Are the Spanish greedy?

An interesting article, the thrust of which was that Spain’s poaching of the world’s top players has left more balanced leagues in the rest of Europe, recently caught my attention. As an Aston Villa fan, I’m not sure I agree that parity has reached the Premiership. If you look at the top 5 or 6 teams of the past few years, the same select group of names crops up time and time again: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and a n others. Yes, one or two have climbed a few places thanks largely to their new deep pockets and others, including my beloved boys in claret and blue, have slipped back. However, I would agree that this season is looking as competitive as 2001-02 season. But that could change.

A not too dissimilar situation can be found in the Italian Serie A and and the French First Division where the typical powerhouse teams are being challenged by some sporting minnows. But we’ve not yet reached mid-season. Often the lesser teams can’t maintain their challenges for the entire season, as injuries and other factors take their toll. One could argue that zones or tiers have appeared in the leagues and it’s difficult for teams to progress to the next tier without significant financial investment.

Over in Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid have been busily acquiring the world’s best soccer talents and, so the article argues, doing the Spanish fans a disservice by rendering anything other than the classicos a walkover. The author (unfairly, in my opinion) compared the Spanish league to that of Scotland where two clubs, from the same city, Glasgow Rangers and Celtic, have dominated for years. It’s true that in recent years in La Liga the gap between the winner and the also rans has widened. Last year Barcelona won with 96 points, 34 points clear of 4th placed Villareal. While in 2006-07 season, Real Madrid won the title with a much narrower margin and 23% fewer points. But it’s winning that counts, not the margin of victory.

The article also points to the players short-listed for FIFA’s Player of the Year, the Ballon d’Or. In 2007, the list comprised 11 Premier League players, eight from La Liga, seven from Serie A, three from the Bundesliga and one from France. Since then, the world’s elite have migrated to Spain and this year’s short list included 13 players from the Spanish League, four from the Premiership, two from Serie A and the Bundesliga, and one each from Russia and Brazil. Could Spain’s dominance of recent World and European Cups not provide a simpler explanation?

Well, I have to confess that I’m not sure I agree with the author’s conclusions. Clubs with deep pockets, who regularly enjoy European football and have plenty of silverware in the cupboards, are going to attract the best players. Taking those players and moulding them into a winning side, is a whole other ball game. It is perhaps interesting to note that those teams who regularly place well in their respective leagues have “superstar” managers. Ones who have enjoyed significant periods in charge, such as Wenger and Ferguson, ones who have an abiding affinity with the club, like Guardiola, or ones who have enjoyed success wherever they have roamed such as Mourinho. Remember, football is a team sport and great teams, not teams of great players, win trophies. Though I do accept  they could be one and the same.

I’ll have mustard with mine

Yesterday was my first attempt at La Lazarides. I did the shorter parcours (107km) accompanied by my beloved. Or should that be part accompanied, since he lost me on the way back. I know: careless, foolish, misguided or what? It’s not a good idea to lose the person with the map, the money, the car keys and the mobile phone.

The club was severely underrepresented: only three of us. But when I’d questioned a few of the regulars as to why they weren’t taking part, they all said it was more like a race than a randonnee. Actually, that was true. Fewer participants, generally only the better club riders (me being one of the exceptions), police assistance, cars covering the breakaways on both parcours and two pro-Tour riders who kindly just kept pace with the (amateur) leaders.

Riders at the start

 

It was a lovely parcours and we both agreed we should ride more often over this terrain. It starts using the back-end of the smaller l’Antiboise parcours and then heads on past the dreaded Lac St Cassien (again, loads of traffic) before ascending to Mons via Fayence, but thankfully not using the Mur de Fayence (26%). Weaving one’s way through market day in Fayence was a little tricky. Thereafter, the roads were quiet and it was a great climb up to Mons and the feed zone where they had real coke, albeit lukewarm, and some delicious ham rolls. Then there was a fast descent back down via  Callian and Montaroux which was were I overtook my beloved. The leaders of the 150km parcours came steaming past me and I tucked onto the end of the group. Much to everyone’s surprise, I manage to stay with them on the descent. My beloved claimed he was waiting for me at the Montaroux fountain. I never saw him as I zoomed through the town. Of course, as soon as the gradient changed, I was back on my lonesome.

I rode to the control point at the foot of the Tanneron and advised them I’d lost my husband before continuing on up the hill. I assumed he’d soon catch me up. I was wrong, it took him until the final couple of kilometers. But what a welcome when we got back to the Stade Maurice Chevalier, a BBQ no less. Never have sausages, bread and mustard tasted so good. I’m going to suggest this for the Kivilev. Having consumed this feast, it started to rain in earnest, so we skipped the tombola and headed for home.

Once home we had to check our stats on the Garmin: more climbing and a faster average speed than La Louis Caput. Who would have thought it? It was a very rolling parcours with the final climb up the Tanneron coming at just after 80kms. There were even a few uphill stretches in the final couple of kilometers.

My legs felt tired today and I really laboured up the hill to Pre du Lac but after a gentle ride this morning they’re now feeling a lot better. The promised stormy weather held off and, as a result, I’m hoping that the forecast for the forthcoming days will improve. I’ve plenty of mileage on the programme for next week.

My beloved boys in claret and blue went down 3-1 away at Man City, effectively blowing any lingering chance of 4th or 5th spot in the Premiership. Still, with Liverpool losing to Chelsea today, we should hold onto 6th: no mean feat.

Ten minutes before full-time OGCN were comfortably leading 3-0 away at Boulogne, a team heading for relegation. Final score: 3-3! Yes, pretty unbelievable but, sadly, all too true. Goodness knows what happened to our defence – totally MIA. 

Over in the Tour of Romandie, as anticipated, Valverde pounced on the final stage to take the overall, Spilak was 2nd and Menchov 3rd. The weather was again truly awful and 56 riders, who were out of contention, got off their bikes. Can’t say I blame them.

Round up of sporting action

It’s been a busy week end for me what with trying to keep track of football, cycling, rugby and the Winter Olympics from Vancouver.  Midweek, my beloved boys in claret and blue drew at home against Manchester United whom they will play in the League Cup final at the end of the month. Unfortunately, United were reduced to 10 men fairly early on in the game making them even more difficult to break down. Still AVFC have picked up 4 points out of a possible 6 in the Premiership which augurs well for the League Cup Final. Sadly, however, they drew against a very spirited Crystal Palace yesterday in the FA Cup meaning a mid-week replay before their date at Wembley – not ideal preparation. OGCN sadly lost away at Valenciennes in the dying minutes of the match and are now staking their claim on 17th place in the French League. I fear for the manager. I’m just waiting for that death knell “support from the Board” and it’ll all be over.

Having got into gold, Wouter Mol stayed there to win the GC in the Tour of Qatar. Last year’s winner, Tom Boonen, had to be content with two stage wins. The boys now move on to Oman where Jimmy Casper of Saur-Sojasun (another team looking to impress ASO) wrapped up the opening evening criterium, beating Edvald Boassen Hagen into second place. Meanwhile, the Tour of the Med, having had stage 4 neutralised thanks to the weather, finished yesterday on Mont Faron with a stage win for Aqua & Sapone and an overall win for Alejandro Valverde. Astana were 3rd and 5th with respectively Max Iglinsky and Alexandre Vinokourov.

The French are justifiably cockahoop after beating Ireland in Paris. They’re also currently leading the medal table in Vancouver having picked up two golds: one with Jason Lamy-Chappuis (current World Cup Leader) in the nordic combined and the other with Vincent Jay in the 10km biathlon sprint. The former was anticipated, but not the latter.

What you might ask of my own sporting endeavours. Well I have at last received my training plan. Indeed, today is Day 1 of the plan and it’ll be interesting to see how I progress over the next 6 months. The trainer guarantees at least a 5% improvement but, quite frankly, I’m hoping for a lot, lot more.