Wednesday, May 18, 2011

*Manchester United: The Dog's Bollocks


A right bloody triumph 'appened at Old Trafford this weekend, it did. Manchester United locked up their record breaking 19th Premier League title wif a draw versus a poxy bunch in the Blackburn Rovers. Wayne Rooney secured the draw wif a picture perfect strike from the penalty spot and turned the city of Manchester absolutely bonkers.

    The heavy lifting was done a week earlier when Man U faced off in a massive fixture in London against a rival Chelsea squad who were, at the time, nipping at the heels of the Reds. By securing the three points Manchester became authors of their own destiny, making themselves nearly untouchable wif only a pair of matches left.

    Dimitar Berbatov has been brilliant throughout, leading the league in scoring, Nani showed a new level of maturity, Edwin Van Der Sar continued to defy father time having another superb season at age 40, and somehow it all got eclipsed by a man who wasn't even on the pitch.

    The old codger calling the shots for the Red Devils, Sir Alex Ferguson is the business. When he took the reins back in 1986 he made a specific personal goal of "knocking Liverpool off of their fucking perch", which is to say he intended to usurp Liverpool as the most-league-championships-of-all-time record holder. At the time it was a tall order, but here we are 25 years later and he's finally done it. So let the retirement speculation begin then eh? (Stop that, stop that.)

    Fergie has been a model of consistency during his tenure in Manchester and will leave behind a legacy of championship glory. It would be hard to believe he wouldn't step down after such a spectacular season, and there's a perfect capper on a silver platter when Man U faces Barcelona in the UEFA Champion's League finals (a rematch of the 2009 finals in which Barca emerged victors). A chance to avenge the loss, against arguably the best team in the world, for one of football's most prestigious club trophies. Not bloody shabby.

    However it's Sir Alex's pride I think will bring 'im back next year. He's got a group right now that's as mentally tough as any in the world. They aren't the exquisite United sides of ages past, where sublime talent reigns supreme, but rather a group of committed, hard-working battlers that never say die. Not to suggest this group dudn't 'ave it's share of talented stars. Surely Berbatov, Rooney and the like can be placed in that class, but there ain't a George Best, or Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch, is there? Ballon D'Or players they have not.

    That intangible ability to inspire players to greatness is what makes Sir Alex such a magnificent manager. His players believe in 'im. When Wayne Rooney publicly questioned Manchester's upper management, and wanted out, saying United lacked "the continued ability to attract the top players in the world" it was Ferguson who eventually brought the young superstar back down to earth. Wayne Rooney is a spoiled brat, and Sir Alex Ferguson knows exactly how to handle spoiled brats.

    As the contract negotiations and media battle raged on, Sir Alex carried on inside a conference room, as Rooney and his reps listened in awkward intrigue, and delivered a foggy metaphor about cows, with the inference being "the grass is always greener" or something of the like. Everybody scratched their noggins and wondered silently about whether the man had either lost it, or if this rambling was in fact a profound insight bore of experience. It turns out it was the latter, as Rooney's name was inked onto a fresh five year extension twenty four hours later.

    That is the perfect illustration of the way Sir Alex Ferguson carries himself. He commands the respect of his players, in return he delivers results. He's a force of nature and he imbues that force into those privileged enough to play under him. That's why Man U are sitting atop the Premiership. That's why they're competing in the Champion's League finals. And that's why they've knocked Liverpool off of their fucking perch and have more league titles than any side in history. (Stop that, stop that)

 That's why this man is the best coach in the history of the game.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

*UFC 129: Epic Achievement of Glory

    At a time of year when the NHL and NBA playoffs are giving us so much juicy drama to talk about, the UFC came along and, for one night at least, rendered them both completely irrelevant. No big.

    The massive spectacle staged Saturday night at Toronto's Rogers Centre was a full-on coup for the world's biggest fight promotion. A living metaphor for the sport's validity in the global landscape. The sheer magnitude of the event was enough to make it a classic, but the action on the card is what truly made the evening a resounding success.

    A record ten Canadians competed on the UFC 129 card, a piece of intelligent and strategic fight picking on behalf of Dana White and his staff. The Canucks went six for four on the night, and even those who lost put on a great show. Ontario native Mark Hominick may have gotten the largest ever ovation for a dude who got thoroughly beaten down. Featherweight champ Jose Aldo laid the smackdown on Hominick through the first four rounds, but the deformed Hominick riled his hometown crowd into a frenzy when he turned the tables in the fifth and nearly knocked Aldo out. 

    Seven out of the twelve fights on the card were finishes, with a few nasty ones, like Randy Couture eating a Steven Seagal kick from Lyoto Machida, and gritty veteran Jason MacDonald getting the W with a textbook triangle choke. The important part here is that the fans got some literal bang for their buck, which goes a long way when lower level seats are being sold for four-digit numbers.

    The aforementioned Couture capped off his legendary career by receiving an emotional ovation from the record crowd, the type of moment that alone is worth the price of admission. A Randy Couture retirement fight is big enough to headline any UFC event, but rather than hog the spotlight, "The Natural" opted to be a part of history. And history it was.

    Canadian demi-god Georges St-Pierre put in yet another workman-like victory over top contender Jake Shields, playing it safe by feeding Shields a steady diet of his trademark jab, and scoring some takedowns late in the fight to secure the victory. The impressive aspect of the win was that GSP maintained control throughout the fight, despite being blind in one eye for more than half of it. No big. Winning is what legends do. I for one would still love to see a rematch with Shields, but that doesn't seem to be a thought shared by anyone in the industry.

    In the aftermath it is difficult to even reflect on the magnitude of what was accomplished in this city on Saturday night. It was not just a big show with a big gate. This was a symbol. This time last year mixed martial arts was not even legal in this province, and no signs of that changing were on the horizon. Dana White and Canadian director Tom Wright (he of former CFL commissioner fame) did a fantastic job of convincing the McGuinty government of how good this could be for the local economy. 

    The real victory is in how significant this event was on the world stage, and in raising the profile of the city. This ain't no Pan-Am games, and sports fans know that. There was a special feeling in the building on Saturday. A feeling that those in attendance were a part of something special. A part of history. From the layout of the floor, to the positioning of the screens, to the selection of the fights, to the performances of the fighters themselves, the UFC scored a unanimous decision: epic achievement of glory. No big.