World Cup ( 13 of the top players) were having hot-&-cold games and costly draws which put them off the title by then.
In Spain, Barcelona started off from where they left but an injury-scare on Eto'o as well as exhaustion on the players saw them lose ground on other teams easily. Real Madrid having issues with their galacticos almost lost ground to the top teams. Sevilla under one F. Kanoute kept the goals coming and kept Barca on toes.
In Italy the match-fixing scandal dealt a huge blow to the morale-boosting win of Italy at the World Cup.This meant that Juventus would be relegated to the First Division (Serie B) and other top teams such as AC Milan, Fiorentina being fined and shaved off points even before kicking the ball. That meant that Internazionale Milan were clear favourites to take the Serie A title.
As for Ligue 1 in France, Olympic Lyon opened a huge gap by December ensuring the title retention without much of competition. Nantes which had a fairly good season had a pathetic period that almost ensures relegation. Racing Lens, Olympic Marseille, Toulouse tried to play catch up with Lyon.
With the departure of M. Ballack and a fairly succesful World Cup, the Bundesliga in Germany had better competitiveness with the top-teams being given a run for their money by the lower tier ones. Bayern Munich led marginally going to the Christmas break but looked vulnerable all too often. VFB Stuggart, Werder Bremen and Schalke kept within touching distance and it was just a matter of time before one of them took the top slot.
In Champions League action, not much suprises were seen at the group stages though a couple of the top teams drew and lost games to minnows. When it got to the knock-out stages, most top teams were in there though precariously.
Jan-March 2007:
Starting with England again, the decisive period of the league was on. The top two built a 12-point lead between them and the 3rd team. The next two also had a 6 point advantage over the other teams showing the disparities and extent of buying power of the top teams. Nothing changed though the return game of Arsenal and Man U was a classic with a late goal giving Arsenal the 3 points. Chelsea also lost to Liverpool in their game. As for FA Cup a weekend thrashing of Liverpool and a further humiliation in the Carling Cup three days later almost made critics believe that Arsenal's youth and flair game was to be vindicated but with the Final of the Carling Cup providing a loss and a messy finale to an entertaining game, Arsenal disappeared from the map.
Man U and Chelsea beat their respective teams in the FA semis though with much toil and pace from the upstarts of Blackburn and Watford. The two teams have also managed to narrow the lead between them to 4 points meaning a down-to-the-wire end of the league.
With the Spanish la Liga, Barcelona kept throwing away games and the other teams closed on with top 5 teams now having a chance at the title. The announcement of Beckham's departure to the US seems to have resuscitated an otherwise uninspiring team. Sevilla also kept the pressure on with Real Zaragoza and Valencia all fighting for a Champions League qualifying slot.
As for the French Ligue 1, Olympic Lyon were all but sure winners by the end of March to wrap up a dominant season. Racing Lens and Toulouse fight for 2nd and 3rd respectively while Marseille and Bordeaux might also sneak in.
In Germany, Bayern Munich let off the lead and Schalke sneaked in with Werder Bremen and Stuttgart have also spoiled the party and have a chance at the title too.
With Champions League coming of age, last year's finalists both Arsenal & Barcelona were bundled out without much of ado. Man U continued their strong performance. Chelsea, Liverpool and AC Milan were hot in the heels being the semi-finalists as of April. The road to Athens increasingly looks like it might be headed English football way.
More insights coming up .........
Becks decides to go US of A....sports marketing figure no.1 and interestingly real start performing after the announcement.
Jose 'The Special One' Mourinho talks too much and is almost out of a job ( why can't he just shut it and let the guys play what they do...if anything I don't think there will be any other successful coach if Jose leaves)...might get a posting after Capello leaves Real.
Owen Hargreaves keeps his wishes on notice right at the start of the season that he'd want to be in Man U. He does work his way in the midfield tenaciously.
African footballers show why African countries might one day soon win the World Cup. From Spain to England, the Kanoutes, Drogbas, Martins keep the flag high up.
Why can't ordinary trade be shaped in the same way ?
.....some of these inequalities might have been adressed by now.
Arsenal force the resignation of one of their valued boardroom directors in David Dein...keep watching...the Americans can't be far away now !

Keep it real everybody...I'll be back from a quick run....!

Friday, 20 April 2007

Mega Becks !....what would portend for commercialising Soccer

David Beckham wearing the no.23 playing for LA Galaxy scores his first goal...this comes from his trademark free-kick, a curling free-kick from outside the box...! That will be the sports commentator's comments as he tries to commentate a football('saka') game in the summer season of the Major League Soccer-MLS.
This is an attempt to attract as much attention on the MLS as they did in the late 1970s when the then North America Soccer League. Big names such as Franz Beckenbeur and even Edson Arantes do Nascimento-Pele graced the grounds to try and attract football ('saka' to Americans) and with it the gravy train in sponsorship and commercial gains in the North Americas. That attempt did not work then because of obvious reasons, the American public was just not receptive to the game not just on TV but even on stadiums.
After USA hosted the World Cup in 1994, there was renewed interest in the game though with marginal increases every season. The MLS was also formed to try and get additional local talent and hopefully export the outstanding guys to the top leagues in Europe. That has been fairly successful.
Back to Becks though ! This attempt by the LA Galaxys to lure the biggest marketing tool for football at the moment, might change the picture slightly. Given that the US public has the love of glamour and galore in sports, what more could they get than David Beckham himself !
The commercial directors at the MLS must be smiling with glee because for the first time, the game tickets for the team have been sold out. The league has also started sending scouts and there is even rumour that they might lure Zinedine Zidane back into his playing boots. Zenden currently playing for Liverpool is another star attraction.
That ought to tell you the potential that's around for football-marketing and commercialisation. Starting from sponsorship, endorsements, TV rights to cross-continental visits( read games with more established European teams), the $$$ have just started ^^^!
Interesting take is that there are quite a handful of Americans ( Glazers , Gilletts and even a more recent one Kroenke has been throwing roses at the British owners...just time before they falter !)

PoInT oF iNtErEsT:
KFF had proposals from South Africa Premier League for sponsorship worth KSh.100 m. Can they style up please ? Missed opportunities I can't even start to enumerate them...! Do they want to lure such names for them to get the house in order ?

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Start of a New Basketball Season- What are the prospects and pitfalls ?

Start of a new season in the Kenyan basket ball season. This is the calendar highlight for the Kenya Basketball Federation. It also means that the lights come back on again after a five month break since December 2006.
What has been going on?
First, Kenya qualified for the All-Africa Games (women's team). A big round of applause to the ladies. I did manage to check them out at Nyayo Gym before the left for the qualifiers in Rwanda and I must say the coach one Mr. Thomas'Smarts' Olumbo assisted by Mr. Anthony Ojukwu put them under some military-like drills. Big hands for Angela L, Eunice O, Caroline A, Joyce M and the whole team !
The men were not so lucky having been beaten by Rwanda and eventual qualifiers,Egypt. They did put up a fight though.

As the qualifiers were going on, elections for the Zone 5 region were held and our very own Eng. Maurice Aluanga was elected as chair. Congratulations to him too ! I do hope with the clout that you now enjoy, Kenyan basketball will gain more continetal status. Let's reach (and even exceed !) our brothers in Angola, Nigeria and Egypt.
There was also the off-season Inter-Colleges and Universities League that was going on. However a lot of disagreements and disorganisation has meant that this has been reduced to a two-horse torney for USIU and KCITI. Tragedy I would say !
There is also the small bit of commercialisation and sponsorship which has not materialised like it has for other sports. Except for a few institutional teams and privately sponsored teams...there's not much largesse in KBF's treasure chest !
Now comes the 2007 season, who are the front runners and who will be the new pretenders to the crown ? Keep it locked for reviews on the teams to beat...

Nondescript Cricket

I'm a very bitter person ! That's all we could do? After all upsets of 2003 which had me thinking that for once the critics would be silenced, you give them all the fodder to help fuel an even uglier war of words and comments towards Kenyan cricket?
For awhile now Kenya has been trying to get to the Test playing status. This was enhanced after Kenya put up good performances in three consecutive Cricket World Cups starting with the most memorable one in 1996. One Steve Tikolo engineered an upset against West Indies assisted by the likes of Maurice Odumbe, Rajab Ali, Tariq Iqbal among others.
In the past 5 years though, I guess we sunk quite low in the cricket world that it was no surprise as to what to expect at this year's World Cup. But would we have salvage a better position, say to the last 8 or even the semi-finals like the last time in South Africa ? Coming soon ....critique on Kenyan cricket !

Sevens Rugby-Kenya Hoiyee !

The Sevens Rugby team does Kenya proud again ! That's some good news from where I sit. It goes to show just how with the right management and enough reserves , much progress and winning ways can be achieved. It ain't there yet but I can bet you it's just a matter of time.
With the elegance like an African warrior dancing for battle, the pace with pounding of the Black rhino and the crunching muscle of a true African build; the young Kenyans have dazzled the rugby enthusiasts wherever they go. I'm made to understand that there are usually many fans cheering on Kenya when they play rank outsiders in the Sevens series.
Starting poorly in the first legs of the circuit, Kenya has managed to put up spirited fights and try show why they deserve to be in the IRB Sevens World Series.

However, more needs to be done and this ought to get even the Government authorities involved:
Set up relevant liaison bodies to help make the sport more widely spread. This is in terms of youth development which will ensure constant reserve teams; marketing and promotion to help reach out to sponsors and firms to help provide constant financial support as well as give the sport a broader appeal; selling of screening rights of both local and international games to attract funds and also a bigger audience. This along with the few subsidies that KRFU enjoys from IRB will surely help take the sport further.

TIME-OUT: I couldn't help but share the agony of one Richard Omwela when arriving back from the Adelaide Leg of the Series. He mentioned that given a fraction of what Kenya Football Federation receives from FIFA, they would do wonders ! KFF are you listening?
....Coming soon Rugby World Cup review.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Athletics powerhouse....reality check

Kenya wins the World Cross-country championships overall title . There are numerous marathons that have been won that I have even lost count, from Rotterdam, Paris to Boston and New York. The road races too are becoming a Kenyan tradition. Checking these I would think they are in the middle to long distance classification. So what is it with the 400m, 100 & 200m sprints? Relays ( with a slight exception of the 4x400m)
History will treat us harshly for some imbalance I would like to address here.
Back in the early days of Kenya's budding athletes, there was the long distance runners who led by the likes of Naftali Temu among others would conquer the world and take it by storm. There was also an unsung hero by the name of one Seraphino Antao. Unbeknown to most Kenyans, this Kenyan was our former days answer to the Asafa Powell's , Carl Lewis' and Donovan Bailey's of the latter days. He was the gold medallist in the 110 yards and 220 yards in the 1962 Commonwealth Games. With the wins made here, a crowning moment was at the 1972 Olympics Games when the men's 4x400 m won the gold ( Asati Charles, Nyamau Hezekiah Munyoro, Ouko Robert and Sang Julius).

....The Fuss about Soccer....

FA Premier League, La Liga, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Champion's League, World Cup ! Name any of these to 90% of the male species and the eyes light up like a child does with candy ! Take it from me, right now enough of these species is worried after May 31st when most of the European leagues will come to an end till mid-August. A cold season indoors without football , what misery !
Why the fuss about some leather patched together and 22 grown men(though this is changing gradually...)chasing it around ? From studies conducted by scientists, it is said that when a child is born and give it a ball, if it is a girl she will collect it and hold it in her hands. But if you give it to a boy...that's right, he will kick it ! It's just inborn .
Football or soccer( as the Americans are wont to call it !) is the so-called universal game. The whole world seems to stop for a moment during the 1 month of the World Cup which is the ultimate for a footballer's dream. However given the huge levels of commercialisation and marketing given to the European Leagues, especially the UEFA Champions League, the game at national or international level is losing its prominence...we'll pick it from there on another post !

Thursday, 5 April 2007

It's the rush of Adrenaline ! It's the beatin'of the heart as the clock runs down ! It's SPORTS KENYA!

Sports abound ! Three seconds to the buzzer and the ball lands onto the outside D, the point-guard looks to his left and finds the shooting guard, one TM !He's already beaten his man after a nasty screen. He gets the ball and without a moment's thought launches a quick 3-point shot and as he does so, is pushed off his mark but the ball is already released into the air.......2......1.......BUZZER ! Swiiish the ball goes in ! Basket and a foul !