End of a new beginning? Why this season is vital for the English Iniesta

Jack Wilshere: A future England captain according to Cesc Fabregas

Jack Wilshere: A future England captain according to Cesc Fabregas

This time last year, England fans were whetting their appetite of the prospect of the having an intricate artist of Tiki-Taka football emerging on their shores. He made a huge impact for a title-challenging side and produced a man-of-the-match display as his side stunned the pass-masters Barcelona in the Champions League.

Wind the clock twelve months forward though, and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere hasn’t played a competitive game in over a year, and all that promise and magnificent talent seems all too distant at the moment. An ankle injury forced him to watch the entire 2011-2012 season from the sidelines, and a knee injury flared up to provide a further setback to his recovery.

He is now a doubt to start the 2012/13 campaign, and many Arsenal and England supporters will be hoping for a return to the level that saw him labelled as England’s next big star.

Wilshere was always touted for a successful career during his academy days, starring in reserve games, scoring fantastic goals and orchestrating play in the middle of the park. After a successful loan spell at Bolton Wanderers in the 2009/10 campaign, he toughened up and showed his outstanding ability to control games as a box-to-box midfielder and playmaker.

What followed would wow lovers of the English game and give them a new ray of hope amongst a great deal of criticism that followed a dismal 2010 World Cup campaign. Wilshere made more senior appearances than any other Arsenal midfielder in the 2010/11 season, earned the PFA Young Player of the Year award and proved instrumental in a Gunners side that looked to be challenging for three trophies until a bitterly disappointing Carling Cup Final defeat at the hands of Birmingham City.

His ability to retain the ball under intense pressure, find killer passes and make play flow with clever one-twos and slide rule passes was the closest many had seen to a replacement for former England international Paul Scholes, and perhaps the closest England had to a Xavi or Andres Iniesta-like player who can dominate games with the famous Spanish brand of ‘Tiki-Taka’ football.

Wilshere broke in to the English international team, making five appearances and looking fit to wear the shirt, but the real acid test came against Barcelona, where he played alongside soon-to-be Catalan player Cesc Fabregas in midfield, and was under massive pressure to stand his own against the most dominant midfield in world football.

Thinking big: Wilshere broke in to the England team last year

Thinking big: Wilshere broke in to the England team last year

Just 19 at the time and playing in his first Champions League knockout phase, you could forgive the prodigious talent for feeling the nerves of the occasion. But, despite Barcelona taking the early initiative and going 1-0 up with a David Villa strike, WIlshere wasn’t just going to lie down. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and, even though he had a World Cup winning playmaker alongside him, it was Wilshere himself who took the game to Barcelona, proved pivotal in Arsenal turning the match around and turned the most heads in a fine 2-1 victory at the Emirates. If there wasn’t any doubt already, a star was born.

If he does get back to his best this season, he will surely get even better and develop into a future England captain – a man who can inspire this transitional crop of England internationals to try and challenge for top honours and compete with the world’s big boys.

Even Cesc Fabregas claimed that Wilshere was a future England captain, and this was something that slightly softened the blow of his departure from the North Londoners last summer.

He’s a unique player, as far as English football goes. While the current England team are grinding out results and proving doubters wrong in this summer’s Euro 2012, Roy Hodgson’s side do seem to miss a player who can control the ball in midfield, boost possession and take the game to opponents frequently. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker have been fantastic in this year’s European Championships, but they are both over 30 and players like Jack Wilshere will be called upon in the near future.

For the sake of the beautiful game, and the English game, it will be a huge shame if Wilshere suffers further setbacks and doesn’t fully recover from a blip in what has been an extremely promising start of his career. On the flipside, if he gets back to match fitness, he will be mentally stronger for this experience, and he could yet be England’s next Andres Iniesta. Sure, it’s unlikely that England will ever emulate Spain’s incredible wealth of talent or style of play, but a fully fit Jack Wilshere could be just the man to take this country forward.

This piece was written for the Own Goal Podcast. Click here for the link.

It’s also been published by online magazine Sabotage Times. Click here to read more.

Photo Gallery: Behind the scenes at Lord’s Cricket Ground

In the build up to England’s first test against West Indies at Lord’s Cricket Ground this summer, I went behind the scenes at the Home of Cricket to see what really goes on during match days at the famous old ground. All these photos are images I captured personally to show spectators what they can look forward to.

From Caribbean Calypso bands and English Jazz musicians to Jamie Oliver’s Fabulous Feasts and Champagne galore at the Harris Garden, there is plenty to enjoy and experience at England’s top Cricket venue.

The full gallery, as published on Day One of the Test, is available on Flickr.

Click here to check out more exciting content at the official website of Lord’s.

Photo Gallery: Hawk-Eye work

After completing my Multimedia Journalism degree at Bournemouth University, I managed to secure a role as a Systems Engineer with Hawk-Eye Innovations, who are at the pinnacle of Sports technology with officiating systems at Cricket and Tennis events worldwide, as well as a Snooker system which is utilised by television companies at major events.

I worked in Tennis and Snooker operations, as well as helping to test their goal-line technology system, which is subject to approval by football’s leading governing body FIFA at the start of July, 2012.

Here are a selection of photos I have compiled during my time with the company.

Tri-Pole Trouble: Dortmund lease of life for Euro 2012 hosts

Pole Position: Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski leads the line for Poland

Pole Position: Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski leads the line for Poland

Nothing quite compares to the euphoria and the excitement that gathers as a nation unites in patriotic pride when a major football tournament comes around. Often, this can be the birthing pool of national heroes that make a name for themselves, and often it can be the scene of a great underdog story as the hosts exceed all expectations – punching above their weight against the heavyweight champions fighting for the title on their home turf.

This summer, Poland and Ukraine go toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite in their own respective backyards as joint-hosts of Euro 2012. Despite the disappointment for co-hosts Austria and Switzerland four years earlier, the home teams generally have a strong record of progressing to the knockout stages – and it could be the Poles who axe some of the favourites this time round.

Poland are only competing in their second European championship – a surprise considering a golden era in the 70s and 80s for the country, which resulted in third place finishes at the 1974 and 1982 World Cups respectively  – so they’re enjoying their best years as a footballing nation for a couple of decades. They have made it to three of the last four major tournaments, including this summer’s European Championships, but this will be their best chance of progression to the knockout stages yet.

The nucleus of Poland’s squad has developed considerably since failing to make it past the group stages four years ago. With the safe-hands of Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny and a trio of Bundesliga-winning Borussia Dortmund players, Franciszek Smuda’s men have the ability to cause a surprise or two. A recent 0-0 draw against Portugal and a win over Latvia suggest that they come in to the tournament with a bit of form as well.

Number One: Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny has been in fine form this term

Number One: Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny has been in fine form this term

While Szczęsny and Polish compatriot and second choice keeper Łukasz Fabiański have plied their trade in the Premier League for a few seasons now, it is their Bundesliga-based trio who have made the biggest stir this season.

Dortmund, under the guidance of charismatic boss Jürgen Klopp, pipped Champions League finalists Bayern Munich to the league title for the second consecutive season and defeated Bayern 5-2 in the German Cup Final to round off a great season. Much of their success has been down to the influence of their Polish contingent, despite plenty of top German talent at their disposal.

Robert Lewandowski, who is being linked with a big money move to Manchester United this summer, scored 30 goals to fire Dortmund to glory, and he could well be an outside contender for the Euro 2012 Golden boot. Poland’s captain, Jakub Błaszczykowski, made two assists in the German Cup final and has been a regular in the side since 2007 and Łukasz Piszczek, has been a key part of the Dortmund defence this term.

Not only are they top class players, but they come in with crucial confidence that could reflect in strong performances on the pitch. German giants Dortmund had been dormant for the best part of a decade before their 2011 title success, and it is testament to the quality of the three Polish players that they won the league again – despite star midfielder Nuri Sahin leaving for Real Madrid and German wonderkid Mario Götze being ruled out with a hip injury for a large period of the season.

Lewandowski is the hosts’ star man, and undoubtedly they will be expecting great things of him, but the whole squad will have a passionate home crowd on their side and that could inspire them to progression from their group. Poland have been drawn against Czech Republic, Greece and Russia in arguably the weakest group of the tournament and – as we saw when Ghana had the whole of Africa on their side at the 2010 World Cup, home favourites are capable of building up a real head of steam and performing well above their expectations.

Of course there are a lot of very strong European teams that Poland will have to face if they are to upset the odds and progress to the latter stages of the tournament, but there is always a possibility of a dark horse in a major tournament like this. Ghana were agonisingly close to the World Cup semi-finals two years ago, and Poland’s Group A opposition Greece shocked everyone by going all the way in Euro 2004. Who knows, maybe this could be another one of those special years when the form guide goes well and truly out of the window.

Derek Brewer, MCC CEO, looks forward to first Test

Newly appointed MCC Chief Executive Officer Derek Brewer looks ahead to the first test of the summer at Lord’s, as England face West Indies.

This interview was for Lord’s TV’s live match day feed as England took on the West Indies at the Home of Cricket. Click here for the live match day link.

YCs help with Test preparation

MCC Head Coach and former England international Mark Alleyne speaks to Lord’s TV about the role of the MCC Young Cricketers in Test match preparation.

Alleyne is in charge of the MCC’s Young Cricketers’, which gives the platform for talented youngsters from around the globe to utilise the world class facilities and intensive playing opportunities at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

The MCC’s new generation have been bowling at the England and West Indies batsman, including former YC Darren Sammy, to gain invaluable experience and give the players ideal preparation ahead of the Test.

Alleyne, born and partly raised in West Indian nation Barbados, also assesses the chances of the tourists, who come to Lord’s after a valiant performance in a Test series against Australia.

Tickets for the Engand v West Indies Test match at Lord’s, starting on Thursday 17 May, are still available for each day’s play.

Sunday tickets can still be booked online, and there are tickets available on the day for each day’s play.

This feature was for Lord’s TV. Click here for the link.

How Lord’s gears up for a Test

Lord’s TV takes you behind the scenes as the Home of Cricket prepares for the Test match between England and the West Indies.

MCC Assistant Secretary Jon Robinson talks you through the work involved in the lead up to a major match, with exclusive insight into just what makes Lord’s the best place to watch Test cricket in the world.

From the preparation of the pitch, to the hospitality and food options available, to the famous book signers who meet-and-greet their fans during the Lunch intervals, coming to Lord’s is an experience like no other.

Tickets for the Engand v West Indies Test match at Lord’s, starting on Thursday 17 May, are still available for each day’s play.

Sunday tickets can still be booked online, and there are tickets available on the day for each day’s play.

This feature was for Lord’s TV in the build up to the test. Click here for the link.

Southampton vs Reading: 4 Key Battles That Could Decide The Title Race

Premier League football will be all but confirmed for the winner of Southampton vs Reading this weekend, and the match is sure to live up to its billing.

Championship leaders Southampton take on nearest rivals Reading at St. Mary’s Stadium this evening in a clash that could all but confirm Premier League promotion if one of these sides emerge victorious. Both sides lie six points ahead of heavy pre-season title favourites West Ham United with four games remaining and – with the lucrative goldmine of Premier League football, jobs, star players and all important momentum in jeopardy for one of these sides – here are the key battles that could mean Reading or Southampton have one hand on the football league’s top prize.

Rickie Lambert vs Kaspars Gorkss

Saints have had the most lethal strike force in the Championship season and Reading have the tightest defence, so one of those must surely give for this crunch match. Saints have been in the top two from day one this season, and a catalyst for this sustained streak of superb form has been down to Liverpool-born hit man Rickie Lambert, who has netted 26 times in the league this season, nine more than any other striker.

The all-important role of keeping Lambert quiet may rest on the shoulders of Latvian centre-back Kaspars Gorkss, who has helped Reading form the meanest defence of the division since his arrival in August. Since the turn of the year, Reading have won 14 matches compared to Saints’ 10 and, while they haven’t had one prolific goalscorer in the side, they have shared the goals evenly amongst the frontmen and ground out some crucial slender victories to maintain their fantastic form.

Jos Hooiveld vs Jason Roberts

At the other end of the pitch this evening, a big part of Reading’s attacking threat will form in the powerful frame of 33-year-old striker Jason Roberts. BBC pundit Roberts has caused a big stir in the media since arriving from Premier League strugglers Blackburn in January, and he has proven to be a revelation for the Royals. Eight consecutive wins after his arrival really ignited Reading’s automatic promotion charge. He’s a good finisher, a powerful target man and his years of Premier League experience have been invaluable for the club.

Saints put behind a tough turn of the year with a significant improvement in the side’s defensive performances. Central defensive pairing Jos Hooiveld and Jose Fonte have been vital, and it is towering Dutchman Hooiveld who I would say is best placed to deal with Roberts’ physical and aerial presence. But both defenders have been superb this season, and they will have to be at their best to keep out a confident Reading side.

Danny Fox vs Ian Harte

In such a massive game, the set piece delivery and crossing from full-backs is crucial, and the key for both sides making the breakthrough from set plays comes from left back. Southampton’s Danny Fox has contributed an outstanding 11 assists during his first Championship campaign on the south coast. Fox’s delivery from corners and indirect free-kicks has been quality throughout the season and, while Rickie Lambert is likely to be first choice from shooting range, Fox could be key to breaching the Reading rear-guard.

In blue and white, former Leeds full-back Ian Harte has been a big success. Perhaps more of a threat from shooting range with 14 goals in Reading colours since his arrival in 2010, Harte proved his importance in the side with a vital winner against Brighton on Tuesday night.

Steve De Ridder scored a late equaliser as Saints and Reading drew 1-1 earlier this season

Steve De Ridder scored a late equaliser as Saints and Reading drew 1-1 earlier this season

Adam Lallana vs Jimmy Kebe

In a game like this, both managers would look towards their main playmakers to produce something special – a bit of magic that could be the difference in a tight, tense encounter. In terms of quality that could be crucial in making that difference tonight, you don’t need to look much further than Saints’ Adam Lallana and Reading’s Jimmy Kebe.

Kebe, predominantly a winger with pace and power to terrorise Championship full-backs had a slow start to the season but he has certainly turned it round, scoring a few goals and providing a big threat on the right hand side. The Mali international scored twenty goals from out wide in his first two campaigns under manager Brian McDermott’s stewardship, and you wouldn’t be against him causing Saints problems at St. Mary’s this evening.

Nigel Adkins has described 23-year-old Adam Lallana as the most talented player in the Championship this season, and it is hard to argue otherwise. Lallana was nominated for the Championship player of the year, which Lambert won, and there is no doubt that the team look significantly stronger and more creative with him in the starting line-up. He has scored ten goals this season, but it is his movement, eye for an incisive pass and superb technical skill that has proved vital for the Saints this season, and he is definitely one to watch out for in front of the Sky Sports cameras at 19:45.

First vs second, the best home record against the best away side and the highest scorers against the league’s meanest defence; Southampton versus Reading has all the right ingredients to live up to its billing and have a huge say in the destination of the 2011/12 Championship title. Who fancies a drab 0-0?!

This feature was published in the Sabotage Times. Click here for the link.

Six-figure sponsor deal secures Bournemouth’s ‘best ever’ financial position

A sell out crowd watch on at the newly named Seward Stadium

A sell out crowd watch on at the newly named Seward Stadium

AFC Bournemouth have secured the most significant sponsorship deal in the club’s recent history today, with Seward Motor Group claiming the naming rights to the Dean Court Stadium in a three-year move.

The lucrative six-figure boost leaves Lee Bradbury’s Bournemouth side in their best financial position in recent memory.

The news comes at an important time for the club, as they prepare for a two-legged League One Play-Off clash against heavy favourites Huddersfield Town.

A sell-out crowd is expected for the Cherries’ home tie against the Terriers on Saturday, as they look to secure a key advantage going in to the return match at the Galpharm.

I spoke to manager Bradbury and midfielder Anton Robinson on a very significant day for the club.

Howe to become a legend: Eddie leaves Bournemouth as a hero

Eddie Howe became a fans' favourite after his Bournemouth heroics

Eddie Howe became a fans’ favourite after his Bournemouth heroics

At first the AFC Bournemouth fans will have felt angry and bemused as to why Eddie Howe departed days after he temporarily committed his future to the club, but there is no need for an apology as Howe masterminded an incredible first taste of management that nobody could have envisaged.

Howe arrived on the managerial scene in January 2009 after an injury-plagued playing career where he earned the tag as a fans’ favourite on the south coast. The future looked bleak for the Cherries. Ongoing financial woes led to administration, a total of 27 points deducted in two seasons and the distinct possibility of relegation from the football league looming large.

Fast forward to January 2011, and he leaves as a hero – reflecting on a wonderful two years that restored hope and pride as they maintained their football league status.

Not only that, Howe’s boys gained promotion from League Two in 2010 with a threadbare squad, and continued to defy the critics again as he left the Cherries breathing down the necks of League One leaders Brighton this season.

The only way has been up for Eddie Howe and assistant boss Jason Tindall. Their achievements have been nothing short of incredible. Since Howe took over the reigns, Bournemouth have won 50 out of 100 games, and have done this without being able to field a full substitutes bench for much of the process.

Veteran striker Steve Fletcher, who now takes over Tindall’s duties as assistant manager, has enjoyed a resurgence of form under Howe’s stewardship, and scored the last goal of his tenure before two late goals denied Howe a fitting send off against Colchester.

Howe and Tindall rescued Bournemouth from the brink of League Two relegation

Howe and Tindall rescued Bournemouth from the brink of League Two relegation

Danny Hollands, dogged with knee problems in recent years, fought through the pain barrier to play a key role in the promotion season in League Two and has continued his progress. Clever acquisitions like winger Marc Pugh, Tottenham loanee Adam Smith and former Norwich full back Rhoys Wiggins have been masterstrokes – and those are the type of masterstrokes that Howe continued to pull off in a three-year spell dogged by financial obstacles.

But now he and Tindall have gained their deserved chance at Championship big boys Burnley, and they have every chance of succeeding and making their excellent man-management rub off on the new set of players. Even though the pair are six years younger than Burnley’s oldest workhorse Graham Alexander, they will certainly have the dressing room’s backing, and their previous record shows no reason why they can’t inspire promotion to the Premier League.

Of course, management duo Howe and Tindall have spent the majority of their playing days at Bournemouth, so making the step up to a new division and a new team will have its challenges. Chairmen are more fickle than ever in the modern game, and time to settle is a rare luxury, so the pair will need to adjust to life in the Championship quickly and have a solid six months to secure their futures. But the man management, the desire and the application is something that won’t go away, and if they have every tool in their armoury to produce the goods and be the youngest Managerial duo in the Premier League.