I know I’m a Packers fan, but bear with me …

There’s something special happening in Memphis and I want in.

It started for me when I first saw Ja Morant. Growing up in England, you don’t know who or what Murray State is, let alone that they have a team called the Racers.

Seeing Ja ball awoke something in me that I’d been missing for a long time when it comes to Basketball. This dude was carrying a team I’d never heard of (no offence) on his back to relevance in my favourite tournament in sports and he was doing it with style.

Before the tournament, I’d heard the stories and I’d seen the clips but nothing prepares you for seeing him play, nothing.

The whole tournament was an afterthought from the moment Florida State took out the Racers, that’s how insane the impression this kid had made on me.

As soon as the odds came out for Rookie Of The Year, I placed my bet.

As you can tell, I simply love Ja Morant but that’s not enough for me. I’m not one of those people that will just follow a team because of a star, if I were I have the perfect excuse to have ridden the Bucks or Lakers bandwagon all the way to the conference finals, or at least try to.

I love how the Grizzlies have drafted and I love what they are doing. Yes Ja and Jaren Jackson Jr are special and that’s going to be a hell of a partnership for years to come hopefully, but it’s more than that.

Dillon Brooks was absolutely right to call out Igoudala’s self entitlement and it’s this that made me really take notice. I’m not in love with the way he did it, but for a young team to have young leaders like this who won’t take that kind of disrespect and to tell a multiple ring winner, you’re one of us or get the hell out of here? Oh yeah, that made me sit up and take note!

There’s no one more entitled to call out Igoudala on the Grizz than Brooks by they way. Probably the fourth man on a championship team, a damn good player who has had to fight for everything he has and has that chip on his shoulder based on where he was drafted. He’s every right to be mad at someone he probably looked up to dialling it in while he’s giving it his heart and soul along with his teammates.

What I see in the Memphis Grizzlies is everything I’ve ever wanted in a team. A young hungry core, flair, a great attitude on and off the court, veteran presence, excellent GM, owner and coach, passionate fans and the chance to be there for the first title.

I know the history of the team as well and I remember that 2013 team. I didn’t like how they did things I’m not going to lie, it was TOO defensive for me and that Jon Leuer trade made no sense to me at the time, but with that said I loved the hustle and I loved that the management had a plan, a plan that they stuck to. It was a plan that Grizzlies fans bought into and I think we are seeing history repeat itself in that respect.

The Grizz will of course be hoping for a better outcome than the 2013 Western Conference Semi finals at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs

The good news is, this team has a much higher ceiling and I believe e a much, much, better plan.

So i’ll be watching, supporting, hoping for that playoff spot but if it doesn’t come then I have every reason to come back season after season.

Also, I’m looking forward to learning more about Memphis as a city.

Igoudala wants out? Fine by me, I’m happy to go in the opposite direction.

Let’s go Grizzlies.

The Cup is dead? Long live the Cup!

Not happy with breaking the Premier League for all the right reasons, at least so far this season, Jurgen Klopp is now looking to break the FA Cup for all the wrong reasons. At least that’s the perception but the truth – as it always is – is far more complicated.

Klopp has stated categorically that he will not play any of his first team players in the replay and that he himself will not manage the game against Shrewsbury Town.

This has drawn the ire of many and is seen as disrespecting the 148 year old cup competition. So far three things have seen teams not play in the FA Cup to my knowledge: World War I, World War II and Manchester United’s fixture clash.

Manchester United pulled out of the cup in the 1999-2000 season, as holders no less, due to their decision to instead participate in FIFA’s Club World Cup. Given what transpired in that tournament, they probably wish they had not.

And now Liverpool, under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp have decided not to pull out of the competition but cleary devalue its importance by playing “the kids” and refusing to manage in the game himself.

Is he right? Well on the one hand, yes. The Premier League made it clear that no matches were to be played and Klopp instructed his players that they would be given a one week break.

There is no doubt in my mind that Klopp is trying to do what he feels is right for the greater good of not just his players, but all players. From when he first entered the league, he has made it no secret that he thinks that Premier League footballers are overworked and that physically and mentally they need a break.

He’s right, they do but that doesn’t fit with the “we’d play every day if we were them” mentality of the traditionalists who think these human beings should be treated like robots based on the salaries they are being paid, which by the way is a completely nonsensical argument.

There will of course be those that see this as the perfect opportunity to attack Liverpool Football Club, you know the type who belief any excuse is valid. Conversely of course there will be those that will ignore rational thinking and declare that Liverpool can do no wrong, regardless of the issue – see the Luis Suarez situation for details.

My issue is not with Klopp taking a stand, it’s with how, when and at least partly why.

Hypothetically, if Liverpool were not in the European Cup, would Klopp value the FA Cup more and would this be an issue? I think it’s fair to say he probably would and it probably wouldn’t. That said though, it wouldn’t be an issue with the European Cup because the now biggest club competition in the world does not have replays any more.

Klopp has been forced into a corner by the FA’s incompetence. Replays should have been done away with long ago. The League Cup did this and no one had any issue with it that I saw.

That then opens up the question of gate receipts for smaller clubs. Klopp has his own thoughts on this matter and believes the takings should be split equally. A fair compromise which I’m sure many clubs would accept given it gives them a greater chance to earn from their cup draws merely by making it to the point where they can be drawn against one of the “big boys”.

Nothing about any of this is black and white. With that said and taking into account this is a tough situation, I am still upset and embarrassed with the decision Liverpool Football Club has taken.

Speaking of controversy, if Liverpool want to play the Under 23’s, then both sets of fans should pay U23 money. This of course raises the issue of Shrewsbury being short changed. Liverpool should in my opinion give the entire gate receipts to Shrewsbury. It’s the least we could do!

The FA Cup is the greatest club competition that any single country (well dual I guess with Welsh clubs) has in the world.

The FA however have diminished its value themselves. Playing Semi Finals at Wembley? Why? Changing the kick off time to 5pm? Why?

Do not think for one second that I am taking the FA’s side in this over Klopp, I’m not. That said, I just can’t get on board with what he is doing, even if he believes it to be for the greater good.

Shrewsbury Town have become no more than a sacrificial lamb in this process. After one of the greatest nights in their clubs history, given to them by a team that showed everyone that the magic of the cup is alive and well, they are being hung out to dry.

I’ve heard people say that they “have a better chance to get through now and earn more money”. Really? You think that’s what those lads went out there to play for, the clubs bank balance? Of course they didn’t. They wanted to either beat Liverpool Football Club, or draw and take them back to Anfield and they accomplished the former of those two.

Their reward? A trip to Anfield that will be special but muted in its magnificence. They wanted the experience of playing the best, or if not the best, the best they could be up against that made sense for Liverpool’s aspirations. They won’t get that, we are taking that from them.

There is a chance of course that the FA will be forced to move the fixture and this could be what Jurgen is banking on. This would be the sensible approach from the FA… so of course they won’t and instead will go to war over it.

My compromise would have been to say something along the lines of that we had an agreement and you have broken that, but we won’t hold Shrewsbury responsible and punish them. We will play this season, but next season we are boycotting until you can guarantee this will not happen again.

This way we are not directly prioritising other competitions and we have nothing to gain from boycotting the FA Cup the season after.

Instead, we are devaluing the FA Cup, but the FA Cup brought that upon itself, Shrewsbury Town however did not!

Your opinion on whether the Origi banner was racist or not does not matter, it’s racist and that’s a fact

There seems to be some confusion when it comes to facts and opinions these days, regardless of the subject matter.

At some point, I don’t know when but it became enough to just have an opinion. The opinion did not have to be informed and when challenged on said opinion, no factual evidence was needed to back it up.

Instead, what we now have is a society full of people who think that their opinion is valid regardless.

Numerous black players have come out and said they do not like people singing about their genitalia, and why would they? While we are at it, I will never understand those who are fighting for people’s rights to sing these songs.

“My enjoyment of the game isn’t the same without a song about another man’s downstairs mix up accompanied by a banner” . What a strange hill to choose to die on.

From a historical point of view, imagery like that which we saw at the Genk game was used to dehumanise black men along with the implication that they were dangerous and would rape white women as they were merely animals. That’s why it always has and always will be racist imagery.

Do I think for a second that the majority, if even any Liverpool fans sing about Origi in the way they do and create banners like they did to belittle him? No, I don’t. I believe they see it as a strange compliment but what they are trying to achieve is irrelevant compared to the damage they are actually doing.

“Divock would just laugh” is a popular retort. I doubt that very much but that’s not the point. It’s not just Divock affected here, it’s every black male and indeed people of every sex and every race.

Why everyone? Because whether you realise it or not, racism negatively affects us all.

Some Manchester United fans had a song for Lukaku which the striker did not appreciate for obvious reasons. Certain fans reacted by continuing to sing the song despite the striker asking them not to. It’s not just us and United of course, it’s prevalent sadly among many clubs.

The Bernardo Silva incident that I’ve spoken about in a previous piece is similar in that, while Bernardo’s intention was not to be racist, he posted racist imagery.
Racism comes in many forms and one is the oxymoronic “positive racism” and that’s what we have at play here.

You’re not flattering these players, you’re dehumanising them and by continuing to defend this racist imagery you become part of the problem.

People can mistakenly say racist things or post racist imagery without necessarily being a racist. If you do so, the best thing to do is listen to the people who are telling you it’s racist and why and then apologise, retract your statement or image and educate yourself and learn from it.

Bernardo Silva and some fans of Manchester City, Manchester United and now numerous Liverpool fans are making excuses for and trying to justify racism and by doing so are inadvertently fostering a racist attitude that is becoming more and more visible in English football and English society as a whole.

So if your opinion is that banner wasn’t racist, you are simply wrong. It’s your choice you can either accept it move on and be part of the solution or you can be a foil for racism.

Choose wisely.

Are Bernardo Silva or Justin Trudeau racist?

You wait for a racism bus and then two come along at once. Actually, I’d like to distance myself from the term “racism bus” in case Trump uses it as part of his next campaign slogan.

Only days after Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau was found to have “blacked up” in a function at his school, Manchester City footballer Bernardo Silva decided to post some extremely questionable material to his fellow City player and friend Bernard Mendy.

The material in question was a cartoon character from a sweet packet from his homeland, a confectionary called Conguitos. The character is considered anti-black imagery given the unflattering disproportionate facial features.  Along with it came the suggestion that Mendy looked like this character.


Trudeau apologised straight away for his blunder when it was brought to light and then divulged another transgression where he had once again blacked up to sing Harry Belafonte.

While he explained that at the time he was trying to be as true to the character as he could, he acknowledged fully that what he had done was racially insensitive and wrong and he apologised profusely.

If you think Justin Trudeau is a racist, then you’ve not been paying attention. There are few people alive today in positions of power that have done more for race relations and LGBT+ rights (while we are at it) than Justin Trudeau. If you don’t believe me, feel free to check out his voting record.

Our Portuguese friend took another tact. Having caused such outrage, he instead decided to then argue that it was down to how people had interpreted what was posted. Bold strategy – and one that of course will now make the eventual apologise that Abu Dhabi PR will force him to give – ring hollow.

Are either racist? I doubt it. In Silva’s case, I believe it was – in Silva’s mind at least –  intended to be a harmless joke between two friends. Whether people admit it or not, there are things we say to people we trust behind closed doors we simply would never say to others. Context is everything.

The issue is, this was not two friends having a laugh, it was Bernardo Silva sharing racist imagery with millions of people on social media. For him to state it was just a joke between two friends is naive at best and disingenuous at worst.

By posting this imagery – given his privileged position – he unconscionably gave others permission to do likewise, especially younger people who look up to him.

It does not however make him a racist.

“Racist” is a term that gets thrown around far too often these days. People can make mistakes and not be racist. Racism is the deliberate act to discriminate based on the misinformed idea that you are superior and someone else is inferior based on race.

This is not what happened in either of these cases. It is important to understand that what Silva posted and Trudeau depicted were racist imagery but that does not make them racists. All you serve to do by calling people racist who who are not racist, is to take away from the seriousness of actual racism.

A good example of this is that in England, where I live, the reaction to this has been extremely different to what I believe it would have been in America.

Why? As the kids say, there are levels.

Black people in this country have the luxury of not being executed in the street due to being “the wrong colour” by those we are supposed to trust to protect us. This is what actual racism looks like. 

I guess that’s why it is easy for some people to wrongly dismiss this as nothing. It isn’t nothing, it’s a licence for racism whether Bernardo accepts it or not.

How will the Football Association or Canadian voters react? Well that will be interesting to say the least.

Last year Ajax shocked the world, can anyone repeat the feat? (Featuring underrated CL 11)

Image: Courtesy of New Strait Times

Two team to watch in the Champions League that could upset the odds

Internazionale

Let’s get the least shocking pick out of the way first. As a previous winner of the Champions League, I’m hardly reaching too far with this pick, however, given you can get 50/1 on them to win the competition, I feel that I can put them in as an outsider.

50/1 is a ridiculous price for a team like Inter Milan. For a start, the 3-5-2 / 3-4-2-1 that Conte employs, was enough to bamboozle many a Premier League side during his time here and there’s a fair suggestion it could do the same in Europe.

A stubborn defensive unit that have conceded only 1 goal in their first 3 games, Inter has a strong defense, a hard working and balanced midfield and in Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku a strong and potent strike-force.

It’s a tough ask to get through a group with Dortmund and Barcelona, but they certainly are capable and I have a sneaky feeling they will do much better than people anticipate.

Red Bull Leipzig

In the appoint of Julian Nagelsmann, Leipzig have taken the next step in their journey to challenging the cream of the Bundesliga.

Nagelsmann is known as a tactical mastermind and has already shown in the first four fixtures of this season in Germany that not only will he be fluid in his approach to each opponent but that he has the players at his disposable to do so.

Red Bull Leipzig were already the best defensive side in Germany last season and seemingly have improved on that ability this season. While Peter Gulacsi is an underrated keeper, the reason it is so hard to score past Leipzig is how much preparation they put into stopping you being comfortable with the ball.

Nagelsmann has taken this to a new level this season using difference formations to counter how teams play out from the back even employing a 4-2-4 against my beloved Borrusia Monchengladbach and refusing to allow us to play out through the centre, and then pressing when we were forced to play the ball wide to our full backs.

Leipzig players are not just hard working and tactically disciplined though, they are also technically gifted. In Forsberg, Sabitzer and Kampl, you have technically gifted midfielders able to score and make goals. 

Up front the pace and work rate of Yussuf Poulsen causes havoc and the even pacier Timo Werner has proven to be one of Europe’s most prolific young goalscorers.

Red Bull Leipzig are not a side to be overlooked this season and I believe will come out of their group and are a dangerous side for anyone to face on their day.

11 underrated Champions League players to watch out for:

Goalkeeper: Kepa – The Chelsea shot stopper has come on exponentially even in the short time he has been with the club and I believe this is the stage he has been waiting for.

Certain keepers just have this aura around them that they aren’t just there to keep teams in a game but that they can even be the biggest reason they win them and Kepa has that for me. Given the group that he is in and the manner Chelsea play, he will get plenty of chances to be the hero.

Left back: Marcel Halstenberg – The German international may well be the most underrated left back in the world. I never see him have a bad game. Defensively sound, intelligent, pacey, an excellent passer and crosser of the ball and even chips in with the odd goal.

Centre Back: Milan Skrinriar – A classy centre back that Europe’s best will be salivating over sooner rather than later. The Slovakian is eye catching due to his silky style of defending and is a perfect example of how if you are in the right position, you don’t have to fly around like a headless chicken.

The only weakness in his game is that he’s not the best in the air, but given he has Godin next to him, he can get away with that.

Centre Back: Abdou Diallo – He will need to live up to his potential if PSG are to win the trophy they covert most. Another centre back who is outstanding on the ball but again can be got at in the air, the 23 year old frenchman has been an ever present for PSG this season despite the team being able to call on Marquinhos, Thiago Silva and Presnel Kimpembe.

Right back: Achraf Hakimi – To see this lad play is an experience. The 20 year old right back is a whirling dervish of a player. The Real Madrid loanee is just so much fun to watch. He’s everywhere on the pitch and goes past people for fun. Defensively he does his job but could stand to improve like most modern full backs who have attacking tendencies but he’s just so damn fun to watch, as a neutral, who cares?!

Central Midfielder: There are few players I enjoy watching more than Fabian Ruiz. A playmaker who is capable of playing box-to-box. His technical ability and intelligence sets him apart from other midfield players. This will be a theme with my midfield.

Central Midfielder: Saul Niguez – see above but with an engine that won’t quit. Bullied as a kid at Real Madrid, moved to Atletico and made his debut at 17 but suffered a burst kidney in a Champions League game against Bayer Leverkusen. The injury was life threatening and he spent four days in hospital and 4 weeks in rehab, after which he came back and scored on his return despite wearing an internal catheter for two years and passing blood after every game.
What an absolute legend and one of the best players you could hope to watch.

Central Midfielder: Kai Havertz – My favourite player to watch in the world of football. Not strictly a central midfielder as he’s capable of playing every position on the field and is best utilised by Bayer Leverkusen as a player with a somewhat free role. There is another player I wanted in the front three though, so here we are taking liberties. What can I say about Kai Havertz without sounding like a love sick puppy?

First of all, his intelligence astound me. His movement, his ability to know when to hold the ball and when to lay it off, simple things or at least he makes them look simple but when you do the simplest of things better than everyone else, that’s what makes for a truly special player and that’s what he is. He’s strong despite being only 20, can ghost past people like they are not there, he makes goals and scores goals. Seriously, it’s guy love between two guys. I mean I’d like to think he’d reciprocate.

Forward: Hakim Ziyech – it was nice to see Ajax finally get the recognition they deserve but I still don’t think people realise just how good Hakim Ziyech is. I know because I didn’t myself. He’s capable of playing all across the midfield and forward line. Much like Kai, he has exceptional touch, vision, movement and scores and makes goals. On top of that though, he never stops moving with or without the ball and he is a quality set piece taker.

Forward: Mauro Icardi – Mauro is a bad man in every sense of the word but let’s concentrate just on football for now. He couldn’t have wished for a better landing spot than PSG who have put around him a constant supply line of some of the most talented players in the world. If all goes to plan, he is going to bang goals in for fun.

Forward: Jadon Sancho – I don’t think the world is ready for what Sancho is. That’s right is. I keep hearing what he “will be”, forget that. He’s there. He’s settled in Germany and he is a vital part of Borussia Dortmund. Borussia Dortmund are one of the most forward thinking clubs in Europe and they do not part with their cash without some serious thought, the fact they decided to pay Jadon Sancho £190,000 a week says it all.

For some reason Sancho is still talked about what he could be and yet each week he puts his boots on and sets the Bunseliga on fire. He will revel in the challenge of playing Barcelona especially and I’m not sure they have anyone who can stop him.

Honorary mentions: Handanovic, Verratti, Felix and Lewandowski who are all better known players but still underrated somehow. 

The name’s Brexit, Buggered Brexit

Commander James Herbert Bond, or 007 as you may also know him continues to inspire social media meltdown. Today’s topic? Should there be a Jane Bond?

During the Brexit debacle, it’s nice to have something else to turn your attention to but in doing so, I’ve basically found a similar “style” of debate.

Many of the same “liberals” – like myself – who wish to remain in the EU are for the most part on the same page about anyone being able to play 007, while the same “conservatives” who want to leave the EU are against anyone but a white male playing Bond.

Who is right? Well like Brexit, there is no definitive answer but you see the same lies, misinformation and hard-headedness on both sides.

I’m no expert on Bond – let’s get that out of the way for a start. I’ve seen all the films and I’m handy in a pub quiz on this topic but of course there are those that know far more than I do.

It is with this in mind that I have held the steadfast belief that anyone can play Bond. Why? Because Hollywood have already suspended reality with the character of Bond in enough ways to prove that it can be so.

For us to believe the time span of Bond, he would logically need to be a shape-shifter with a time machine. It is therefore logical to assume that Bond isn’t one person.

As always though, it’s not as simple as all that.

According to the canon in the books, Bond is one man and 007 is one man throughout. The writer Ian Fleming clearly intended for Bond to have his story told in one continuous timeline and there is evidence of this from wife Tracy Bond being buried with his name and her then being mentioned in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “For Your Eyes Only”.

In “Skyfall” – which of course was not a Fleming iteration – he returns to the family home in Scotland where we see the graves of his parents Andrew and the superbly named Delacroix Bond. So why would they have his codename? (If you look up DFLovett’s piece here https://whatwouldbaledo.com/2015/02/24/yes-indeed-james-bond-is-a-codename/ there is a an interesting theory he poses that potentially answers this)

Showing the gravestones was more than likely the screenplay writer’s way of stating that, while they’ve gone off kilter in terms of canon, the idea is that you are supposed to suspend reality and identify with James Bond as one single person.

This is one theory, probably the most plausible but obviously with the medium of film there is no binding contract to interpret the information you are given in this exact manner.

At the end of the day, what you believe about Bond is a bit of fun. It’s not a real person, there are numerous plot holes and nuances that can be debated ad infinitum and yet in the end it matters to no one beyond entertainment.

In the past it would have been a fun topic with a few disagreements but now such is the world we live in, it’s apparently the be all and end all for race and gender relations.

Funnily enough, like Brexit though – after giving it due consideration – the answer is not as definitive as one side being right and the other wrong.

The conclusion I have come to is both sides are right about the Bond debate. I believe Ian Fleming’s original intention was for James Bond to be one man and that there is overwhelming evidence that proves this.

I also believe that 007 is a codename that was held by Bond and given that we’ve already suspended reality in the Bond films time and time again, I can see no reason why we can’t write in a “Bond” of any ethnicity or gender.

To do this, you’d have to kill off the original Bond, be it old age or however else – which would also cause outcry no doubt – and then explain how the new Bond came to take over.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Bond debate led to people realising that nothing is absolute and that there are reasons for and against and that compromise is the way forward?

Maybe, just maybe, one of the most British symbols around has the answer to the toughest political problem Britain has faced in years? Wouldn’t it be poignant if Bond’s death saved Britain just one last time?

Borussia Monchengladbach 2019/20 – week 1 – Schalke (H)

Apologies in advance for this post not being in German. I am going to learn German and one big reason is so I can talk to the best fans – outside of Liverpool – in football.

So, while most of my fellow “English” fans were watching City v Spurs, I was watching Die Fohlen, because I have my priorities right.

The draw wasn’t the result we wanted but overall – given we were at home – it was probably a fair result.

Both teams had more effort than quality on show and with so many changes on and off the field, it was to be expected.

David Wagner set his team up to be solid first and foremost as always – underpinned by an excellent performance from Matija Nastasic –  whereas there was a real emphasis on trying to attack for Gladbach.

I thought our back four was excellent for the most part and Wendt and Lainer provided a counter attacking threat and really impressed me. Ginter (25) and Elvedi (22) are such a promising young partnership, quality on and off the ball.

In the midfield it was all about Zakaria – what a player he is, I’m so delighted to keep him at the club but I fear it is only a matter of time before he moves on, he’s just too good.

Benes and Neuhaus worked hard but delivered little quality, missing easy passes and not getting the ball forward quick enough. It is no surprise that Zakaria was the one that stood out, not only is he pure class but he can transition attack to defence quickly with his athleticism and he is comfortable all over the field.

Cuisance’s talent is already sorely missed but then that is to be expected losing a player of his calibre. His attitude raised questions though and that’s not something that can be overlooked. Neuhaus will have to be a lot better than he was today, regardless if he stays or goes but he’s young and talented so I see no reason he won’t be.

The front three looked like what it was, a group of players that had never played together. There was potential there and as I say it wasn’t helped by a less than creative midfield.

They will score goals from their pace and effort more than their “clinical finishing” but that’s where Stindl comes in. The forwards reminded me of Liverpool when they don’t have Firmino, as soon as Rafael came on, the attack improved and had a focal point.

It’s a long season and while we didn’t get the three points, there’s a lot to build on here.

Marco Rose’s counter pressing side will be fun to watch and I doubt we will see many 0-0 scorelines like today.

Personally, I see a much brighter future for Gladbach than recent years and this is just the start.

On to Mainz.