Tag Archives: sporting

NextGen Series: Arsenal and Chelsea on course to meet in semi-finals, while Aston Villa play Sporting Lisbon

Arsenal and Chelsea on collision course in NextGen semi-finals as Villa face Sporting

By
Adam Shergold

PUBLISHED:

16:06 GMT, 21 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

16:06 GMT, 21 March 2013

Arsenal and Chelsea are on a collision course in the semi-finals of the NextGen Series.

If the young Gunners side can beat CSKA Moscow at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night, they will face their London rivals in the last four.

Aston Villa, who beat Olympiakos 1-0 last night to progress, will play Sporting Lisbon, who beat Tottenham 5-3, in the other semi-final.

London Derby: Chelsea, who beat Juventus 4-1 in the quarter-finals, could face Arsenal in the last four of the NextGen Series

London Derby: Chelsea, who beat Juventus 4-1 in the quarter-finals, could face Arsenal in the last four of the NextGen Series

NextGen Series

QUARTER-FINAL RESULTS

(click for match report)

Chelsea 4 Juventus 1
Aston Villa 1 Olympiakos 0
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Sporting Lisbon 5 (aet)

REMAINING QUARTER-FINAL
Arsenal v CSKA Moscow – Monday March 25, 7pm (Emirates Stadium)

SEMI-FINAL DRAW
Chelsea v Arsenal/CSKA Moscow – Friday March 29, 3pm local time

Aston Villa v Sporting Lisbon – Friday March 29, 8pm local time

Both at Stadio G. Sinigaglia, Como, Italy

Both semis, as well as the final and third place play-off, will be played at Como FC in Italy over the Easter weekend.

Chelsea booked their place in the last four with a 4-1 win over Juventus last Sunday, thanks to goals from Lewis Baker, Alex Kiwomya and Islam Feruz.

Villa got through last night thanks to a first half strike from Graham Burke.

Sporting beat Spurs in a rollercoaster
match played at Leyton Orient – trailing 3-1 with minutes to spare,
they forced extra time thanks to a Laste Dombaxe penalty and Roman
Michael-Percil's last gasp equaliser.

However,
the Portuguese side proved stronger in extra time, with further strikes
from Alexandre Guedes and a 45-yard volley by defender Atud Fokobo
ending hopes of an all-English final four.

Arsenal will hope to join Chelsea and Villa when they host CSKA on Monday evening.

Winner: Graham Burke (centre) scored the winner as Aston Villa beat Olympiakos 1-0

Winner: Graham Burke (centre) scored the winner as Aston Villa beat Olympiakos 1-0

Dramatic game: Sporting's Ruben Semedo celebrates the penalty that restored his team's lead in extra time against Tottenham

Dramatic game: Sporting's Ruben Semedo celebrates the penalty that restored his team's lead in extra time against Tottenham

Aston Villa 1 Olympiakos 0 – NextGen match report

Aston Villa 1 Olympiakos 0: Burke fires dominant Villans in to NextGen semi-finals

By
Janine Self

PUBLISHED:

21:56 GMT, 20 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

23:41 GMT, 20 March 2013

The present may be somewhat rocky for Aston Villa but the future is looking bright and rosy.

Graham Burke’s first-half goal was enough to see the U19s through to the semi-finals of the NextGen Series at Lake Como over Easter.

But it took a brilliant late save by Brad Watkins from a ridiculously long-range free kick by Leandro Pinto to make sure in a nervy finale.

On target: Graham Burke of Aston Villa (centre) celebrates after firing his side through

On target: Graham Burke of Aston Villa (centre) celebrates after firing his side through

Denied: Jack Grealish has his shot saved by Eleftherids Choutesiotis of Olympiacos

Denied: Jack Grealish has his shot saved by Eleftherids Choutesiotis of Olympiacos

Last year Villa went out at the quarter-final stage and the defeat against Marseille has clearly rankled ever since.

A season on, the side skippered by Sami Carruthers has come on in leaps and bounds. So much so that Sporting Lisbon, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax number among the Villa scalps.

Villa owner Randy Lerner is a big believer in the homegrown system so would have been delighted to see a healthy crowd in the upper tier of the North Stand.

Surprisingly there were also a fair few Olympiakos supporters too, who generated plenty of noise on a freezing night. Hardly Greek weather, though.

The visiting players did not give them much to cheer in the first half as Villa pretty much took control from the first moment.

Carruthers, who has already had a fleeting introduction to the first-team squad, was a steady influence while striker Callum Robinson made quite a nuisance of himself.

The Olympiakos fans even booed when he was in possession, a major compliment to any player.

It was Robinson who fired the first shot in anger, a routine effort which still had Eleftherids Choutesiotis scrambling to block.

A couple of minutes later and Villa were in the lead through Burke, who took advantage of a bouncing ball in the area to poke it past the keeper.

That signalled a spell of superiority when Villa could easily have increased their lead and should have. It would have saved a lot of worry later on.

Tussle: Jordan Lyden and Dimitrios Siopis of Olympiacos compete for the ball

Tussle: Jordan Lyden and Dimitrios Siopis of Olympiacos compete for the ball

Carruthers fed Josh Barton, whose shot was batted away by a less than sure-gloved Choutesiotis.

Robinson also had a couple of openings but had his first shot cleared for a corner and the second one, after a wonderful turn, rolled wide of a post.

Whether it was the temperature, the stadium or just nerves, Olympiakos took an age to get into the tie but, once they did, they caused a few scares.

It meant that an under-worked Watkins in the Villa goal suddenly had something to do. He did it well, too, gathering Dimitrios Siopis’s low shot and pushing the same player’s next attempt wide.

That set the scene for the start of the second half. This time it was Klodian Gino who twice held his head in his hands after clipping woodwork and seeing the ball drift just wide.

Midfield battle: Konstantinos Rougkalas fights for the ball with Burke

Midfield battle: Konstantinos Rougkalas fights for the ball with Burke

Just as the one-goal lead was beginning to look somewhat fragile, Villa’s Republic of Ireland U17 player of the year, Grealish showed what a prospect he could be.

One jinking run sliced through the Olympiakos defence and should have been capped with a goal. Sadly for Grealish, he hit the post instead.

Minutes later the previously uncertain Choutesiostis proved that when it comes to reflex saves he is a master. Somehow he kept out Grealish’s close-range header, which meant his team-mates stayed in the hunt.

With a minute to go Pinto from 40 yards out forced Watkins into a flying save and Villa were on the plane to Italy.

Leap: Villa's Callum Robinson is challenged by Leandro Climacci Pinto

Leap: Villa's Callum Robinson is challenged by Leandro Climacci Pinto

The Footballers" Football Column – Frank McParland: Liverpool playing Real Madrid and Histon was a real experience

FRANK McPARLAND: Playing Real Madrid in Qatar was all well and good… but a cold, wet night in Histon is what really makes a Liverpool player

PUBLISHED:

09:59 GMT, 20 February 2013

|

UPDATED:

09:59 GMT, 20 February 2013

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Liverpool’s Director of Academy and Player Development Frank McParland returns for his second Footballers' Football Column. He and his young players have been on their travels – from a cold wet night in Histon to taking on the might of Real Madrid in Qatar. Having watched the likes of Andre Wisdom move into the first team squad , McParland is busy developing the next generation of Anfield stars.

It's been an important couple of weeks in the education of our young players. We took a group to Qatar for the Al Kass International Cup, we played Histon in the FA Youth Cup fourth round and tonight we face Sporting Lisbon in the NextGen Series.

Qatar was fantastic. Some of the biggest clubs in the world were there: Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Fluminense, Boca Juniors, Paris St Germain and we were playing at the Aspire Zone where Manchester United had been for their break the week before.

We were there for 12 days to play in the tournament and the facilities were superb with glorious weather.

The contrast with Histon last Wednesday night was stark but so important.

Meeting an old friend: Frank McFarland with former Liverpool striker Fernando Morientes

Meeting an old friend: Frank McFarland with former Liverpool striker Fernando Morientes

We made a real point on the night of
speaking to the lads about how much we do for them. How we take them to
places like Qatar, how we play in the NextGen Series against big-name
sides and in the big stadiums. But this, in the FA Youth Cup, this is
real football and, if you can't adapt for both, you are not going to be a
top player for Liverpool Football Club.

It couldn't have been a better
leveller to keep them grounded. It was a horrible night, absolutely
freezing and the pitch at the Glass World Stadium was really
challenging.

Histon's first team had played on it the night before, there
were over 1,500 fans in the ground and they had some really good
players.

The great thing for us was that the
lads responded to what we had said. They handled the physical side and
played like proper professionals with a good attitude and controlled the
game.

We had a few Under 16s in there and it was pleasing how they came
through. Kris Peterson, Jerome Sinclair, Jack Dunn and Dan
Trickett-Smith got the goals an d we won 4-0.

Joining in: Liverpool academy players at the Shafallah Center

Joining in: Liverpool academy players at the Shafallah Center

More from The Footballers' Column…

ROHAN RICKETTS: Cows in the road and Twitter row meant my Indian adventure ended early… but I went back in time to live the dream in South America
16/02/13

RICHARD LEE: If League Two Bradford can make it to Wembley, what's stopping us at League One Brentford knocking Chelsea out of the FA Cup
14/02/13

The Footballers' Football Column – Kevin Ball: I was really good at tackling, but I would have been sent off today… And it is the refs I feel sorry for as they can't win
13/02/13

Watching Brazil was like buying a ticket to see Beyonce and ending up with SuBo… England may have won, but the Thomas Ince tale reveals everything that's wrong with our game
13/02/13

ASHLEY WILLIAMS: The ball-boy row, my spat with Suarez and 'almost killing' Van Persie – you learn to live with it… playing for 80 and working as a waiter – THAT was hard
11/02/13

LEON OSMAN: What makes an Everton player Desire, heart, quality and character… But Pienaar reckons it takes a bit of the Bee Gees, too
07/02/13

ADAM ECKERSLEY: I played with Beckham and Ronaldo – but Becks was better… and on one of the few occasions Fergie spoke to me, he warned me of dangers of gambling
05/02/13

The Footballers' Football Column – Edgar Davids: If Platini can't stop racism, he should step aside and get someone in who can… Blatter and Cruyff should be leading by example
01/02/13

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

The aim is to keep educating and make these young players more rounded as men and footballers who will help the first team.

It was pleasing last month that when Andre Wisdom got his new long-term contract he came down to the Academy at Kirkby to thank the coaches and staff for their help in his development. It was a nice touch.

We take pride in the fact that as well as Andre and Raheem Sterling, Conor Coady is training with the first team – as is Suso – but they all take time to come across to the Academy not just to see their mates but to keep in touch with the staff.

We're still here for them if they need us and it shows they appreciate what we have done.

Qatar was a great learning experience on and off the pitch for the lads. There was a big focus on the Al Kass tournament and every game was live on TV.

They had to deal with different styles and approaches in the games. Against Esperance Sportive, of Tunisia, for example, Jerome Sinclair came in for a bit of rough treatment where one of their guys kneed him in the back three times. He didn't react once.

It's something we constantly tell them. It's not always easy in the face of provocation but teams from abroad will try different things.

Some defenders will spit at you, some will pull at you, block you, the important part is you have to stay in control.

The play-off games pitched us against Real Madrid and gave me a chance to catch up with Fernando Morientes who is part of their U17s coaching set-up now. I played a part in helping bring Fernando to Liverpool from Madrid and it was good to catch up with him.

We lost 2-1 to Madrid but Rodolfo Borrell, our head of coaching, was chatting to their staff afterwards and they were complimentary about our style of play.

We had given them their best game they said and they also believed we played more like a continental side than typical British one. It's always beneficial to hear that sort of feedback.

Tournaments often mean players have a lot of downtime and we've stressed how they need to be responsible in this time for themselves and the club. Liverpool are really powering forward off the pitch in terms of embracing new media and embarking on different commercial activities to spread the word about the club and the players got a taste of what may lie ahead.

Stepping up: Andre Wisdom has moved up into the first team squadStepping up: Andre Wisdom has moved up into the first team squad

Stepping up: Andre Wisdom has moved up into the first team squad

Doing their bit: The Liverpool players with disabled children at the Shafallah Center

Doing their bit: The Liverpool players with disabled children at the Shafallah Center

Dee Kundra, the club's PR manager, came with us. Dee was the only woman in the group and while the lads stopped short of calling her 'Miss', they were all on their best behaviour, no swearing and all putting on their best manners.

Dee co-ordinated with Standard Chartered, our sponsors, to set up a visit to the Shafallah Centre in Doha which is a place for children with special needs and some are severely disabled.

It was an incredible experience for the lads and they got really involved. They helped out not just in the sports classes but the music ones.

We were actually due to leave when one of the children started playing a Justin Bieber song and Jordan Rossiter, one of our 16-year-olds, made sure everyone waited until the song was finished and all the players stood and gave a round of applause.

It underlined to the lads how important a role they can play in other people's lives.

Guitar hero: Justin Bieber performs in Oakland, California last October

Guitar hero: Justin Bieber performs in Oakland, California last October

We spent an evening with the supporters club out there also and gave them official status as the Qatar Reds with a little certificate presentation. Even the British ambassador Michael O'Neill professed to being a Liverpool fan.

He went to our first game and asked us to put on a coaching session for Doha College at the embassy.

Myself and the lads also had a little treat as Spain were over playing Uruguay so we took the chance to get our pictures taken with the World Cup and European Championships trophies that they had brought over.

There's no harm in dreaming – even for me.

Different ball game: The players join in with a game at the Shafallah Center

Different ball game: The players join in with a game at the Shafallah Center

SEEING IS BELIEVING
Frank and the Liverpool FC Academy support the Seeing is Believing campaign

Media training is something that has become pivotal to our young players' education and we work hard on that. Being
prepared for what questions they may face as they develop is another
facet we have to take care of and they got some good experience after
the games.

There was one particularly where Jerome Sinclair, Jordan Ibe, Dan Trickett-Smith and Cameron Branningan had to deal with answering questions post-match on their headphones and wait for the translation from Arabic.

They handled it brilliantly.

Liverpool has also launched 10 new international Twitter feeds, which means we have overtaken Barcelona as the most globally active club. The idea is to interact with fans more so we have feeds in areas such as Bahrain, India, Turkey, Spain and Thailand and we use local people on the ground to bring conversations from fans to the club.

I'm not sure I believe all the lads though. Jordan Ibe said he wanted to be a maths teacher in one of his Twitter questions… I didn’t even know he liked maths.

Time for a photo: The team pose with chairman Hassan Ali Bin Ali

Time for a photo: The team pose with chairman Hassan Ali Bin Ali

Doing it for the kids: The Liverpool players put a smile on the faces of the children

Doing it for the kids: The Liverpool players put a smile on the faces of the children

Pass and move: The players teach the children the Liverpool way

Pass and move: The players teach the children the Liverpool way

Supporters would have been aware that for the West Bromwich Albion Barclay's Premier League game last Monday, the first team wore shirts with the 'Seeing is Believing' logo as part of Standard Chartered's campaign. The shirts have been signed by the first team and are to be auctioned off on e-Bay to raise money for the charity. It's also something we got our lads involved in at the Academy.

A week before we went to Qatar, we had a few young people from Royal Society for the Blind down and got involved in some coaching sessions.

Again, it was rewarding how the lads responded. They really looked after the people they were paired with and I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did.

The downside to a footballer's life was brought home when Marc Pelosi suffered a bad injury against West Brom on Sunday as the U21s won 2-1. Marc is 18.

He is a versatile midfielder who had been playing really well of late but a tackle two minutes from the end broke his leg in two places.

He spent the night in hospital for his operation but he will be looking at around six months out.

It's not been a great month for injuries with Brad Smith our Australian left-back and Sami Yesil, the German striker we bought last summer, both injuring anterior cruciate ligaments also.

A young footballer's life isn't always as perfect as it seems and it's important at this stage we give them plenty of support. We obviously wish them all a speedy and full recovery.

Jordan Ibe’s responses to questions from the Turkish Twitter feed @LFCTurkey
Jordan Ibe

How did you feel in your debut with LFC
I felt quite nervous and it was a lot to take in as I didn't know I was starting

What's is your favourite food Do you have a special food pre-games
Food before a game is usually pasta and mince but my favourite food is macaroni cheese!!

How does it feel to be a part of LFC How did it happen
I was playing for the first team at Wycombe Wanderers at 15 then LFC came for me and I've never looked back

Who is your best mate in the team
Ryan McLaughlin…we're the youngest in the reserves so we get along well

How do you describe the fans
Fans are amazing! I'm always impressed with the support they give us young players

If you weren't a footballer, which profession would you choose If you we're to be a coach, which team would you like to coach
I love maths so would've been a maths teacher. I'd coach Chelsea for sure!

How is it like to be in the same team with Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher
They are both really supportive and encouraging of young players and make us feel welcome in training

What are your future plans with LFC Can you tell us about the first moment he heard LFC's interest for him
Hope to stay here as long as I can. I was excited about a big club showing interest in me

Who is your idol in football
Brazil's Ronaldo!!!

What type of music and which artists do you enjoy listening to
I like all music apart from opera and rock n roll. Listening to Chris Brown and Drake at the moment

Manchester United scouts watch Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay

EXCLUSIVE: The new Vidic Man Utd watch 15m-rated Benfica defender Garay again

By
Ian Ladyman

PUBLISHED:

13:14 GMT, 16 January 2013

|

UPDATED:

14:11 GMT, 16 January 2013

Manchester United have again sent scouts to Portugal to check on Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has identified the Argentina centre half as a possible new signing as he looks for long-term replacements for Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.

On the radar: Manchester United scouts have been keeping tabs on Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay

On the radar: Manchester United scouts have been keeping tabs on Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay

Sportsmail recently revealed that United had scouted Garay at games against Sporting Lisbon and Olhanense this season and it is understood that a United representative was back again at the weekend as Benfica drew 2-2 with Porto at the weekend.

Benfica are currently three points clear at the top of the Portuguese Liga but are under financial pressure to sell the 26-year-old this summer as they can’ t afford to continue paying his wages. Rated at about 15m, the South American is also being tracked by Juventus and other European clubs.

Garay’s former club Real Madrid are entitled to half of whatever fee he is eventually sold for. He has eleven caps for his country.

Nemanja Vidic

Rio Ferdinand

Long-term vision: Manchester United are busy identifying prospective replacements for Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand

Superstars TV review – Mark Webster

Return of Superstars delivered what we wanted: sporting heroes outside their comfort zones

|

UPDATED:

00:01 GMT, 31 December 2012

Ah, telly's golden years. When gangs of formation dancers you didn't know in DIY costumes waltzed their way around Come Dancing, before it went Strictly.

This was a good thing, of course. Because it meant there was absolutely no good reason to watch it. Then came the celebrity version, though, and a sudden, compelling desire to see Ramp's rumba, Audley's jive and, of course, the victorious Louis Smith's cha cha cha.

There was once a show, however, that Louis might have won without the need to slip into a skintight satin onesie. While still giving us the joy of what we really want – seeing our sporting heroes outside of their comfort zones.

Up a creek: Farah has many talents - kayaking is not one of them

Up a creek: Farah has many talents – kayaking is not one of them

More from Mark Webster…

With SPOTY, the BBC delivered a champagne moment to mark vintage year
17/12/12

Edge of the Box: Neville passes Manchester derby test with flying colours (red and blue) as pundit's old pals win
10/12/12

Edge of the Box: Beckham steals the show in farewell final… but did you expect anything else
02/12/12

Edge of the Box: Fasten your seatbelts for Jake off! Humphrey leaves a big hole in BBC F1 coverage
26/11/12

Edge of the Box: Bristow's arrows at Helen and co put darts legend in line for the chop
23/11/12

Edge of the Box: Bristow, Haye and Flanagan be warned: No one is safe in the jungle now – it's just like being manager of Chelsea
22/11/12

Edge of the Box: Finally, some sport! Joker Haye teaches celebrities how to box
20/11/12

Edge of the Box: Flanagan finally gets it right… now give her a night off
19/11/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Superstars was the light entertainment show for real men that once delivered that.

Inspirational theme tune, cool logo, a genuine desire to win and short shorts – REALLY short shorts. On Saturday, the 2012 version turned up on prime time BBC1.

Thus providing us with the opportunity to not only get all nostalgic about the fun old format, but also enjoy the sight of a group of our brand new Olympians back where they belong, in the spotlight.

Not that the opening shots of Gabby Logan wandering around a market in Bath exactly set the pulse racing for what was about to come. It struck me the show opener would have been the ideal opportunity to really remind people of what Superstars was all about.

We did eventually get to see Kevin Keegan famously come a cropper on his bike and former judoka Brian Jacks owning the gym. Yet these clips were fleeting. Surely a few more trips down memory lane would have sat well

And surely a chance was missed to have some old competitors on hand to set up the show, wax nostalgic and mix with the next generation

That aside, once the events did get under way and you saw Anthony Joshua genuinely delighted he'd triumphed in the opening event, the sprint, you knew that old spirit was back.

Because the thing is of course, we normally only get to see these people in their natural environments, in competition. That is the duck gliding gracefully across the water.

As I alluded to earlier, Superstars is the flippers flapping frantically below the surface. Just like the endless days of hard training each of these competitors endure in their professional lives are. All blood, sweat and tears, but also good friendly, competitive fun. And that is what we grew to love on Superstars.

Keen competitors: The stars were put their paces in a number of disciplines

Keen competitors: The stars were put their paces in a number of disciplines

Keen competitors: The stars were put their paces in a number of disciplines

Thankfully, that sense of camaraderie and competition was brought to life by Iwan Thomas, who as an experienced TV presenter and former athlete, knew just the right buttons to push as he interviewed the eight women and eight men going for the titles, throughout the show.

While a sense of gravitas was added on commentary by the always measured, authoritative tones of Paul Dickenson. If this man were a station announcer, he could make the delayed 11.20 from Hounslow sound like a Murder On The Orient Express.

Of course what this was really all about though was a great bunch of people warming the cockles of our hearts, which they all managed in abundance.

For me, there were plenty of highlights throughout the two days, and ninety TV minutes of competition. Watching the Brownlee brothers having their own little sibling battle was great fun.

Alistair couldn't have looked more delighted when brother Jonny flipped his kayak in the pool, and both impressed in a nip and tuck one, two in the 800 metres.

But, holy mackerel, they can’t throw!

Rebecca Adlington was on hand to coach them all in the swimming event, during which Jade Jones left the blocks just as her mentor might. However, a split second later, she entered the water like Tom Daley from the 10 metre board!

I bet she couldn’t do that twice.

Elsewhere, Christine Ohuruogu nearly had someone's eye out during the archery while Mo Farah managed a magnificent 'spider' – archer speak for a dead bullseye.

On you r bike: Classic action involving Kevin Keegan

On your bike: Classic action involving Kevin Keegan (above) with Jackie Stewart, Barry John, and Tony Jacklin (below)

On your bike: Classic action involving Kevin Keegan (above) with Jackie Stewart, Barry John, and Tony Jacklin (below)

However, what proved just as unequivocal a little later…Mo don’t row!

proved a more than worthy platform.

Sprint finish: Credit to those involved - they served up a rare treat

Sprint finish: Credit to those involved – they served up a rare treat

Former Ballon d"Or winner Luis Figo backs Christiano Ronaldo to beat Lionel Messi to this year"s award

Former winner Luis Figo backs Ronaldo to beat Messi to this year's Ballon d'Or

|

UPDATED:

18:15 GMT, 27 December 2012

Luis Figo has said there’s nothing to stop Cristiano Ronaldo from achieving Ballon d’Or glory this year.

The former Portuguese midfielder says Ronaldo is more than deserving of the honour, highlighting his excellent performances for both Real Madrid and their shared nation.

‘There’s nothing to stop [Ronaldo] from winning it,’ the former Barcelona and Sporting Lisbon hero.

Legend: Figo won the Ballon d'Or in 2000 in his first season for Real Madrid

Legend: Figo won the Ballon d'Or in 2000 during his first season for Real Madrid

‘He is one of the favourites to win all the individual trophies there are, even more so this year, because I think he had a good season in the league and did well at the Euros.’

Quoted in Mundo Deportivo, the 2000 Ballon d’Or recipient added: ‘There are a lot of people involved in the choice, so it is always difficult to know who will win.’

When he scores, he can really go for it. Ronaldo has netted seven league hat-tricks in each of the last two seasons.

Goal machines: Both Messi and Ronaldo have been in magnificent goalscoring form over the past few seasons

Goal machines: Both Messi and Ronaldo have been in magnificent goalscoring form over the past few seasons

Goal machines: Both Messi and Ronaldo have been in magnificent goalscoring form over the past few seasons

Figo is of course referring to the seemingly unstoppable Lionel Messi as Ronaldo’s competition, but even suggests it’s easier to win the honour now, than it was in his day.

‘It was one of the most special moments in my career on the individual side of things, because there are few players who have the opportunity to win this trophy.

‘At the time, there were lots of players who were in with a shout, whilst now there are four or five big candidates.

Ronaldo was unable to lead Portugal to glory in Euro 2012 after they were knocked out by Spain in the semi-final

Ronaldo was unable to lead Portugal to glory in Euro 2012 after they were knocked out by Spain in the semi-final

Messi's incredible hat-trick against Brazil silenced those who criticised him for his under-par performances for Argentina

Messi's incredible hat-trick against Brazil silenced those who criticised him for his under-par performances for Argentina

Wayne Rooney is the only English player on the shortlist for the award

Wayne Rooney is the only English player on the shortlist for the award

‘It was a privilege and a proud moment for me.’

Barcelona ace Messi has a truly mind-blowing ability for finding the back of the net and whether or not he’s a safe bet for the Ballon d’Or, he’s already had plenty of reason to celebrate.

He’s Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer, something he achieved aged just 24, and earlier this matched Gerd Muller’s record for the most goals scored in a calendar year. If he is triumphant, it will be his fourth successive Ballon d’Or.

The initial 23-man shortlist, dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona players and featuring Wayne Rooney as the lone Brit, was whittled down to just three, with Andreas Iniesta completing the trio.

National coaches, captains and selected journalists will vote for the winner of the FIFA crown and the winner will be presented at the Zurich Kongresshaus on January 7, 2013.

They’re arguably the world’s greatest footballers, so what finer way to split them apart than by checking out their stats:

BATTLE FOR THE BALLON D'OR: RONALDO VS MESSI

RONALDO
MESSI

LA LIGA

Appearances:

17

17

Goals:

14

26

Assists:

3

5

ALL COMPETITIONS

Appearances:

26

26

Goals:

23

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Assists:

4

8

Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand set for Manchester United exit

End of an era! Scholes, Giggs and Ferdinand heading for Manchester United exit

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UPDATED:

22:04 GMT, 20 December 2012

Paul Scholes plans to retire once and for all at the end of this season as Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson prepares for another summer shake-up at Old Trafford.

United midfielder Scholes has told friends that he intends to bow out in May and that this time he will not be back.

Ferguson is also facing up to the probability that another veteran, Ryan Giggs, will leave his one and only club this summer, and the manager is aware that defender Rio Ferdinand has yet to indicate publicly whether he wishes to extend his contract.

Trio: Giggs, Scholes and Feridnand could leave Old Trafford at the end of the season

Trio: Giggs, Scholes and Feridnand could leave Old Trafford at the end of the season

With captain Nemanja Vidic also struggling of late with knee problems, Ferguson has already started to look at ways of freshening up his squad.

Recently, for example, Ferguson sent scouts to watch 15million-rated Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay play for Portuguese club Benfica in games against Sporting Lisbon and Olhanense.

He has also been looking closely at Molde's Norwegian international centre back Vegard Forren.

Head boy: Garay (left) has been watched by Old Trafford scouts

Head boy: Garay (left) has been watched by Old Trafford scouts

Formerly of Real Madrid, Garay has to be sold by Benfica next summer since they are struggling to pay his wages. His former club in Spain are entitled to half of whatever fee he is sold for.

Garay has 11 caps for his country and has also been tracked by Juventus.

As for Scholes, he quit the game at the end of the 2010-11 season but famously returned to United in January of this year.

He was later persuaded by Ferguson to stay on for this season as well and has played 13 times so far.

Moving on: Scholes is poised to retire for a second time

Moving on: Scholes is poised to retire for a second time

However, the 38-year-old believes that his influence on the field is waning and has said privately in recent weeks that he may have given as much as he can.

It remains to be seen if Ferguson attempts to persuade one of his most trusted players to soldier on for another season.

Welshman Giggs is a year older than Scholes and is also on a one-year contract. He has played only eight times in the Barclays Premier League this season and has also seen his influence on the field drop off significantly in recent months.

Rio Ferdinand

Ryan Giggs

Suit you, sir: Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs could call time on their United careers

Giggs has not made his own mind up yet but said recently: 'When I do finish playing, I'll try to find the next best thing. Management does interest me. The nearer I get to finishing, the more I think about it. All I can do is prepare myself as best I can for when I do finish.

'I've been doing my coaching courses with Nev (Gary Neville) – levels one, two, A-Licence. We're starting the Pro-Licence next year.'

Giggs hopes to compete in a couple of triathlons and Scholes may be handed a coaching role at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson at Harvard: Manchester United boss has nine honorary degrees

Student Fergie: 12 league titles, two European Cups, five FA Cups… but don't forget Sir Alex's NINE honorary degrees (what a swot!)

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UPDATED:

12:20 GMT, 19 December 2012

Sir Alex Ferguson might have the most impressive collection of trophies in English managerial history, but he’s also got nine honorary degrees to go with them.

The great Manchester United manager has won 12 Premier Leagues, two Champions Leagues, five FA Cups and 10 League Cups, just to name a few. And that is not even mentioning the three Scottish titles, four Scottish Cups and the Cup Winners Cup he won at Aberdeen before moving south of the border.

But we did some homework into the student that is Fergie and it turns out he has more honorary degrees than FA Cups and Champions Leagues put together!

Here are the universities who have honoured the great Scot's work:

1996 – University of Salford

Number one: Ferguson holds up his mortarboard after he was granted an honorary degree from University of Salford in 1996

Number one: Ferguson holds up his mortarboard after he was granted an honorary degree from University of Salford in 1996

1997 – Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen

Make that a double: Ferguson received a degree from Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University in 1997 at the city's music hall

Make that a double: Ferguson received a degree from Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University in 1997 at the city's music hall

2001- Glasgow Caledonian University

The treble: Ferguson picks up his honorary doctor of letters at Glasgow Caledonian University in 2001

The treble: Ferguson picks up his honorary doctor of letters at Glasgow Caledonian University in 2001

2002- University of St Andrews

Ferguson was part of a trio who were awarded honorary degrees by the University of St Andrews, the other two being University of St Andrews Rector Andrew Neil and Commissioner for Public Appointments Dame Rennie Fritchie.

Dr Brian Lang, Principal and Vice- Chancellor of the University said: 'Sir Alex Ferguson's impressive record does not repeating – he has brought great achievement to the sporting life of this country.'

Come forth: Ferguson at the University of St Andrews in Scotland where he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree

Come forth: Ferguson at the University of St Andrews in Scotland where he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree

2009 – Manchester Metropolitan University

Manchester Metropolitan University honoured Ferguson for a second time in 2009 having awarded him a with a honorary masters degree in 1998.

The United boss received a Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration in 2009 for his services to football and the city.

Ferguson said: 'It is always a delight to receive an honour in recognition of what I have done in football, particularly from what I have to call now my home city.'

He told graduates at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall: 'Your success in education is being recognised today, but life starts after education and it is what you do with your skills and knowledge that counts.'

Ferguson was honoured by Manchester Metropolitan University in 2009 for his contribution to football and the city

Back again: Ferguson was honoured by Manchester Metropolitan University in 2009 for his contribution to football and the city, his second degree from the university

2011 – University of Stirling

Ferguson was honoured with a doctorate by University of Stirling in recognition of his outstanding contribution to sport.

Sir Alex said: 'I appreciate what Stirling University has done for me today, as do all my family. It is a great honour.'

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson after being rewarded with an honorary doctorate

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson makes a speech

Keep them coming: Ferguson was honoured with a doctorate by University of Sterling

2011 – University of Manchester

The United boss received an honorary doctorate from The University of Manchester to mark his 25 years in charge of the club.

He said: 'I think it’s always nice to be appreciated and recognised, and getting this recognition is testimony to all the hard work that has gone on at Manchester United in the last 25 years, not just by me, but by everyone at the club.

'The great part for me is still to be out on the field with the players and coaching them. As the game has changed, I have had to change with it; for example, sports science in the last decade has seen a phenomenal improvement and that has become a major development in the game.

'I just don’t think about retirement any more, when you’ve been on the treadmill for so long, 25 years in my case, and my health is good at the moment, it’s just a matter of looking forward to being the manager of Manchester United, rather than worrying about Alex Ferguson.

'I am enjoying it at the moment, we’ve got a good young team and a lot of youth at the club, as well as some tremendous staff, so the future is good and I can keep enjoying it.'

Loyalty: Ferguson received an honorary doctorate from University of Manchester in 2011 to mark 25 years in charge of Manchester United

Loyalty: Ferguson received an honorary doctorate from University of Manchester in 2011 to mark 25 years in charge of Manchester United

2012 – University of Ulster

University of Ulster announced in January that Ferguson and golfer Rory McIlroy would be honoured but the ceremony is yet to take place.

Ferguson is being recognised with a Doctor of Science degree for his services to football.

And another: University of Ulster announced in January that Ferguson was to receive an award but ,as yet, the ceremony has not taken place

And another: University of Ulster announced in January that Ferguson was to receive an award but ,as yet, the ceremony has not taken place

main building University of Ulster Jordanstown Campus Northern Ireland uk

Wow, that's impressive! Fergie applauds the United crowd... (and his accolades)

Wow, that's impressive! Fergie applauds the United crowd… (and his accolades)

Sport villains of the year – featuring Roman Abramovich, Joey Barton and Lance Armstrong

Forget Sports Personality of the Year… here's the 12 contenders for Villain of 2012! Barton, Abramovich and Armstrong all feature on our alternative shortlist

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UPDATED:

15:59 GMT, 16 December 2012

TODAY'S POLL

Who is the sporting villain of 2012

VOTE

Roman Abramovich

POLL RESULTS

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After a golden year of British sport,
it's understandable that tonight's Sports Personality of the Year is
creating so much excitement.

But
it's worth casting our minds back to some of the less impressive
sporting moments of the year, where our sporting heroes have offered
moments of hilarity, humiliation and in some cases downright disgrace.

Cast your vote to crown the villain of the year 2012. The contenders are…

Kevin Pietersen

KP faced a whole lot of controversy after he admitted to sending ‘provocative’ texts to the South African squad about his captain and team-mate Andrew Strauss.

A South African by birth, Pietersen came under fire for an apparent lack of loyalty to the national squad, and further unsettled team-mates with his fascination with the Indian Premier League.

But after much apologising he began his re-integration into the squad during their series in India.

John Terry

The saga began after a clash between Chelsea and QPR in October 2011, where Terry was accused of using racist language to abuse Anton Ferdinand.

This year, the Chelsea captain, who was stripped of the England captaincy, was cleared of a racially aggravated public order offence by a court.

However, the FA went on to find him guilty of misconduct, and proceeded to fine him 220,000 on top of a four-match ban.

‘Improbable, implausible and contrived’ was how the FA’s disciplinary panel described Terry’s defence, and many felt that the punishment had been far too lenient.

John Terry is accused of a racial slur against Anton Ferdinand

John Terry has been handed a four-match ban in 2012 for using abusive language relating to race against Anton Ferdinand

Roman Abramovich

The Russian has sent Chelsea into turmoil this season, sacking Roberto di Matteo after a string of disappointing results.

They were unceremoniously dumped out of the Champions League only six months after winning the trophy under Di Matteo.

Replacement Rafa Benitez has hardly had the warmest welcome and is likely to be on his way as well if Pep Guardiola agrees to take over next season.

So, it is fair to say there is little long-term vision, with Abramovich favouring an expensive and quick-fix solution over anything that requires a long-term investment.

But after saving them from near bankruptcy and using a billion pounds from his own pocket to finance the club, he can run the club how he likes – success or no success.

Roman Abramovich celebrates winning the Premiership with Chelsea

The Chelsea boss has gone through nine managers since taking on Chelsea, and recently sacked Roberto di Matteo

Trenton Oldfield

The
boat race may often be ridiculed by those without a double-barreled surname, but there was little sympathy for Oldfield, who sabotaged the race by swimming across the path of the oncoming boats in a protest
against elitism.

If
the act itself wasn’t enough to anger both the crews and supporters, the
smug grin plastered on the Australian’s face as he was led away by
police certainly did the trick.

Cambridge
went on to win the race, but after an Oxford oar was snapped following a
re-start and the Dark Blues bow Alexander Woods collapsed in the boat
at the finish line, there was a distinctly subdued air over the win.

The presentation ceremony was cancelled and there was little celebration from any of the crews. Oldfield was jailed for six months in October.

Michel Platini speaks at a conference at the National Stadium in Warsaw

Michel Platini has proposed that Euro 2020 be held at stadiums all over the continent

Michel Platini

The Frenchman is nothing if not ambitious. His proposal of a ‘Euros for Europe,’ with matches being played across the continent in different cities, is certainly novel.

But it has been criticised by fans who feel that it shows a complete disregard for their enjoyment, and an unfortunate focus on money and TV revenue.

The shambles that was the bidding process for Euro 2020, in which Platini expressed a preference for Turkey before their bid was deemed unviable, led to a lack of options for the UEFA president.

Host countries were thin on the
ground, with few being able to afford the new financial burden.

Cynical
observers have suggested that this cross-continent proposal might be
down to Platini’s hopes for the FIFA presidency in 2015.

It is another blow after his decision to extend the Euros from 16 to 24 teams from 2016 – diluting the standard of what is a brilliant tournament.

Frankie Dettori

The Italian was handed a six-month ban by French racing authorities this year after failing a drugs test.

The drug was taken during what Dettori called a ‘night of madness’ with his friends when the jockey’s career was at a low ebb.

He will return to the saddle in May, hoping to redeem himself on the racecourse, but the 42-year-old has expressed concern that his reputation will never recover.

Frankie Dettori was banned for six months by French authorities after taking drugs

The Italian jockey received a six-month ban for taking a drug, suspected to be cocaine, during a 'night of madness.'

Lance Armstrong

Has ever a hero fallen so hard as Lance Armstrong It is hard to recall anyone who has made such a leap from being respected to disgraced.

The cancer-surviving cyclist had all seven of his Tour de France titles stripped this year after the US Anti-Doping Agency accused him of running ‘the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen.’

Armstrong, while maintaining his innocence, chose not to fight the report produced by the USADA.

But while the strides he made on the bike have now been called into question, the efforts he made to aid cancer research will remain perhaps his greatest achievement.

Although he has now stepped down as the head of Livestrong, the $500million that he helped raise remains.

David Haye and Dereck Chisora

A bit of trash talk is to be expected surrounding bouts in professional boxing, but David Haye and Dereck Chisora took it a step too far in a press conference back in February.

The conference was actually being held after a clash between Chisora and Vitali Klitschko in Munich.

But Haye managed to steal attention by goading the heavyweight from the back of the room, prompting Chisora to square up to the Brit.

Punches were thrown and although the pair should have known better than to enter into a brawl with the world’s press watching, the conference soon descended into chaos.

Haye did manage to redeem himself slightly when the two fought a grudge match in July and Chisora was resoundingly beaten.

Warning: This video contains strong language

Voula Papachristou

The Greek athlete is another to have learned the dangers of Twitter the hard way.

The
triple-jumper was ejected from the national team and sent home from the
Olympics after making a joke that many deemed offensive.

Her tweet read: ‘With so many Africans in Greece, at least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat home made food!’

Despite
apologising for the tasteless comment, which followed a number of
tweets expressing far-right political views, the Greek Olympic Committee
said her statements had been ‘contrary to the values and ideas of the
Olympic movement,’ and she was sent home.

Greek athlete Voula Papachristou during the women's triple jump in Athens

Greek athlete Voula Papachristou was expelled from the Greek national team at this year's Olympics after tweeting offensive comments

David Nalbandian

There have been few tennis players able to rival John McEnroe’s infamous on-court tantrums.

David Nalbandian did manage to surpass the American in terms of actual damage caused this year however.

In a moment of anger during his final match against Marin Cilic at Queens this summer, the Argentine lashed out at some advertising boards around the chair of a line judge.

Nalbandian underestimated his own strength unfortunately, and ended up being disqualified after the boards went flying into the linesman’s legs, leaving him with a deep cut.

The 30-year-old was fined 6,400 by the ATP for unsportsmanlike conduct, as well as losing his 36,500 prize money.

He offered a sincere apology following the incident, saying: ‘It is a mistake and I have to pay for that.’

Joey Barton

Perhaps not a villain, but more of a village idiot, Barton amused us once again in 2012 with some bizarre press conference antics.

It’s usually his Twitter account that gets people talking. Or violent conduct on the pitch. Or drunken brawls.

Anyway, this year hilarity was caused when Barton appeared in a press conference for Olympic Marseille, and curiously mimicked a French accent.

Earlier in the year there was less amusement when Barton received his second red card of the season for QPR and proceeded to attack Manchester City players, kneeing Sergio Aguero and attempting to head-butt Vincent Kompany.

Barton was typically contrite on Twitter afterwards, tweeting: ‘Still not my proudest moment but who gives a f***, we are safe……….and that is all that matters.’

Joey Barton attacked Manchester City players after receiving his second red card of the season

Joey Barton caused trouble as well as amusement in 2012, attacking Manchester City players after receiving a red card

Eight Olympic badminton players

This was a combined effort at bad behaviour during the Summer Games.

In an attempt to avoid facing harder opponents, four duos tried to make sure they didn’t finish top of their group by losing their last game in the group stage.

A Chinese pair, four players from South Korea and a duo from Indonesia were all dropped from the competition after their poor display of sportsmanship and suffered a severe reaction from a disappointed crowd.

Will Bradley Wiggins be allowed to defend his Tour de France crown?

Will Bradley Wiggins be allowed to defend his Tour de France crown

|

UPDATED:

21:41 GMT, 15 December 2012

Bradley Wiggins would be the first to admit that his year of awesome achievement would not have been possible without the methodical mind of the man who has become the most influential figure in British cycling.

But now Dave Brailsford faces one of the most difficult decisions of his sporting life: does he encourage Wiggins to fulfil his dream of consecutive victories in the Tour de France — or ask the man who is clear favourite to lift the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award to follow team orders to play second string to Chris Froome’s attempt to win the most gruelling event in sport

Bradley Wiggins

Champion: Bradley Wiggins has had a sensational year but now is the time huge decisions will be made on next year's Tour

This summer, Brailsford presided brilliantly over Team Sky’s militarystyle campaign which enabled Wiggins to ride triumphantly along the Champs Elysees as the first British winner in the 109-year history of the Tour de France.

For his encore, Wiggins won an Olympic gold medal nine days later against the backdrop of Hampton Court Palace and Brailsford, as British Cycling’s performance director, had confirmed his status as a linchpin in Wiggins’s life for the past dozen years.

Now, with Wiggins talking for the first time last week of wanting to defend his Tour de France title rather than concentrating on the Giro d’Italia and playing a support role to Froome on the 2013 Tour, Brailsford knows he must manage the expectations of two of road racing’s greatest exponents.

Bradley Wiggins

Golden boy: Just nine days after becoming Britain's first ever Tour champion, Wiggins stormed through the streets of London to take Olympic gold

‘We haven’t finalised our plans for next year,’ said Brailsford, speaking last week from the warm weather camp in Majorca where Wiggins has been getting back to work in the afterglow of his phenomenal summer.

‘Bradley’s had a taste of celebrity but he has relished getting back the structure in his life and he is in great shape. Brad loves normality.’

Froome, thought to be marginally favoured by the route of next year’s Tour, which includes four mountain summit finishes and fewer stage miles in the time trials, and Wiggins have both publicly pledged to abide by the decision Brailsford arrives at with his trusted right-hand man, Australian Shane Sutton. Yet, briefly, there was tension between the two riders this summer, if swiftly managed.

Bradley Wiggins

Champion team: Wiggins celebrates with team-mates on the Champs-lyses

On Stage 11, Froome risked leaving Wiggins, leading the Tour by two minutes, exposed on the road when he made an unscheduled break on a climb.

‘It looked worse than it was,’ insisted Brailsford last week.

‘Through Froomey’s eyes, Brad was going really well and had a big buffer and he was thinking about his own position in relation to (Vincenzo) Nibali.

‘It was a brief bit of exuberance from Chris. If his intention had been to attack Bradley, he’d have kept going but, once he realised Brad was not on his wheel, he played his team role. There was no malice or going against team orders.’ Even so, he had to be told to back off.

Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain and Team SKY chats to Team Principal Dave Brailsford

Team talk: Sky team principal Dave Brailsford will soon decide who will lead his team in next year's Tour. Will it be Wiggins or Froome… or even both

At the time, Wiggins was distinctly unamused. ‘From that moment, through the rest of the Tour, I didn’t quite know what to expect from Chris when it got into the heat of battle,’ Wiggins wrote in his autobiography.

For Brailsford, the incident is consigned to history; a small blip during a Wiggins- Froome blitz of the world’s best riders.

Instead he remembers how Wiggins, a man who already possessed six Olympic track cycling medals, three of them gold, turned his career around two years ago to enable him to win the greatest bike race in the world after 21 glorious days in July.

According to Brailsford, Wiggins’s road to glory on the Tour de France began in a private — and uncomfortable — meeting at the end of a disappointing first season for Team Sky.

‘Bradley had to look hard at himself in the mirror at the end of 2010,’ he said. Brailsford acknowledged that mistakes had been made — ‘We over-complicated everything,’ he admitted — but Wiggins also faced a personal crisis.

His performance dipped and his mind wandered as he mourned the death of his beloved grandfather, George — his role-model after his father, Gary, a professional cyclist, walked out on him and his mother, Linda, when he was a child. Wiggins’s world crashed. He turned off his phone and could not be contacted. Patience within Team Sky was close to being exhausted.

Bradley Wiggins, winner of the 2012 Tour de France cycling race, celebrates as he crosses the finish line of the last stage of the the Tour de France

Magic moment: Wiggins crosses the finish line in Paris, but many say next year's route would be better suited to the mountain climbing strengths of Chris Froome

At one low moment, Wiggins later learned the crisis ran so deep that Brailsford asked team psychiatrist Steve Peters: ‘What should we do with Brad He’s a bloody nightmare.’

Eventually Wiggins, with the support of his wife, Cath, realised he had to address his problems. At a team summit with Brailsford, Sutton agreed to Wiggins’s request to coach him.

Last week Brailsford recalled: ‘We had words and we had some honest feedback with Brad. But after that first year, as a team, we went back to the drawing board.

 Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome

Team tension: Chris Froome congratulates Wiggins on his gold medal but was itching to break free from his supportive role in this summer's Tour

'We had clarity of purpose with everyone thinking the same way. But Brad deserves a lot of credit for his unbelievable hard work and the maturity that now makes him easy to coach.’

Never had a man on a bike travelled so far, or so fast, into the consciousness of the public than Wiggins.

‘The first week of the Tour is all about not losing any time, but it’s also about not crashing,’ said Brailsford. ‘The safest place is at the front of the bunch — but every other team is trying to do the same, so it becomes like a scene from Ben Hur.’

 (L-R) Silver medallist Tony Martin of Germany, gold medallist Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain and bronze medallist Christopher Froome of Great Britain

National treasure: Bradley Wiggins is joined on the podium by German silver medallist Tony Martin and Britain's Chris Froome, who finished third

On the third stage, Kosta Siutsou, a key support rider for Wiggins, broke a leg.

‘That shook everyone in the team and the mood was pretty fraught,’ admitted Brailsford.

‘Of course, for Brad it brought back memories of how his Tour had been ended by a broken collar-bone the previous year. It was quite a jolt because, at the time, we didn’t know how the story was going to unfold.’

From that moment, Team Sky had to combat their rivals with eight men rather than nine. And Brailsford had to gather the riders and staff together to restore morale as fast as possible.

Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins

Power house: Wiggins is the best time trialist in the world but next year's Tour will have fewer time trial miles

‘It is a mini-grieving process,’ he said. ‘Anger surfaces and then there is an acceptance that life is not fair, that the goalposts get moved.’

Brailsford’s management style is fastidious and he leaves nothing to chance.

‘We take our own beds from hotel to hotel and everybody has their same pillow every night,’ he said. ‘We vacuum and dust every room before the riders arrive and we install airconditioning and de-humidifiers.’

The team travel with their own chef and the team bus is a haven of luxury. Wiggins excelled as each day came and passed.

He earned the Yellow Jersey on stage seven and wore it all the way to Paris, where he was greeted by thousands of ecstatic British supporters, many wearing fake sideburns as a tribute to their laid-back hero.

‘For me, there was a feeling of elation and pure joy at Brad getting that jersey,’ said Brailsford.

‘It was a perfect performance from the team — one of my best days in cycling. ‘Brad is a connoisseur of the sport, he knows its history. You had only to look at him to see how much it meant. Fundamentally, he is a family man, a decent man and a very funny man.

He’s a colourful character, strongminded like all champions, and someone who occasionally courts controversy — but Brad has a heart of gold.’

Great Britain's Bradley Wiggins of Sky Pro Racing (yellow jersey), followed by team mate Mark Cavendish, during Stage 20 between Brambouillet and Paris, France.

Leading the pack: Team Sky's strategy of leading from the front worked spectacularly well during the summer

On returning from Paris, Wiggins was given the honour of ringing the bell at the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium, symbolically declaring the Games had commenced.

Four days afterwards, he was receiving an Olympic gold medal after destroying all-comers in the road time trial, the race of truth.

‘To make history in the Tour de France was a big deal but then to take Olympic gold so soon afterwards makes what Bradley did this summer exceptional,’ said Brailsford, who will be in the audience at the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards tonight.

Brailsford’s own day of judgment — whether to throw his support behind Wiggins or Froome on the 2013 Tour — lies ahead this winter.