SFA must change depressing dictat for youth development

“I’ve went for a physical side, with runners” is the sentence that sent Scottish football back into the dark ages. Surely such a statement should have the SFA questioning the merits of making Ricky Sbragia the manager of Scotland’s Under 19 team. The backlash that followed Sbragia’s irrational reasoning for omitting Real Madrid youngster Jack Harper from his squad was as justified as it was predictable.

The fans want him to be sacked. Simple as that. The brutal simplicity of his statement would make a political adman proud, but no amount of PR or media propaganda will be able to dispel the image of Ricky Sbragia as a dinosaur, more suited to hunter gathering than honing the talents of the countries young players.

Will Scotland force Harper to choose Spain?

Will Scotland snub force Harper to choose Spain?

Of course Sbragia will point to the fact that his ‘physical team, full of runners’ managed to beat Austria 2-1 in Vienna as vindication for his selection policy. But the Scottish fans aren’t buying what he is selling. We are crying out for creative and crafty young footballers to lift our country out of the malaise our football flounders in, and there is no way a manager with such prehistoric methods can produce the players we need to once again reach major international tournaments.

This isn’t a personal attack on Ricky Sbragia, but a man tasked with developing the technical ability of our brightest young talents cannot be allowed to endorse such a backward philosophy, either publicly or privately. A positive and proactive approach to young development must be the modus operandi if our young players are to prosper as professional footballers. There is no other way.

Although to lay the blame solely on Ricky Sbragia would be a dereliction of the facts. The worrying problem is that the SFA’s policy is obviously to prioritise the results of the collective over the performance of the individual. Sbraiga is forced to adopt such a rigid approach for his own self-preservation. If he is being judged on results, then he has deliver or he will be dismissed. However, for progression and genuine development, little to no value should be placed on results, all emphasis must be on performance. Ricky Sbraiga’s remit should be focussed on rearing players fit for the 1st team- nothing more or nothing less. Obviously some tangible tournament success would be excellent, but it is an added bonus- his bread and butter is to bolster the 1st team with young talent.

Although his comments caused a lot of controversy, for many it simply confirmed what they already thought: ability is still sadly subordinate to physicality in Scottish football. The Kyle Hutton’s of the country are in heaven! Sure, we were shocked by the statements, but were any of you really that surprised? Our antiquated approach to youth development is as outdated as Ricky Sbragia’s attitude on how football should be played. Yet the standard of coaching has massively improved in recent years which has coincided with a huge increase in young players playing week in week out for senior clubs up and down the country. Look at the influx of teenage boys playing against men every week as evidence of the improvement in youth policy.

That is what makes Ricky Sbragia’s beliefs all the more bizarre. We currently have the best batch of young players we have had in years, yet a manager who should be one of the chief protagonists in improving the ability of our young players is actually a proponent for physical, route one football. It is madness.

When I was playing football the only really Scottish outstanding players I played with or against were James McCarthy and Barry Bannan. However, when I used to go and watch my younger brother Jack’s pro youth games at Celtic, a few years later, there were lots of unique talents. Players such as young Charlie Telfer, now a regular in Dundee United’s first team, demonstrated tremendous technical ability as opposed to mere physical prowess.

Perhaps the pick of the bunch though, was a boy named John Scullion, who is on currently on loan at Greenock Morton from St Mirren. Despite being absolutely tiny, he stood taller than everyone in the touch and technique departments. He could kill a ball stone dead from a 1000 feet, he had to because his Da didn’t give him any dinner until he did a 1000 keepy ups every night! These are the very players we should be promoting, yet they will be compromised by the philosophy Ricky Sbragia and other like-minded coaches want to employ.

The fans cannot be complicit in the cull of our creative young players. We must act and demand that Ricky Sbragia changes his depressing dictat for youth development. The luddites over at the SFA may not like it, but they will be forced to accept it if enough fans apply enough pressure to the powers that be over at Hampden HQ.

The Scottish fans must tell the SFA: we don’t want a physical team, full of runners!

I look forward to reading your comments:

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George Groves rises again

If a fighters greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time they fall then George Groves must be congratulated for such an accomplished comeback performance against Christopher Rebrasse, so soon after being knocked out against Carl Froch.

George Groves

On a personal level George Groves definitely divides opinion. Many people loathe him for his perceived cockiness and arrogance, while others love him because he is so full of confidence and self belief. Whether you love him or hate him, you cannot fault his hunger and desire to achieve his dreams of becoming a world champion. Furthermore, his boxing ability is also beyond reproach as is his entertainment value. He is brilliant to watch, and I bet somebody who is not even a boxing fan would appreciate the beauty of George Groves at his best.

After two consecutive knockout losses to Carl Froch, Groves could be forgiven if he wanted to lurk behind the shadows and have a few confidence boosting fights before returning to the spotlight. Instead, he put his head above the parapet again, returning very close to the scene of his last catastrophe to record a convincing point’s win over Christopher Rebrasse to win the European super middleweight title and become the mandatory challenger for Anthony Dirrell’s WBC belt.

They say you can only beat what is put in front of you, and by that wisdom it was a pretty good night’s work for Groves. The caveat to his assured display against Rebrasse though, is that the competition he will face next will be far more formidable than the tough and durable but limited and one dimensional Frenchman. Although it was hard not to be impressed by Groves’ cabaret of jinks, feints, double jabs and combinations you also had to be concerned by his characteristic lapses in defence and his all round vulnerability to counter punches.

Moreover, after being wobbled on more than one occasion by the light hitting Rebrasse the questions over Groves’ punch resistance persist. Any concerns about his ability to sustain punishment will multiply as his level of competition increases.

Yet when you throw close to a 1000 punches and are always on the front foot like Groves was then you are bound to leave the back door open at times. Fortunately for the young Hammersmith fighter Rebrasse didn’t have the concussive power or killer instinct to capitalise on the counter punching opportunities gifted to him by Groves. Maybe Groves will have to be more work on his defence in the gym or be more conservative with his punch output before he mixes it with the elite again.

Whatever he does, he simply cannot be so generous against the likes of Anthony Dirrell, who has the talent, and the power, to punish Groves for his mistakes. The top level fighters with cutting edge at 168lb will snap the branch of gratitude extended to Rebrasse by Groves and beat him up with it. Yet in terms of tangible attributes such as; hand speed, power, accuracy and shot selection it is clear Groves has the talent to become a world champion. Does he have the intangible boxing trait of a chin to sustain punishment from a top class super middleweight for the duration of a 12 round prizefight?

History tells us he doesn’t, but I truly hope he does when he gets his time again because it would be a travesty if a fighter with the boxing ability of Groves is prevented from becoming a world champion due to his precarious punch resistance.

His disregard for the defensive side of the game coupled with his questionable chin tells us Groves is destined to fall again at some point but he has already shown he has the resolve to recover from setbacks.

Despite his defensive frailties I have faith that Groves will get to the top of the sport and win a world title.

What do you think?

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Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg: Small men with big futures

The lower weight classes in world boxing are often starved of attention, but in Britain the landscape is changing and the little guys may no longer be subordinated by the bigger men. For the super bantamweight division is back in vogue and the British fighters such as Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg are bracing themselves for some career defining fights over the coming calendar years.

Scott Quigg

Finally the fans may get the domestic unification fight they crave between WBA ‘regular’ champion Scott Quigg and the newly crowned IBF king Carl Frampton. The British boxing fraternity has faith that these two young lions in their prime will soon be pitted against each other in a lucrative prizefight. The reason for the renewed sense of optimism lies in the fact that Frampton now has no obligations to Box Nation, which has cleared the major barrier to making the bout a reality. Now the path has been cleared, and the potholes paved, the promoters Eddie Hearn and Barry McGuigan can now progress and start meaningful negotiations to make the fight happen.

Of course in the aftermath of Frampton’s amazing victory over Kiko Martinez, Barry McGuigan stated that a fight with Leo Santa Cruz has ‘real gravitas’. While I wouldn’t disagree with McGuigan’s sentiments, it would make sense for Frampton to try and take care of business back home against Quigg before broadening his horizons across the pond. Furthermore, McGuigan’s uncertainty with regards to the ‘Jackal’s’ next career move contrasted sharply with Frampton’s unequivocal conviction that he wants a unification contest with Quigg. From both a fighting and financial perspective, a money spinning showdown between Frampton and Quigg makes perfect sense.

Aside from the obvious monetary motivations, domestic unification fights do not grow on trees and both fighters should demand the fight is made- it is the perfect opportunity for both Quigg and Frampton to build a legacy. Throw in the fact that both fighters are pretty evenly matched, the plot leads to a potential trilogy of fights that will set the pulses of the fans racing.

Boxing pundit Steve Bunce bellowed, in his own inimitable way, that when it comes to the big fights the British ‘do the business’ and his bold statements have been backed by the stunning success of the Carl Froch vs George Groves sell out at Wembley Stadium. With talk of many era defining domestic dust ups on the horizon from Kell Brook vs Amir Khan to Callum Smith vs George Groves, British boxing is entering a new epoch. There may just be a paradigm shift in the balance of power between British boxing and American boxing, and do not be in the slightest bit surprised if the little men steal the baton from the bigger boys.

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The British glory days will continue in the super middleweight division

The time may be coming for Carl Froch to hang up his gloves but there are many British fighters who are ready to take over the mantle in the super middleweight division. The end of the ‘Cobra’s’ title laden reign at the top could signal the beginning of a new and exciting era for British boxing in the 168lb weight class.

Carl Froch and George Groves

Carl Froch has blazed the trail for the likes of Paul Smith, Callum Smith, James De Gale, and George Groves to follow, and his retirement can be the catalyst for a sequence of world title fights between our best super middleweights.

All of these aforementioned fighters occupy high positions in the world ranking lists of the different sanctioning bodies, and Liverpool’s Paul Smith could soon be the WBO champion at l68lb if he overcomes the odds and the steals ‘King Arthur’ Abraham’s crown later this month in Germany.

Although many fans outside of Britain seem to think Smith vs Abraham is a mismatch, the hands of time are ticking on Abraham’s career, and he may just be ready to cede his crown. Undeterred by his underdog status, Paul Smith will undoubtedly let it all hang out to fulfill his dream of becoming a world champion. As far as I am concerned, Smith is capable of causing an upset on foreign soil, and my money will be on him escaping with a victory from behind enemy lines.

September is also a huge month for George Groves as he looks to bounce back from his humbling knockout defeat to Carl Froch in front of a sell-out crowd at Wembley stadium. The Hammersmith fighter can get his world title bid back on track if he beats Christopher Rebrasse next week to win the WBC silver and EBU super middleweight titles. A victory over Rebrasse should help Groves secure a world title shot against the newly minted WBC super middleweight champion Anthony Dirrell.

Callum Smith is another young British prospect who features prominently in the WBC rankings, and he is ready to mix it with the main men at super middleweight. Personally, I feel Callum Smith is the diamond of the pack and I fully expect him to be in possession of a world title by this time next year.

Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn has already expressed his desire to set up a domestic super fight between ‘Mundo’ Smith and George Groves in the not too distant future. Although Callum Smith is quiet and respectful, you can be sure he wants revenge on Groves, who knocked out his older brother Paul a few years ago. Both fighters are willing and able for that one and it has ‘Fight of the Year’ written all over it. The prospect of a rematch between Groves and Jame De Gale is also a distinct possibility and that one would have the fans purring in delight as well.

Former Olympic gold medalist James De Gale (MBE) will soon hope to get his hands on a world title belt. He may not have to wait too much longer, as IBF/WBA champion Carl Froch, could be forced to fight fellow Matchroom stable mate De Gale if Eddie Hearn cannot deliver him his Las Vegas dream fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr.

Even in the event that Froch fulfils his Vegas dream, the ‘Cobra could conceivably vacate his IBF title, which would gift De Gale, the mandatory challenger, a golden opportunity to fight for the title against a similarly ranked opponent. Of course De Gale will not want to win a world title by default, but Carl Froch seems cool on a concept of a De Gale contest, so it may be his best option.

Obviously as soon as De Gale wins a world title, the fans will immediately clamour for a grudge rematch with George Groves, who beat his long time rival in a closely fought, some would controversial, contest a few years ago. There is still bad blood between the two, and the bitterness means both would welcome the opportunity to do battle again. With world titles at stake, the rematch would be a domestic dust up of epic proportions.

These are just some of possibilities for all British world title encounters in the super middleweight division. Regardless of which of these fights come to fruition, the future will be bright at 168lb whenever the legendary Carl Froch rings the final bell on his incredible career.

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The time has come to harvest our vintage crop of British crop of bantamweights

Although the spotlight is shining brightly on Car Frampton after his brilliant victory of Kiko Martinez, there many others British boxers in the bantamweight divisions who also want to steal the limelight from Belfast’s favorite son.

Sure the focus of the British fans is firmly on a unification fight between fellow super bantamweight champions Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg, but it would folly to forget about other the prospects plying their trade at the top level of the sport in 118-122lb weight classes.

Carl Frampton

Current bantamweight champions Paul Butler (IBF) and Jamie McDonnell (WBA), as well as reigning British and European super bantamweight champion Kid Galahad are the other main pieces of the puzzle of prizefighters who are among the chief protagonists in their respective weight classes.

Fortunately for the fans, all of these aforementioned fighters are at the peak of their powers and the small deficit of weight between the divisions will help facilitate fights in the future between these boxers.

A unification grudge match between WBA ‘regular’ champion and IBF titlist Carl Frampton could potentially usher in a golden era in the bantamweight divisions which sees the very best fighters battle it out against each other in an unofficial round robin competition. Of course the cynics will say such a notion is dangerously delusional, however, I will dare to be an optimist- as David Brent once declared, “pipe dreams are good!”

Britain boxing needs to distinguish itself from the shameful; Al Haymon inspired mismatches that are poisoning the sport in America. Boxing in our nation is already undergoing a renaissance and we should show the American’s how to do business, lead by example and make sure our best fighters compete against each on a routine basis.

As keen reader of the comments sections on other boxing websites, it is clear that many American fight fans I converse with are at breaking point due to the ridiculous match making that has become the status quo across the pond. Pugilism is losing its purity in America, but in Britain, boxing is going through a boom period- we must keep the good times rolling.

We have a bastion of talent in the bantamweight divisions and what better statement of intent is there than to bring them all together in a battle for supremacy. It may sound like a grandiose vision- but the talent is there, and there would be more than enough money in the pot to put the plans in place. The British fights fans love a good domestic rivalry, and the Froch and Groves grudge matches offered conclusive proof that the punters have no problem paying good money to see the cream of British talent compete against each other.

Promoters such as Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren have put in so much effort to increase the popularity of British boxing in recent times. One sure fire way to raise the profile of the sport further and attract hordes of new followers is to harvest this vintage crop of British bantamweights.

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Is Al Haymon destroying boxing?

In no other sport is the narrative of good versus evil played out as endlessly as it is in professional boxing. The individualistic nature of the sport makes it necessary to have a distinction between good and bad. Of course many of these perceptions are pure theater. In most instances these stereotypes are perpetuated simply to promote big fights and bring in big money.

Even still, regardless of the capitalist and corrupt underbelly of the sport, boxing has always had more than its fair share of ‘bogey men’ who seem to wield disproportionate amounts of power and influence.

The only available picture of Al Haymon online!

Al Haymon: Boxing’s new Bogey Man

Whereas boxers put their faith in the relatively simple plan of winning fights with their fists to put food on the table and titles around their waists, promoters and managers are more cunning, and at times deceitful, in their rapacious pursuit of profit. The means they will employ to achieve their desired ends are often concealed, their agendas hidden in a complex maze of half truths and equivocations that are hard to comprehend with casual thought.

Yet if you scratch beneath the surface and study the landscape of the sport, it is unsettling to discover just how omnipotent boxing’s new bogey man Al Haymon really is.

At least we knew what we were dealing with the old school of Don King, whose obnoxious cabaret of greed and self indulgence was on display, in clear view to everyone. Al Haymon is the new breed of manager who shuns the spotlight like an albino vampire- to call him shadowy is an understatement. In this saturated age of images and social media sites everyone wants to be seen and heard, yet Al Haymon is never seen nor heard: there is only one picture of him online!

Some call him the silent partner of prizefighting, others insists he is the masked pariah intent on ruining the sport. Although with the loyal roster of fighters he ‘represents’ reputed to run into the hundreds, it is beyond debate that he is the most powerful man in boxing. He is the hand that feeds us the scandalous diet of mismatches that malnourish the sport and starves the fans of the best fights between the biggest names.

His rise to prominence- which culminated in him winning the 2013 Al Buck Award (Manager of the Year) from the Boxing Writers Association of America– has coincided with the worrying trend of fight cards featuring the best boxers of a certain weight class fighting sacrificial lambs when they should be competing against each other.

He targets the weak and feeds the frail to his star fighters, and in return he receives an almost cultish reverence from his clients. Aside from the fact that his match making policy deprives the sport of meaningful fights, it also endangers the health of some boxers such as Rod Salka, an unranked lightweight, who had no business being in the same ring as Danny Garcia, a two time world champion in the weight class above Salka.

In this particular battle against good versus evil the lifeblood of boxing is at stake. Desperate times call for desperate measures, something radical needs to be done to prevent the pervasive influence of boxing’s bogeyman Al Haymon destroying what little purity there is let in pugilism.

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Sergio Martinez must retire

One of the most depressing, and all too common themes in the fight game is a boxer who doesn’t know when to call it quits. For some fighters financial necessity means they literally cannot afford to call time on their career- fighting is the only thing they can do to put food on the table.

Sergio-Martinez

Yet the great Sergio Martinez, who is one of the few fortunate enough to have fashioned a retirement fund with his fists, just cannot seem to throw in the towel. I refer to the recent revelations that the former long time lineal middleweight king is apparently set to see a doctor to determine whether he can resume his career.

Whilst it seems so plainly obvious to everyone that retirement is the only option for the 40 year old, injury ravaged Argentine, Martinez’s fighting spirit and desire has induced in him a state of denial. But do we really expect Martinez to react any differently? After all, prizefighting is a primal instinct, and in a sport where quitting is considered a heinous crime, it is little wonder Martinez is struggling to come to terms with his physical decline. Unfortunately, in boxing you are not allowed to grow old gracefully, instead of a golden handshake and a pension you get a punch in the face by a fellow fighter who wants blood.

There is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide in a boxing ring, and for a fighter like Sergio Martinez who relies on leg movement and reflexes it looks like he has reached the end of the road.

As a massive fan of Martinez, it was a truly heartbreaking sight to see him head bowed, on the brink of tears, begging his trainer for ‘one more round’ against Miguel Cotto when it was blatantly obvious his body had long since abandoned him. In light of such a catastrophic loss, conventional logic says that Martinez must relinquish any thoughts of returning to a boxing ring.

But after suffering such a spirit crushing and humiliating defeat, can we really condemn such a proud warrior as Martinez for wanting to make a comeback so that he can finish his career on his own terms?

Most boxers wear the ability to take punishment like a badge of honour, and you can bet Sergio Martinez would rather endure more physical pain in the ring rather than live with the emotional torment of his surrender to Cotto in his retirement. The caveat is that if he does make an ill fated return to the ring, it doesn’t matter who his opponent is as the hands of time hit harder than any fighter he will face. Martinez will always be second best in his battle against the aging process, and that is why he must try and confront the brutal truth that his body has betrayed him and his boxing days are over.

It is up to his family members and management team to convince Sergio Martinez that he must move on with no regrets. He must not allow his resentment to replace reason, because people will remember him as fierce competitor and one of the finest middleweights of the modern era, not as the man who had to quit in his corner against Miguel Cotto.