Formula Onzzzzzzzzzzzz.

March 6, 2011

Red Bull's 2011 car


Normally, this blog is devoted to the proper sports, that being football, boxing and occasionally, a bit of cricket. We tend to leave the world of Formula One alone, mainly because I don’t class it as a proper sport (no human endeavour, beyond the technical). Another big reason that I don’t talk about F1 too much is because it’s about as boring as Scottish football.

This isn’t about slagging Formula 1 off though, it remains mystifyingly popular and who am I to criticise it?

Actually, I know I’m being harsh on the petrol heads, because the one thing F1 is good for is a laugh. Formula One is the “actor” of the sports world, faintly ridiculous to everyone, but convinced of it’s own importance. Really, who actually cares about Formula One? The drivers are all about as interesting as a Dominic Brigstocke stand up show, and the cars, while nice looking, are so imbalanced it eliminates the prospect of any actual competition on the track.

Now, to give the billionaire circus midget, Bernie Ecclestone, his due, he acknowledges that his sport is about as gripping as a thalidomide hand job, so he’s come up with ways to make his sport more interesting. His latest wheeze is to propose artificial rain.

You read that right, artificial rain. Not a return to manual gearboxes and clutch pedals, nothing as prosaic as that, just artificial rain. Not a balancing of the budgets, which would give the smaller teams an equal crack at the points, but artificial rain.

The response has been predictably sniffy, Mark Webber has declared the idea to be unsophisticated and everybody else has been convulsed with laughter at the idea that in order to make the races interesting you have to fiddle about with the track and simulate rain.

I think it’s a brilliant idea, but personally I don’t think it goes far enough. I suggest that the tracks be replaced with a massive dodgem arena. I also think that the drivers should be made to drink half a bottle of JD before they take to the track, maybe we’ll get a spectacular “Senna” moment.

It's on....maybe.

I suppose it was too much to ask that Matthew “Ricky’s brother” Hatton (41-4-2, 16KO) would defeat the unbeaten Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (36-0-1, 25KO).

It would have taken a near miracle to see Hatton beat Alvarez, especially considering that the fight took place in a hostile arena to Hatton and with Hatton being considerably outweighed by Alvarez. Still, kudos to Hatton, he saw an opportunity and he went for it, if only more boxers had that attitude.

Speaking of which…

Vladimir Klitschko (55-3, 49KO) has pulled out of his planned fight with unbeaten British prospect, Dereck Chisora (14-0, 9KO), citing a lingering abdominal injury. David Haye’s next potential opponent, Ruslan Chagaev (27-1-1 17KO), has been refused a license to box in the UK due to his medical history (he was found to have contracted Hepatitis B)

Naturally, this opens the door for an intriguing Chisora/Fury matchup, which should happen fairly quickly.

However, this finally means that we should see Vladimir Klitschko step in the ring with David Haye (25-1, 23KO), with plenty of time for promotional work, this will be, undoubtedly, the biggest fight in British boxing history.

Now, I’m not one for making predictions, generally I get them wrong and look like a bit of a tit. But the sheer magnitude of the fights we’re facing over the next 9 months has forced my hand, so I’m going to make three predictions here and now.

Get ready…

Carl Froch v Glen Johnson, I see an easy decision victory for Froch here. Johnson IS a quality fighter, but he’s well past his prime and has 14 losses against his name. If Froch approaches this fight with the same game plan as he had with Abraham, he should dominate the former light-heavy champion.

Dereck Chisora v Tyson Fury, Got to be a Chisora KO (Round 8), Chisora has fought at the higher level and carries a brutal punch, if he gets inside the gypsy, it’ll be a short night’s work for Chisora.

Davis Haye v Vladimir Klitschko, For all the talk of Haye’s explosive power and fast hands, he’s never fought a boxer as complete as Klitschko. I don’t see Haye winning and I feel that this one goes to the judge’s cards. I’ll say it’s a fairly comprehensive defeat on points for the Londoner.

Fury and Harrison, Mental.

February 23, 2011

The last I saw of Audley Harrison (27-5, 20 KO), he was lying flat on his back after David Haye sparked him out inside 3 rounds. You’d have thought that after his humiliation he’d have faded away into much deserved obscurity. But no, Audley Harrison recently catapulted himself back into the public eye with his recent musings about Tyson Fury (14-0, 10 KO). Speaking on Twitter, the Olympic Champion stated:

“Fury’s got quick hands, but he’s not ready for me yet. He makes too many mistakes. After calling me out, I noticed in the post fight interview he didn’t call my name.”

Hmmm. Well, he may have a point there. I saw Fury’s fight against Marcelo Luiz Nascimento last Saturday night, and to be honest, Fury looked amateurish, no wonder Harrison fancies his chances. That said though, he probably fancied his chances against Haye and we all know where that ended. It’s quite astonishing to me that Audley Harrison would try to gee up interest in a potential match with Fury, surely he must know that he’s finished as a credible boxer?

Fury though, has quietly dropped Harrison as a potential opponent, knowing that he needs a decent bout, he’s started pointing at Dereck Chisora as a good fight for him. The problem with that though is that Chisora has the slightly more pressing matter of Vladimir Klitschko to contend with.

Now, boxers making ludicrous claims are all part and parcel of the sport, but incredibly Fury has alleged that Chisora is ducking him by taking the fight against Klitschko!

OK, so for Fury’s benefit, here’s what actually happened. The Chisora beat Danny Williams for the British title being a late replacement for Sam Sexton. After he beat Williams, he beat Sexton for the second time as Sexton was his mandatory challenger. Chisora isn’t due to defend his title until March 2011 at the earliest, in the meantime he fights Klitschko. Fury complaining that Chisora is refusing to face him is absolute balderdash, Chisora knows that Fury is the next mandatory challenger and has already said that he’s happy to fight Fury after he fights Klitschko.

While Fury is waiting to get in the ring with “Del Boy” Chisora, maybe he should work on developing those boxing skills. I seriously feel that if Chisora and Fury meet up anytime soon, Chisora would seriously damage Fury.

Money, Debt and Stupid Fans

February 22, 2011

Picture the scene.

Somewhere in Nyon, deep in UEFA’s headquarters, a throaty laugh erupts from a non-descript office. You open the door to find Michel Platini, chuckling down the phone, tears rolling down his jowly face. After he’s composed himself, he utters;

“Mon Dieu, I cannot believe zis stupid people. I jerst peek a numberre out of my derriere, and zis people, zey pay it!”

I rather imagine that at this point Platini peels off his mask to reveal a reptilian face, because he’s surely not of this planet if he believes £150 is a decent price for a ticket.

The problem is of course, that they can charge £150 for a ticket, in the same way that they can also charge £300 for a ticket. Why can they do this? Simple, because football fans are truly the cash cows of the sporting world.

Football fans, never has there been a more deluded bunch that has ever walked this planet. For years you’ve been shelling out for football kits at the rate of three every two seasons, and enjoying it. Grinning and bearing the continual season ticket price until it gets to the point where a season ticket at Arsenal can cost you the business end of £2000. Liverpool currently fans going mad for the fact that their club has shelled out over £30 million pounds for a player who isn’t even an England regular. Manchester City fans not even remotely bothered about the fact that their club has effectively become the plaything of the UAE royal family. Wages going up past £200k a week, A WEEK!! When Fabrizio Ravanelli joined Middlesbrough, he was pilloried for the fact he earn’t £52k a week, nowadays a player of his quality could easily expect to triple that.

And debt, so much debt.

Over half of all the debt in European football is owned by the Premiership, with the majority of Premiership clubs now being subsidised directly by their owners, it’s almost like they’ve forgotten how to be proper businesses. Spending cash they don’t have, chasing success that’ll never be theirs,  because ultimately, it’s the same few clubs that win everything. Manchester City will never have the same long term success that Manchester United has enjoyed. Why is this? Because money can only go so far, Manchester United have succeeded because they had a core of players and a manager who were (are) solely dedicated to the club, money is a factor, but how much did Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and David Beckham cost?

I don’t have any sympathy for football fans who now complain about the price of tickets, you’ve only yourselves to blame. Personally I think you should stop demanding your club spends money it doesn’t have and start demanding some fiscal responsibility.

Klitschko v Haye (courtesy of Reuters)

If there’s one thing most boxers are obsessed with, it’s their legacy. Some boxers are lucky in that they faced career defining fights seemingly every other month. For a period in the seventies, it was apparently the case that Muhammad Ali couldn’t cross the road without being involved in some epoch shattering dust up.

The flip side of this is that there are some boxers who, despite having all the tools, never quite cemented their place in the minds of the fans. Some point the finger at Joe Calzaghe, undefeated of course, but lacking the win that really would have catapulted him into the boxing stratosphere. Even today, heated debate surrounds Calzaghe, he’s rather like the Marmite of boxing as he splits opinion like no other boxer. What’s Calzaghe’s legacy? It seems that his legacy is the intense argument that surrounds his record.

And it’s down this road that David Haye finds himself jogging. He knows, as well as everyone, that he needs to get some quality “ring time” with a Klitschko brother (either Vlad or Vitali, Haye can’t afford to be fussy). Now, I’ve always been critical of Haye, I think his profile in this country is far more than he deserves, especially considering that Carl Froch has actually fought the better opposition and had the better performances.

The strange thing is that a date for a Vladimir Klitschko v David Haye has already been proposed, July 2nd.  Vladimir is convinced that he’ll walk through Dereck Chisora on the 30th April, treating the Briton as a “tone up” for the super fight against Haye. Haye could easily side step his mandatory challenger, Ruslan Chagaev with a pay off. Indeed, Vladimir Klitschko is actually claiming he could fight three times in 2011 as he also intends to face Tomasz Adamek in September this year. And to make it even more interesting, Adamek is actually a former Cruiserweight and Light Heavy champion,

The Haye party line is that the Klitschko’s will be forever linked with not fighting David Haye and that their legacy will be forever tarnished by them not meeting. That’s a rich line coming from the fighter who has yet to face a “live” opponent.

David Haye, I say, will get a thrashing from any of the Klitschko brothers, although Vladimir may let him leave the ring on his own steam, I genuinely think Vitali could seriously damage “The Hayemaker”.  I’m loath to make predictions, but I think Haye loses to both Klitschkos, Vladimir by round 10 and Vitali to KO Haye by the 7th.

The big bun fight between West Ham and Tottenham came to an end this week with the news that West Ham would be named as the preferred club to take over after 2012. Of course, this is jolly good news for West Ham, who’ll surely have one of the nicest stadiums in The Championship. Personally, I’m a bit off with the idea of our Olympic legacy being left in the hands of a pair of pornographers, but that’s just me.

 What’s really sticking in my craw here is that West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium will surely put out of business one of London’s oldest pro football clubs, Leyton Orient.

Leyton Orient are the closest club to the new stadium, geographically speaking, the introduction of a Premiership team into what would be Orient’s usual catchment area (to use a school term) would see Orient fold within a decade as they struggle to attract new fans.

There have been rumblings regarding compensation being paid out to Orient, but nothing has been confirmed. If compensation were to be paid out to Orient, how much would suffice? A one off payment of £15 – £20 million has been mooted, but is that sufficient? It’d get them through the short to medium term for sure, but what next? Orient can’t compete with West Ham when it comes to people picking who they’ll support. They’ve no glorious history to bank on, no star players to speak off and no celebrity fans (unless you count Bob Mills).

I hate to sound like Johnny Miserable, but I genuinely fear for the future of Leyton Orient. The Olympic Park Legacy Committee has ensured that we won’t end up like Montreal-esque “White Elephant”. But in doing so, they could well have dealt a “Hammer’s”* blow to one of our oldest football clubs.

*Do you see what I did there?

OK, I know in my ‘return’ post I said I was going to leave old news alone. I’d promised I’d keep things fresh by looking at new, fast moving information, and shed my very own light on them. Well, I’m going to slightly break that in order to combine my view on the Mexican game and my beloved Celtic. You see, since I’ve been away the Hoops have announced a link to the Coahuila-based club, Santos Laguna.

As somebody who sees a great deal of Mexican football, I see this a really shrewd move by the board, and am delighted at the potential it offers the club. As we all know, Celtic’s traditional markets have been strangled by the vice-like grip the Premier League holds over the majority of Europe. Greatly inflated fees have quickly spread all across Europe, with even 17 year-old unproven kids being priced at £20m. (Yes, anybody who has seen him can appreciate that Romelu Lukaku of Anderlecht is a wonderful talent, but £20m? I think not!)

This has forced the club to widen the net, and look to markets that would normally be both out of sight and out of mind. So far, Lennon has done reasonably well in the transfer market from very different areas of the world, with the Israeli Beram Kayal and Emilio Izaguirre from Honduras being particularly impressive. And this is the right type of market for Celtic to exploit, finding players who are relatively young (Kayal is just 22, and Izaguirre is 24) to bring to Europe, nurture, and sell on for a profit. Indeed, there is already reported interest in Izaguirre from Manchester United, with a rumoured £10m figure for him.

Of course, it is disappointing to think that a club of Celtic’s size will have to become a ‘selling club’, but we have to be realistic. There is no money at all in Scotland, which means the game and the clubs will have to adapt to survive. This means a combination of signing youngsters at a really early age (the Ajax system) and then buying players from leagues with even less finance than our own, and selling them at a huge profit (the ethos of PSV). And of course, if Manchester United will sell Cristiano Ronaldo, ANYBODY is for sale.

What better way then to look to exploit these kind of markets than by taking on a feeder side? A club right towards the top of the Mexican game (they finished runners-up in this year’s Apertura championship, progressed through to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter finals, and won the Clasura in 2008) makes them an attractive proposition for the better players in South and Central America, which ultimately benefits us, too. After all, the better they do, the better the calibre of players available to us through the partnership.

Now as the Mexican Primera is not exactly a regular on European television, many Celtic fans may well be wondering just how fruitful the partnership will be. Are there any players worth signing? Is the Mexican league actually any good, or is this nothing but a publicity stunt? Well, I’ve decided to do my very own little scouting trip to hopefully provide you all with a little more info, and whether in my opinion they’d offer anything extra at Celtic Park.

Oswaldo Sanchez: 37 year old Mexican international goalkeeper. Sanchez has won 98 caps for his country, and played at Santos for four and a half seasons. A decent shot-stopper, but prone to the odd error, especially with crosses. Too old to be a realistic signing for Celtic, with no re-sale value. Worth signing? No.

Jose Antonio Olvera: 24 year old Mexican international central defender. Olvera has won 3 caps Mexico, is good on the ball which also allows him to play in midfield. He’s calm while under pressure , but he’s greatly let down by his lack of size. At only 5 foot 8, he would struggle at the back in the aggressive nature of Scottish football. Worth signing? No.

Uriel Alvarez Rivera: 20 year old Mexican defender. Rivera has yet to win a cap for his national side, but he certainly shows promise. He is strong in the tackle and good on the ball, although he does suffer a little with inconsistency. Perhaps one for the future. Worth signing? Maybe in a few years.

Jonathan Lacerda: 23 year-old Uruguayan defender. At 6 foot 2, Lacerda is certainly built like a defender. Decent in the air, and with an ability to win some vital challenges, Lacerda could be ideal at Parkhead. At 23 he is a great age to sign, but he is currently fourth choice central defender defender for Santos. He’ll need to break his way into the side for a sustained period before he’s even considered. Worth signing? Yes, but not just yet.

Felipe Baloy: 29 year-old captain of Panama, central defender and club captain. 6 foot 2, and a colossus at the back, Baloy is right out of the Bobo Balde mould. Very mobile, with a desire to get forward, Baloy would become a cult hero at Celtic Park. Only negative is that he is a month away from his 30th birthday, and as such he would have little or no resale value, but this is countered by his qualities on the pitch. Worth signing? Yes, immediately.

Jorge Estrada Manjarrez: 27 year old Mexican international wing-back/ full back. Santos Laguna regularly play with three central defenders, and so I’ve normally seen Manjarrez play as a wing back, but what impresses me most is his mobility. He’s constantly joining attacks, has a lot of ability when it comes to crossing and he even pops up with the odd goal. Only made his Mexico debut in 2010 and suffered an injury, or I suspect he’d have a few more than just one cap. However, once again I think his size would be an issue as he is only 5 foot 6. In addition, he’d struggle to dislodge Cha, Hinkel or even Wilson out of the side. Worth signing? No.

Carlos Morales: 31 year old Mexican international left wing-back/ left midfielder. Morales has won 8 caps for his country, the last one coming in 2005. Another decent player going forward, offers plenty of width and a decent cross into the box, but he struggles defensively. His age works against him, and he’s not a patch on Izaguirre. Worth signing? No.

Jose Cardenes: 25 year old left full back/ wing back/ left midfielder. Cardenes has won two caps for Mexico, and scored on his debut. Cardenes is a real creative force for his side when he plays further forward. Skillfull, quick and with a peach of a left foot, Cardenes is at his best when operating further forward. Great from a dead-ball, his corners are a particularly useful weapon for Santos. At 25 years old, he’s still young enough to be a worthwhile signing. Worth signing? Yes.

Fernando Arce: 30 year old defensive midfielder, has won more than 40 caps for Mexico. Arce is one of the vital tools in this Santos Laguna side, sitting in a holding role alongside Juan Rodriguez. Always available for a simple pass, with the ability to get forward and put the ball in the net. Another small player in stature, but without him, Santos are not the same team. However, Celtic are at their strongest in the middle of the park, so despite his talents, I don’t see him as a real option. Worth signing? No.

Juan Rodriguez: 31 year old central midfielder, has also won in excess of 40 caps for Mexico. Originally broke into the national side on the back of his goal scoring exploits at Club Atlas, where he scored more than 50 goals in 6 years from midfield. He became renown for his set pieces, although he has now become more of a ‘simple stuff’ type player, much like Lennon himself was. Lacks a cutting edge in the tackle, and would probably be another to struggle in the aggressive Scottish game. Worth signing? No

Daniel Ludena: 28 year old Argentine attacking midfielder, who began his career at River Plate. In my opinion, Ludena is the best player at Santos Laguna, and he has been reportedly interesting several clubs in Spain. Ludena is exceptional from dead-balls, very much in the Nakamura mould, and averages a goal every three games from midfield. He has great vision, and regularly unlocks defences with a wonderful through ball. Although not the quickest, he’d slot straight into the Celtic side and stay there. Worth signing? Immediately.

Carlos Darwin Quintero: 23 year old Columbian international striker, wide midfielder. Well, what can I say about Quintero? Easily the most frustrating player in Mexico, Quintero certainly has the ability to be dynamite. He has blistering pace and great skill, and at 23 he has definite potential. However, his finishing is highly erratic, and he frequently picks the wrong option. Think Samaras but about twice as quick and half as tall! Should score far more goals from the positions he finds himself in. Worth signing? Dubious.

Christian Benitez: 24 year old Ecuadorian international striker. Of course, the second the partnership was announced Celtic were linked to the ex Birmingham striker, and for good reason. Benitez was the top scorer in the Apertura on his return to Santos, scoring 16 goals in 22 games, and he also averages a goal every other game for Ecuador. It never quite worked out for Benitez in England, but he is a predator in front of goal and has blistering pace. At just 24, another spell in Europe is certainly not beyond him, and I’d undoubtedly back him to be a success. Would certainly offer another option up front, even if only used as an impact player. Worth signing? Yes.

Are you a fan of Mexican football? I’d love your feedback either here or follow me on Twitter.

A Good News Story (At Last)

January 26, 2011

Simon Jones (Courtesy of Getty)

Of course, it’s perfectly understandable.

Keys and Gray have obviously been the big story for the last few days, it natural that you may well have missed one of the most intriguing comebacks in English sport.

Cast your mind back my friend to the balmy summer of 2005 and “The Greatest Ashes Series Ever”, while we all cooed over the performances of Andrew Flintoff, it was actually the then Glamorgan swinger, Simon Jones, who was impressing the cricket aficionados with his exquisite brand of reverse swing bowling.  What’s often forgotten in the aftermath of that series and the “Freddie-Mania” that ensued is that Jones could well have ended the series as England’s leading wicket taker if he hadn’t missed the final test at the Oval.

And then what?

Well, Jones found himself injured; it started with his ankle which he damaged in the second innings at Trent Bridge. He injured his ankle again in the nets just before the first test on the India tour in 2006. He had surgery on his knees in Colorado that ruled him out of the Ashes tour in 2006/7 (a result of the horrific cruciate ligament injury he sustained in Brisbane in 2002) and just as he seemed to be getting himself back together he suffered another knee injury. Indeed, it seemed like there was no cricketer more cursed than Simon Jones.

Of course, time has moved on, the much vaunted English bowling attack of 2005 eventually retired, lost form or dropped out of favour. Ashley Giles (The Spinner) became Director of Coaching at Warwickshire. Andrew Flintoff left the sport after the Ashes series of 2009 to become a celebrity. Matthew Hoggard quietly dropped out of favour and hasn’t played for England since 2008 and Steve Harmison has flirted with the England squad, making cameo appearances here and there, but has surely played his last test for England.

This leaves Simon Jones, well, let me inform you that Jones is still playing and playing phenomenally well for Hampshire. Indeed, in one recent 20/20 match for Hampshire he took four for 10 in four overs. This bodes well for the England team, Jones was easily as good a swinger of the ball as a prime Waqar Younis and he could have been one of England’s great quicks, if it hadn’t been for his rotten injury luck.

It’s doubtful that the now 32 years old Jones would last a full test match, it doesn’t even seem that the England team need him, with an established bowling attack of Swann, Bresnan, Tremlett, Broad and Anderson, but with the punishing schedule ahead (The World Cup looms large), could we see Jones making a dramatic comeback by filling one of the one day slots?

Maybe…I hope so!

Well, Andy Gray eh? Sacked! Richard Keys, resigned!

Where do we stand? Either the “Sky Sports 2” are irredeemably sexist dinosaurs who have no place in our thrusting, dynamic society or they’re simply hapless victims of carefully orchestrated media outrage and hysterical public opinion.

Let’s look at the facts, Andy Gray, and Richard Keys made off colour comments regarding the officiating capability of Sian Massey, the referee’s assistant for the match at Wolves last Saturday. Also, videotape of Richard Keys making what could only be described as unfortunate comments about Jamie Redknapps’ former girlfriend to a work colleague has emerged.While it could be argued that their utterances aren’t in the best possible taste and have no place in the dynamic, thrusting society we live in today. I ask, is it in proportion to sack Gray and pressurise Keys into resigning?

Well, my answer is “No, no it isn’t”.

What we have here is a re-hashing of Gordon Brown’s “That Woman” incident. Old G.B referred to one of his supporters as a “bigoted woman”, during the middle of an election campaign. Now we know that Brown lead his party to electoral defeat, but he still has employment as an MP in Westminster. Where’s the difference? Why are Gray and Keys being hauled over the coals of public opinion while Brown is still able to represent his constituents?

Who knows? But what I find most disturbing about all this is the lack of people who are willing to defend Gray and Keys. Are people not concerned that two men have lost their jobs over privately held views, accidentally made public? If a corporation like Sky are prepared to take this sort of step with two of their most highly paid and identifiable front men, what would stop another corporation doing the same thing to their employees?  Can you imagine? Being disciplined or even sacked, for merely holding an unpalatable opinion, that way tyranny lies.

 George Orwell wrote in “1984”, “You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”. It turns out that Orwell, was closer to describing modern day living then even he would have imagined.

And that, Dear Reader, should concern you more than any of Gray and Key’s ramblings.

To many, the display of the Mexican national side was a real surprise in the last World Cup. They were grouped with the host nation South Africa, the finalists of the previous tournament France, and Uruguay, a side containing two of the most lethal front men in European football. Let’s be honest, we didn’t expect much. Indeed, I naively expected the French to just turn up and beat them as any side containing the likes of Ribery, Govou, Anelka et al should be good enough to beat almost anybody, shouldn’t they?

How pleased I was then when Domenech’s dour, boring side was put to the sword by a display of wide open attacking football, led from the front by the Manchester United-bound ‘Chicarto’ Javier Hernandez. As somebody who now watches a LOT of Mexican football, I’m delighted to say the domestic league is full of players with bags of natural ability, and the attacking flair the national side displayed so well that night in Polokwane resonates throughout.

For those who don’t know, South and Central American leagues run rather differently to those in Europe. There are two championships consisting of one game against each side contested every year, the ‘Apertura’ (roughly translated as ‘opening’) championship in the first half of the season, and the ‘Clasura’ (closing) in the second. This is an idea that has many flaws (can you imagine having two champions a year in England or Scotland? Nor me) but it is done for the purposes of continental football. Mexico enters club sides into the CONCACAF Champions League from one championship, and the much more prestigious Copa Libertadores in the other, and because of this, the two championships per year system works really well. However, it also includes a play off system to decide the league champions- something which fans of Cruz Azul would berate bitterly.

Over the course of the season, ‘Los Cementeros’ were far and away the best side in the country. In 17 games they lost just twice, once to bitter city rivals Club Universidad Nacional (otherwise known as the Pumas) and surprisingly against strugglers Necaxa. However, they put closest challengers Monterrey to the sword away from home, as well as securing a comprehensive victory over Santos Laguna, the side who would ultimately finish third in the league. At the same time they progressed through the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League with consummate ease, even having the comfort of fielding reserve sides along the way.

The next line may not help my argument with the more cynical amongst you, but I was greatly impressed with the front line, largely led by former Derby County flop Emmanuel Villa. (Yes, I know, bring on the abuse. It can easily be countered with two words: Diego Forlan. He didn’t really enjoy his time in England either, but he’s now one of the most respected strikers in the game. But I digress…)

While the Argentine was not prolific (seven goals in 22 appearances) he was very much the focal point of their attack, bringing the likes of winger Christian Gimenez, and fellow forward Javier Orcozo into the game. Gimenez in particular was very impressive, the former Boca Juniors man scored 10 goals and made countless others, but the battling qualities of Villa were there for all to see.  They were also solid at the back, conceding just 13 goals in the 17 games, and with former Sevilla and Racing Santander midfielder Gerardo Torrardo sitting in the midfield, they looked every inch like champions.

However, if there’s one thing that this Cruz Azul team struggle with it is definitely knock out football. This is the side who has lost both of the last two CONCACAF Champions League finals, the last one to a goal three minutes into injury time against fellow Mexican side Pachuca. It was perhaps inevitable then that they would fail when the play offs came about, but defeat to their city rivals must really have stung. Pumas finished 7 places and 14 points adrift of ‘El Azul‘, and despite securing a 2-1 win away from home, they were beaten 2-0 on their own patch, making the league form ultimately for nought.

Second placed Monterrey would eventually benefit in the play off final, inspired by reported Manchester United and Liverpool target Humberto Suazo to a 5-3 aggregate victory over third placed Santos Laguna. In my opinion, Chilean striker Suazo would be an inspirational signing for a top European side, and the amount of times I witnessed him turn games on their head with a piece of brilliance was truly incredible. The 29 year old would finish the campaign with 15 goals, one behind former Birmingham striker Christian Benitez, who scored 16 for Laguna.

It was a thoroughly entertaining campaign, with football played at a sky-high tempo and thunderous challenges in pretty much every game I saw. The Clasura is now underway, and it seems that Cruz Azul are still struggling to deal with the Apertura disappointment. Although they were to begin the new season with a comprehensive 4-1 victory, they were thrashed 3-0 by Atlante in their second match. (And trust me, NOBODY should lose by three goals against Atlante!)

This past weekend was my first opportunity to see Cruz Azul since they lost to Pumas, and it was perhaps inevitable they would face their city rivals again. Once again, Villa was instrumental up front, grabbing the opening goal and giving the Pumas backline a problem all evening long. Cruising 2-0 up at half time, it seemed that the ghost had been put to rest, normal service resumed. Indeed, 30-odd thousand ‘El Azul’ supporters certainly seemed to think so as they taunted their rivals.

However, 20 crazy second half minutes saw the game turned on it’s head, with a brace from Juan Carlos Cacho on his return to his old club, and a header from captain Dario Veron. Azul showed great character to equalise with less than ten minutes to go, but they will no doubt be left feeling frustrated by their inability to avenge their defeat.

I’m intrigued to see if they can pick themselves up, or whether they will endure a disappointing Clasura, but I’d suggest their priority may well switch from the league to the Champions League. They face fellow Mexican side Santos Laguna in the quarter finals next month, and the prospect of a semi final against Monterrey afterwards, so a record sixth Champions League trophy is well within their grasp.  If I was a betting man though, I’d suggest more disappointment beckons for Enrique Meza’s men in both fields.

Are you a fan of Mexican football? Who do you think will be the star of the Clasura? I’d love your feedback either here or follow me on Twitter.