Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sam Robson - Australia's "What If"

At first glance, Sam Robson has the pedigree for international success: he was raised in New South Wales and monstered county attacks for years before getting a Test call-up.

Only it was for England.

In his second Test – the deciding match of the series against Sri Lanka that concluded dramatically today – Robson made his maiden Test ton, an unspectacular but very interesting 127.

The ECB deploying cricketers born overseas is hardly new*. The ranks of proxy Englishmen have swelled even recently as players from five countries turned out for the Three Lions in the series defeat by the Sri Lankans. Even poaching Aussies isn’t a new one; however, the biggest difference between Sam Robson and Martin McCague (or Alan Mullally, ad infinitum) is that Australia desperately wanted him in a Baggy Green.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Today's transfer nonsense: Vermaelen for Smalling

Let's take a brief break from the World Cup to talk about a transfer rumour involving two players currently playing (or riding the pine) in Brazil.

It has recently been suggested that Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal has decided to bid for Arsenal defender Thomas Vermaelen. The Belgian, who had a fine start to his Arsenal career, is now Arsene Wenger's "emergency defender", used most often when Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker or Kieren Gibbs are unavailable (for Gibbs, read: injured).

At 28 and fending off Jan Vertonghen for his place beside Vincent Kompany at the heart of Belgium's defence, it’s logical to assume that Vermaelen wants first-team football; United certainly have money to burn that may raise his earnings above what the Gunners are willing (or able) to offer.

However, the rumour suggests Vermaelen’s current manager Arsene Wenger wants a return that includes a transfer fee and one of Tom Cleverley or Chris Smalling.

While possible, it’s unlikely that van Gaal would sanction such a move for several reasons. Both Smalling and Cleverley fit into the coach’s modus operandi as young players malleable to his methods; the Englishman is also four years younger than his supposed upgrade. Smalling is also United’s emergency right-back, while both midfielder and defender are English and therefore come at a FFP-induced premium.

While data rarely drives a transfer, especially in the case of Louis van Gaal, let's examine why the numbers don't like a Smalling-for-Vermaelen swap straight up – let alone with a transfer fee involved. Most of the data that follows comes from a pilot project that tracks each player's individual plus/minus throughout the course of the seasonHow each player’s team performed during those minutes give us an idea of how he compares to his team (and teammates).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 World Cup predictions

Predictions are a mug’s game – so here we go!

World Cup winners: Let’s just say it – Spain are great, they have been for years and over the past five years or so and despite being short a centre-forward they find ways to win. They truly are a team with no holes (especially with the acquisition of Diego Costa) and their manager knows how to get the most from them. The inability to win that plagued them for fifty years before the 2008 Euros has now been utterly reversed.

Finalist: Brazil. Boasting probably the iconic player of the tournament in Neymar, a fine supporting cast and a manager who borders on genius, the reason I haven’t selected them isn’t so much commentary on them but a reflection on how much faith I have in Spain (and Spanish football in general). However, this team depends more on three players (Thiago Silva, Luis Gustavo and Hulk) than you might suspect.

Third-place game: Germany vs Argentina, with Argentina coming out on top. The quality going forward that the Argentines have is mind-boggling: the best player on the planet, perhaps the fourth-best player on the planet (Aguero), and – according to the Guardian – the criminally-underrated 72nd best player on the planet (Angel Di Maria – he may be the 72nd “best”, but may rank in the top 20 in terms of actual impact).

This trident are backed by the wiles of Martin Dimichelis, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Mascherano, while the elegance of Ezequiel Garay will shine in South American conditions. Unfortunately for Germany, a reliance on a goalscorer who is only two years away from using a Zimmer frame is just too great to achieve their lofty – and now increasingly tempered – ambitions.