Archive for category Soccer/Football

Left Side, Strong Side

There is always a cyclical nature in sports. We never thought we would see another Doctor J or Michael Jordon, but we could currently be watching the greatest player ever to play basketball. Everyone believed that Joe Montana’s retirement would leave a void in football, and in stepped Steve Young. We are currently undergoing a similar transition in the Barclays Premier league with Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale.

ryan_giggs-892Ryan Giggs, or the “Welsh Wizard,” has been an icon for more than 20 years in England’s Premier League. He’s on the eve of his 1000th match in his professional career and has only ever played for Manchester. His longevity speaks to his dedication and work ethic in keeping his body and mind in the right conditioning to play in the best soccer league in the world; his immense talent doesn’t hurt either. He has provided stability at left wing and has been one of the main ingredients to Manchester United’s 20 year dominance in domestic and European football.

Giggs has just signed on for one more year in Manchester, but he is reaching the end of his career and isn’t an every game player anymore. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has to use him in certain situations to ensure he stays healthy and effective throughout the grueling season. He has played a vital role this season providing leadership and expertise on and off the field. With Wayne Rooney struggling from the penalty spot this season, Giggs has stepped up and continued his streak of perfection from the spot in the Premier League.

bale

While Giggs has slowly been fading, fellow Welshman Gareth Bale has come storming into the spotlight. The 23-year-old Bale joined the Tottenham Hotspurs in the 07-08 season from South Hampton. He famously turned down Gigg’s current club, Manchester United, with the fear of not getting any playing time. He went to the Spurs and after switching from left-back to left-wing, he hasn’t looked back.

Bale had many admirers but it wasn’t until he scored his Champions league hat-trick against Italian giants Inter Milan that he became a star. Since the, he has received international acclaim for his amazing ability on the field. His defense is lacking, and he has picked up some injuries in the past few years, but few are more lethal charging down the field than Bale. He doesn’t just score goals, his pinpoint crosses and incredible pace help set the table for his teammates to score on many different occasions.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Old Trafford

Bale has been in top form recently scoring 8 goals in 6 matches, the last being a magical blast from over 30 yards. He gives a lot of credit to his new manager André Villas-Boas for being more tactical and giving more direction compared to former manager Harry Redkapp. Much like Ryan Giggs, Bale has progressed under a strong manager whose ideology fits his own. His recent play has led many to compare him to arguably the world’s best player, Christiano Ronaldo. Both wingers use their incredible power and pace to cut defenses apart and both possess mesmerizing free kick ability. However, Bale has a long way to go before he is in the same class as the likes of Ronaldo and Messi. To be like them and Giggs, Bale needs to play at a top level on a consistent basis.
English soccer has been lucky to have had a talent like Ryan Giggs for this long and will hopefully be able to enjoy Bale for many years. However, if the rumors are true, Bale will join Ronaldo at Real Madrid in Spain, the BPL will miss out. But don’t worry, there will always be another one; as players come and go, the cyclical nature of sports will never change.

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De Gea Proving Himself

Manchester United sit a comfy 12 points above the rest of the Barclays Premier League, are in the 5th round of the FA Cup, and just pulled off an improbable tie away at Real Madrid. There has been a variety of reasons for their success this season, from the offensive prowess of Robin van Persie, to the return of injured skipper Nemanja Vidic, and the emergence of goal keeper David De Gea.

De Dea celebrating a league victory.

De Dea celebrating a league victory.

Recently, the 22-year-old De Gea has received some of the most most venomous criticism in the English media due to his vulnerability with crosses and balls in the air. A lot of the criticism is warranted due to some poor efforts that have led to easy goals. The BPL is known as the best and most physical league in the world and when De Gea was bought by United before the 2011/2012 season, there was concern of whether he could adjust to the hieghtened coming from the Spanish La Liga. His performances were understandably up and down, however, over the past few months the keeper has matured into a world class goalie.

He might not be the best in the air, but his shot-stopping ability is second to none. When United’s defense was torn apart last year due to injuries and lack of experience, De Gea was one of the reasons they remained in the chase for the Premier League title. Acrobatic save after acrobatic save kept the Red Devils alive in crucial games. Even though they lost to bitter rivals Manchester City on the final day of the season to goal differential, he showed promising signs of things to come.

United started the season with an abysmal defensive record, allowing other teams to score first and playing catch up in the majority of their games. De Gea was benched at the beginning of this season, after a few lackluster performances, which were compounded by the poor play of his defense. We will never know if it was a true benching, or one of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s mind tricks to get the keeper back on track. When De Gea returned, he had a new mind set and confidence. This was around the same time captain Nemanja Vidic started playing regularly again and since the end of November, United is undefeated in the BPL with 5 clean sheets (12-2-0).

Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Manchester United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

Last week in Madrid, De Gea showed how far he has come since he arrived to Manchester nearly two years ago. He was born and raised in Madrid and joined Real Madrid’s rivals, Atlético Madrid, at the age of ten. He learned his trade constantly in the shadow of his glorious neighbors. Last night was the first time he has played at Real Madrid in front of family in friends as part of the biggest club in the world, and at the age of 22, he did not disappoint.

If Manchester United advances past Real Madrid, another super power in the world of soccer, they will owe a lot of it to their young keeper. De Gea displayed a world class effort against Los Blancos at the Bernabeu. He saved the game from what could have been 3 or 4 goals for Real to a 1 goal tie. The second match will be back at home at Old Trafford and could help begin the young Spaniard’s legacy.

The season is far from over and De Gea needs to continue to progress and develop. If United are able to win two, or maybe even three titles this year, some of the critics will jump on the De Gea bandwagon. The critics won’t be the only ones to join; the Red Devil’s faithful have had a hard time accepting him due to some of his mistakes and the constant disapproval in the media.
However, in the world of sports you’re only as good as your last game, and if De Gea fails to perform in a few games this season, he be back where he started, watching from the sidelines.

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