Tag Archives: deficiencies

Mark Clattenburg returns for Liverpool v Fulham – Graham Poll on Premier League referee appointments

Clattenburg returns to the middle… and he'll be under extra scrutiny

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UPDATED:

07:30 GMT, 21 December 2012

Referees perform under massive pressure and very close scrutiny every weekend. I cannot think of another job where every single piece of work is analysed and rated with a mark.

There are two people who are in the stadium to assess and rate the team of match officials performance.

One acts as a referee observer and is usually a former top level referee who has the task of ensuring that the referee applies laws of the game as well as give feedback on the technical aspects of the four officials' performances.

The second is in attendance as a Professional Game Match Officials Match Delegate and they are former players, managers or administrators who are asked to look at the game from the ‘users’ perspective.

Back in action: Mark Clattenburg returns this weekend and takes charge at Anfield

Back in action: Mark Clattenburg returns this weekend and takes charge at Anfield

This weekend Simon Barker, Kenny Hibbitt and Iffy Onuora are among the former players and former manager Peter Shreeves are on duty.

They are supposed to give the referee a balanced approach; too lenient and the former referee will pull him up, too slavish to law and the former player will question the impact on the game.

It is an interesting system which I think applies too much pressure on an already beleaguered referee, who really just needs a friendly ‘coach’ who he can open and honest with.

They need to be able to develop their skill and overcome difficulties rather than two people there to award a mark, who will highlight deficiencies and will affect their grading and possible future appointments.

Ones to watch this weekend…

Tottenham Hotspur v Stoke City (Saturday, 3pm)
Referee: Lee Mason Games: 10, Yellow Cards: 29, Red Cards: 0.

WHO'S IN CHARGE…

Saturday
Man City v Reading – Mike Dean G11, YC39 RC1
Newcastle v QPR – Kevin Friend G9, YC33, RC1
Southampton v Sunderland – Howard Webb G12, YC45, RC2
West Brom v Norwich – Martin Atkinson G14, YC57 RC0
West Ham v Everton – Anthony Taylor G11 YC20 RC3
Wigan v Arsenal – Jon Moss G8 YC23 RC1

Sunday
Chelsea v Aston Villa – Phil Dowd G11, YC34, RC2

This weekend, the main focus will surely be on the holding and blocking ‘dark arts’ after the Marouane Fellaini head butt so where better to start than White Hart Lane.

Mason will be expected to do a better job at detecting and punishing holding at set pieces with Stoke City than Mark Halsey did last weekend.

Ryan Shawcross’ arms could be clearly seen across Fellaini’s waist as the Stoke defender held him from behind.

Making a point: Referee Lee Mason will have to keep on top of the 'dark arts' at White Hart Lane

Making a point: Referee Lee Mason will have to keep on top of the 'dark arts' at White Hart Lane

Halsey's ‘reward’ is to be fourth official at Wigan on Saturday and then drive to Carlisle United on Boxing Day!

I expect Mason to adopt the policy of delaying the taking of the kick from being taken while he warns players not to hold but that is proving ineffective.

Also, given that Stoke are the away team, it will be easier for Mason to award a penalty against them than if they were playing at The Britannia. I trust I don’t have to explain why…

Liverpool v Fulham (Saturday, 5.15pm)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg G8, YC31, RC4

Clattenburg steps back after two weekends as fourth official in which he failed to avoid controversy by reporting Gareth Barry for offensive language after the Manchester derby.

He comes back with a live game and will undoubtedly be under pressure to award Liverpool their first penalty of the season and will have to be on his best form to keep Luis Suarez out of his notebook.

The good news for Clattenburg is that however this game goes, he is appointed to another top flight game just four days later between Aston Villa and Tottenham… and that is another televised game!

Swansea City v Manchester United (Sunday, 4pm)
Referee: Michael Oliver G10, YC20, RC1

There will be plenty of interest in young Oliver's handling of Manchester United as he has unfairly been highlighted as one who favours them.

Although they lost at Wolves the first time he refereed the league leaders, he has refereed them three times since and they have won them all.

Nothing unusual there but with Oliver refusing to give a clear Fulham penalty in the 1-0 United win late last season at Old Trafford eyebrows were raised.

United stand: The spotlight will be on young referee Michael Oliver at the Liberty Stadum

United stand: The spotlight will be on young referee Michael Oliver at the Liberty Stadum

Then this season, Oliver gave United a penalty after a clear dive by Danny Welbeck in the home win against Wigan and rumours persisted.

It is really tough establishing yourself as a young official at this level and Oliver (who is an excellent referee) would like to lose this reputation, so he could do with an incident free game at The Liberty Stadium.

Giovanni Trapattoni insists Republic of Ireland can still qualify for World Cup 2014

Long way to Tipperary! Trap sure Ireland can qualify despite shipping six

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UPDATED:

23:13 GMT, 12 October 2012

Giovanni Trapattoni insisted he will not be fighting to save his job in the Faroe Islands on Tuesday night after seeing the Republic Ireland mauled by Germany.

The 73-year-old could only look on as the side ranked second in the world by FIFA trounced his makeshift team 6-1 at the Aviva Stadium and condemned them to their heaviest defeat on home soil.

However, asked if Tuesday's World Cup qualifying Group C encounter in Torshavn could be vital to his continued presence at the helm, he replied: 'No.

'It's a long way to Tipperary. Germany have gone, but we are in there fighting with Austria and Sweden for qualification. Why not

Hit for six: Trapattoni (left)'s side had no answer to Germany

Hit for six: Trapattoni (left)'s side had no answer to Germany

'The players have to answer us and I am sure they can. We need to see their commitment in a very important situation here.

'I am proud of those players because their commitment is full, 100 per cent. I don't accept players without this commitment.'

Trapattoni was defiant too when, after a week during which his future has been a topic of speculation, he was asked why he wanted to remain as Ireland manager.

He said: 'Because I am proud of this team and the results it has achieved.

'It's not about money – it's about pride and being professional in my job. I was in four countries and I won in every country.'

A defeat by Group C favourites Germany was perhaps not unexpected, but the manner of it cruelly exposed the deficiencies within a squad torn apart by retirements and injuries.

Rout: Ozil (left) is congratulated after scoring

Rout: Ozil (left) is congratulated after scoring

The Republic held out for 32 minutes, but then capitulated horribly as they fell apart in the face of a determined assault.

Marco Reus started the ball rolling when, two minutes after being booked for diving, he fired home the opener off the underside of the crossbar after seeing Bastian Schweinsteiger and Marcel Schmelzer carved open the Ireland defence.

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder doubled his tally five minutes before the break when Jerome Boateng's crossfield pass once again found the Irish wanting and he drilled a shot across keeper Keiren Westwood and into the bottom corner.

Shell-shocked Ireland rallied all too briefly after the break, but fell further behind within 10 minutes of the restart when, after Darren O'Dea had felled Miroslav Klose inside the box, Mesut Ozil converted the resulting penalty.

Klose helped himself to a fourth within three minutes after rounding Westwood from Schweinsteiger's pass and there was more than enough time for substitute Toni Kroos to help himself to a double as time ran down with fellow replacement Andy Keogh's stoppage-time header counting for little.

On the ropes: Ireland face an uphill battle to qualify

On the ropes: Ireland face an uphill battle to qualify

Trapattoni said: 'It's difficult to explain. This evening, we were inferior against a strong team physically and technically, and we have no excuses.'

Opposite number Joachim Low was understandably delighted by a victory which extended his side's 100 per cent start to the qualifying campaign.

He said: 'We have seen a very concentrated performance by our team. Right from the word “go”, it was palpable that there was a German presence on that pitch.

'We had good organisation. We had been preparing ourselves for the long ball game that Ireland were going to be playing and we found the right balance between tempo on the one hand and regaining possession, and we were very comfortable on the ball.

'The result is okay, even if 6-1 sounds a bit high. We created many goalscoring opportunities and we converted the chances that we had.

'We are very glad. Germany hadn't won away in Ireland for a long time.'

John Obi Mikel rueful at Juventus draw

We switched off! Mikel regrets 'cheap' goals that cancelled out Oscar's wonder strike

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UPDATED:

21:45 GMT, 19 September 2012

Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel admitted he and his team-mates 'switched off' to allow Juventus to claim a point from their Champions League clash at Stamford Bridge.

Oscar looked set to enjoy a dream European debut with a first-half double, but the Italian champions ruthlessly exposed the holders' defensive deficiencies to snatch a draw.

Arturo Vidal pulled a goal back before the break and Fabio Quagliarella came off the bench to equalise for the Italian champions.

Wonder goal: Oscar's second goal was a sight to behold

Wonder goal: Oscar's second goal was a sight to behold

'We started the game well and scored two goals and had the game under control,' Mikel said.

'They scored one goal and then in the second half we tried to start the same way as we had in the first.

'It was a cheap goal to give away, the second one for them. I think we switched off, we should have dealt with it properly.'

Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo admitted he was 'deflated' after seeing a two-goal lead slip.

'It was a very good football game and both teams could have won it,' he said. 'We had chances with a third goal to close the game but I think it was probably a deserved draw.

But John Obi Mikel was rueful that Juventus were allowed a route back into the game

But John Obi Mikel was rueful that Juventus were allowed a route back into the game

Complacent: Fabio Quagliarella (right) scored the equaliser for the Italian champions

Complacent: Fabio Quagliarella (right) scored the equaliser for the Italian champions

'We found ourselves in a great position to win the game and we only got a draw but we knew we were playing a quality side who have a lot of good players.

'We feel a little deflated because we were ahead but it's going to be a tough group and we get on to the next game now.'

Asked about the performance of Oscar, Di Matteo added: 'We were just waiting for the right game for him, it was wonderful to watch. The second goal was fantastic.'

Deflated: Roberto Di Matteo (left) was frustrated to watch his side throw away their lead

Deflated: Roberto Di Matteo (left) was frustrated to watch his side throw away their lead

England 2 Italy 1 – match report

England 2 Italy 1: Defoe thunderbolt earns Hodgson morale-boosting win

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UPDATED:

20:52 GMT, 15 August 2012

Jermain Defoe blasted a brilliant winner as England secured a creditable win over Italy in Berne.

The 'home' international was Roy Hodgson's only warm-up game before the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign kicks off next month.

The Italian's had knocked the Three Lions out of Euro 2012 in June, in a game which ruthlessly exposed the deficiencies in Hodgson's side.

However in Switzerland, England, captained by Frank Lampard after he missed the summer tournament through injury, were more than a match for the Azzurri.

In the first half, Phil Jagielka cancelled out Daniele De Rossi's effort with a stooping header of his own from a corner.

Gary Cahill had a second-half volley disallowed while Joleon Lescott also went close after the break, but was thwarted by the post.

Defoe also saw a strike chalked off before 10 minutes from time he broke clear and unleashed a stonking drive into the top corner from just outside the box.

More to follow…

Hot Spur: Jermain Defoe came off the bench to fire a wonderful winner as England beat Italy

Hot Spur: Jermain Defoe came off the bench to fire a wonderful winner as England beat Italy

Hot Spur: Jermain Defoe came off the bench to fire a wonderful winner as England beat Italy

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First blood: Italy's Daniele De Rossi jumped highest from a corner to hand his side the lead

First blood: Italy's Daniele De Rossi jumped highest from a corner to hand his side the lead

First blood: Italy's Daniele De Rossi jumped highest from a corner to hand his side the lead

Back in it: Phil Jagielka brilliantly got his head to a corner to put England back on level terms

Back in it: Phil Jagielka brilliantly got his head to a corner to put England back on level terms

Back in it: Phil Jagielka brilliantly got his head to a corner to put England back on level terms

Back in it: Phil Jagielka brilliantly got his head to a corner to put England back on level terms

Safe hands: Jack Butland became England's youngest debutant goalkeeper for a century

Safe hands: Jack Butland became England's youngest debutant goalkeeper for a century

Captain's performance: Frank Lampard was back in England action as skipper having missed Euro 2012

Captain's performance: Frank Lampard was back in England action as skipper having missed Euro 2012

Sparse: England fans were in good voice despite the numerous empty seats around the stadium in Berne

Sparse: England fans were in good voice despite the numerous empty seats around the stadium in Berne

Going close: England had plenty of chances to stretch their lead earlier than they eventually did

Going close: England had plenty of chances to stretch their lead earlier than they eventually did

You again: Italy manager Cesare Prandelli had masterminded England's downfall at Euro 2012

You again: Italy manager Cesare Prandelli had masterminded England's downfall at Euro 2012

You again: Italy manager Cesare Prandelli had masterminded England's downfall at Euro 2012

Don Charles believes Dereck Chisora could have autism

Charles: Chisora's erratic behaviour could be down to autism

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UPDATED:

07:48 GMT, 11 July 2012

Dereck Chisora's trainer Don Charles believes the British public will grow to love a fighter whose erratic behaviour he suspects can be partly explained by autism.

Upton Park will provide the setting for a domestic showdown mired in controversy when Chisora meets former world heavyweight champion David Haye on Saturday night.

Autistic Dereck Chisora will fight David Haye on Saturday at Upton Park

Autistic Dereck Chisora will fight David Haye on Saturday at Upton Park

The rivals brawled at a press conference after Chisora's WBC title loss to Vitali Klitschko in February, the final act of a series of outrageous incidents involving the 28-year-old.

Even Charles himself occasionally comes to blows with a fighter he has trained and mentored at his gym in Finchley since 2006.

'Dereck is an extrovert, he's an eccentric character and can be unpredictable,' Charles said.

'I haven't had it tested but I believe he is autistic. There are also other things that he has, which I won't reveal, that make him the type of character he is.

Trainer: Don Charles (right) believes Chisora could be autistic

Trainer: Don Charles (right) believes Chisora could be autistic

'Sometimes when people are dyslexic with a touch of autism they speak in actions and can get frustrated.

'My own assessment is that he acts to make up for his deficiencies he has communicating.'

Chisora arrived in the UK as a 16-year-old from Zimbabwe and Charles believes he has suffered from the absence of his father Paul, who remains in the African nation.

'Dereck's father didn't bring him up, his mum did. Consequently that discipline you need from your father when you're growing up isn't there,' Charles said.

Ready Chisora will have to be on top form to defeat Haye

Ready Chisora will have to be on top form to defeat Haye

'He finds it very hard to take instructions from another man. It's been very difficult to train him.

'The combination of autism and dyslexia makes it hard for him to receive information.

'I was banging my head against a wall for three years until a specialist told me the way to give him information is to break it down into little segments and feed it to him in pieces.

'Since I've done that we've been getting information into his system. But nevertheless we have a volatile relationship.

'He's very hard to train, but that's what makes him the fighter he is.

'You can't remove that animal instinct from him because if you, you've killed him as a fighter.

Rivals: Haye is favourite to win the bout

Rivals: Haye is favourite to win the bout

'Instead you must learn how to manage, contain and nurture it.

'I've told Dereck he's got to earn understanding and people can only judge him on what they see him do.

'They don't know the real Dereck Chisora, but when he beats Haye it will give him the chance to prolong his career as a champion and they will grow to love him.'

Whack: Haye hasn't fought since he was defeated by Wladimir Klitschko (left) last year

Whack: Haye hasn't fought since he was defeated by Wladimir Klitschko (left) last year

Sometimes the tension between Charles and Chisora sees the pair exchange punches and they clashed during the build up to Saturday's collision with Haye.

'Many times I've thought I don't need this. I've walked off, I've thought 'I'm not training him any more',' said the 50-year-old from Nigeria.

'Over numerous occasions over the years we've had to be pulled apart. We fight all the time. It's not nice.

'We came to blows very recently during this training camp, I'm not going to deny it. It happened.

'Two hours later he apologised for igniting it and I apologised for putting my hands on him.'

Chisora meets Haye on the back of three successive defeats, though he was the victim of a hometown decision against Finnish European champion Robert Helenius last December.

He earned admirers for his brave and impressive display against Klitschko, at least until the madness descended at the post-fight press conference.

Instead, the defeat that really rankles was by Tyson Fury when, out of condition and unmotivated, he surrendered his British and Commonwealth titles.

Charles reveals that while the build-up to the Fury fight was far from perfect, Chisora emerges with credit for stepping into the ring.

Grudge match: Haye brawled with Chisora after the 29-year-old's fight with Vitali Klitschko last year

Grudge match: Haye brawled with Chisora after the 29-year-old's fight with Vitali Klitschko last year

'I wanted to pull Dereck out of the fight. He was breaking down physically in training and mentally he wasn't the same guy we know,' he said.

'He didn't pull out because he didn't want to be stripped of his titles and we needed money.

'We'd just come off the Wladimir Klitschko cancellation and Klitschko never paid us any compensation.

'I wanted to pull him out but after the fight he said the reason he wouldn't allow it was because he needed to pay us.

'I wouldn't have let him fight had I known that. Next time I won't let him get in the ring if he's not ready.

'The fact he was willing to fight so that his team would be paid shows the character he is. It brought tears to my eyes.'

I always knew Mario Balotelli would be a star and I wanted him at Spurs, says Harry Redknapp

I always knew Balotelli would be a star and I wanted him at Spurs, says Redknapp

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UPDATED:

17:38 GMT, 29 June 2012

Strike a pose: Italy's Mario Balotelli celebrates after scoring his second goal against Germany

Strike a pose: Italy's Mario Balotelli celebrates after scoring his second goal against Germany

Harry Redknapp has revealed he tried
to sign Mario Balotelli while he was Tottenham manager and has predicted
a great future for the Italian.

Balotelli guided Italy into the final of Euro 2012 by scoring both goals in the 2-1 victory over Germany.

The 21-year-old is a volatile
character and had a turbulent season although he ultimately secured a
Barclays Premier League winners' medal with Manchester City. Redknapp
said: 'You never know what you're going to get with Mario Balotelli but
one thing is certain – he is a major talent.

'He stunned Germany in the Euro 2012 semi-final and his second goal was fantastic.

'I
actually tried to sign him for Tottenham before he went to Manchester
City. I'd admired him for a while and I went over to Italy to watch him
play. I was impressed and I met up with him too.

'We wanted him on a loan deal but his club weren't keen and it never
happened. Shame because he's definitely got it and, at only
21-years-old, he'll be terrorising defenders for many seasons to come.'

England were beaten by Italy at the quarter-final stage in a game which starkly displayed their deficiencies, specifically an inability to retain possession and inferior technical ability.

Clinical: Balotelli heads home against Germany

Clinical: Balotelli heads home against Germany

For Redknapp footballing culture in this country has to change if England are ever to challenge.

He told Sky Sports News: 'We did okay. Roy (Hodgson) came in at a difficult time.

'We came out of the group which wasn't the most difficult group in my opinion and then didn't play very well against Italy.

'I don't think anyone expected a lot more but I still think we've got players in this country that are capable of doing a lot better and hopefully Roy will take them on now.

'He's got time to work with the team but I think it's long term.

'Unless someone sorts it out and we start playing and producing people that are technically better and are willing to play from the back and receive the ball and play like Italy played against us where they passed the ball – like the top teams in the world – they are never going to improve.

'The problem is they can set up Burton and have the kids there and work on their skills and on their technique. The problem is they then go to football clubs and it depends how the clubs play.

Big fan: Harry Redknapp tried to sign him at Spurs

Big fan: Harry Redknapp tried to sign him at Spurs

'If the clubs are not going to play it's no good having somebody who is going to be the new (Andrea) Pirlo and that kid goes to a club where they are lumping the ball from back to front 60 yards.

'Unless they are going to play through these people and they are going to encourage more and more teams to play football then we are always going to have that problem.'

Redknapp, Betfair's football ambassador for Euro 2012, also expressed surprise that David Beckham has not been selected for the Great Britain team for the Olympics.

'I have to say that I would have picked him,' he said.

'David has been a fantastic servant to all his clubs and a tremendous ambassador for football.

'He trained with Tottenham in January 2011 and we looked at signing him on loan when the American season ended. Putting him in the Olympics squad would not have hurt.

'Fair play to Stuart. He's always been his own man, which is what you have to be if you want to make it as a top manager. It's up to him to select the best squad at his disposal, that's what he believes he'll do.'

Jamie Peacock quits as England captain

England captain Peacock quits international stage but will play on for Leeds

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UPDATED:

05:12 GMT, 26 June 2012

England captain Jamie Peacock has announced his retirement from international rugby league with immediate effect.

The 34-year-old Leeds prop has decided to call time on his 12-year career on the international stage, although he will play on with Leeds, having recently signed a new two-year contract taking him to the end of 2014.

His decision to step down from England now means coach Steve McNamara will have to find a new skipper for next Wednesday's second international origin game against the Exiles as well as the 2013 World Cup.

Peacock, who made his England debut against Russia in the 2000 World Cup and led England for the last time in their 18-10 win over the Exiles earlier this month, said he made his mind up to retire from international duty in January.

Stepping down: Peacock (right)

Stepping down: Peacock (right)

'The last achievement I felt I could have with England would be to right the wrong and beat the Exiles team and this has happened,' he said in a statement released through the Rugby Football League.

'To play and captain your country is the highest honour within the game and this was a decision that was not taken lightly.

'In 2000, when I made my debut, it was beyond my wildest ambition and dreams that I would then go onto represent my country nearly 50 times and captain them for seven years.

'I felt that the time would be right for me to step down and solely concentrate on playing for my club.

'The focus for Steve McNamara and the England team has to be the objective of trying to win the Rugby League World Cup next year and for the next generation of players to be part of that process.

'While I feel there are deficiencies within Super League, the one aspect for me that made this decision easier was the huge amount of exciting young talent coming through the elite competition in this country.

Mission accomplished: Peacock wanted to beat the Exiles before stepping down

Mission accomplished: Peacock wanted to beat the Exiles before stepping down

'I feel now is the time for the younger players to rise to the challenge of trying to be the dominant force in world rugby league over the next few years.

'Whenever I have captained or played for my country against the best in the world I have always enjoyed rising to the challenge and played with passion, commitment and honesty. I believe that this current England team will continue to do the same.'

Peacock, who was awarded the MBE in this year's New Year Honours list, has represented England 22 times and amassed 26 appearances for Great Britain.

He missed the 2009 Four Nations Series down under after undergoing a knee re-construction but made a full recovery in time to lead England to the 2010 final against Australia.

Peacock added: 'I'd like to record my sincere thanks to the England fans and the RFL for their full support throughout my international career.

'I would also like to thank all the players I stood shoulder to shoulder with while representing Great Britain and England.

Proud record: Peacock played 48 times for England and Great Britain

Proud record: Peacock played 48 times for England and Great Britain

'For me, one of the greatest pleasures of representing your country was becoming friends and going into a rugby league battle with players I held in high regard and respected from competing against them at club level.

'I'm also grateful to all of the managers, coaches, media and administrators I've worked with, who have all contributed to my career.

'I'm looking forward to assisting in a capacity away from playing and I'd like to wish Steve McNamara and the current England team success over the next two years, especially in their efforts to win the World Cup.'

McNamara said: 'Jamie Peacock is rugby league's ultimate warrior. It has been a privilege and an honour to coach Jamie at international level.

'He has given every ounce of blood, sweat and tears to the national set-up and it will be a massive challenge to replace such a fantastic athlete and captain.

'He is the perfect role model for any aspiring junior wanting to be the best they can be. The way he inspires those around him is his distinct quality.

'Jamie's qualities will not be lost as he will have a major part to play in the overall England programme going forward as we continue to build to the Rugby League World Cup next year.'

Monaco Grand Prix 2012: Michael Schumacher fastest but Mark Webber on pole

Scorching Schumacher! Golden oldie still has it but penalty strips him of Monaco pole

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UPDATED:

21:34 GMT, 26 May 2012

Michael Schumacher revived the champion buried deep in his past on Saturday.

At 43, for one afternoon at least, the German, who ruled the world seven times, vindicated his decision to come out of retirement to compete against Formula One's ranks of swift, voraciously ambitious young men.

Top three: Michael Schumacher with Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber

Top three: Michael Schumacher with Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber

Pace setter: Michael Schumacher was fastest in Q3

Pace setter: Michael Schumacher was fastest in Q3

Monaco Grand Prix qualifying

1. Mark Webber
2. Nico Rosberg
3. Lewis Hamilton
4. Romain Grosjean
5. Fernando Alonso
6. Michael Schumacher*
7. Felipe Massa
8. Kimi Raikkonen
9. Sebastian Vettel
10. Nico Hulkenberg
* demotes penalty

Many are young enough to be his children. Yet none was swift enough, or aggressive enough, to withstand Schumacher.

He has waited two-and-a-half years to deliver such a drive, since Mercedes bankrolled the greatest pension plan he could have dreamed of when they committed 60million euros over three years to associate themselves with Germany's highest-profile sportsman of a generation.

In all this time, Schumacher has looked to be an impostor, a sad parody of his former self. Age had overtaken him, said paddock cynics.

But on a track where he has won five times and where a driver's skill can compensate for technical deficiencies in his car, Schumacher proved himself the fastest man ahead of Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.

Joy and despair: Schumacher celebrates finishing on pole...

Joy and despair: Schumacher celebrates finishing his pole-position lap

...but then he realises he has a five place grid penalty

…but will be demoted to sixth after his five-place grid penalty

'It's a reminder I am still around,' he said. 'I'm thrilled and excited and, after all I've been through the last two-and-a-half years, it's fabulous. This confirms what I have felt I was capable of for a long time. Just beautiful.'

With Schumacher, however, nothing is ever straightforward. He claimed pole with breathtaking verve and outrageous nerve, yet he will start from sixth on the grid after being given a five-place penalty for causing an accident with Bruno Senna in the last race in Barcelona a fortnight ago.

Picturesque setting: Sebastian Vettel during qualifying on the streets of Monaco

Picturesque setting: Sebastian Vettel during qualifying on the streets of Monaco

On pole today will be Mark Webber, at 36 another veteran, with Nico Rosberg, 26, alongside him on the front row and Britain's Lewis Hamilton, 27, a handily placed third in his McLaren.

'Anything can happen at Monaco and I'll give everything tomorrow,' said Hamilton. Webber, with typical grace, added: 'It's Michael's day.'

On track: Hamilton will start Sunday's race from third after Schumacher's penalty

On track: Hamilton will start Sunday's race from third after Schumacher's penalty

No man has polarised public opinion in a racing car quite like Schumacher, a winner of 91 Formula One races. The last time he challenged for pole position here on these streets in 2006, the season he retired, Schumacher was so desperate to thwart Fernando Alonso from posting a faster time that he deliberately crashed at the final, slow-speed corner called La Rascasse, to form a road block.

Stewards later banished him to the back of the grid for the next day's race. Former world champion Keke Rosberg said that night: 'It was the worst thing I have seen in Formula One. I thought he had grown up. He is a cheap cheat. He should leave F1 to honest people.'

Plenty going on: Pastor Maldonado during qualifying driving past the boats in the harbour

Plenty going on: Pastor Maldonado during qualifying driving past the boats in the harbour

Nowadays, Schumacher is driving alongside Rosberg's son, Nico. After being told on his car radio that he was the fastest in qualifying, Schumacher raised a gloved hand above his head. With an index finger, he anointed himself No 1.

His first world title was coloured in controversy, when he collided with Damon Hill in Australia to end the British driver's bid for glory in the final miles of the last race of 1994.

Three years later, Schumacher drove Jacques Villeneuve off the road in Jerez; but this time he was held culpable and Villeneuve was crowned champion. Then followed the Ferrari years.

Man in black: Actor Will Smith and Nicole Scherzinger attend qualifying

Man in black: Actor Will Smith and Nicole Scherzinger attend qualifying

To some, team-mates like Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine acted as Jeeves to his Bertie Wooster, allowing Schumacher to travel uninterrupted to five titles in succession with Ross Brawn in command of the Scuderia.

Of course, on many days no one disputed Schumacher's genius at the wheel. In a race car, he was a baby-faced assassin. And when he hinted he was bored in retirement, Brawn lobbied to form a new alliance with him, at Mercedes. His best result so far has been fourth place, in Canada last year.

Jenson Button, 13th for McLaren today, searched for a perspective on Schumacher's performance when he said: 'Michael has come in for a lot of criticism over the last couple of years. We forget what he delivered in a previous career and today he put a great lap together. Even so, I bet he's disappointed to be sixth and not pole.'

Schumacher has no one but himself to blame for that. But if the odds are stacked heavily against Schumacher winning this afternoon, he at least has reminded the world that the old man can still be competitive.

Andrew Strauss and England can afford a smile again – The Top Spin

Chastened, not disheartened – why England can afford a smile again

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UPDATED:

11:07 GMT, 10 April 2012

It says much for the excellence of England's Test cricket in 2011 – and possibly for the deficiencies of everyone else – that they were able to take four steps back this winter, then one step forward, and emerge still top of the rankings at the end of it.

Top Spin

A home series against West Indies ought to cement their standing – whether Chris Gayle deigns to take part or not – and we will then be treated to No 1 v No 2, even if the series against South Africa is a three-Test picnic rather than the five-Test feast we were once promised.

But where, other than at the top of a fiendishly obscure mathematical calculation, do the events of the past few months leave Andrew Strauss's team The answer, probably, is in a frame of mind closer to chastened than disheartened.

Still smiling: England captain Andrew Strauss has endured a testing winter in the UAE in Sri Lanka

Still smiling: England captain Andrew Strauss has endured a testing winter in the UAE in Sri Lanka

For a start, they did what few sides seem capable of doing at the moment, and actually won a Test match in alien conditions. After the ridicule they invited in the UAE and then during that sweep-happy week in Galle, this is not to be sniffed at. Just ask a talented Indian side how hard it can be away from home.

And if you can argue that England's win in Colombo relied heavily on the genius of Kevin Pietersen (not to mention the bowlers, who were superb all winter), then defeats in the preceding three Tests by 72 runs (Abu Dhabi), 71 (Dubai) and 75 (Galle) told of matches in which flashes of English incompetence rather clouded the picture.

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To lose the toss in four successive Tests in Asia, and lose three of them by fewer than 100 runs (the fourth was Colombo), is a disappointment. But it is not a disgrace.

Plainly, there is a problem against spin on turning pitches, and Andy Flower spoke on Sunday about the need for English cricketers at all levels to learn from the errors of the seniors. Had this problem not existed, England would have chased down 145 in Abu Dhabi, then clinched the series in Dubai after bowling Pakistan out for 99 on the first day. How those defeats still pain them.

It's hard to operate freely when your achilles heel is so debilitating, although the top four went some way to addressing this in Colombo. But we won't know to what extent this was down to their refusal to make Rangana Herath look like Hedley Verity until they visit India later this year.

Rock solid: England opener Alastair Cook had a mixed winter but remains a class act at the top of the order

Rock solid: England opener Alastair Cook had a mixed winter but remains a class act at the top of the order

Only if they emerge undefeated from that four-Test series can we say for sure that a batting line-up coached by two of the modern game's great players of slow bowling – Andy Flower and Graham Gooch – has shaken off its tag as a group which prefers pace and bounce to slow turn.

In a couple of ways England will feel strengthened by the series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The fast bowlers, led by the outstanding Jimmy Anderson (18 wickets at 24 in the five Tests) cast aside the old charge that English seamers are lost without lateral movements, and Graeme Swann quelled murmurs at just the right time. Monty Panesar will have a role to play in India, but possibly not before then.

The rediscovery of Pietersen's mojo should delight the entire cricketing community, not just England (well, we live in hope), while Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott look set to blunt attacks for years to come.

On the debit side, Ian Bell never really recovered from his trial by doosra at the hands of Saeed Ajmal, while Samit Patel remains something of a Bob Cunis: neither one thing nor the other.

Passion: Graeme Swann revealed the mentality that put England on top of the Test rankings

Passion: Graeme Swann revealed the mentality that put England on top of the Test rankings

Then there's Strauss. I should state at the outset that this is definitely not a witch-hunt. In fact, the willingness of the players to subscribe to this theory tells you more about dressing-room paranoia than any sensible reading of the press.

England desperately want Strauss in charge for the ludicrous back-to-back Ashes series in 2013. So forgive us in advance if Strauss struggles against Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, and is then unpicked by Ravichandran Ashwin. We hope it doesn't happen. But we may have to write about it if it does.

And yet for all his struggles with the bat, Strauss deserves huge credit for ending a tricky winter on a captaincy high, if not a batting one.

Few vignettes were more telling than the penultimate over of the day on Friday, when Swann bowled both Thilan Samaraweera and Suraj Randiv in the space of three balls to turn a possible draw – or even defeat – into a likely win.

As Swann celebrated with the kind of gusto Pietersen had demonstrated the day before – but with a merciful absence of fist-pumping – we were allowed a glimpse into the passion that has kept England where they are. Just.

It was never going to be easy. But it's more fun that way.

THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS

Shooting itself in the (back) foot

The delivery stride, we learned in Colombo last week, begins when a bowler plants his back foot prior to bringing his arm over. It does not begin, as Tillekeratne Dilshan seemed to believe, midway through the bowling action – which, to judge by the slow-motion replays, is when Dilshan pulled out as Kevin Pietersen prepared to switch-hit him during his magnificent 151.

But frankly, who cares If a batsman is brave enough to play a stroke that can't even be described as the hardest in the book (the book doesn't include it), then the umpires should not be placed in the impossible position of trying to watch both ends at once.

The negative cricket in that episode came from Sri Lanka: seven men on the leg-side, an off-spinner operating round the wicket. The sport will be the poorer if it punishes Pietersen's innovation.

Maverick: Kevin Pietersen's switch hit again caused controversy in the second Test in Sri Lanka

Maverick: Kevin Pietersen's switch hit again caused controversy in the second Test in Sri Lanka

The price of non-fame

The County Championship got under way last week, one day after the start of the Indian Premier League, or is that IPL5 Comparisons were inevitable. And while CC123 (the Championship did not officially get going until 1890) attracts a fraction of the audience and publicity of the IPL, it has not – it seems – lost its relevance.

Of the players and coaches I chatted to last week about the importance of the Championship, perhaps the best line came from Surrey captain Rory Hamilton-Brown.

'Some players are money-orientated, others seek fame, but some just want to be as good as they can be. If it's fame you're after, 16 four-day Championship matches may not be your thing.'

Up for it... unlike some: Rory Hamilton-Brown (left) in County Championship action for Surrey

Up for it… unlike some: Rory Hamilton-Brown (left) in County Championship action for Surrey

(Insert your own 'students taught a lesson' headline here)

MCC have been keen in the past to point out that one-fifth of all England-qualified cricketers have played for one of their six centres of excellence. It's an impressive stat, and a good example of getting your retaliation in first.

More from Lawrence Booth…

Top Spin at the Test: Spinner Swann on song for England
04/04/12

Top Spin at the Test: Mahela makes the mathematicians earn their keep
03/04/12

The Top Spin: Colombo is England's chance to nip the doomsday Test scenario in the bud
02/04/12

The Top Spin: Testing times ahead as five-day game could be reduced to Ashes
27/03/12

Top Spin: Two Indian greats… but only one Little Master: Why Tendulkar outshines Dravid
19/03/12

The Top Spin: Last-ball drama shows Dernbach can prosper with back-of-the-hand tactics
12/03/12

The Top Spin: Stay awake! ICC's Twenty20 blueprint will shape the future of Test cricket
05/03/12

Top Spin: Next stop Sri Lanka… but which England is along for the ride
28/02/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

But on Sunday, Durham MCCU barely managed one-fifth of sod-all. To be precise, they managed 18 all out, which was something of a let-down from the heights of 15 for 3.

Graeme Fowler, the former England opener who now coaches the Durham students, told ESPNcricinfo: 'At the time we started, I never thought we should have been given first-class status… I wanted us to play against the counties – that is important – but I didn't see why those games had to be defined as first-class.'

Still, it's done no harm to Ben Stokes's bowling average: he returned figures of 4-2-3-4.

Funny old game…

The 149th edition of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack is published on Thursday (declaration of interest: I edited it). If you happen to buy a copy and are not sure where to start, dare I push you in the direction of the very last page (1,552) and the index of unusual occurrences

There you will find a series of cross-references which act as a window to cricket's eccentric soul: 'County player given out for waving bat' … 'Four run-outs in three balls' … 'Twenty wickets go unnoticed by international coach'.

You know the kind of thing – the stuff that makes cricket endlessly beguiling. And eternally potty.

Jonathan Woodgate says English football is over-rated

Woodgate sticks boot in to Premier League: English football is over-rated!

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UPDATED:

08:31 GMT, 28 March 2012

Jonathan Woodgate has joined the chorus of critics claiming that English football is over-rated.

Stoke City’s defender, who spent three injury-plagued years at Real Madrid, believes recent set-backs in Europe have highlighted deficiencies in the domestic game.

While the former England international, 32, says there are shining examples of the manner in which club football is changing for the good, due to the emergence of Swansea City, he believes that recent events have cast a shadow over the game.

Blast: Jonathan Woodgate

Blast: Jonathan Woodgate

The Premier League was able to boast just one club in the last eight of the Champions League and Manchester United were catapulted from the Europa League after being beaten home and away by Athletic Bilbao.

That led to questions being raised about the strength of the English game and Woodgate says that the basis for those questions has merit.

'I don’t think the standard here is as good as it has been,' he said.

'No disrespect to Liverpool but you can tell because there aren’t too many teams behind them.

'I just don’t think it has been a great league this season. That’s my opinion, but I don’t know why it is.

'Athletic Bilbao dominated Manchester United over two games – which has never been seen.

'Maybe the quality has just gone out of the league a bit, although I have to say that Swansea have been unbelievable.

'I love the way they play football and how they pass the ball out, no matter where they are on the field. I think Brendan Rodgers is destined for a really big job.'