It’s Daniel Sturridge’s time to lead England’s line


The business end of a World Cup season normally proves to be a desperate time for an England manager and fans alike. Injuries over the last decade to David Beckham and Wayne Rooney to name a few (don’t forget Danny Murphy and Gareth Barry!) tend to form a dark cloud over the nation’s preparations for the biggest show piece in football.

Another topic that swirls curious intrigue and often pertains cathartic bias to the die-hard fan – who should make the plane? This World Cup year feels like the first in a very long time that presents realistic and tangible opportunity to the Premier League’s elite English performers, which is an especially auspicious horizon.

For me, too many years passed where players were dead-cert starters regardless of form or suitability due to reputation. Now, to clarify, players don’t gain notoriety and status within the game without certain accomplishments and merits at club level. It’s an age-old old formula, excelling at club level leads to international recognition and thus, a reputation as a top player. These reputations do occasionally cause players to outstay their welcome in the starting line-up, if not the squad. For the first time in recent memory, the England starting XI is the land of opportunity.

The problem which developed over that course of time, was the manager’s insistence on fitting big names into their sides. Players who impressed at club level, were fed into the international fold but in alien roles. Emile Heskey, who in his prime was a credible target man and foil, was playing left-wing. I could write an article trying to dissect that alone. Every left-winger in the country must have felt so insulted and bereft of any hope to ever play for the Three Lions. That’s not even an insult to Heskey, he just couldn’t have been further from a left sided midfielder if he tried. Gareth Barry doing the 100m is a better fit. I’d sure prefer to watch that anyway.

For many years the left-sided role was realistically the only slot available. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and David Beckham were all sure-fire starters. All of which, have their own immense qualities of course, but trying to fit Gerrard and intermittently Scholes, into the left-side of a diamond wasn’t conducive to those said qualities. No wonder Scholes retired in 2004, I don’t doubt he could have seen years of that problem ahead if he had remained. Which, he definitely could have done for another five years – easily.

Whatever shape England has sported since Wayne Rooney’s England debut in 2003, the Manchester United man has been a part of it. At the time he emerged, 4-4-2 was still a popular and the almost default formation in this part of the world. Jose Mourinho’s 4-3-3 concept which featured Damien Duff and Arjen Robben as wide forwards off of a central target man revolutionised the Premier League. His balance of three men in the middle which featured one acting as an anchor, dominated the centre of the park as well as bringing out the best in a released Frank Lampard. However, on England duty, Lampard would have to revert back to a flat middle two, and be expected to wield the same prolific goal-scoring exploits.

Spain’s 4-5-1 is heavily reliant and engineered through the midfield’s deft flexibility and seamless movement. Many try and play various permutations of it, but no one quite like Spain. England haven’t been a slave to any traditional formations in recent years, nor carry any identity with any either. England manager Roy Hodgson has flirted with all three of the aforementioned systems during his tenure, with varying degrees of success – though it must be noted and commended that Hodgson has handed 17 first caps since he took the reins, including the introduction of Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling to international football. Interestingly, while researching that stat, I discovered that James Milner has been the most used outfield player under Hodgson, featuring in 20 of the 25 games he’s presided over.

Though it could be argued England’s star power has faded in the years since Beckham and co, with Lampard and Gerrard in the winter of their careers too, new and exciting talent have been proving in England’s top flight this year they’re ready to take the next step. England don’t have to cling for dear life and struggle their way to a second round exit this year, Hodgson should have faith in his revitalised ranks, and here’s why:

Steven Gerrard should lead a midfield containing club-mates Jordan Henderson and Sterling, as well as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshire, Lallana and Barkley. That should be seven of the minimum eight, probably nine, midfielders to make the plane and would be a positive selection of intent on Hodgson’s behalf. Owing to the earlier stat, I would bet James Milner will take up another spot, which is fine by me given his performances this term, versatility and - you guessed it – his work-rate. The 4-5-1 is the most flexible and durable formation that can accommodate our talent, which can also morph into a 4-3-3 with the correct wingers.

Skipper Gerrard has been nothing short of incredible this term in the deep-lying playmaker role at Anfield. He’s a no brainer. I personally, am a huge Jack Wilshire fan and he has the potential to be among the very best in the world. While I would have a place for him in my squad, Henderson has simply been better this campaign and he deserves to fill in alongside his team-mate. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling provide the perfect balance of industry and pace combined with their direct, no fear styles. They also provide a terrific platform for counter attacking football which isn’t something England are renowned for excelling in.

In front of the Liverpool pair and in-behind the lone forward, Southampton skipper Lallana is the perfect fit with his poise, composure and ingenuity. I don’t believe England have another player of such a cultured nature as that of Lallana, which is the perfect blend with the pace out wide and incisive passing behind him – it’s a great mixture of footballers.

This breeds the question: Rooney or Sturridge?

Instinct might tell you both. Sure, you cold farm Sturridge out wide-right to cut in on his left like in his Chelsea days. Or, Rooney could potentially drop into the Lallana role and pull strings in behind Sturridge. The latter to me, is more conceivable and basically viable in the set up given the duo’s respective qualities.

If you move Sturridge out wide, then you aren’t getting what he has produced at Liverpool this year., much like in the days of having Gerrard left-side of a diamond. He needs to be running through the middle, looking for channels and receiving the ball to feet. Sturridge has hit 30 Premier League goals in 45 outings for Liverpool since he moved from Chelsea in January 2013. It could be argued the forward has really excelled as a member of the partnership with the diminutive Luis Suarez. Suarez has sat out 18 games alone for being an alleged racist cannibal during that time, so Sturridge has shown he can shoulder the responsibility and lead the line himself too.

With Rooney, he is without doubt a top quality player. His record of 89 caps and 38 goals sees him at 28-years-old, 11 goals away from the all-time goal-scorers record for his country. When it’s all said and done, he will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest strikers this country has ever produced. Rooney has a respectable 15 league goals this season in a struggling (that’s generous) Manchester United outfit, which is five goals shy of Sturridge’s total thus far.

Has Rooney really delivered at a major tournament since the World Cup in 2006? He appears to find the net is qualifying, picking up braces against San Marino and so on easily enough, but he hasn’t drove us forward like the top stars should. People often cite Rooney as a world-class player, but for me he is in a bracket slightly below icons like Ronaldo and Messi. They will invariably always deliver, the general rules of form don’t seem to exist within their worlds, whereas England’s talisman is prone to going through barren patches. For all the enthusiasm and passion I enjoy and love Rooney for, I feel Sturridge is a more dangerous threat leading the line.

Another problem I have with Rooney leading the line in a 4-5-1 is his tendency to come deep and get on the ball. As part of a two, as with Manchester United and Robin Van Persie, that is fine. With England however, Rooney ends up treading on peoples toes, and we fall into a pattern of shifting the ball side to side in and around the opposition’s box before falling vulnerable to a counter-attack. Really, the amount of times that happens at Wembley in particular is astounding. If there aren’t willing runners to get in behind Rooney when he drops off, then it defeats the object.

In Sturridge, I feel he represents a livelier immediate sense of danger in our attack and also gives us the ability to get in behind with his pace and movement. A way to factor both men in, would be to revert back to a 4-4-2 and have them combine up-front. That would be a very dangerous duo by all accounts, but I can’t see England coping with a flat two in the middle against the world’s best. Especially given the expected heat in Brazil this summer, having the extra body will simply enable teams to pop the ball around us.

Could Rooney play in behind Sturridge? I think that is plausible. He certainly has the tools to do it, though I believe Lallana to be a more fluid option. Lallana is certainly more adept to taking men on and is successful at it too. He makes runs and drives into uncomfortable areas for the opposition and has that bit of imagination that you need when you get there, which I think, coupled with his form this year, means he deserves a chance.

The frustrating thing is, Rooney can play as an out and out striker. In the last two years a tournament has fallen he has had scintillating seasons with 26 and 27 league goals respectively, before failing to replicate the form in the summer. He did that as the focal point of the United attack, yet conversely he bagged 12 goals last year and 15 so far this year, since RVP’s arrival and inevitable change in shape and role.

It’s easy to pick what you know, but the habit of picking players on name is detrimental to the evolution of the team. Players have emerged who deserve their shot to provide a new generation of progressive, technical footballers. I would rather see us try and implement and encourage that ethos, than struggle our way to an early exit. I honestly believe these players are good enough to do it too. That’s my opinion. I would dearly like to be proved wrong by Rooney and he steal the show this summer, believe me I would. However, given this seasons showings, below is my England line up come June 14th, pending availability:

                                           Hart

Johnson               Cahill                     Jagielka                Baines

                             Henderson            Gerrard ©

Sterling                               Lallana                      Oxlade-Chamberlain

                                           Sturridge

Wrestlemania XXX - The Complete Review


Wrestlemania. The showcase of the immortals. Wrestling’s World Cup, Super Bowl, World Series, Grand Slam and Stanley Cup all rolled into one. This is without doubt the biggest event on the sports entertainment calendar and WWE’s 30th annual instalment potentially promised an extra special occasion choc-full of those ‘Wrestlemania moments’.

I for one, was not disappointed. The card was stacked with intriguing plotlines and exciting superstars that the WWE so often manages to combine in timely fashion for Wrestlemania season. This PPV is the WWE’s grandest event and you can normally guarantee they’ll go the extra mile for the fans.

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I shall run through last night’s card, an overview of each bout’s background followed by a description of the action, review and rating.

Pre Show – Tag Team Titles, Fatal-4-way Elimination: The Usos Vs The Real Americans Vs Rybaxel Vs Los Matadores.

Overview: Back on March 3rd, The Usos captured the Tag-team gold from The New Age Outlaws for the first-time on an edition of Monday Night Raw. NAO were on only ever really transitional champions, taking the belts from the Rhodes Brothers (Cody & Goldust) at the Royal Rumble in January. It’s pretty rare the WWE will have one face (good guys) take a title from another face, so it made logical sense to most that the NAO would take the straps being heels (bad guys) and set the Uso’s up for their first win. The fact this match was on the pre-show, and the limited rivalry developed between any of the teams bar the Usos and The Real Americans, suggested that a title change was unlikely. It was also too many hardcore fans regarded as a meteoric waste of Cesaro’s burgeoning star power and non-sensical to not include The Rhodes Brothers, who have nether split nor gone on to another storyline.

Important moments:

-          Real American Jack Swagger’s patriot lock eliminated Los Matadores

-          Cesaro eliminated Rybaxel when he hit the neutralizer on Ryback

-          The Usos retained the titles with a double splash on Cesaro

-          Cesaro used the giant swing on Swagger to end the Real Americans

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Review: Although the match was a decent watch and carried a relatively fast tempo, the real story was Cesaro’s break from The Real Americans at its climax. I was surprised Cesaro was the one to take the deciding fall, as the WWE normally protects the supposed stronger partner in a tag-team from taking the pins to boost credibility. After Swagger got in Cesaro’s face, the Swiss-born superstar executed his immensely popular and impressive Giant Swing to solidify the end of the union managed by Zeb Colter. WWE had teased this for what seems an age and now Cesaro’s long-awaited face run appears to be on us after spending nearly a year in this heel faction.

Rating: 6/10

Opening segment – Hogan, Austin, Rock Promo

Overview: It was announced in accordance with the WWE Network that Hulk Hogan would return from his frankly disastrous run in TNA, and come home to the company that made him. Hogan was to host the 30th instalment of the showpiece he main evented in its very first edition. Hogan made his way to the ring, bumbled a few lines before Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupted to what has to be considered a massive pop (crowd reaction). The Texas rattlesnake teased hitting Hogan with a Stunner before putting over (endorsing) Hogan’s legacy. Queue The Rock’s music, which again drew a massive, massive pop. Huge ‘Rocky’ chants drowned the Mercedes Benz Superdome arena in New Orleans. The Rock did his usual shtick with some rhyming twists before proclaiming the two men he shared the ring with the two biggest names in the history of wrestling. Difficult to argue, though I’m sure some would. The Great One remincied about how he faced both of them at different Manias (four infact, 99’, 01’, 02’, 03’) before each signed off with their signature catchphrases and toasted a textbook Steve-Wiser.

Important Moments:

-          Hogan mucking up the name of the Stadium was gold. He said Silverdome (where Wrestlemania III was held, and he bodyslammed Andre the Giant) instead of Superdome.

-          Rocky & Austin both jumped on the joke, which Hogan took in his stride and the crowd loved

-          Three icons toast to start the show off

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Review: I loved it. PPV’s rarely have promo spots (interviews) within them these days, and given when The Rock hosted Wrestlemania 28 he did a very tedious and pointless one, I didn’t have high hopes for Hogan. However, it ended up being a very amusing use of time and gave the opportunity to a wide audience who no doubt, like me, consider these three men heroes of theirs.

Rating: 9/10

Daniel Bryan Vs HHH – Winner inserted into triple threat main event for WWE World Heavyweight Title.

Overview: The essence of this story stretches back to Summerslam last year where Triple H, acting as a special guest referee in Daniel Bryan’s WWE Title match with resident poster-boy John Cena, decided following Bryan’s big win he would screw the leader of the ‘Yes Movement’ with a Pedigree, allowing his hand-picked face of the company, Randy Orton, to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase and thus, steal his newly won title. This sparked a near eight-month battle between Bryan and The Authority, who have constantly tried to keep Bryan from being the main man in the company. HHH labelled him a ‘B+’ player, and when Bryan asked to face him at Wrestlemania the COO (chief operator of operations) believed Bryan was beneath him. It’s worth noting, Bryan is SUPER over (popular) in the WWE right now and has been for some time. Especially since CM Punks abrupt departure, the fans have pined for Bryan to represent them as their underdog, their success story. I haven’t seen crowed reactions for a guy like this since Austin in the late 90’s. For the less informed fan, HHH is known to have a prior reputation backstage as being someone who will actively bury talent (stifle/end careers) he doesn’t like. Which of course gives added intrigued – would he actually put Bryan over? (help him get bigger/win).

Important Moments:

-          Excellent video package, the WWE really are outstanding at putting those together

-          The Yes chant consumes the stadium prior to the match, Bryan rejects HHH handshake

-          HHH 18 Mania matches, Bryan 3

-          Triple H works the shoulder, locked in Bryans patented ‘Yes Lock’

-          Great spot where Bryan flips to the outside and HHH swats him to the barricade. Bryan also nails a cool looking tornado DDT from the apron to the floor

-          Each man kicks out of each other’s finishers, a frequent at Wrestlemania

-          Bryan Wins Via Running Knee then pinfall

-          Stephanie then walks in the ring and continually slaps Bryan, drawing a smile from Bryan.

-          HHH attacks Bryan’s shoulder after the match on the ring-post with a steel chair.

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Review: Best opening bout I’ve seen in a long, long time. The performances, spots, pace and overall story telling was excellent. HHH can still really go to, I think people often forget he’s easily one of the best in-ring technicians there has ever been. The combination of him and Bryan was just an excellent blend. Bryan’s irrepressible offence was a symbol for his never say die attitude against the oppressive HHH. Triple H’s ring demeanour was also fantastic to watch, often swatting and viciously hammering Bryan away as the bigger man in a fight often will. But Bryan would not be stopped. The work on the shoulder also played up the underdog tag, and would be a significant bit of storytelling as the night progressed.

Rating: 9/10

The Shield Vs The New Age Outlaws & Kane

Overview: This ‘feud’ so to speak had precious little legs to work with, and probably explains the quick nature it was dealt with. The backstory merges into the Authority’s with Daniel Bryan, where the Shield acted as HHH’s henchmen for several months, often giving beat downs to a wounded Bryan. Kane was also part of the authority, acting as a Director of Operations, taking off his mask and pulling on a suit to morph into Corporate Kane. Quite simply, The Shield grew tired of taking orders off of Kane, and turned face by attacking him. Kane then for some reason enlisted the NAO (their tentative links to HHH many moons ago through DX) who also donned suits, and challenged the Hounds of Justice at Wrestlemania. In my opinion, The Shield are still extremely hot, and perhaps should have been broken up when it was teased around elimination chamber following the Wyatt family feud. A triple threat match between The Shield would have been an instant classic, I don’t see why the veterans really needed be on the card.

Important Moments:

-          The Shield make quick work winning under 5 mins with an utter destruction.

-          Reigns hit a double spear on the Outlaws, as well as spearing Kane

-          Reigns hit superman punches on both Outlaws

-          Rollins flipped to the outside and hit Kane with a lariot

-          A never-seen before double powerbomb on the Outlaws at the same time finished the bout

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Review: Don’t get me wrong, the in-ring action was delivered and then some as usual by The Shield, but there wasn’t any real reason to invest in the match or any suspense created what so ever. It was a pure demolition from start to finish, a waste for a trio as talented as Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. It could be argued that it would have been difficult to put on a clinic after such a great match preceded it, but the fans still gave a respectable amount of energy to the bout.

Rating: 6/10

Andre the Giant Memorial 30-Man Battle Royal

Overview: The whole purpose of this match is without a shadow of a doubt is to give as much of the locker room some ring time at the biggest event of the year. There were guys in the ring who don’t even get a match on Main Event, so it wasn’t as star studded as one might think. Hulk Hogan announced on Raw about a month before Mania that this battle-royal would take place to commemorate the greatest big man the industry ever saw. It’s a nice touch, and an added bit of interest to the show. Not quite the same as when Money in the Bank was at Mania…but still, I welcomed a fresh kind of match.

Participants: Big E, Dolph Ziggler, Fandango, Alberto Del Rio, Damien Sandow, Titus O’Neil, Cesaro, Sheamus, Big Show, Mark Henry, Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal, Drew McIntyre, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, Kofi Kingston, The Miz, Brodus Clay, Darren Young, Justin Gabriel, Rey Mysterio, R-Truth, Santino Marella, The Great Khali, Zack Ryder, Sin Cara and Brad Maddox

Important Moments:

-          Big Show & Sheamus only ones to have entrances

-          Kofi Kingston with an incredible bit of improvisation to stay in after Cesaro chucked him over

-          Final five: Ziggler, Del Rio, Sheamus, Big Show, Cesaro

-          Cesaro wins after lifting Big Show, and holding him, above his head

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Review: Like most Battle Royals, until the final few it’s a very clunky and miss-able engagement. Just a lot of clubbing and hanging on the ropes while superstars try to tip others out/bide their time. The Kofi Kingston spot is incredible, as many will have become accustomed to seeing and expect. It definitely got me on the edge of my seat, maybe even drew a ‘wow!’ from me, which is good at 2:30am. The real moment was Cesaro bodyslamming, and holding for a few seconds I must add, Big Show out of the ring. Bearing in mind Hulk Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant, we should have seen there would be some kind of reference to that in this bout I guess. Cesaro was also the only superstar pulling double duty after featuring in the pre-show, so that’s another indicator he would win that I missed. Seeing Cody Rhodes and Goldust feature in this was very annoying to me too. They should have split the team and had them face each other at Mania, enough fans want to see it. Goldust’s interest in this match was amusingly obviously low to all as he just strolled about the ring, barely bothering to appear he was trying. Cody is dangerously close to being ready to being a main-eventer in my eyes, his in ring performances are right up there. Still, the finish which truly cemented the beginning of Cesaro’s singles face run will definitely go down as one of those ‘Wrestlemania moments’.

Rating: 7/10

John Cena Vs Bray Wyatt

Overview: A good way to keep this short and sweet for fans who follow wrestling would be to say just research the Kane and Cena feud from the beginning of 2013, it’s literally almost exactly the same. Bray Wyatt though of course is infinity times better on the mic than Kane and built the feud with his cryptic and captivating promos (particularly when he told Cena he could go home to his plastic girlfriend…who just so happens to be Nikki Bella, who has an expensive pair of breasts). His two sidekicks, Luke Harper and Eric Rowan also did their fair share of leg work in the weeks building up to the event, facing the 14-time world champion on numerous occasions and indeed attacking him. Much like Kane wanted Cena, a seemingly eternal good guy, to embrace the hate, Wyatt insisted Cena’s heroic persona was a façade and wanted to show the world the real, darker John Cena.

Important Moments:

-          Another great video package recapping the rivalry, portraying Cena as concerned about Wyatt’s wild and ruthless ways

-          Cena visibly frustrated and angry in the early exchanges

-          Majority of the crowd booing Cena

-          Cena goes for five-knuckle shuffle and Wyatt pops up in a reverse crab

-          Cena goes for leg drop from the top-rope and Wyatt catches and reverses into a powerbomb

-          Cena cross-body to the outside on the Wyatt Family

-          Luke Harper speared through the time-keepers barricade by Cena

-          Wyatt kicked out of Attitude Adjustment, Cena kicked out of Sister Abigail

-          After trying to convince Cena to hit him with a chair, Wyatt catches and AA and Cena wins with a three count

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Review: The priority here should have been to put Wyatt over. He’s quite obviously becoming a main attraction within the WWE, and despite working as a heel, the crowd love him. With nothing really on the line, Cena didn’t absolutely have to win this match. I feel a win for Wyatt, who only beat Daniel Bryan clean at the Royal Rumble back in January, would have done so much more for his character. Yet, we were forced to see Cena, yet again, rise above the odds and emerge victorious. The performance was more than good enough, I was interested in the match and its developments. However, how much of that was what was going on, or my desire to see Wyatt win, is debateable. Wyatt has a methodical, slow-pace to his matches where he controls affairs that also might catch some viewers off guard after the electric bouts that came before it, but it’s still masterful ring work.

Rating: 7/10

Re-cap of Hall of Fame ceremony: Carlos Colon, Razor Ramone, Mr T, Lita, The Ultimate Warrior, Paul Bearer (I still love Razor Ramones: “Ay yo”)

Undertaker Vs Brock Lesnar – The Streak

Overview: Precious few people in the world, wrestling fans or not, won’t know about the Undertakers Wrestlemania streak. Going into the bout with former NCAA, WWE and UFC Champion Brock Lesnar, Taker was 21-0. The Deadman had beaten the likes of Shawn Michaels (twice), HHH (three times), Diesel, Edge, Kane (twice), CM Punk, Batista, Randy Orton and Ric Flair. I might as well have named them all after that, but that’s still a very impressive big-game resume. Originally, Lesnar wanted a piece of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and believed he was, despite Batista’s Royal Rumble win, the deserving, outright, number one contender. Next thing you know, Taker’s gong hits, and the writing was on the wall. Another magnificent Paul Heyman-centric video package aired, detailing how The Undertaker stuck a pen in Lesnar’s hand at the contract signing and had the upperhand before Lesnar’s sneaky F5 on the Raw before the event. There was little to no sign the streak would be broken going into this match, and I fully expected an Undertaker victory once again.

-          Standard 10 minute entrance for Taker. Lesanar doesn’t appear intimated

-          Lesnar powerbombs out of Hells gate X2

-          Finishers are exchanged

-          As Taker is executing Old School, Lesnar reverses into a second F5

-          Lesnar reverses a second tombstone into a third F5. Lesnar wins via pinfall!

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Review: My initial reaction to the result was to sit there with my hands on my head for a good five minutes in disbelief. I genuinely thought something must have gone wrong or Taker was badly hurt, because Taker losing his streak was simply inconceivable – especially to a part-timer. Having had time to let the dust settle and take in what happened, I actually think it was incredible. I’ve never seen a crowd stunned into silence like that, it was perfect! The swerves and surprises are what make watching this soap-opera like product so addictive, and I was well and truly shocked. Never in a million years would have predicted that. Well maybe if I had a million years I might. People will obviously have a big problem with Takers legacy being compromised and feel it should have been left well alone. I can see and sympathise with those views, and I feel a bit that way myself. I don’t mind it being broken however if it leads to a greater significance. Really, Lesnar should go onto something bigger from here, a title reign must be in his near future. If he doesn’t, for me, that’s a massive slap in the face to such a prestigious honour as beating Undertaker at Wrestlamania. We’ll have to see where that goes on that one, but for shock value that was absolutely fantastic viewing. Stalling Lesnar’s music after the win was class too – literally no one knew what was going on. Taker himself looked out on his feet nearly the entire bout. Unless he is an Oscar worthy actor, I would say he is dangerously close to being, if not already, done. The after match lingering in the ring and commentary certainly suggested that was The Phenom’s last match, which gives me goose-bumps just typing. He is a cornerstone of the entire industry, and if it is the final time we see The Undertaker – as the 75,167 strong New Orleans crowd chanted - thank you Taker.

Rating: 8/10

Vickie Guerrero Battle Royal – Divas Championship

Overview: This will be quick. There is pretty much zero background to this match. Vickie Guerrero decided to chuck the longest ever reigning Divas Champion in a match with every Diva on the roster in order to stack the odds and hopefully, take the title from AJ Lee. AJ entered the match on a horrendous run of results, a quite incredible losing streak for a champion truth be told, which just so happened to coincide with her boyfriend CM Punks departure from the company. Make of that what you will.

Important Moments:

-          AJ Lee wins via submission with Black Widow on Naomi

-          Terrible match overall

-          Bellas suicide dive through the ropes onto all the other Divas

-          Natalya attempts a triple Sharpshooter

-          Bellas stand-off a watchable moment

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Review: It’s funny, because I couldn’t take my eyes off the action for all the wrong reasons on this one. I encourage you to give it a watch if you get the chance, because the so-called action was painful. Half the women don’t know how to take the bumps, and the others had such little fluidity in their moves it was like the lady receiving the move hadn’t been told what was going to happen at all. Incredibly painful viewing! Natalya as usual was the one ray of light being the efficient performer she is. Alicia Fox was surprisingly good too, executing a frankly excellent tilt-a-whirl back breaker I thought miles beyond her or anyone in that ring. To be fair, if she was allowed on television, at all, I might have known she was capable of more. The Bellas suicide dive to the outside on all the Divas was carried out well enough, the resulting altercation between the two had potential to be a semi-plausible Wrestlemania moment, and the crowd encouraged them to make the most of it following complete silence the Undertakers result had bestowed upon them. Poor girls. Sadly the moment came and went far too quickly, and the girls little push and shove didn’t really fulfil the build-up. Still, I love watching AJ Lee lock in her Black Widow submission, that’s a very cool, easy-on-the-eye move. If you enjoy a good botch (muck up), this match will bring you a degree of joy.

Grade: 4/10 (that’s generous)

Backstage segment – Mean Gene Oakland interviews Hulk Hogan talking with WM1 opponents Roddy Piper & Paul Orndoff before Mr. T enters

Overview: It was a simple throwback and reference to the first Wrestlemania main event just prior to the 30th’s. All men begrudgingly and reluctantly shook hands to bury the hatchet. The best part of the whole thing was Mr. T coming in and saying his line waaaaaaay too early, it was comedy at its highest level as he clamoured to repeat the line when he was actually meant to say it like nothing had happened, while Roddy Piper tried to save the day. I laughed hard. I suppose the segment had some context to it given the occasion, but still without Mr. T’s muck up, it was an awkward bore. I can’t bring myself to grade it lower than the Diva’s, mind.

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Grade: 5/10

MAIN EVENT - Randy Orton Vs Batista Vs Daniel Bryan – WWE World Heavyweight Championship

Overview: The beginnings of this story you can see from the top of the show when Bryan faced HHH. While that rivalry continued to escerlate, Orton managed to go on and beat John Cena to unify the WWE Title with the World Heavyweight Title to make what we now have, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Orton has flipped between vicious heel, to winey, coward champion for the last 6 months either hiding behind or arguing with the Authority as they demand he be the face of the company. As 2014 begun, Dave Batista announced he would return to the WWE after a 3 year hiatus and would enter the Royal Rumble (which he obviously won). So, the stage was set for the old Evolution stable-mates to headline Wrestlemania - except nobody wanted that. Batista was pushed as a face upon his return, but fans who were angry internet darlings CM Punk or Daniel Bryan didn’t win the Rumble booed him out of every building, for simply being booked to win the Rumble. Now known as Boo-Tista to the wider public, The Animal has embraced the bitter crowds and reverted to the heel persona he exhibited before he exited the company. Faced with two heels in the main-event and a crowd likely to boo the main-event from start to finish (e.g Goldberg/Lesnar WM20), the WWE had to submit somewhat and give Bryan the opportunity to compete for the title in the main event. An opportunity we have learned he took full advantage of at the beginning of the night.

-          Early stages, Bryan favouring left shoulder and goes down early. Batista and Orton slug it out

-          Triple H w/ Stephanie comes down and breaks up the count

-          HHH brings in Scott Armstrong, who tries to count following Batista hitting a Batista bomb on Bryan

-          Bryan dives through the ropes hitting Armstrong, HHH and Stephanie, injures Steph

-          HHH pulls out his famous sledgehammer, which Bryan manages to grab and hit HHH with

-          Incredible spot where Batista powerbombs Bryan through a table where Orton connects with a reverse RKO at the same time!

-          Bryan put on a stretcher, but at the bottom of the aisle takes himself off and back into the action

-          After Batista hits a Batista Bomb on Orton, Bryan nails a running knee and then locks in the Yes Lock making Batista tap. Bryan wins via submission!

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Review: Wow. Now that’s a main event! Bearing in mind three years ago the main event was John Cena Vs The Miz, which the latter won incredibly, it’s worth noting the bar has been incredibly low in recent times. Even Rock Vs Cena part II was a laboured piece of wrestling which was effectively a finisher-fest. This however was booked to perfection, and had the right pick me ups for the crowd at just the right times which the booking team must have known would be vital following Takers loss. After a luke-warm start, the crowd were fully invested in Daniel Bryan’s pursuit of the top prize in the industry. HHH’s interference and attempt to insert a corrupt official peaked my interest, and I couldn’t help but get off my seat when he pulled his infamous friend out from under the ring – his sledgehammer. Seeing Bryan turn the tables and use the foreign object on The Game was immensely satisfying for those watching, and had the energy at fever pitch for the first time in the bout. The Batista Bomb come RKO on Bryan through the announce table was mind-blowing. I love a never seen before spot, but that was insane. Orton took a monitor right to his spine for his troubles too which looked rather nasty, but it was Bryan who was stretchered away seemingly unconscious. After Orton and Batista traded blows and moves in the ring, Bryan rallied off the stretcher to re-join the fray. Following a Batista Bomb which put the champion out of commission, Bryan hit his running knee and applied his Yes Lock to make The Animal tap and send the Superdome delirious. The site of Bryan holding both titles above his head (left shoulder miraculously better) with confetti raining down brought back memories of Chris Beniot’s victory 10 years earlier and gave the occasion the celebration it deserved.

Rating: 10/10 – Booked to perfection

Overall, I feel the main storyline with Daniel Bryan, which invariably people will have paid their money for, was performed in a way which I’d forgotten the WWE can. It was a masterful ride on their part, nothing was too obvious and there was plenty of reason to have suspense and intrigue. I feel the show featured a fair few highlight moments which is what every fan wants. The performers went out and certainly did their bit and given the card it was impressive work. The Undertaker shocker will obviously work for people in different ways, and that’s par for the course with such a delicate tradition as that of the streak. It’s said that Undertaker hand-picked Lesnar to end the streak, so hopefully there’s a good reason on the horizon. As long as there is, I’m fine with it. Plus, I love a good twist and there was none better that that! I would have loved the Rhodes brothers to go at it, a Wyatt win and a Shield triple threat, but that’s just fantasy booking on my part. It is without doubt the best Wrestlemania I have seen in recent memory, certainly at least the last five years. Wrestlemania 18 is still ranking as my favourite.

Overall Rating: 8/10

Rodgers Refusual to Lose Suarez Catalyst to Success


When Liverpool striker Luis Suarez demanded he be allowed to leave Anfield last summer for Arsenal, precious few people believed we’d ever see the Uruguayan don a scouse jersey ever again.

One person who certainly did believe is Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.

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A modest and humbling 7th place finish last season, for a club as storied as Liverpool, appeared to be the breaking point for an ambitious Suarez who actively pursued a move to North-London in his quest for Champions League football. Despite a bid of £40m and one pound, Arsene Wenger was unsuccessful in securing the controversial forward thanks to Rodgers’ stubborn resistance.

Rodgers told Suarez that he had a better chance of achieving his ambitions just where he was, rather than jumping ship to an apparently evolving Arsenal. With six games to go before the end of the season and the title in Liverpool’s hands – the profit rings true.

Arsenal meanwhile are clinging to fourth place with a red hot Everton breathing down their necks following their predictable fall from the pack. In addition to meteoric big-game failings, a loss away to Stoke and a draw at home to Swansea have killed any and all league momentum. The FA Cup is Arsenal’s salvation, an immense opportunity that surely even they can’t muck up?

Suarez has 29 goals and 11 assists in 27 games which is nothing short of scintillating form. There’s no doubt Liverpool’s number seven being top of both goals and assists charts has played a pivotal role in his team’s fortunes this season, it’s interesting to think the different picture we could have seen if Suarez had made the move after all. Would Liverpool be in the top four let alone on the verge of their first title in 24 years? Yes, Daniel Sturridge has 20 league goals himself, but many thanks to the mercurial Suarez.

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Giving the troubles associated with Suarez, a man convicted within the game of biting and being a racist, it would have been conceivable and more than understandable to see Liverpool part with the prolific forward. After all, Suarez has never had a red card in English football, but has been banned for 18 games on the aforementioned two offences alone. Also, would the loyal fans forgive such blatant and flagrant disregard for them and the club?

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Rodgers stance was refreshing and set a clear precedent. The more top-quality players he can keep hold of and add to, the wider the cascade effect. The Liverpool boss refused to sell to his rivals and aid them in competing with his fledging side. Something Arsene Wenger continuously did by selling to Manchester City and Manchester United in recent years.

Its one thing to have to sell like Arsenal may have had to do, but it’s another to actively strengthen the competition. It’s well documented the Gunners new stadium needed to be paid for and transfers were a sacrifice Wenger was forced to embrace. For the talent allowed to depart from the Emirates Stadium, I’m sure there would have been plenty of foreign suitors knocking at the door. Its alleged Robin Van Persie specifically wanted to move to United because of Sir Alex Ferguson, but football is quite a ruthless world - what RVP wants doesn’t have to be what RVP gets.

Arsene Wenger started to make Arsenal the football equivalent of the Make a Wish foundation. That’s certainly how it’s been for the top four against them at 12:30 this year…(ouch). Fabregas returning home to Barcelona is easier to grasp because of where he came from, but the rest just got fed up and wanted some silverware. If Wenger hadn’t played so insipidly nice Arsenal might not need such a rebuild.

Which is something Liverpool certainly doesn’t need. They have the most prolific front pairing since Yorke & Cole of 99’ and Steven Gerrard is playing his best football recent memory as the anchor in a talented and varied midfield - still managing to be in double figures for goals too. Though Gerrard has inspired many Liverpool teams with his spectacular, well-timed winners, he’s vicariously found a new lease of life through providing key balls into the emerging breed of playmakers in Coutinho and Raheem Sterling.

Liverpool have found their identity which symbolises Rodgers and his total football ideals which more importantly, is successful. The team has creativity and whole-hearted football intentions, which is winning even the most historically bias neutral over.

This in large part, is without doubt down to the retention of Suarez. Below are some similar scenarios of stubborn managers trying to hold on to their prized assets with varying results.

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David Moyes – Joleon Lescott: Back in August 2009, then Everton boss David Moyes was desperate to hold onto his star centre half amidst interest from the newly oil-rich Manchester City. City boss at the time, Mark Hughes, vehemently pursued the former Wolves man and saw two bids knocked back as he tried to build a new Man City. Lescott had scored 10 goals the previous season and had been player of the season in his first two seasons at Everton. Moyes initially rejected a transfer request from Lescott upon the blue-half of Manchester’s interest and then another request to be withdrawn from the team for the opening day fixture against Arsenal (which they lost 6-1). Eventually, Moyes felt he was powerless to keep an unhappy player and cashed in for £22m. Since his move, Lescott has won all three domestic honours – the League Cup, FA Cup and the Premier League.

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Harry Redknapp/Daniel Levy – Luka Modric: It’s true, eventually the Croatian dynamo was allowed to leave White Hart Lane and now plies his trade at football giants Real Madrid after a £33m move. However the summer prior, London rivals Chelsea launched several bids to prize away Tottenham’s chief playmaker. Chelsea initially made a bid of £22m followed by a bid of £27m, both of which were rejected. Levy stated in no uncertain terms that Spurs would not sell Modric at any price. The former Dinamo Zagreb man then refused to play against Manchester United claiming he was not mentally in the right place to perform. Going into deadline day, many believed Levy would crumble if Chelsea significantly upped their offer in the face of Modric’s tumultuous start to the season. Levy resisted a £40m bid and Modric was forced to continue on with his Spurs career. Redknapp requested his playmaker focus on playing until the end of the season and to Modric’s credit, he resumed performing and continued his richly impressive form for a final season.

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Roberto Martinez – Leighton Baines: The last two seasons have seen former Wigan man Leighton Baines emerge as one of the best attacking full-backs in world football. Few can cross a ball better, and his expertise from dead-ball situations brings plenty of goals and assists every season guaranteed. When David Moyes took the reins off Manchester United following Sir Alex Ferguson’s sudden retirement in the summer of 2013, speculation immediately arose that The Scot would raid his former club of their top stars. Baines was the only Premier League player to play in every minute of every possible fixture in the 12/13 campaign, and after inheriting an ageing Patrice Evra, Moyes decided to test Everton’s resolve with multiple bids. Although Maroune Fellaini did make the switch to reunite with Moyes (quite comically for much more than necessary), Martinez remained strong in his convictions that Baines would not be allowed to move and was vital to Everton and their future prospects. Since the summer of constant speculation regarding his full-back, Martinez has tied Baines down to a new four-year deal and Everton sit 5th hot on Arsenal’s heels neck for the coveted fourth spot, while United find themselves labouring in 7th six points back having played a game more. At this stage, it’s easy to see who did the best out of this business, or lack thereof.

Immortal Giggs


Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs turned in a performance of the highest quality as his side overcame a 2-0 first leg deficit at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.

The 40-year-old Welshmen had managed a total of 81 minutes in the 10 games prior to the must-win tie against Olympiakos, a fixture which represented United’s last chance at some welcome silverware this season.

Giggs had been frozen out as manager David Moyes began searching for new, younger alternatives in the face of a difficult campaign. Moyes insisted: “I felt at 40 that I needed to look to the future and give other people a chance, but after Sunday’s result I thought tactically I needed him to carry out a certain role against Olympiakos (slyly taking credit there, Moyes) which he knew and did perfectly well.
 
Moyes continued: “I thought he was fantastic tonight, he really was. The passes he made for the two goals were fantastic, as was his general play and more importantly his general fitness. He’s something different.
 
"But Ryan can’t go on forever and we have to look to see what we do, we know that. We have to be looking to find the new Ryan Giggs and the new players."
 
The seemingly immortal Giggs showed no signs of rust despite his limited game time, something any pro would be forgiven for exhibiting. It’s incredible to think that the veteran could fit into the centre of midfield in a game of that magnitude and have the profound effect he did. His two assists don’t tell the whole story at all.
 

Giggs made four interceptions and won two tackles, compared to the deeper lying Michael Carrick’s one a piece. The player-coach also weighed in with 41 passes in total, the most for the entire team and two ahead of Rio Ferdinand on 37 – ironically another old head. For a player trying to engineer attacks where some passes are more risky and progressive than that of a ball retainer like Carrick, over 71% pass accuracy is a good return from Giggs too.

Though Giggs has spent all 24 years of his career at Old Trafford, many of those seasons were interrupted with a reoccurring hamstring problem. United’s number 11 credits yoga for prolonging his career and last night displayed a fresh and energetic performance which will surly spark suggestions that this isn’t Cardiff-born Giggs’ final hurrah – there’s definitely some in the tank yet.

After Paul Pogba slipped through Sir Alex Ferguson’s stubborn fingers, the search for the new Giggs has laid on the shoulders of the likes of Tom Cleverley, who simply cannot fulfil such an inherent majesty at this juncture. The Red Devils have a rich tapestry of talent that has paraded the middle of their pitch and it’s basically common knowledge it’s going to take some of the Glazer’s millions to recapture anyone worthy of gracing that illustrious position.

Moyes has contorted his system somewhat to so he can accommodate the attacking delights of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Perise, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata. Trying to play a front-two (as good as RVP & Rooney are) is becoming increasingly draconian and dated. It leaves a flat two in the middle of midfield, who against top quality sides sporting a three, are powerless to overcome.

See Chelsea’s win at the Etihad in the league earlier this season for an example. City boss Manuel Pelligrini certainly didn’t make that mistake again when Chelsea returned for the FA Cup a couple of weeks later, which City advanced from.

Giggs and his timeless quality beget his mature, channelled class. From a flying winger, Giggs has grown and blossomed into an all-round centre mid who’s energy truly belies his age.

In that vein, I looked at three other golden oldies that have left an imprint on the Premier League for exceeding their alleged use-by-date:

1)     Bryan Robson – By the time the Premier League rolled around in 1992/93, Robson was already 36, but that didn’t stop the inspirational captain picking up two more league winners medals. Robson would move on to finish his career up at Middlesbrough, where he would become player-manager. He made his last appearance 10 days shy of his 40th birthday. Paul Gascoigne, Bobby Robson and Tony Adams all claimed in their auto-biographies he was the best player they ever worked with. Take a second to think of those individual esteemed careers and standing in the game, and who they’ve worked with….some compliment.

2)     Teddy Sheringham – A career that included 51 England caps, scoring an equaliser in a Champions League final, winning a treble, being the oldest player to score a hat-trick in the Premier League, scoring the first ever televised goal in the Premier League and being inducted into Tottenham’s hall of fame – is not too shabby. Sheri had an exceptional football brain, and that is a common trend with nearly all players who continue to play at the top in their twilight years. Sheringham played his last game in England’s top flight 95 days short of his 41st birthday with West Ham, before finishing up in the Championship with Colchester, ages 42.

3)     Brad Friedel - Currently catching splinters playing second fiddle to Spurs number one Hugo Lloris, Friedel is still an active member of the Premier League with his 43rd birthday approaching in May. After joining Liverpool in 1997, in the subsequent 17 years Friedel has made 476 league appearances and hasn’t slowed at all in his age. It was his scintillating form at Aston Villa that resulted in top-four contenders Tottenham signing him in 2011, at 40 years of age. The 6’3 goalkeeper has only made one appearance this term, but hasn’t announced he’s saved his last shot just yet.

I guess the old adage rings true whatever way you look at it. If you’re old enough, you’re good enough.