All posts by Jordan Harris

Mourinho exits Old Trafford after exhausting United’s patience

The end came with Manchester United 19 points behind league leaders Liverpool and closer to the relegation zone than the top of the Premier League.

After an emphatic 3-1 defeat by their old rivals at Anfield on Sunday, United finally sacked Jose Mourinho as manager.

Having joined in May 2016, the former Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid boss led them to League Cup and Europa League success, and into the last 16 of this season’s Champions League.

Mourinho had lived at the Lowry Hotel since his appointment – perhaps a sign that he never truly believed he was at Old Trafford for the long haul.

Growing criticism of United’s style of play and endless tales of the Portuguese falling out with leading players, including record signing Paul Pogba, combined with poor results to seal his fate.

Attacking tradition

Despite spending nearly £400m on 11 players since he was first appointed, Mourinho let it be known that he felt let down by the club in terms of recruitment.

‘Whoever comes in will be charged with restoring United’s tradition of attack football’

However, many critics and fans argued that United’s local rivals Manchester City have spent roughly the same to much greater effect.

Whilst they weigh up their options, the United hierarchy have appointed former striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as interim manager for the rest of the season.

Zinedine Zidane, Mauricio Pochettino, Laurent Blanc and Leonardo Jardim are just a few of the names in the frame. Some pundits believe that Blanc, who played under Sir Alex Ferguson towards the end of his career, could be the man to bring the best out of French star Pogba and compatriot Anthony Martial.

Whoever comes in will be charged with restoring United’s tradition of attack football. Furthermore, with Mourinho, gone key players such as  Martial and De Gea are now more likely to sign new contracts.

Game over

Another mostly lacklustre, disjointed display in the defeat at Anfield proved to be the final straw for owners the Glazer family and the club’s board.

Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench to hammer the final nail in Mourinho’s coffin with two deflected goals as Liverpool ran out easy victors.

Sadio Mane opened the scoring with a great volley after his cleverly timed run was picked out by an accurate lofted ball from Fabinho in the 24th minute.

Liverpool had dominated the game up to that point and deserved the lead.

However, an error by goalkeeper Alisson gave United an undeserved chance before the break when he spilled Romelu Lukaku’s seemingly unthreatening cross into the path of Jesse Lingard who, in fairness, did well to follow it up.

After the break, United looked much more fluid and compact. They were starting to frustrate Liverpool, who resorted to shooting from distance.

Afterwards, Mourinho said: ‘In the moment when the game was going down, Liverpool’s intensity was dying, the centre-backs were shooting from 30-40 metres because they could not find spaces in a dangerous area.”

Thus, Klopp then sent on the maverick number 10 Shaqiri to try and find those spaces, and there was a bit of luck about both of his goals. But on balance, it was nothing more than Liverpool deserved.

When the scores were tied at 1-1 it was a tale of two approaches. Mourinho opted to bring on a central defensive midfielder in Marouane Fellaini at half-time, whilst Klopp brought on Shaqiri to chase the win.

Incidentally, Liverpool substitutes have now scored eight goals this season. Those substitutions summed up the managers at the moment.

Mourinho, who hadn’t tasted defeat at Anfield since 2007, was in a fairly gracious mood after the game.

“They [Liverpool] are fast, they are intense, they are aggressive, they are physical. They play 200 miles per hour with and without the ball. I am still tired just looking at [Andy] Robertson. He makes 100m sprints every minute, absolutely incredible.

‘Robertson, Mane, Salah, Wijnaldum, Keita, Fabinho: they are physical players and on top of that they are good players technically. I have lot of good players technically but we don’t have lots of players with that intensity, that physicality, so when the game has high levels of intensity it is difficult for us.’

Walk away

Mourinho had previously promised the board he’d be fourth in the table by Christmas, but last week he backtracked on that prediction, saying it was impossible.

Although United fans have largely been patient with ‘The Special One’, many found this an unacceptable state of affairs for a team who finished second last season and spent £72.5m (Fred £52m; Dalot £19m and Lee Grant £1.5m) in the summer.

With their title hopes long gone, and having been knocked out the EFL Cup by Derby County, Mourinho had a relatively easy home tie against Reading in the FC Cup third round coming up in the new year.

However, the draw for the Champions League knockout stages was less kind and saw United pitted against French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain, which just about summed up Mourinho’s week.

 Leaky defence

Normally, teams under Mourinho are renowned for not conceding too many goals, but this season United’s leaky defence have already conceded 29 which is more than the whole of last campaign.

Furthermore, it wasn’t just the fact that they conceded lots – it’s the fact they have been utterly dominated too often.

‘At Inter, he once looked forward to a Champions League tie at Old Trafford, saying “I want to destroy United”. Unfortunately for their fans, Mourinho has pretty well done just that’

At Anfield, they only registered six shots in the whole game, whilst Liverpool managed to muster 36.

When Mourinho won the Champions League with Porto, he raved that his team were amazing at regaining possession, comparing them to mad dogs with a big bite.

At Real Madrid, he hailed his players’ clinical counter attacking, whilst at Inter he boasted how they could defend for five straight hours without conceding.

None of the above applied at United, where Mourinho generally seemed more determined to throw his players under the bus than praise them.

Whilst with Inter, he once looked forward to a Champions League tie at Old Trafford, saying: ‘I want to destroy United.’

Unfortunately for United fans, Mourinho has pretty well done just that – but whilst sitting in the Old Trafford hot seat – and walks away with £22m for his troubles.

Review: Creed II

Fresh from the box office smash that is Black Panther, Michael B Jordan reprises his role as Apollo Creed’s dynamic heavyweight son Adonis in a sequel that links directly back to the Rocky saga.

Creed II sees Adonis take on Viktor Drago, the son of ruthless Russian boxer Ivan Drago, who killed his father in the ring in Rocky IV. They end up fighting not once, but twice .

Thus, this latest chapter packs plenty of emotional punch as it explores the conflicts that arise as Adonis seeks to avenge his father and fallen hero.

The Rocky series is undoubtedly the most iconic and popular boxing film franchise. However, despite their status, the films are known to be fraught with over-dramatised action and super hero comebacks that don’t accurately represent the reality of the noble art.

However With Tyson Fury’s recent Lazarus-like rise from the canvas against Deontay Wilder, maybe those Hollywood blockbusters aren’t necessarily so over-cooked.

Emotional

As directed by Steven Caple Jr, entrusted with his first big-budget movie at the tender age of 30, the fight scenes in Creed II certainly feel more realistic and less corny than those in the Rocky series, making it a more grounded affair.

‘Creed II shows just how hard it is combine the brutality of training and fighting with a loving family life’

Jordan excels as Adonis, imbuing him with so much passion and conviction that you actually feel he really is a boxer whose dad has died, albeit many years before.

Although the first Creed movie featured British boxer Tony Bellew as its villain, returning to the Rocky series for inspiration ultimately proved too tempting for the producers, including original star Sylvester Stallone, who returns once again as Rocky Balboa, now Creed’s trainer.

So, Dolph Lundgren is back as Drago Snr, joined by Brigette Nielsen as his (now) ex-wife. The Romanian-born, German-raised boxer Florian Munteanu plays their mountainous son.

There are also plenty of emotional father-son issues swirling around Ivan and Viktor, with the former looking to his offspring to redeem his reputation, destroyed by his loss in Rocky IV.

Mental health

The Rocky series is known for its sweaty training montages and inspiring moments where one line from the trainer inspires a huge knockout, but Creed II runs deeper then that.

Yes, the training scenes are still there to show that boxing is a tough and gruelling sport, but the film also touches on the mental well-being of boxers.

‘Ultimately, Creed II highlights both the risks of boxing itself but also the dangers of a damaged ego’

Again, Tyson Fury is the man who most recently shone a spotlight on how fighters struggle with mental health issues, including depression and addiction.

Creed II shows just how hard it is combine the brutality of training and fighting with a loving family life as Adonis’s partner Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is pregnant with their first child.

With a lot on his mind, Adonis rushes into the first fight with Viktor and wins – but only through disqualification. Badly beaten in the process, his ego and spirit are completely destroyed.

Thus, Creed II accurately depicts just how hard it is for boxers to recover both mentally and physically from going to war in the ring. Furthermore, it touches on their vulnerability and how lonely it can be in at the top.

Its not all gloom and doom though, as the film shows how the love and support of family and friends are as just important as training hard.

Trouble

So the stage is set for a second meeting – this time in Moscow – and Adonis is guided by Rocky to adopt a strategy to wear down his opponent, who normally wins by KO early on.

However, he suffers broken ribs in the later rounds and is knocked down, triggering a dramatic climax. This time, it’s Viktor’s turn to be emotionally distracted as his mother leaves rather than watch him lose, whilst his father eventually does the right thing by his son.

Ultimately, Creed II highlights both the risks of boxing itself but also the dangers of a damaged ego, as Viktor looks to fight on even though it could mean serious injury.

The poignant parallels between him and Apollo Creed are made clear as Ivan acts to save his son from the fate that befell Adonis’s father.

He realises that his love for Viktor counts for more than pushing him to win in the ring; the message is you can be winner by learning what is really important, even in defeat.

Exploring the attraction of Kabaddi

Kabaddi is now the second most-watched sport in India behind cricket, with the Pro Kabaddi League attracting over 600 million viewers.

Countries including Iran, Bangladesh and Nepal have already declared it as their national sport. The game has its roots in ancient history but was first widely popularised in early 20th-century India, where it is now the official sport of 10 states.

It’s a game that is easy to understand and only needs a small space in which to be played – a men’s kabaddi court measures 10m x 13m (33ft x 43ft); the women’s version is slightly smaller.

In the UK, the sport was televised in the early 1990s by Channel 4, and these days there are thriving competitions in many cities as well as at university level.

The rising popularity of overseas leagues such as the NFL and NBA shows that British fans are willing to embrace sports that have a little or no home heritage but are just plain entertaining.

Kabaddi arguably has more of a tradition in the UK, thanks to the many waves of immigration from the subcontinent, but how big a deal could it actually become?

I attended a university tournament in London to find out more…

Where’s the ball?

The first thing to note about kabaddi is it’s played without a ball. In some ways, it’s best compared to playground games such as tag and British bulldog. Two teams of seven play 20-minute halves in which each side scores points by attacking or ‘raiding’.

The offensive team sends a raider into the opposition’s half, and he/she must make contact with members of the other team to score points.

When defending, the objective is to capture the raider by wrestling them to the ground or simply by preventing them returning to their own half within 30 seconds.

Tradition dictates that the attacking player must chant ‘kabaddi’ the whole way through his raid. One point is scored for each opponent put out of the game by touching them.

There are many more rules, but that is the best summary without going into too much detail.

In the past, the length of a raid was based on how long you could keep saying ‘kabaddi’. However, in some formats, a 30-second raid rule is now used, although ‘kabaddi’ is still chanted out of respect for the sport’s heritage.

The IC Cup

The IC Kabaddi Cup is a competition for university clubs, and this year’s edition featured nine men’s and four women’s teams: Imperial College (A and B men’s team’s plus women); University of Birmingham (A and B men’s), LSE (men’s A and women’s), King’s College London (men’s A and women) and University of Manchester (men’s A and women).

‘Although kabaddi is mostly popular within Asian communities, the competitors were extremely diverse’

With the tournament starting at 10am, many of the teams were in the Imperial College sports hall warming up by 9.15am. The venue was freezing, and one of the competitors told me: “It is very cold in here, and that’s why after every game I will put on lots of layers to make sure my muscles aren’t negatively affected.

“It also why we warm up and down properly. We need every muscle to be working effectively at all times as it can get quite intense, and that can be the difference to winning or losing points.”

As the hall filled with competitors and fans, the players began running defensive and offensive drills, applying strapping to old injuries and gearing up for hectic day of action featuring five games per hour on different courts. It was certainly action packed.

Improvements

Inclusion is a key aim of university life, whether in studies or in sport, and it was great to see so many people from different backgrounds showing up to compete in a still relatively unknown sport in the UK.

A kabaddi raider is wrestled to the floor in the opposing half

Many of the players are part of the England kabaddi set-up and were also using this competition to polish their form for upcoming games with the national team.

Although, female teams have competed in the IC Kabaddi Cup before, their growing number meant a move away from the round-robin format used in in past seasons.

Furthermore, having attended the competition in the previous two years, it was wonderful to see how much the women’s teams have improved there teams in terms of skills and tactics.

Imperial A and Birmingham A were the favourites heading into the men’s competition. A quick straw poll among spectators made Imperial the front-runners ahead of Birmingham, with one brave soul going for LSE.

Imperial having won the tournament three years in a row since it began In 2015, so expectations were certainly high within their camp. They started the campaign brightly and brushed aside all the teams they faced.

Gruelling

Birmingham A were also very good in the group matches. Their defence was strong and agile, the raiders nimble and clinical. They were one of the form teams heading into the competition and the first match showed just how good they were.

‘With the 2019 Kabaddi World Cup in Malaysia containing a record 32 men’s and 24 women’s teams, surely the future is bright for this amazing sport’

After a gruelling five and a half hours of group matches, the men’s semi-finalists were Imperial A vs King’s and Birmingham A vs LSE. One ended up being a complete mismatch as Birmingham beat LSE 49-8 in a truly one-sided spectacle.

They booked their place in the final after losing to a last-gasp bonus point in 2017, and were fired up to gain revenge. Imperial had a tougher passage in a much closer game as they beat KCL 38-22.

The atmosphere got more intense as the finals began, with Imperial College dispatching their LSE rivals to to win the women’s competition.

A few minutes later, the rousing team talks and battle cries could be heard as Imperial A vs Birmingham A prepared to do battle.

In a finale which had dramatic tackles, last-minute points and injuries, Birmingham held their nerve to triumph 27-20 and break Imperial’s winning streak in the competition.

Future

With Kabaddi growing in popularity throughout the UK, and with its fairly simple rules and lack of equipment, perhaps this is a good time for schools to make it part of their PE offering.

It would certainly help the sport to grow, although the real key to this is more exposure through wider media coverage.

In today’s crowded sports market, this is a tall order, but I believe kabaddi has all the attributes of a sport deserving greater interest and attention.

In today’s multichannel age, and with more sport now being streamed directly to fans via social media platforms, kabaddi could yet grow to rival more established sports.

Inclusion in the Olympics would do wonders for its profile, but this would take a lot of campaigning and persuasion over many years.

However with the 2019 Kabaddi World Cup in Malaysia containing a record 32 men’s and 24 women’s teams, surely the future is bright for this amazing sport.

Kabaddi – Vinay Gupta Q&A

Vinay Gupta is currently balancing the demands of his medical degree with representing England and his university team in Kabaddi.

The 22-year-old from Birmingham competed in this year’s Nationals and IC Cup, with the World Cup in April 2019 now in his sights.

Recently, he won his first IC Kabaddi Cup with the University of Birmingham team.  So, how did it all begin for him, and what are his plans for the future?

How did you get into kabaddi?

It was through an organisation called Shaka , in which i still attend, that got me into kabaddi. Initially, I was quite scared to play as a young boy, but I then got involved near the end of sixth form at school.

As a student, do you find it hard to balance being an athlete with your studies?

Obviously, it’s difficult, but you just have to be quite efficient with time management, especially as I’m studying medicine at university – there’s a lot of work to get through.

But training is usually on weekends or later in the evening on weekdays. Sometimes, we have to travel to London at weekends for England practice sessions, so it is a big commitment. However, we enjoy playing the game, so we don’t really mind.

Overall, I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to balance; in fact it makes you more efficient because you get more done as you have more commitments.

How important is it to have a good bond with the team-mates?

A lot of the game is based on tactics and teamwork. You could be the best player in the world, but if you don’t have a good bond with the six players around you, then you won’t be very efficient as a player.

A lot of the game is related to tackling as a group and communicating with your team. Having a good bond, like we do in the current university and England squads, makes it more fun and you feel on a better wavelength with your fellow players.

Teamwork is especially important in defence, so everyone can support the tackle and anticipate as a unit. When raiding and attacking, it is more individual.

What is the training like for kabaddi?

The training is split between individual and team training. Individual stuff is practising footwork in the garden for example or improving your technique for certain movements.

A lot of kabaddi is technique-based rather then strength, but there is a strength component to the sport, hence why I try and go to the gym four times a week.

As a team, a lot of it is based on us practising on the mat together. Getting tactics right, being in situations where you are on the same wavelength as team-mates and being cohesive as a unit.

There are many drills as well to improve muscle-memory tackles, for example diving on the leg or dashing someone out.  We also individually practice going for bonuses, basic movements and improving quickness of feet.

What is the funding and sponsorship situation like in the sport?

We have our own association, the England Kabaddi Association. Currently, though, we are trying to become part of Sport England which means we need 700-800 signatures from people around the country to become affiliated, which would improve our funding.

At the moment, a lot of facilities are provided by the universities. This year, our university sponsors bought us international playing mats. Funding and sponsorship at the moment isn’t great but hopefully the Sport England affiliation will help.

Whats the most memorable moment in your kabaddi career so far?

The most memorable moments have been representing England, which I’ve done in two tournaments. Firstly, Malaysia in June 2018 where we played teams including Taiwan, Malaysia and some Indian state teams.

I also represented England in May 2017 in Denmark where we played Italy, Poland and Denmark. Aside from that, I’ve been playing university kabaddi for five years and this year was the first in which we’ve won trophies, so that’s another highlight.

As an athlete, what’s your ultimate goal?

My goal is to continue representing England. My short-term aim is to win many more trophies with the University of Birmingham, and there’s a national competition coming up in February.

Then I’d love to represent England at the World Cup in Malaysia (April 2-15), which will be biggest competition in history of game.

After missing out on the 2016 World Cup due to injuries I would love to play in April and give it my all.

How have your family supported you in your career?

When I was going to give up because of injuries, they told me not to quit. Also, since my older brother plays as well, he’s someone to look up to who has inspired me to try harder, reach the England set-up and get better. Family has been very important.

Are you pleased with your results and the progress you’ve made?

When I first started playing at university, I wasn’t the best player, but I was committed to becoming a good player. I studied the game a lot through watching the PKL (Pro Kabaddi League) in India, and then trying to put that into practice at university level. Over the years, it’s seen me rise into the England team, so I think the hard work has paid off.

Is your aim to become a professional kabaddi player?

That will always be a long-term aim of mine. However, being a medical student, logistically taking three or four months off to play in the league in India isn’t really that feasible.

So that’s why I’m aiming more at the level of staying in the England team and being a major part of England Kabaddi, so I can continue on the path of being a good player.

Obviously, playing professional kabaddi is an amazing thing to achieve, but it would also require a lot of hard work and a lot more effort to get to the standard of the guys who play it.

D for Diversity or Delusion?

It would be wrong to deny progress is being made when it comes to diversity within the sports media.

According to data shared at the third annual D Word conference on minority ethnic, female and disabled representation in the industry, things are slowly changing.

Since 2016, there has been an 8.9% increase in the number of women working in UK sports journalism; this number includes a 1.95% rise in females from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. However, overall BAME representation has actually decreased by 0.1%.

Sports journalism remains an overwhelming white, male business, so the question that really needed answering at the latest D Word event was: are we deluding ourselves about the pace of that progress, or even the genuine will to see things change when it comes to recruitment and progression?

When we will get a sports media that truly reflects the UK’s multicultural society and its gender balance, and gives disabled people more career opportunities?

Big hitters

The D Word conference is organised by the Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMS) which aims to promote BAME, gender and disability equality across sports journalism in print, online, on TV and radio.

Held at the BT Sport studios in East London, the event attracts big hitters from the industry, all keen to show they take the issue of representation within it seriously.

‘BAME TV sports pundits? Sure. BAME presenters, producers, editors and production staff? Far less likely. Why do these roles seem less accessible to non-white, female and disabled candidates?’

This year’s cast list included Simon Green, head of BT Sport, Shaun Custis, sports chief at The Sun, Stephen Lyle, head of Sport Channel 4, and Steve Smith, director of content, production and operation at Sky Sports, plus others important figures from BBC Sport, The Guardian and ITV.

However, the impressive roll call only serves to underline that most of the people in senior positions in the sports media still tend to be white and male.

A series of workshops took place, with titles such as ‘Finding Solutions’, ‘Thinking Global’, ‘Going Digital’ and ‘Moving Forward’ during which many interesting and viable ideas were put forward.

However, this being the third D Word conference, many people were starting to get very upset about the lack of progress that had been made; a reminder to those at the top that frustrations are growing.

Highlighted

The casual observer, particularly those watching sport on TV, might wonder exactly what the problem is; after all, non-white, non-male faces aren’t in short supply in front of the camera.

However, that’s a problem in itself. For example, black people in the sports media with no professional sports background remain very thin on the ground. BAME TV sports pundits? Sure. BAME presenters, producers, editors and production staff? Far less likely. Why do these roles seem less accessible to non-white, female and disabled candidates?

There were many more stats highlighted at the D Word conference to underline this disparity of opportunity.

Just three journalists sent to cover the 2018 Fifa World Cup by UK national newspapers were from BAME backgrounds, and only three were female. There was only one black British sportswriter out of around 60+ at the tournament

On a wider scale, only a handful of the 338 roles covering the FIFA World Cup, Winter Olympics and Paralympics, Commonwealth Games, Wimbledon and the inaugural European Championships in broadcast and written media were filled by BAME journalists.

There wasn’t a single woman from a BAME background involved in any of the written coverage of the major events looked at by BCOMS in 2018 across the national newspapers.

Diverse talent

The D Word conference is an event where leading figures from journalism, sport and academia take part in a collective debate on the future of the sports media and the opportunities to create a more diverse industry as it evolves to meet new consumer trends.

This would be fine, but the same debate is still being had third time around, and for some things aren’t changing rapidly enough – hence some of the frustrations on show.

‘Many of those heads of sport who spoke at the D Word conference about the positive steps already taken are deluding themselves when the stats show very little has changed’

However it wasn’t all doom and gloom at the conference. It was announed that London Sport and BCOMS have a new partnership to ‘support young BAME Londoners to forge careers in sport journalism’.

Leon Mann, the founder of BCOMS, said: “The sports media has a serious problem with under-representation, and BCOMS is committed to playing a role in changing that.

“The partnership with London Sport is highly significant for us, as this support allows our network to deliver some very practical outcomes, while helping to provide the industry with some new diverse talent.

“We cannot wait to work with the young people and see them thrive at the [next] London Youth Games and beyond.”

The partnership will identify aspiring sports journalists under the age of 25 and from diverse backgrounds who will receive training and mentoring from the BCOMS network.

Wider issue

This isn’t just a UK-based problem, though. In America, many reports have been published on sports media diversity. According to one from 2017, 85% of the sports editors, 76% of assistant sports editors, 80% of the columnists, 82% of the reporters and nearly 78% of copy editors and designers are white.

At least in the UK, organisations such a BCOMS and London Sport are working towards a more diverse sports media industry.

However, I believe the way that many of those heads of sport who spoke at the D Word conference about the positive steps already taken are deluding themselves when the stats show very little has changed.

A new approach is needed in which senior sports media bosses look more closely at their recruiting processes and seek to avoid simply perpetuating the mainly white, mostly male teams they currently have in place.

This can only start from accepting that currently they are failing to back up their well-intentioned pledges about making the business more diverse.

The D Word conference is undoubtedly good for diversity as it highlights the tensions between the progress made (some) and still needed (plenty) in the sports media industry.

Will some of those tensions have been addressed by the time the next D Word events takes place?