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Can New Zealand win the 2015 Rugby World Cup?

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Will the All Blacks be celebrating at the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup

All Blacks fans hope their heroes will be celebrating at the end of the 2015 Rugby World Cup

Whether or not the upcoming Rugby World Cup lives up to its billing as the third biggest sporting event on the planet, the All Blacks know this is their big chance to prove they truly are the greatest.

Despite winning the inaugural tournament on home soil back in 1987, New Zealand left their supremacy open to question for more than 30 years when they failed to recapture rugby union’s biggest prize in five subsequent attempts.

Only when the tournament returned to New Zealand four years ago did the All Blacks finally become world champions again. And it was far from convincing as they squeezed home by the narrowest of margins beating France 8-7 in the Final at Eden Park.

When the 2015 RWC gets under way on September 18, New Zealand will be expecting to reach the final on October 31st at Twickenham. Victory would make them the first nation to successfully defend the trophy. But this will be their biggest challenge yet because the All Blacks have never won the World Cup on foreign soil.

The truth is they have an incredibly strong squad and are more than capable of thrashing any challenger. With the likes of veteran Keven Mealamu, experienced fly-half Dan Carter and flanker Richie McCaw in the squad, the Kiwis have talent in abundance and have players to hurt opponents on both sides of the ball. Their aggressive style will ensure that they are fully committed in the tackle. While their sensational ball handling skills should mean that the All Blacks score plenty of tries throughout the tournament.

Nonetheless, even red hot favourites are vulnerable when they take opponents for granted and there are a number of teams with the talent to win the tournament if they hit their best form in the key matches. As they did when they last hosted the tournament in 1991, England certainly fancy their chances of reaching the Twickenham Final.

New Zealand v Argentina 2011 Rugby World Cup

New Zealand have never won the Rugby World Cup on foreign soil

Rugby legend Jonathan Davies today insisted his beloved Wales have every chance of lifting the trophy. And never rule out two time winners South Africa and Australia. While Six Nations Champions Ireland have earned the right to be optimistic.

The All Blacks kick off their defence of the title against fellow Pool C contenders Argentina at Wembley. With Tonga, Georgia and Namibia completing the group, New Zealand already have one eye on their potential quarter-final opponents. No disrespect to the other four teams, but New Zealand are by far the best team in Pool C and even the All Blacks’ second string would probably power through to the knockout stages. The winner of Pool C will face the runner up in Pool D, which is likely to be France or Ireland next for the Kiwis.

So, can the All Blacks win this year’s competition and retain the title? Of course they can. New Zealand are in scintillating form and their players will be primed and ready for the tournament to get underway. If the Kiwis perform at their best, the title is theirs. In fact, it could even be argued that the competition is already theirs to lose – such is the raw natural talent of that New Zealand side.

As for the status of the upcoming tournament,  World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper insists: “It is the third biggest global event of an international flavour.” The undisputed big two of course are the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.

For the latest Rugby World Cup news and odds, or general union information, click here.

New Zealand beat Argentina in the quarter-finals on the way to winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup

New Zealand beat Argentina in the quarter-finals on way to winning 2011 Rugby World Cup


June 23rd, 2015 at 6:54 pm

It’s time for football to do the talking as lovers of the beautiful game pray for a World Cup to savour

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WC_match-01Despite unprecedented problems for both the host nation and the governing body, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil promises to be a classic.

Anyone who loves the beautiful game will hope that football does the talking from here on in. But when it is all over let us waste no time in cleaning up the corrupt mess that is FIFA and that MUST mean the end of the road for the governing body’s outdated president Sepp Blatter.

To the vast majority of football fans around the world, Blatter is a buffoon whose dictatorial control has made the game a laughing stock. From his sexist remarks about women footballers to his below the belt claims of a a racist British media that is so wide of the mark that it is nothing short of libellous, it is clear that he will try anything to get re-elected.

No doubt he is a brilliant politician who has ruled FIFA with an iron grip. But the time has come for the 78-year-old from Switzerland to depart when his mandate ends in 2015 and under no circumstances can we allow him to be re-elected. The reason I mention this on the day the greatest show on earth kicks off is that we must not be fooled into thinking Blatter and the blatantly corrupt FIFA organisation have done a good job if the 2014 World Cup is a huge success.

by John GubbaFootball is the people’s game and the magic that is about to unfold will be 100 per cent down to the players, the coaches and the fans who will create a special atmosphere in the stadiums and across this huge country.

In the opening round of group matches the tournament has the opportunity to hit glorious heights early doors with some fascinating showdowns between much fancied teams in the first few days of the tournament. Defending champions Spain are up against Holland tomorrow, England face Italy on Saturday and Germany start with a showdown against Portugal and the world’s No.1 player Cristiano Ronaldo.

Tonight Brazil kick off the tournament against Croatia as they begin their quest to make amends for their infamous defeat by Uruguay in the 1950 final, the first time they hosted the tournament. The Samba kings are chasing a record sixth World Cup and the linger they remain in sight of that goal the better for the tournament as a whole.

The bookmakers believe this time the hosts are destined for a final showdown with Argentina, a potential duel between Neymar ― player of the tournament at the Confederations Cup last year ― and his Barcelona team-mate, Lionel Messi.

It is a mouth-watering prospect. Meantime, visitors and a global TV audience will savour Brazil’s vast diversity. Ffrom the dramatic backdrop of Rio de Janeiro’s famed Sugarloaf Mountain to Manaus in the heart of the Amazon, where English fans are praying for a winning start on Saturday night for Gerrard, Rooney and the rest of Roy Hodgson’s Boys.


Sepp Blatter . . . The most hated man in football

FIFA World Cup | humiliation for England in Brazil – why Roy’s boys are good enough to make amends with Rooney on board

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England’s World Cup embarrassment in Brazil has already hit rock bottom   . . . but Roy Hodgson’s men have a golden opportunity to make amends for what happened 64 years ago when the side skippered by Billy Wright crashed to an infamous 1-0 defeat by the USA.

The truth is that for once the huge weight of expectation will be less of a burden for Team England, who arrived in Rio in 1950 with a reputation as the “Kings of Football”, writes JOHN GUBBA.

Ever since our solitary triumph in 1966 and heroic attempt to defend the trophy in 1970, expectations have invariably outweighed the strength of our challenge for the FIFA World Cup Trophy. This time around no one expects England to triumph. While Hodgson has assembled an England team with an exciting blend of youth and experience. 

Consequently, there is a glorious opportunity to restore lost pride. Not by winning the tournament, but by playing a style of football that will give us something to build on for the future.

This we can do if Hodgson has the strength of character to give youth a chance and make the right selections, starting with the opening match against Italy on Saturday.While the mass media play their predictable role of chipping away at morale, this time targeting Wayne Rooney for negative attention, Hodgson has shown his class by deflecting all the barbed comments and creating a team unity the likes of which we have not seen in the England camp for some years.

In Steven Gerrard the manager has  a skipper who has matured into the role he richly deserves and will inspire the outstanding kids around him as well as motivate the more senior players to do themselves justice.The media spotlight is on Rooney to deliver after his previous injury-hampered failures at the World Cup. And there are those who believe the hugely talented Ross Barkley is ready to push Wazza out of the starting line up. But the reality is that the rich seam of outstanding young talent will bring the best out of Rooney and the other established stars.

Too many times on the biggest stage England’s finest have frozen, overwhelmed by the fear of failure. But this time Gerrard and Rooney will revel in the spotlight because they are surrounded by an exciting crop of confident kids who will shine in the heat of Brazil.

In Hodgson we have the first English born manager since World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey, one of the players on the receiving end of that 1950 humiliation by USA, who has relevant tournament experience at international level.

The former manager of Switzerland was not the people’s choice when he landed the top job ahead of Harry Redknapp. But there has never been any doubt in my mind that Hodgson will restore pride in Team England and there is a tangible sense of togetherness about the squad that arrived in Brazil.

To restore lost pride will be just as important as winning matches in Brazil because we have become a second tier nation accustomed to humiliation and under achievement.

by John GubbaSimply getting out of a group that includes Uruguay, Costa Rica and an opening match against Italy would be an outstanding result.Even if we fail to qualify for the latter stages, how satisfying will it be to see hugely talented youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Barclay scare the living daylights out of Italy? The odds are that England will again fail to beat the Italians when the two sides meet in the Amazonian jungle on Saturday night. But give the kids a chance and play to our full potential and the nation will thank Hodgson for doing the right thing.

Mark my words, if Gerrard, Rooney and the kids kick off  their Italian job with a victory then World Cup fever will sweep through England like wildfire and the shame of 1950 in Belo Horizonte will be well and truly buried in the sands of time. 

Undeterred by Prince Harry’s polar race deemed too dangerous, Alex Hibbert’s landmark North Pole trek targets new world record

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As we approach the much heralded BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards the debate over who is our greatest sports man or woman of 2013 will create as many arguments as answers. But one thing is certain, few will consider the extreme sport of polar exploration when asked who they believe should be on the shortlist, never mind who the winner should be.

Prince Harry has raised the profile of this extreme outdoor pursuit, despite his Race to the South Pole being suspended at the weekend. The Walking With the Wounded trek, which is raising money for injured troops, is expected to resume. But organisers say the teams will no longer be encouraged to race each other to the South Pole because conditions are too dangerous.

Now consider that an expedition to the North Pole is deemed to be a more dangerous challenge because you are walking on frozen ice and you will start to appreciate that Alex Hibbert and his team are tackling something extraordinary when they leave London today (December 9) en route for a ground breaking expedition.

Not only is Hibbert leading an unsupported mission to the North Pole, his team are tackling their extraordinary 210 day challenge mostly in the dark. And they are starting in Greenland, from where the North Pole has never been reached.

In sporting terms The Dark Ice Project is an attempt to set a new world record that would dwarf the majority of record breaking achievements of the polar variety, not to mention the more traditional sporting conquests placed before us by the media.

You may ask why would anyone want to do such a thing and the answer is what sets these Dark Ice heroes apart from your average sportsman or woman. As Hibbert says in an exclusive interview with Tina Fotherby:

“If it was easy what would be the point of actually going out there and doing it, of putting your life in danger in order to achieve something pointless? It’s that very fabric and that danger element that it hasn’t been done before that makes the entire reason behind it exist.”

Only a handful of polar expeditions in history have ventured into the polar winter. Beginning in mid-December, this landmark expedition will be undertaken by Hibbert (27), plus team mates James Wheeldon, a 23-year old fellow Brit, and two 24 year-olds, Russian Anastasia Kim and Anders Rasmussen from Denmark.Each will haul over 250kg the length of the Nares Strait and then make an unsupported return attempt on the Geographic North Pole.

The route will cover up to 1800 miles over fractured and mobile sea ice between the cliffs and glaciers of Ellesmere Island and North-West Greenland and then the vast, frozen Arctic Ocean. The team will set out from the Greenlandic Inuit village of Qaanaaq and travel north to the edge of the Arctic Ocean and then the North Pole, before returning. The sea ice through these narrow straits is amongst the most dynamic and technically demanding in the world.

The team will have only their tent as protection against the brutal Arctic winter conditions and their trusty Inuit dog, Dave, whose job will be to warn them when they are under threat from polar bears.

It is not easy to judge who is the greatest  when we compare one sport with another. And many would not even consider the extreme outdoor pursuit of polar exploration to be a sport. But in the rarefied world of this unique trek to the North Pole Alex Hibbert is a leader who will rank alongside the greats if he can lead his team to the North Pole and safely bring them back home in July 2014. It is a triumphant homecoming scheduled to happen  around the time the world will be crowning the greatest football team on the planet and one all-conquering team captain will be lifting the famous FIFA World Cup Trophy.


Explorer Alex Hibbert sets off to North Pole for a Dark and Icy Christmas


Were you watching Mr Blatter? Ronaldo deserves to be crowned World No.1 after knocking out Ibrahimovic’s Swedes

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Who is the Greatest of them all? . . . Cristiano deserves 2013 Ballon d'Or

Who is the Greatest of them all? . . . Cristiano deserves 2013 Ballon d’Or


Ronaldo or Messi. Messi or Ronaldo. The debate over who is the best player in the world is never ending and the argument got personal when FIFA’s buffoon of a President Sepp Blatter recently delivered a tasteless putdown of Real Madrid’s former Manchester United superstar.

Confirming his preference for Messi, Blatter mocked the Madrid hero for having “more expenses for the hairdresser” than the Barcelona player when he made an address at the Oxford Union last month. It sparked a storm that has overshadowed the countdown to the vote for this year’s world player of the year.

Tonight, on the pitch, it was much anticipated Cristiano Ronaldo v Zlatan Ibrahimovic II . . . and the man from Portugal delivered one of the most spectacular statements ever in the quest to be crowned No.1 with a sensational one-man demolition of Sweden’s World Cup hopes.

In one of the most dramatic qualification play-off deciders in the history of the FIFA World Cup, we were treated to a gladiatorial showdown of the highest quality that will force many of the experts who have thus far  favoured Messi to reconsider who is the greatest of them all.

The talk in the game is that the Ballon d’Or voting – which was due to end last week – has been extended to the end of November, which means that Ronaldo’s latest extraordinary show could help him to the world title.

With a ticket to Brazil on the line, Portugal went to Sweden with the slender margin of a 1-0 lead from the first leg. Ronaldo, who scored the winner in Portugal,  struck yet again when he doubled his side’s lead with a 50th minute opening goal that ignited an astonishing duel with his outstanding Swedish counterpart.

Ibrahimovic responded with a stunning quickfire double in the 68th and 72 minutes that made it 2-2 on aggregate. The stage was set for a pulsating final half an hour in the battle for that precious place in the greatest football show on earth and Swedish fans sensed home advantage was destined to give them the edge.

But then came an even more spectacular double from Ronaldo to spark wild scenes of Portuguese celebration. Two goals in the space of three minutes delivered the knockout blow.

It meant the Portugal skipper had scored all four of his country’s goals in an epic shoot out. And with the statesman-like dignity so lacking in president Blatter, Ronaldo insisted his celebrations were not aimed at FIFA’s dictatorial leader who made it clear Messi gets his vote when he  spoke at the Oxford Union last month.

Ronaldo, who clearly believes he is now the undisputed No.1, said this after his match-winnning display against Sweden:: “I do not live my life obsessed with titles and do not have to show anything to anyone, because I have shown my worth, I’ve done 40/50 goals every season and it is not within the reach of anyone. I know what I am.”

In my humble opinion, not since the great Diego Maradona dragged Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup Final in Mexico has there been a footballing superhero so indispensable  to his national team.

Just as Ronaldo dragged Portugal into the 2012 European Championships and then all the way to the semi-finals, the golden boy has done it again by leading his countrymen all the way  to Brazil.

While Barcelona’s adopted Argentinian Lionel Messi has never quite reproduced his majestic artistry for his country, no such criticism can be aimed at  Madrid’s hero who has matched his Barca rival in La Liga. At club level there is little to choose between Messi and Ronaldo.

But on the world stage Ronaldo has surely done enough to claim the top prize.

On a night of high drama, lovers of the beautiful game will be thrilled to see France joining Portugal in the finals after their own sensational comeback from 2 goals down in the first leg against Ukraine with a thrilling 3-0 victory in Paris.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: “A world cup without me is not worth waiting for.”


Don’t call me Dean! How Daniel Sturridge is keeping up the family goal-scoring tradition and believes in Wayne Rooney partnership

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Remember that name: Daniel Sturridge has heart set on being a World Cup hero for England

Remember that name: Daniel Sturridge has heart set on being a World Cup hero for England

Two decades on from the spectacular goalscoring exploits of Dean Sturridge, his nephew Daniel is enjoying the limelight with both Liverpool and England – and the ace marksmen is hellbent on making the world remember his name at next summer’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

by John GubbaI must admit that like many football experts above a certain age I have been guilty of calling the 2013 version of the Sturridge goal machine by his uncle’s name.

Dean Sturridge made his mark when he topped scored  with 20 goals to help Derby County win promotion to the Premier League in 1995/1996. It was a spectacular season for the Rams that launched Sturridge – who went on to complete 10 years with Derby – onto the biggest stage in domestic football.

“People still call me Dean now,” says the current England ace Daniel, adding: “I’ll say ‘wait a minute I’m Daniel’.

The 24-year-old has found a new lease of life since moving to Liverpool, scoring 21 goals in 29 games since he has been regularly accommodated in the central striker role he has always enjoyed the most. Initially benefitting from the 10-match ban for Luis Suarez, Sturridge has  since formed what he describes as a “telepathic” partnership with the world class Uruguayan hitman.

If Sturridge can forge a similar understanding for England with Wayne Rooney, the sky is the limit for the hotshot who showed no lack of ambition when he decalred as a 19 year old at Chelsea: “If a player said he didn’t want to be one of the greats in football, then he would be lying because everyone wants to make a stamp on football.”

“It can definitely be as good,” says Sturridge of his partnership with the Manchester United striker. “Wazza is a world-class player and it is easy to play with him. I enjoy playing with him. We complement each other’s game. In training, it is almost like we don’t need to work on things. We know where we are, where team-mates are.”

On recent form England will go to Brazil as no hopers. But as all top managers will tell you, you always have the ability to beat the best when you have top strikers. In Sturridge and Rooney, Roy Hodgson’s men potentially have one of the most lethal strike forces in world football. And if they do hit it off next summer, the days of people getting Daniel Sturridge’s name wrong will definitely be a thing of the past.

Why Daniel is often called Dean Sturridge

Why Daniel is often called Dean Sturridge

Roy’s Boys were brilliant against Montenegro and Poland so give Hodgson the respect he deserves for restoring England’s pride

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As an Englishman I am thrilled that Roy Hodgson did what he promised and secured qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. What makes me proud is that Roy’s Boys booked their place in Brazil with a swagger, proving all the doubters and the critics wrong in sparkling fashion. There is even satisfaction at the way an honourable man has made a monkey out of the media who mocked his appointment less than 18 months ago.

Instead of getting behind the new man, the pathetic Sun ridiculed the way Hodgson speaks. It was a cynical attempt to make money out of a headline designed to sell newspapers. It backfired because even their own readers recoiled in embarrassment at the headline-writers’ sick sense of humour. While the Sun overstepped the mark of decency, the rest of the media have never been shy in taking aim at the man in the top job. Many felt vindicated because of a blind loyalty to Harry Redknapp, the man the majority of hacks wanted to be at the helm because he has a flair for giving the media what they want. I must admit I was initially disappointed that Redknapp was overlooked. but I have always given Hodgson the respect he deserves.

john-working240borderAs I wrote a week before the start of Euro 2012: “There is little doubt in my mind that the new England boss is going to restore pride in the top job. And that is just as important (as success) this time around.” Post tournament I concluded: “Not only has Roy Hodgson shattered the myth that managing England in the modern era is an impossible job, he has turned around a team with no direction and no hope into a confident squad with no fear and a fresh belief that nothing is impossible. To claim a quarter-finals showdown with Italy at Euro 2012, Roy’s boys have confounded the critics. Only all-conquering Germany won more points in the Group stages. And in skipper Steven Gerrard England have been inspired by one of the stand-out players of the tournament.”

What makes Hodgson’s success so rewarding is that he has done it his way, learning and moving on from his mistakes and never losing sight of the end goal and his footballing philosophy, whatever the media throw at him.

And it is not just the tabloids who are quick to criticise at every opportunity. Just about every national newspaper has turned on Hodgson and his predecessors whenever they get the chance. While former England player Gary Lineker, a man who is always ready with a putdown but never goes out of his way to contribute anything positive, is just one example of the broadcast media who have become part of the pack that feeds on the game and never shirks from sticking the boot in.

What has made the England job increasingly difficult ever since Sir Alf Ramsey’s heroes won the World Cup at Wembley in 1966 is a media that revels in destruction, confrontation and fostering an ugly blame culture that stifles creativity and self-expression. It is no surprise that playing for England was losing its appeal for an increasing number of players. While big name managers primarily viewed the challenge as a chance to bank a gold-plated pension.

It is not just the job of managing England that has suffered at the beck and call of the media. Just take a look at the Premier League. Only Arsene Wenger, another dignified man with the thickest of skins, has had any significant time in the hotseat. While I am not an Arsenal fan and never will be, I do feel a warm glow of satisfaction in publicly sticking by Wenger when the knives were out, now that he has his team sitting proudly at the top of the Premier League summit having pulled off the transfer coup of the summer in signing Mezut Ozil.

No way to treat the England manager: Roy Hodgson has made the Sun eat its words

No way to treat the England manager: Roy Hodgson has made the Sun choke on its ill-chosen words

What really makes me laugh is the way the media are skilled in turning things round to suggest they were right all the time to shower abuse on the men whose jobs they could never come close to doing if they were given the chance. Martin Samuel, great writer that he is, does just this in the Mailonline when he argues that the critics got it right because they wanted Hodgson to be less cautious and Wenger to spend big. This argument is so simplistic that I almost did myself injury laughing at Samuel’s bare-faced arrogance.

Tell me honestly, how many people sitting in Roy Hodgson’s shoes would have gambled on picking Andros Townsend for England’s two decisive World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland. And how many football managers would have succeeded in persuading Ozil to join their team. Not that team selection and transfer activity is the be all and end all. Tactics and creating an unbreakable team spirit is something that only the most gifted of managers get right.

What stands out like a beacon from this World Cup qualifying campaign for England is that Hodgson has created the type of team spirit that we are more used to seeing at a successful club side. In much the same way that Jack Charlton brought success to the Republic of Ireland with a limited pool of talent during his colourful reign from 1986 to 1996, the oldest ever manager to be handed the so-called “Impossible Job” has already done something that his over-rated predecessor Fabio Capello miserably failed to achieve. He has restored English pride for the fans, the players and the manager himself.

The media critics who did not want Hodgson to get the job in the first place will now become self-appointed cheerleaders until the next bad result or shift in public opinion. But we can only make real progress with a long term strategy. Not the kind of short-term knee jerk decision making that we see at some of our biggest club sides. That is why Hodgson must be given a fair opportunity to build on what he has achieved so far. We owe him that at least for getting England to what will be the biggest World Cup in our lifetime.


Becks retirement: Iconic football legend David Beckham deserves his special place in history of the beautiful game

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There is no player in the history of the game who has done more to promote English football than David Beckham. And his retirement at the age of 38 will trigger tributes from around the world because his contribution to the sport has been unique.

Icon, celebrity, legend, superstar, ambassador. No one can bend it like Beckham. And no-one has given back so much to the beautiful game.

He may not be the greatest footballer who ever played the game. But Becks represents something special. Throughout his career he has made the most of his incredible talent, consistently revelled in proving the critics wrong when they have tried to write him off and brought glamour, dignity and pride to representing his country and a glittering array of the world’s most famous football clubs.

Source: via john on Pinterest

At Old Trafford he starred in the team that won an unprecedented Treble in 1999. But when Manchester United sold him to Real Madrid in 2003 after his infamous fall-out with his mentor and father-figure Sir Alex Ferguson, Becks was being outshone by a galaxy of stars.

It has been the same in Madrid, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris and during his long and illustrious England career. But there is no footballer who has worked harder to make the most of his god given talent, to defy the critics who regularly tried to write him off or to win over the fans who did not always love him.

There is no greater measure of the man than the way he turned around the obscene hatred he endured after being sent off in the 1998 World Cup for petulantly kicking out in that epic quarter-final defeat by Argentina.

The way he singled-handedly dragged England to the 2002 World Cup with an unbelievable performance in the decisive qualifying match against Greece was the stuff of legend, crowned by his remarkable injury time free-kick that completed the journey from villain of 98 to glorious hero.

Born on 2 May 1975, David Robert Joseph Beckham made his name playing for his boyhood heroes Manchester United. As a youngster he attended one of Bobby Charlton’s football schools in Manchester and won the chance to take part in a training session at FC Barcelona. After trials with Leyton Orient, Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur, he became part of a famous group of youngsters who won the FA Youth Cup for Manchester United in May 1992.

He went on loan to Preston in 1994/95 before returning to Old Trafford and making his Premier League debut for Manchester United in a goal-less draw against Leeds United on 2 April 1995. At United he went on to win six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the European Champions League with United in that famous Treble-winning year of 1999.

In 2003 he signed for Real Madrid where he spent four years winning the La Liga championship in his final season before joining LA Galaxy. His five-year spell in America included a mid-season loan spell with AC Milan in 2009. He finally left the States to join Paris Saint-Germain in 2013 where he bows out at the top after winning the French League.

Beckham’s international career saw him win 115 caps for England between 1996 and 2009, including six years as captain. Twice runner-up for the FIFA World Player of the Year, he was the world’s highest-paid footballer in 2004 when his commercial earnings boosted his salary at Real Madrid.

Captain Rooney, Goldenballs on bench and Rio at the back spells a winning formula for Wenger’s United England

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Let’s be honest. It is hard to tackle Gary Lineker’s defeatist attitude when he declares: “England do not have an earthly of winning the World Cup.”

So how about thinking outside the box and doing something radical. Cue the professor of football, Frenchman Arsene Wenger, who champions the idea of building the national team around the country’s most successful team. Add the influence of England’s most loyal servant David Beckham, the leadership and vision of Wayne Rooney, the panache and style of the world’s best footballing defender Rio Ferdinand and the new crop of kids from Old Trafford.

The professor earned the respect of United fans and players when he saw red at Old Trafford

Respect – Professor won hearts of United fans when he saw red at OT

In other words let’s build the next England team around Manchester United – past and present – and put Wenger in charge to see if he can turn his vision into reality with the help of players who still know how to win trophies. No.2 Gary Neville will make sure the Frenchman does not neglect his defence – and Roy Hodgson can be the player liaison officer. During matches he can sit with the suits. Just don’t ask him to make any team talks because his Plan B is the same as his Plan A

Much that I admire Steven Gerrard, his leadership in Montenegro was undermined by a performance littered with sloppy mistakes. Like Frank Lampard his best days are behind him. But these golden oldies have an important supporting role to play on the bench along with Mr Golden Balls himself David Beckham.

Becks is back in the frontline with Champions League quarter-finalists Paris St-Germain. He’s the only English player still in the competition. And Carlo Ancelotti has made it clear he still thinks Beckham can deliver at the highest level by offering him another season’s contract that will take him up to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Let’s remind Stuart Pearce what an idiot he was by leaving the former Manchester United star out of his Team GB squad for London 2012 and make him Wenger’s assistant player-manager. We all know that Wenger loves Becks and he struck up a friendship with the Essex boy when he invited him to train with Arsenal.

Becks is an admirer of England’s great Arsenal protege Jack Wilshere having watched him at close quarters in training. He knows the boy will be magical supporting frontmen Rooney and Danny Welbeck, in a midfield surrounded by Ashley Young, Tom Cleverly and Michael Carrick, the most consistent performer at Old Trafford this season.

Everyone can see that Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are the future rocks at the back for England and even Roy Hodgson admits he got it wrong backing John Terry instead of Ferdinand. So how about Ferdinand and Smalling as centre backs with Jones pushing forward from the rightback berth. That leaves a space for Ashley Cole on the left. I am sure he can kiss and make up with his old pal Rio. Even the Chelsea man must have seen the tongue-in-cheek humour of that choc ice twitter jibe.

The goalkeeper has to be Joe Hart- an advocate of a United Manchester and good friends with Ferdinand and other players at Old Trafford – so there is no reason he will not fit into a United England. Former Reds keeper Ben Foster, meanwhile, is an outstanding deputy for the No.1 shirt.

So who will the captain be? I thought that was obvious. Rooney will revel in the role. Judging by the way he is starting to find his form again for England and the confidence boost he will receive from such a vote of confidence will bring out the best of a player yet to fulfil his true potential on the world stage.

It may be April Fool’s Day, but am I really joking here? Think about this formation and you tell me . . .

ENGLAND (4:1:3:1:1) – Hart; Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand, A.Cole; Carrick; Cleverly, Wilshere, Young; Rooney; Welbeck. Subs: Foster, Baines, Cahill, Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard, Defoe. Manager: Wenger. Assistant: Neville

Rio Ferdinand heading for FIFA World Cup in Brazil but will Roy Hodgson be joining him there?

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First of all let me say I have huge respect for both Roy Ferdinand and the current England manager Roy Hodgson, whom I predicted in this column when he was appointed would restore pride in wearing the Three Lions. But like players, managers are prone to making mistakes. And Hodgson has been guilty of failing to use his common sense.

Ferdinand will be heading to Rio one way or another. The betting now is that it will be as a pundit, judging by the impact he has made on Al Jazeera and the fall-out of this latest saga. Whether or not Hodgson makes it there too, with or without the Manchester United defender in the England team, is likely to remain in doubt until October at least. And the shadow of Ferdinand will not go away until England qualify.

 It is typical of the media, especially because he plays for Manchester United, that  Ferdinand has been singled out as this week’s public enemy No.1 by an array of pundits, ex-players and headline hungry journalists. But this is not his fault and if Hodgson was on top of his job this ridiculous scenario would never have happened.  

Hodgson has done himself no favours by naievely walking into a media storm of his own making by the way he has handled his non-selection and subsequent flawed selection of the former England skipper. It was bad enough that the boss made a mess of things in the first place when he omitted Ferdinand in favour of John Terry at Euro 2012. But the re-selection fiasco that has preceded Tuesday night’s crucial showdown in Montenegro could have been so easily avoided with a simple phone call.

As Mark Lawrenson pointed out in the Mirror this morning  “What does the England boss do all week? Are you telling me he could not have called Sir Alex Ferguson or Rio himself and said: “I’m planning to bring you back in the squad. Are there any issues with that?”

Sir Alex Ferguson’s support team at Carrington boasts a sophisticated sports science team that has worked wonders in helping to extend the careers of a succession of star players. The return to form and fitness of Ferdinand is further testimony to the value of a set-up second to none in the Premier League. And it is Hodgson’s job to know what is going on behind the scenes and not use guesswork.

If being England manager simply meant selecting a squad of names and pinning it to the notice board, it would be an easy job that most of us could do part-time. The game has moved on from the days when news of an England call-up was announced to the media before the players, or at least it should have done. Hodgson knew there were potential issues in selecting Ferdinand out of the blue after his public humiliation of the player last year. What is equally worrying is that he alienated Ferdinand in the first place, especially with England being so short of quality in central defence.

As Alan Hansen said in his column in the Daily Telegraph: “If you look at the Premier League this season, it is not surprising that England are so desperately short. The standard of defending has deteriorated to the lowest level I think I have ever seen.”

Managing a national team, especially superstars continually in the glare of media scrutiny, requires many skills, not least the ability to motivate, build team spirit and read situations correctly in order to avoid strength-sapping conflict. My belief is that Hodgson made the mistake of writing Ferdinand off when he alienated him in the summer and now that error of judgement has come back to haunt him. It is a measure of England’s desperate lack of quality at the back that we are still a long way short of replacing the formidable defensive partnership that Ferdinand and Terry once forged.

It was predictable that the media would criticise Ferdinand’s decision to travel to Qatar to sit in a TV studio on Friday night, when he could have been playing in the 8-0 thrashing of San Marino. But there is no way Rio would have made that trip if the medical experts back at Carrington thought it was putting his delicate back at risk. Meanwhile, the reality is that Ferdinand was only needed for the game in Montenegro and if Hodgson had done his homework and tried a lot harder to repair the damage he caused in the first place, maybe this could have happened.

What is indisputable is that Ferdinand has been outstanding for Manchester United this season. The statistics confirm he has been the best defender in the League. His career has been rejuvenated with the assistance of the medical support team who scientifically manage his training programme and advise the manager on the optimum time he should spend on the pitch. Hodgson should have been aware of this and in communication with the United throughout the season. No wonder Sir Alex and Ferdinand were taken by surprise when Hodgson announced his squad on March 14.

Great managers embrace sports science and understand the power of psychology, diplomacy and motivating their players to give everything for the common cause. If England fail to qualify for the 2014 World Cup,  the way Hodgson has blundered his way through his man-management of key players will be called into question.

Whatever the result of Tuesday night’s crunch encounter in Montenegro with the side that currently tops England’s group, who makes it to Brazil will almost certainly remain in doubt until the final qualification matches are completed in October – and the ordeal will continue to the play-offs if England fail to top the group. My prediction is that England will make it to the World Cup. But if they do, let’s hope Hodgson has learned a few lessons and can avoid giving the media the excuse to undermine morale before the team gets on the pitch.

Rio Ferdinand

Rio Ferdinand speaking on AlJazeera

Source: via john on Pinterest