A Tribute to Gary Speed

Gary Speed was one of the most durable footballers in the modern British game – over a 22 year career he played 677 games for five different clubs (Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United) and is currently third in the all time Premier League appearances list behind David James and Ryan Giggs.  Starting out as a left-winger, but developing into a versatile midfielder capable of filling many roles, Speed played a big part in Leeds’ title win in 1991/2 and helped Newcastle make consecutive FA Cup Finals in the late 1990s.  As a proud Welshman, he represented his country 85 times as a player and after he had retired, went on to manage the national side.  After a tough start, Speed led Wales to four wins in their last five games, and up to 45th place in the latest FIFA Rankings.  He had also become a respected pundit on the BBC, appearing as recently as Saturday to give his viewpoints on the weekend’s action.  One day later, Gary Speed was dead – having taken his own life on Sunday morning.

Speed was in my extended family – his mum and my dad are cousins – so I had always followed his career closely and rooted for him to succeed, except when he played against Tottenham.  In 1994, when Leeds United were drawn away at Oxford United – my hometown team – in the FA Cup, Gary was kind enough to get tickets for my Dad and myself.  Having found themselves 2-0 down to the lower division team, the visitors forced a replay in part thanks to a cracking goal from Speed.  I saw him play against Spurs several times during his career – for a while he had a knack of scoring crucial goals against us – but he was an opponent that the home fans always admired.  He was a hard-working footballer and always played the game with respect and fairly, relying on his talent rather than ever resorting to dirty play or cheating.  As a boyhood Everton fan, it was a surprise when he engineered a move away from the club in 1998, having been bought by the Toffees two years before.  Speed signed a confidentiality agreement about his departure, and adhered to that, never giving his reason for leaving the team he supported (other players from that side have suggested that as captain, Gary had been forced to give a half-time team talk as the manager was intoxicated and unable to do so).  That summed up how he came across as a footballer and as a person – honest and principled.  After his playing days were over, Speed ran the 2010 London Marathon for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, in honour of his former manager at Newcastle United.  As the cousin who had made it as a professional footballer, he, of course, also beat my best marathon time by half an hour, finishing in a very respectable 3hrs and 49 minutes.

Losing a loved one is never easy – when it is by suicide, the death is almost impossible to handle.  How does someone come to terms with their husband or wife, son or daughter, father or mother, taking their own life?  It naturally brings up feelings of anger towards the deceased – resentment that they have taken an “easy way out”, or that they acted selfishly and not considered those they are leaving behind.  In trying to understand the act, people will feel guilty that they had not been able to prevent it from happening.  Suicide is also the most frustrating death – because you can think that it was completely avoidable.  Had the person not taken that action, they would still be alive.  All of these emotions are completely understandable, but unfortunately it is not that simple – suicide is the end result of a much deeper problem.  The despair that a person must feel in order to reach that point is something that is impossible to comprehend by those who have not experienced severe depression.  When someone kills themselves, people want to know the reason – especially if the victim had shown not outward signs of depression, or seemingly had a very happy life.  But the real issue is not the outward reason, be it financial difficulties, relationship issues, or whatever society can point to in order to define a cause for the suicide.  What we should be trying to understand are the chemical imbalances in people’s brains which make them susceptible to such drastic action.  Mental illness has a stigma attached to it, in a way that physical ones do not, and because of this, those who suffer from them feel they have no way of overcoming them.

I do not know if Gary Speed suffered from depression, or if there were any driving factors that led him to suicide.  What I do know, is that he must have felt there was no other option.  He was wrong.  Tragically wrong.  There is always another option – as a society we need to make that more known to people who are considering taking their own lives.  For some reason, Speed did not see any choice and now his wife is left a widow, his sons have lost their father, and his parents try to deal with the death of their son.  My thoughts go out to them at this impossibly difficult time, and I hope that Gary now rests in peace.

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This week in: English Football – Spurs have Vertigo and Boring, Boring United

Tottenham's modern day Al Capone, Harry Redknapp

Spurs Flying High

The last time Tottenham finished the season in third place, the position they currently occupy in the Premiership, it was 1990 and their manager was Terry Venables – a Londoner who was widely touted as the next England manager and could have led the club on to bigger and better things, but ended up being dismissed over financial irregularities in his business dealings.  The man currently in the dugout for Spurs is Harry Redknapp – the English tabloids favourite to replace Fabio Capello next summer, but who faces a court case in January over tax evasion from his time at Portsmouth.  On the pitch, there has been little to complain about for Spurs fans, since the team was anchored to the bottom of the table after a couple of defeats against the Manchester teams in their first two games of the season.  The record for Tottenham after those results reads: Played 9, Won 8, Drawn 1, Lost 0 – vaulting them up the table and leading the “best of the rest” league, behind City and United.

However, supporters of the club have seen us start campaigns well, only for everything to drop off around Christmas, meaning there is tempered excitement about this current squad of players.  With a first eleven that has been playing together regularly, without too much fluctuation in personnel, there is reason for optimism that this time the progress may be built upon.  Scott Parker was a great signing for the midfield – his tough tackling and high work ethic have added the grit that has been missing over previous seasons.  The other two signings from the summer – Brad Friedel in goal and Emmanuel Adebayor up front – have established themselves as first choice players and improved the solidity of the team by adding stability in areas Spurs were struggling last year.  Both Rafael Van der Vaart and Jermain Defoe have proved to be good partners for Adebayor when they have linked up with him in attack – in particular the Dutchman, Van der Vaart, who scored in five consecutive league games in September/October.  Tottenham have also had their best defender, Ledley King, available on a more consistent basis this year – the centre back having been afflicted with chronic knee problems for many years now – and with the best pairing of full-backs in the Premiership (Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto)

Spurs fans have a habit of looking at the upcoming fixtures with optimism and imagining the position we could be in if we win those games – a practice which almost always backfires when the team underperform and lose at home to Wolves or Wigan.  Having said that, with a game against Chelsea on December 22nd on the horizon, the matches before then are crucial for Tottenham to take points from – away to West Brom and Stoke, Sunderland and Bolton at the Lane.  As Chelsea have lost three of their last four games, and there are now questions over whether their manager, Villas-Boas, will be in his job for much longer, Spurs must exploit this opportunity to open a gap between themselves and the Stamford Bridge outfit.

Three other teams are in the race for a top four place and a Champions League berth for next season.  With City and United seemingly assured of two of those, Spurs and Chelsea will be competing with Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle for the remaining spots.  Arsenal have been on a great run of form, having won all four of their league games since their defeat in the North London Derby, as well as being the only English side thus far through to the next stage of this year’s Champions League.  While Newcastle lost for just the first time this year, against Manchester City last week, Liverpool have been the model of inconsistency.  Kenny Dalglish’s men beat Chelsea last week, adding to their impressive victory away to Arsenal and a home draw with Manchester United earlier in the season – but they could only draw at Anfield against Swansea, Sunderland and Norwich.  Since they played both Arsenal and Chelsea at times when those teams were on a run of poor form, their 4-0 thrashing at White Hart Lane against Spurs, albeit a game they finished with just 9 men, may be more indicative of their chances against the upper echelons of the Premier League.  Considering all the contenders, I can see the two North London clubs joining the two Manchester teams in next seasons more prestigious European club competition.

Boring, Boring United

Sir Alex Ferguson is nothing if not pragmatic – he has been so successful for so long by adapting his Manchester United team to the circumstances in order to be competitive in an ever-changing league.  In 2008/2009  he unleashed the attacking flair of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez on the Premiership – 10 years prior to that he used a consistent midfield of Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs to take the Red Devils to a treble, winning the League, Cup and Champions League.  This season, since the 6-1 thrashing at the hands of their local rivals, Manchester City, Ferguson has gone back to basics and had his team grind out three consecutive one-nil victories.  While it may not be as entertaining as when they put eight goals past Arsenal, it has helped them remain in second place and in prime position to capitalise should City falter.  As Mancini’s men have to play Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal within the next month, there is plenty of chances of their unbeaten start coming to the end.  If it does, Ferguson will make sure that he can regain the upper hand in the Manchester-centric race for this year’s league title.

Predictions

Last week, 3-7; season, 47-42

Stoke vs Blackburn – Draw

Bolton vs Everton – Home win

Chelsea vs Wolves – Draw

Manchester United vs Newcastle – Home win

Norwich vs QPR – Draw

Sunderland vs Wigan – Home win

West Brom vs Tottenham – Away win

Arsenal vs Fulham – Home win

Swansea vs Aston Villa – Draw

Liverpool vs Manchester City – Home win

This week in: American Football – Week 12

Aaron Rodgers leads his Packers team in to Detroit for the early Thanksgiving Day game

Coming in to Thanksgiving week, all the NFL teams now have 6 games to play and the race for the playoffs is starting to shape up.  In the NFC, the Packers (North) and 49ers (West) have large leads in their divisions which are unlikely to be overturned (three and five games respectively) – both Green Bay, with a 35-26 win over the Buccaneers, and the 49ers, who beat the Cardinals 23-7 in Arizona, continued their winning streaks last week. In the South, New Orleans have a one game lead over the Falcons after Atlanta beat the Titans on Sunday, while New Orleans had their bye week – the two teams meet for a game that could decide the division in Louisiana, in the penultimate week of the season.  The East is the closest division in the NFC, as the Giants and Cowboys each have six wins and four losses thus far.  The Eagles, who beat New York on their own turf last Sunday, are just two games back despite a 4-6 record, but a loss to the Patriots this weekend would see them all but knocked out of playoff contention.  Dallas extended their winning streak to three games by squeaking past Washington in overtime last Sunday and are the form team in the East, but the division will likely be decided by two games between the Cowboys and the Giants in the last four weeks of the season.

The Wild Card spots in the NFC are currently occupied by two teams from the North, the Lions and the Bears – but Chicago will be without their quarterback, Jay Cutler, for the remainder of the regular season, as he fractured his thumb during last week’s win over the Chargers.  Detroit have three very tough games left on the schedule, at New Orleans and their two games against the Green Bay Packers, but if they win their other fixtures (home to Minnesota and San Diego, at Oakland), the Lions will probably clinch one of the playoff berths.  If the Bears lose ground without Cutler, Atlanta are the team most likely to benefit – aside from their Week 16 trip to New Orleans, the Falcons have a favourable schedule to the end of the season: Minnesota, @Houston (who are without their first choice QB, Matt Schaub), @Carolina, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay.  As the only other two teams in serious contention for a Wild Card spot, the Giants and the Cowboys, have two games with each other left in their battle for the East, ten wins is likely to be enough to make the playoffs for Detroit, Chicago or Atlanta – my prediction is the Bears will be the team to miss out.

The AFC is much more tightly bunched than the NFC, with every team – other than the 0-10 Colts – having a record between 3-7 and 7-3.  In the North, the Ravens beat the Bengals last week to tie Pittsburgh for first with a 7-3 record, Baltimore has the head-to-head lead after beating their divisional foes twice this season.  Both teams are on course for the playoffs, while Cincinnati, who still have to play both of the teams above them again this season, will struggle to hold on to a Wild Card spot.  The AFC West is a hard division to predict, the Raiders currently have a one game lead over the Broncos after both teams won last week – Oakland triumphed in Minnesota, while Tim Tebow’s last-minute rushing touchdown helped Denver come from behind to beat the NY Jets.  Tebow may often look like he has no idea how to throw a spiral with a football, but somehow he has led his team to four wins in their last five games and back into playoff contention.  A trip to San Diego this week, to face a Chargers team who have lost five in a row, could see the Broncos move to a winning record, something that seemed impossible little more than a month ago.  New England have started to play more like the Patriots of old, consecutive wins over the Jets and the Chiefs have given them a two game lead in the East as New York and Buffalo have faltered after strong starts.  If the season had started a couple of months later, the Dolphins would be serious playoff contenders – their win over the Bills last week was their third in a row – but alas, there were seven games before that, all of which ended in losses for Miami.  Houston, as noted above, have to play the remainder of the year without their starting Quarterback, after Matt Schaub went down in an injury to his right foot.  The Texas have a two game cushion in the AFC South over the Titans and their strong running game should help replacement QB, Matt Leinart, as he tries to guide them to the playoffs.  If Houston does lose ground without Schaub, their final week matchup with Tennessee could decide who wins the division.

With either Baltimore or Pittsburgh both likely to make the playoffs, one as a division winner, the remaining Wild Card spot is going to be a fight between several teams, with no clear favourite at the moment.  The 6-4 Bengals are in pole position right now, but their aforementioned tough schedule could be a hinderance – meaning that any one of the 5-5 teams could claim a place in the playoffs.  That list includes the Jets, Bills, Broncos and Titans, while those on 4-6 (Chiefs, Chargers and Browns) cannot be ruled out if any of them go on a winning streak.

This week’s games include three on Thanksgiving Thursday, starting with the undefeated Packers going to play the lunchtime game in Detroit against the resurgent Lions.  Also on Turkey Day, there is a matchup of two teams who have won their last three games, as the Dolphins face the Cowboys in Dallas, and the evening game sees the first ever NFL fixture in which the two head coaches are brothers – Jim Harbaugh takes his 49ers team to Baltimore to play his older brother, John’s, Ravens side.  Sunday’s games feature only one fixture in which both teams have winning records – Chicago at Oakland, though neither has their starting quarterback available after injuries.  The Bills travel to New Jersey to take on the Jets, a loss for either team will probably push them out of contention for a Wild Card; there is an all-Ohio battle in Cincinnati as the Bengals host the Browns; the Colts still looking for their first win of the season, are at home to the Panthers; and the Giants play the Saints in New Orleans on Monday Night Football.

Predictions

Last week, 7-7; Season 84-76

Home Teams in Bold

Thanksgiving Day Games

Packers -6.5 over Lions

Dolphins +6.5 over Cowboys

Ravens -3.5 over 49ers

Favre’s team -21.5 over rest of Family – Okay this one is not real, but would you want to be against Brett Favre in Thursday’s back yard Thanksgiving Day football game somewhere in Gulfport, Mississippi?  The first year since 1990 he has not been in the NFL, I’m guessing number 4 throws deep all afternoon – or he’ll be lobbying the Bears to sign him to replace Cutler…

Sunday

Falcons -9.5 over Vikings

Bills +8.5 over Jets

Bengals -7.5 over Browns

Buccaneers +3.5 over Titans

Panthers -3.5 over Colts

Cardinals +3.5 over Rams

Jaguars +3.5 over Texans

Raiders -4.5 over Bears

Seahawks -4.5 over Redskins

Broncos +6.5 over Chargers

Patriots -4.5 over Eagles

Steelers -10.5 over Chiefs

Monday

Saints -6.5 over Giants

The NBA Lockout and Political Negotiations

As negotiations between the players and owners have dragged on without finding a resolution, the National Basketball Association remains “locked out” – with a serious threat of the 2011/2012 season being cancelled all together.  The principal reason being the discussions have not actually been “negotiations,” as only one side has shown any willingness to compromise – the players.

From the owners perspective, there is no benefit to actually conceding anything –  if there are no games at all for the next year, the kingpins of the 30 professional basketball teams will not suffer, as their main income sources do not come from the sport.  Indeed, many will save money if there is no season and they do not have to pay out wages.  In contrast, the players – whose careers are already short – will be without their salaries for an entire year.  While many of the top players have multi-million dollar contracts, this is not the case for all 450 athletes who make their living in the NBA.  Also, many in the league take on financial responsibilities to assist their family and friends back home, so a large pay packet is often spread thinly and helps many people.

Because one side is more than willing to void the season, while the other would suffer greatly financially in such a situation, the debate has never been finding a fair deal – the owners have been lowballing the players to see just how big a percentage of revenues they can keep.  The biggest sticking point, the share of Basketball Related Income (BRI) that each side gets, is a prime example of that.  In the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, the players took 57% – in the negotiations they have been prepared to go as low as 52.5%, but the owners will not offer anything more than a 50:50 split.  The proprietors of the clubs also want to reduce the maximum length of contracts that can be offered, meaning players would be more vulnerable in case of career-ending injuries.

At no point did the owners offer any solutions which would involve a compromise from them.  For example, while it is true that many of the teams lost money in recent seasons, due to dwindling attendances at games, those in the big-markets continued to make large profits (successful teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, as well as underperforming franchises like the Los Angeles Clippers or New York Knicks).  If there was more revenue sharing from ticket sales or if television sales were done solely on a national basis, rather than locally, this would assist the teams that have been operating at a loss just as much as taking it from the players would.  While the Knicks may reject this on the basis that they have their own TV channel (MSG) and should be able to profit from their huge local support, the league would not be as strong if only a few teams from the bigger cities existed.  It needs all of the clubs, good and bad, to make the NBA what it is. It’s not as though teams that struggle one season have no way of improving the next: the draft lottery can have a huge impact on a bad team and turn them into contenders, as it did for the Cavaliers when they landed LeBron James in 2003.  Having just five starters on a team, with players coming out of college ready to be in the everyday lineups, a struggling side can be transformed much faster than in the other big sports.  In the NFL, it takes many seasons of good drafts to transform the squad, though an elite quarterback accelerates improvement; while in baseball, even the highest rated draft picks spend long periods honing their craft in the minor leagues, with little guarantee that they will ever succeed in the majors.

With no leverage at the negotiating table and unhappy with both the offer the owners made and the way they feel they have been treated, the players will now disband the NBPA (National Basketball Players Association) and pursue lawsuits in order to try to force a better deal.  The fact that their union has to be broken up in order for the players to make any headway, shows that it is little more than a collective bargaining group, rather than an entity that provides any real protections for its members.

As it has dragged on, the NBA lockout has reminded me more and more with the current political climate in the United States – the players are in the role of the Democrats, while the owners represent the Republicans.  Once upon a time, there was a genuine debate over issues and both sides would try to reach a compromise.  When President Clinton suffered a defeat in the midterm elections in 1994, the next two years were spent trying to negotiate with the GOP and Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.  By his second term, he was having impeachment hearings brought against him and ever since, the centre point of all arguments has moved further and further right.

In last week’s elections, the unions recorded a huge victory by overturning Governor Kasich’s law that would have eliminated collective bargaining and the ability to strike.  The unions established rights and many benefits for working people in the United States, yet that they are allowed to exist is now considered a win.  When the debt ceiling needed to be raised last summer, in order for America to pay the bills that legislation from Congress had already accrued, no longer was it an automatic process in the way it had been 68 times before, including 7 times under President George W. Bush and 17 times during the Reagan administration.  Suddenly, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress had to negotiate a way of reducing the deficit before the ceiling was raised – of course the idea of raising taxes on the highest incomes was not an option and all of the money had to be found from spending reductions.

When President Obama was trying to get a healthcare bill passed, the idea of having a public option was rejected by the Republicans and the only way the bill could be passed was by having it be so friendly to corporations that it was almost entirely irrelevant to those who would need it most (save for the elimination of the “pre-existing condition” get-out clause insurance companies have used for so long).  That debate happened before the 2010 midterm elections, when the Democrats had control of both chambers of Congress, as well as the Presidency, but because the Republicans could threaten a filibuster in the Senate, the discussions moved to the right and stayed there.

Prior to Bush being handed the Presidency by the Supreme Court “elected” in 2000, gun control was still discussed and debated, and would be a campaign issue that voters would want to know the candidate’s stance on.  Now, there are no longer arguments from the Democrats to implement any type of regulations on gun ownership – if someone tries to prevent semi-automatic weapons being available to buy over the counter, the Republicans will cry that they want to take away people’s Second Amendment rights away.  In fact, the right of the people to bear arms was designed to avoid a tyrannical leader imposing their will on the states, in the way that King George III had done prior to the revolutionary war.  When the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, the idea was not that everyone could, and should, own a handgun, AK47, rocket launcher…

But gun control is not even on the agenda anymore, healthcare was watered down, the Bush Era Tax cuts remain in place. The starting point for all discussions is far to the right and then moves even further in that direction.  When the Debt Ceiling was eventually raised prior to default in August (but not before a downgrade for the US Government debt), the GOP complained that they did not get anything in the deal, even though it included more spending cuts than the plan Speaker Boehner had offered at the start of the negotiations, and the same number of tax increases – zero.  It is a skill shared with the owners of the NBA teams, suggest a deal in which you get lots of concessions but give none away, then complain about the other side anyway.  While the Democrats never stand up to the Republicans, the players have decided to fight for what they consider justice to be – good luck to them.

This week in: American Football – Week 11

You know I've lost 10 games too...in the last 3 seasons combined

With seven weeks still left to play, the first team was officially eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday, as the Colts moved to 0-10 with a home loss against the Jaguars.  Indianapolis’ injured quarterback, Peyton Manning, can now focus on getting healthy for next year, rather than rushing back to try to save this season, while his team are likely to win the race for Andrew Luck, the projected first pick in next year’s draft.  Elsewhere, the Saints maintained their position at the top of the NFC South by winning in overtime against the Falcons.  Atlanta elected not to punt on fourth and short in their own territory during the extra period, a decision which backfired and ended up costing them the game, as well as joint first place in the division.  In the AFC West, San Diego lost their fourth game in a row, going down at home to the Oakland Raiders; while the Broncos won again, this time in Kansas City.  The Bears beat the Lions in Chicago, tying the two teams for second place in the NFC North behind the Packers, who maintained their 100% start to the season with an impressive 45-7 win over the Vikings on Monday Night Football.

The San Francisco 49ers moved another step closer to securing one of the top two seeds in the NFC, beating the Giants last week – New York have just a one game lead in their division now, as the Cowboys thrashed the Bills 44-7 in Dallas.  The Eagles lost another lead in the fourth quarter, this time at home to the Cardinals – leaving both teams with a 3-6 record for the season.  Philadelphia were highly touted before the season as Superbowl contenders, yet look unlikely to even make the playoffs at this point.  The Steelers moved into first place in the AFC North, as they defeated the Bengals while the Baltimore Ravens suffered a surprise loss in Seattle against the Seahawks.  New England returned to winning ways, having been beaten the previous two weeks, by overcoming their AFC East foes, the New York Jets, in New Jersey.

This week’s biggest game sees the Bengals travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens, the winners will tie Pittsburgh in the AFC North, as the Steelers have their bye week.  The Giants play the Eagles at the MetLife Stadium – Philadelphia may be without their starting Quarterback, Michael Vick, who suffered broken ribs in their last game with the Cardinals.  There is a battle of the “Bays” as the Green Bay Packers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the home team trying to move to 10-0 ahead of their Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit.  Their opponents for that game, the Lions face the Carolina Panthers, while the Bears are at home to the Chargers, with San Diego trying to avoid a fifth consecutive loss.  The Broncos, who only allowed Tim Tebow to attempt 8 passes last week (2 of which were completed), play the Thursday night game against the Jets; while the Monday Night game is unlikely to be competitive, as the Chiefs travel to New England to face the Patriots.

Predictions

Last week, 9-7; Season 77-69

Home teams in bold

Jets -4.5 over Broncos

Bills +2.5 over Dolphins

Ravens -7.5 over Bengals

Jaguars -0.5 over Browns

Cowboys -7.5 over Redskins

Lions -6.5 over Panthers

Buccaneers +14.5 over Packers (note, I’m picking against Green Bay just to not jinx them for the rest of the season)

Raiders +1.5 over Vikings

Seahawks +2.5 over Rams

Cardinals +9.5 over 49ers

Titans +6.5 over Falcons

Bears -3.5 over Chargers

Giants -3.5 over Eagles

Patriots -14.5 over Chiefs

This week in: English Football – England Triumph, and 1st vs 3rd

The Sun takes its usual, balanced approach to last year's World Cup draw

For years, a win for England over highly rated opposition has resulted in the tabloids spouting hyperbole about how it will result in a World Cup or European Championship win for the “Three Lions”.  In recent times, that has been replaced by pundits discussing how such games are no-win situations for the manager as, should they triumph, it will just result in vaulted expectations from the media, lose and it is indicative of a failing team.  So when Spain were defeated at Wembley last weekend, very few were discussing the significance, or lack thereof, of such a result for England.

What the game did show, was that the blueprint for beating Spain and Barcelona (the two are synonymous, but for the lack of Argentina’s Lionel Messi in the national team) has been laid out for all to see.  In previous matches, Inter Milan (in the 2009/10 Champions League) and Switzerland (2010 World Cup) played in a similar way to how England set up last Saturday – very defensively with an aim to catch the opposition on the break.  This requires a lot of patience, discipline and luck – Spain had 21 shots on goal without scoring at Wembley.  When a team is so comfortable in possession and able to create so many chances, there is little to be gained in “taking the game to them” and attacking with zeal.  England recognised that they were inferior in terms of ability and skill level, and thus adopted appropriate tactics.  Last weekend, that resulted in a victory – if Fabregas had not had such a torrid night in front of goal, or Villa’s great attempt not hit the post, the result could have been very different.  Should the two teams had played a best of seven series, Spain may have prevailed 4-1 or 4-2 – but that is not how international football tournaments are contested.

Capello showed that he has an idea of how to beat the world’s best team, even if the approach will not always be successful.  That pragmatism, though not attractive for a neutral fan, could come in useful next summer at the 2012 European Championships.  Should England obtain a draw in the group stages that allows for them to advance without Wayne Rooney, the manager has proven in a one-off game he can obtain results to see them through the knock-out stages.  Greece showed, in 2004, that hosting an Olympics gives their country a belief that can carry over to other sporting events – with their national team triumphing unexpectedly in Portugal that summer.  With host nations Poland and Ukraine being in the first pot for next summer’s European Championship, second seeds England have a 50% chance of being the highest ranked team in their group.  However, should Capello fall for the trap that has beset many England managers in the past and pick players based on name and reputation, rather than form, they could still come unstuck in the early stages of the tournament.  The likes of Kyle Walker, Scott Parker (some Spurs bias there I know!), Ashley Young, Jack Wilshere and Gary Cahill – while they may not be ready to defeat the likes of Germany, Spain or the Netherlands – could help England reach the semi-finals, significant progress for a team that did not make the 2008 tournament.

The Premiership returns this weekend, after the break for the international fixtures.  One of the highlights of this week’s fixtures is a battle between 1st and 3rd – as Manchester City host Newcastle United.  It sounds strange to have these teams making up 2/3rds of the top of the table, yet both are unbeaten this season.  City have won all but one of their league games this year, while Newcastle have started strongly, but face Manchester United and Chelsea in their next two games after this one.  It is unlikely that Mancini’s men will come unstuck at home against the Geordies – City have won all five of their games at the Etihad Stadium this season, scoring 16 goals and conceding just 2 in the process.

In other games this weekend, the promoted teams from last year all face tough matches: Norwich host Arsenal; Swansea are home to Manchester United; and QPR travel to the Britannia Stadium to face Stoke City.  Teams with European aspirations meet as Chelsea and Liverpool square off at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, while Tottenham are at home to Aston Villa in the Monday night fixture.  If this round of games were being played towards the end of the season, four games would be described as relegation “six-pointers”, as bottom of the table teams faced each other: the bottom two, Wigan and Blackburn, clash at the DW Stadium; Everton play Wolves at Goodison Park; Sunderland host Fulham; and West Brom and Bolton meet at the Hawthorns.

Predictions

Last time 6-4, season 44-35

Norwich vs Arsenal – Home win

Everton vs Wolves – Draw

Manchester City vs Newcastle – Home win

Stoke vs QPR – Home win

Sunderland vs Fulham – Draw

West Brom vs Bolton – Away win

Wigan vs Blackburn – Away win

Swansea vs Manchester United – Away win

Chelsea vs Liverpool – Home win

Tottenham vs Aston Villa – Draw

Rick Perry and Presidential Credentials

I wrote the first two on my hands...but I ain't got three hands

Since last Wednesday’s Republican Debate, the news networks and late night chat shows have been getting much mileage out of Rick Perry’s 53 forgetful seconds, when he failed to recall the name of all three government departments he had previously stated he would eliminate as President.  The coverage from all corners was unanimous in one viewpoint – that this was too big of a stumble, and would end Perry’s campaign.  While it may have been one of the worst missteps in debate history, the analysis of it should have focused on the content of what the Governor of Texas was advocating.

Should he win the race for the White House, Rick Perry wants to eliminate the Departments of Education, Energy and Commerce.  Not being able to name them may be embarrassing, but the bigger faux pas is that a candidate for President would want to abolish agencies that: promote job creation, and create an infrastructure for technological advancements, economic growth and sustainable development; ensures access to education for all children, no matter what their family’s income; and deals with energy policy, at a time when everyone, no matter what their political viewpoint, agrees that the United States need to reduce its dependence on foreign oil.  Under the purview of these agencies is also: the Bureau of the Census; National Weather Service; Patent and Trademark Office (all Commerce); the Office of Environment Management; and the National Nuclear Security Administration (both energy), which ensures the safety of the nuclear arsenal of the United States.

While the political philosophy of the modern Republican Party may desire the elimination of many parts of the Department of Commerce (the belief being that any regulation ruins the free market), the magnitude of abolishing it in its entirety, as well as Energy and Education is short-sighted. It is designed to be a soundbite to gain the support of voters who believe that any decrease in government, no matter what form it takes, is inherently a good thing.  Now that everyone will remember Perry’s forgetfulness, rather than his policies, the question of who, under his administration, would warn people about potential hurricane landfalls, or provide patents to small business owners who want to protect their products, or ensure that all children are able to gain an education, go unanswered.

Herman Cain can consider himself lucky that so much attention from that debate went to Perry’s gaffe.  At a time when his treatment of some women has been brought into question, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza chose to refer to Nancy Pelosi – who, as former Speaker of the House of Representatives, is the top ranking female politician in the history of the United States – as “Princess Nancy”.  While this objectionable name calling may actually gain him support in his party, it shows a complete lack of respect from Cain that should bring into question his suitability to be the leader of a fast-food chain, let alone President of the United States.

While some candidates are benefiting from this focus on style rather than content, others continue to be overlooked no matter what they say.  In Saturday’s debate – at least the hour that CBS deigned to put on television – on the question of how America should deal with Pakistan, the two people who gave the most reasonable answers were Rick Santorum and Michele Bachman, two people who are getting so little coverage that I just had to double-check I had Santorum’s first name right.  While I disagree with virtually everything the Congresswoman from Minnesota and the former Senator from Pennsylvania have to say, in this instance they were the only two asked about Pakistan who responded with a logical, practical answer (that the country would have to be engaged to ensure they remained an ally of the United States), as opposed to the bravado and hawkishness of the other candidates’ (Cain & Romney) replies.

Neither Santorum nor Bachman is likely to have gained support from voters, because the debates are designed to promote those who are already the front-runners.  Those who are ahead in the polls get the majority of the questions and time, as well as a prominent position at one of the middle podiums.  Romney has been in the centre of the stage all along, and back in September was joined by newcomer to the race Rick Perry – until his inability to debate led to him being pushed aside for Herman Cain, who previously had been in the wings.  Now that he is second in the polls, Newt Gingrich has been promoted from the fringes and has the opportunity to give arrogant, dismissive answers to more questions – continuing this cycle.  So far the only constants have been: Mitt Romney, who is an unprincipled diplomat and knows what answers will protect his share of the vote, no more, no less, and without regard to previous responses he has given; and Ron Paul – who sticks to his libertarian beliefs when they are popular with Republican voters (for example, reducing the size of government), as well as when they are not (e.g criticising President Reagan or drastically reducing Defense spending).  Even when John Huntsman informed Romney that, despite his claim, he would not be able to report China to the World Trade Organization for currency fixing, it got no coverage.

Nobody gains any ground from their policy initiatives or the content of what they are saying in this race – it is only perception and style that matters.  Thus far, we have seen with Cain, Bachmann and Perry, candidates surge ahead in the polls, until they face increased scrutiny and more questions in the debate, then they are shown to have no depth or suspect pasts – whether it be sexual harassment cases against them, or the name of the ranch they go hunting at in Texas – and they drop back down, leaving Mitt Romney in the driving seat.  Romney is a middle of the road candidate who does not make any mistakes, nobody particularly likes him but, as yet, he has not seen his campaign take any serious hit.

The real winner all of this is President Obama.  He has spent three years failing to fulfill the hope of his campaign, nor deliver the change we had forced him to promise.  All through his term, he has been compromising with the Republicans rather than opposing them and pushing his own agenda.  In 2008, Obama was the first non-incumbent candidate since Kennedy to gain the support of so many people who were excited to vote for him, rather than those who considered him the lesser of two evils.  (That’s Robert Kennedy by the way, until his assassination in June 1968, President Kennedy enjoyed popularity with young voters, but still only obtained 0.1% more of the popular vote than his opponent, (at the time Vice-President) Richard Nixon.)  In 2012, it appears that the President will have to run a more negative campaign, passing off his own failings as the limits placed on him by a Republican majority in the House and use of filibuster in the Senate.  The Audacity of Hoping the Second Term is Better.

This week in: American Football – Week 10

Eli "I can't believe that wreckless throw I made was intercepted" Manning

Last Sunday, the New York Giants and the New England Patriots played each other for the first time since the Giants spoiled a perfect season for the Patriots in Superbowl XLII.  Once again, New York came from behind to score the winning touchdown with less than a minute to go in the game – the similarities between the climax of the two encounters have been covered by both Sports Illustrated and ESPN.  What would have concerned me more, if I were a Giants fan, was the interception that Eli Manning threw in the Endzone at the end of the third quarter.  At the time, New York were 10-3 up and were facing third and goal from the five yard line – when the Patriots defensive line broke through and were coming at Manning, the Giants Quarterback tossed the ball up from his back foot, rather than taking the hit and settling for a field goal.  Had he taken the sack and the three points, the Patriots would have trailed by 10 points with little more than a quarter to go.  Instead, seven plays later the game was tied, setting up the dramatic back and forth of the final 15 minutes.  While it ended up being a good win for the Giants, Manning will need to improve his decision-making if they are to make an impression in January’s playoffs.

Elsewhere, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers overcame the Chargers, as well as their own defence, holding on to win 45-38, despite a late rally from San Diego.  The Jets tied the Bills and Patriots atop the AFC East, beating Buffalo in their own stadium; the Ravens completed a season sweep of their fierce rivals, the Steelers, winning by 23-20 in Pittsburgh; and the 49ers defeated the Redskins, moving San Francisco to 7-1 for the season.  The Eagles slipped to three games back of the Giants in the NFC East, as they lost the Monday Night game against Chicago; New Orleans recovered from their previous week’s loss to the Rams, as they beat their divisional rivals, Tampa Bay, at the Superdome.  In the “Suck-for-Luck” contest, Indianapolis moved two steps closer to having the worst record in the NFL this season – the Colts lost at home to Atlanta, while Miami won in Kansas City, giving the Dolphins their first victory of the year.

Week 10 sees eight divisional matchups with many of the teams fighting for first place: the Raiders and the Chargers play on Thursday night, the victor will be top of the AFC West on their own, prior to Sunday’s game between the Chargers and the Broncos; New Orleans and the Falcons meet in Atlanta, the Saints currently have a half a game lead over the team from Georgia in the NFC South; and the 6-3 Steelers travel to Cincinnati to face the 6-2 Bengals.  All of the NFC North teams play each other this week – the Lions are at the Bears, while the Vikings and Packers square off on Monday Night in Green Bay.  The Patriots will be hoping to avoid losing to a New York (or New Jersey) team in consecutive weeks, as they play the Jets at MetLife Stadium; and the Dolphins will be looking to win back-to-back games as they play the Redskins at home, Washington started well and won three of their first four, but they have been beset by injuries and have lost their last five games.

Predictions

Last week, 7-7; Season  68-62

Home teams in bold

Chargers -6.5 over Raiders

Falcons +0.5 over Saints

Cowboys -5.5 over Bills

Steelers -3.5 over Bengals

Browns -2.5 over Rams

Chiefs -3.5 over Broncos

Titans +2.5 over Panthers

Jaguars -2.5 over Colts

Redskins +3.5 over Dolphins

Cardinals +13.5 over Eagles

Buccaneers +3.5 over Texans

Ravens -7.5 over Seahawks

Bears -2.5 over Lions

49ers -3.5 over Giants

Patriots +1.5 over Jets

Packers -13.5 over Vikings

 

 

 

 

 

English Football: Pardew, Poppycock, and Penalties

Pardew and Wenger talk about Ligue 1

Alan Pardew

In the 2006/7 Premier League season, Alan Pardew started the year at West Ham United, but was sacked in December after his team had won just four of their seventeen games up to that point and were in the relegation places.  Two weeks after he had left the club, he was appointed manager of Charlton Athletic, another team in the bottom three.  By the end of the season, West Ham, who had appointed former Charlton boss Alan Curbishley as their new manager, avoided dropping down a division as results improved – but Pardew’s new team were relegated in the penultimate game of the season.  Having failed to gain promotion back to the Premiership the following season, Charlton sacked Alan Pardew in November 2008 – the team had slipped into the bottom three in the Championship and the fans were calling for the manager’s head.  Pardew’s next job was at Southampton in the third tier of English football – League One.  This tenure lasted little more than a year, having missed out on the playoffs but won the Football League Trophy, the Southampton board dismissed Pardew saying that the morale of the squad was at an all time low.

After this succession of failures, it was little surprise that Newcastle fans were less than excited about the prospect of their club appointing Alan Pardew as the new manager following Chris Hughton’s sacking in December 2010.  Fast forward almost a year and the Geordies are sitting in third place in the Premiership, unbeaten in the league this season and only a point behind second placed Manchester United.  While they are yet to play either of the teams above them yet, Newcastle have been playing an impressive style of football, with lots of pace and flair on display.  The reason they have been able to do this without huge levels of investment is because Pardew identified an opportunity in importing players from the French Ligue 1, a league full of skillful players, but where wages do not match the levels of the top English, Italian, or Spanish divisions.  Sylvain Marveaux, Yohan Cabaye and Gabriel Obertan (all French), were added to the squad, along with free transfer Demba Ba (French-born Senegalese), replacing Englishmen Andy Carroll (sold to Liverpool), Kevin Nolan (who went to West Ham to join up with his former manager at Bolton and Newcastle, Sam Allardyce) and Joey Barton (offloaded to QPR).  These three were “strong-willed” and their departure has led to a more united squad, turning Newcastle into a team that appears to be playing for each other – rather than a club beset by in-fighting (which has in the past, manifest itself on the field of play).

Even if Pardew is unable to lead his team to a top 6 finish this season, Newcastle’s success so far has helped improve the esteem in which he is held among fans and pundits of the English game alike.  This is not the first time he has shown himself to be an effective manager either – he gained promotion to the Championship with Reading in the 2001/2 season, then led them to a fourth place finish in that division the following year.  While his time at West Ham may have ended under acrimonious circumstances, he took them back to the Premier League in 2005 and consolidated that with a 5th place finish in their first season back in the top flight.  That year, Pardew also took his team to the FA Cup Final – a trophy they were minutes away from winning, before Steven Gerrard equalised with a wonder-strike.  Should Newcastle continue to succeed this season and beyond, more than 5.5% of fans may want him to be their club’s next manager.

Stop! You Must Not Have a Poppy!

Every year around Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, the Royal British Legion sells paper poppies to raise money for veterans and commemorate those who have lost their lives fighting for their country.  This year, the FA have been campaigning FIFA to allow the England players to wear poppies on their shirts for this Saturday’s friendly game against Spain.  This request was denied as it contravenes a regulation that bans any political, religious, or commercial messages or symbols being present on player’s equipment – a compromise made today allows the England team to instead wear the poppies on black armbands, but only after the English Football Association complained bitterly about the ban. Despite having played in November every year but one in the last twenty-five, and in 2001 and 2005 those games, like this year, were the day before Remembrance Sunday, the FA has never made this request before, nor complained about the prohibition of such symbols.  So why now?  I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it was not because bitterness from the FA because England missed out on hosting the World Cup in 2018 – that decision went to Russia earlier this year – but because they want to honour those who have died fighting for the country.  If this is their primary concern, wearing poppies for the 90 minutes of the game is not the only way they can do that.  The players should be encouraged to donate a week’s wages to the Royal British Legion, the money and publicity this generosity would do for the cause far surpasses the impact of wearing a poppy on the shirt for the first time.  Another way that veterans, who have fought to keep the United Kingdom a free society which welcomes people of all backgrounds, would be to not tolerate racists in the team – especially if they are the captain.

Spurs Do Not Pay The Penalty

In all the years I have supported Tottenham, I have always felt that they got the worst of refereeing decisions made against them (though I am sure most club’s fans feel that way). This was typified by a game against Manchester United in 2005 when Mendes scored from the half-way line in the last-minute at Old Trafford, only for the goal not to be given.  However, last Sunday, Spurs were the team who benefited from bad officiating.  In injury time at the end of the match against Fulham at Craven Cottage, Tottenham were trying to hold on to a lead as the home team scrambled for an equaliser.  During the melee, Spurs’ right-back, Kyle Walker, attempted to block a shot but his momentum carried him and he ended up cradling the ball in both of his arms – not a deliberate action and thus giving the referee the option not to give the penalty.  When the ball broke free again, another shot came in and again it hit Walker in the arm – this time it appeared less accidental – but again no infringement was called.  Fulham fully deserved a draw out of the game, having put Brad Friedel, Tottenham’s goalie, under immense pressure in the second half – indeed he was probably the man of the match for the visiting team, alongside referee Peter Walton.

That was one of few talking points in a Premiership weekend that saw 7 of the top 8 teams win their games – the only outlier being Liverpool, who drew at home to Swansea.  As Spurs have now gained 22 points out of a possible 24 in the league, they have the look of a team who will challenge for not just a place in the Champions League, but a potential second or third place finish.  They have flattered to deceive before though, making fans wary of being too hopeful, expecting a string of bad results to undo the good that has gone before it.  It’s like watching Andy Kaufman do his Elvis impersonation for the first time – you assume it will be terrible because his previous portrayals have been laughably bad – making the impression of the King all the more brilliant.  In the same way, so many campaigns have gone by where Tottenham have looked like they will be genuine contenders in the upper echelons of the league, only for those hopes to be dashed by the turn of the year.  Perhaps this will be the season when the league is all shook up…

Why Mitt Romney will not be the next President

There appear to be only two things that Republicans agree upon: 1) They desperately want a candidate who will beat President Obama in the 2012 election; 2) They really do not want that person to be Mitt Romney. The former Governor of Massachusetts has been stagnant in the polls for months now – generally obtaining support of around 22-25%. Meanwhile, there has been a handful of front-runners, who have been pushed forward by the GOP as their preferred candidate, only for their campaigns to falter under heightened scrutiny.

Why does nobody like you, Mitt?

Back in August, Michele Bachmann – who has always been popular with the Tea Party – won the Iowa Straw Poll and was considered the leading contender for the Republican nominee, ahead of second placed Romney. When Rick Perry entered the race in September, Bachmann’s support dropped and went towards the Governor of Texas. Perry’s woeful performances in the first two debates he participated in, resulted in his polling numbers declining sharply, a trend exacerbated by his bizarre speech in New Hampshire last week. However, voters did not switch to Mitt Romney from Perry, instead their allegiance went to Herman Cain – a businessman, motivational speaker, and a man many thought was just on a promotional book tour. I honestly believe that Cain himself did not expect to be a serious contender, seeing his campaign as an excellent opportunity to increase his profile – perhaps to land himself a position on Fox News (hey, it worked for Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Mike Hucakabee, Michele Bachmann – oops, spoiler alert, that last one does not happen until June of next year). While the settled sexual harassment cases were unearthed by someone outside of his campaign, Cain himself has been doing his best to jeopardise his chances, before primary season has even kicked off. How else could you explain this ad, (which made me check if he was getting big fundraising endorsements from tobacco companies – he isn’t)? Or his dismissing a comment he had made about an electrified fence on the border with Mexico as a joke, only to repeat the “joke” in the same press conference. On foreign policy, Cain has cited his concern about China attempting to develop nuclear capabilities (which they did in 1964), and has said that he does not know the President of Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan*, dismissing a need to be able to name the leader of, what he considers, irrelevant states around the world. Also, Herman Cain has proposed a 9-9-9 tax plan – which I examined here – a policy that has given him a soundbite and thus increased recognition, but something he has not been able to explain in detail when questioned about it – showing there is no substance behind the headline grabbing title.

*Side note on this – the question asked to Cain that provoked that response was about how he would react when the media asked him a “gotcha” question like, “who is the President of Uzbekistan”. This was alluding to the 2000 Presidential election campaign then President George W. Bush could not name the leader of Pakistan, managing only that he was “General” (Musharaff). Knowing the President of Uzbekistan is a lot different to being able to name the leader of Pakistan – one of them has nuclear weapons. There are only 8 countries in the world with a declared nuclear arsenal, is it too much to expect someone running for President to know all of their leaders? Here’s a cheat sheet for the GOP Candidates: USA – President Obama (you knew that one, right?); Russia – President Medvedev (will be Putin again next year); United Kingdom – Prime Minister Cameron (Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II); France – President Sarkozy; China – President Hu; India – President Patil; Pakistan – President Zardari; North Korea – Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il (but you knew that from Team America).

The Republicans have even tried to push forward people who have had no intention of running, from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to Son of President 41 and Brother of 43, Jeb Bush – hoping to support anyone who is not Mitt Romney. Yet, as all comers have come and gone, (Cain has not dropped out of the lead yet, but it seems to be only a matter of time), the former Governor of Massachusetts can still not gain any ground in the polls. The reason for this range from: Romney not being far enough to the right for the Tea Party caucus (as I noted during my evening with Fox News, Laura Ingram took much pleasure in describing Romney as a non-conservative – a view shared by many other right-wing commentators); to the constant changing of his position depending on who he is talking to. He has been for the 99 percenters and against the Occupy Wall Street movement; his healthcare plan in Massachusetts was great for the state, and worked really well, but would be terrible for the country; he was with the Governor of Ohio on his union killing proposition, but would not take a position on that very same issue.

It may seem inevitable that the Republicans will default to Mitt Romney as their best hope of making Barack Obama a one-term-President – but I do not see that happening – neither him getting the nomination, nor winning the general election if he were to be the GOP candidate. On the former point, consider this poll – conducted exactly four years ago – in the 2008 Presidential races. For the Republicans, the leaders are Rudy Giuliani (28%) and Fred Thompson (21%) – the eventual nominee, John McCain, was third (15%) and the last man standing against him, Mike Huckabee, was down in fifth (10%). Hillary Clinton was the clear front-runner in the Democrats’ race – leading Obama by a margin of 43% to 24% – this shows a lot can change between now and the first Primary in Iowa on January 3rd, 2012. The format in Iowa is that of a caucus, rather than a regular election, which tends to result in people choosing a candidate they can speak passionately about. Mitt Romney does not elicit that type of support, even among those who vote for him. Should Rick Perry, Michele Bachman, or Ron Paul – a Libertarian who has fervent support among young Republican voters – win the first contest of the Primary season, momentum could quickly shift in their direction, giving Republicans the reason they are looking for not to nominate Romney.

As for the general election, the New York Times this week had a piece suggesting that Mitt Romney had an 83% chance of winning the vote against President Obama next year – part of the reason why the Republicans may start to embrace him as their main chance of getting back the White House in 2013. I do not agree with this projection – while President Obama has disappointed many of his own supporters by failing to deliver on many of his campaign promises (Guantanamo Bay is still operational; the Bush Tax cuts were extended; healthcare was watered down; there has been no real change to the way Washington operates) – it is also acknowledged that he has been working in very difficult circumstances. He inherited an economy worse than any since the 1930s and has had to try to overcome stubborn opposition from the Republicans in Congress, particularly since the mid-term elections in 2010 (prior to this, the threat of filibustering in the Senate resulted in the Democrats backing down on every issue, including healthcare reform). But if there is one thing that President Obama knows how to do well, it is campaign. His fantastic speech making, use of social media to aggregate support, and his ability to energise the Democratic base to get out the vote, should help him overcome his current low approval ratings. Will it be enough to win in 2012?

To become President, a candidate needs to obtain 270 votes (out of 538) in the Electoral College – in 2008, Obama got 365. A realignment of the House of Representatives, carried out following the census to reflect changes in state populations, means that if he were to win the exact same states in 2012, the President would get a total of 359 ECVs (Electoral College Votes). The following states are unlikely to be in play in 2012, as the Democrats had a large margin of victory in 2008, that is unlikely to be overturned: (ECVs in brackets) Hawaii (4); Washington (12); Oregon (7); California (55); Nevada (6); New Mexico (5); Minnesota (10); Wisconsin (10); Illinois (20); Michigan (16); DC (3); Maryland (10); Delaware (3); Pennsylvania (20); New Jersey (14); New York (29); Connecticut (7); Rhode Island (4); Massachusetts (11); Vermont (3); New Hampshire (4); Maine (4) – a total of 257 ECVs from 21 states and the District of Columbia. Barring any of these turning red in 2012, that means that the Republican candidate will need to pick up the following states that McCain lost in 2008: (President Obama’s winning margin in brackets) Indiana (1%); Ohio (4%); Virginia (6%); North Carolina (1%); Florida (2%); and one of Iowa (9%) and Colorado (8%). As well as needing to almost sweep in those swing states, the GOP need to hold on to Montana (which they won by 3% in 2008) and Missouri (1%) in order to win the next election.

While Mitt Romney would be the Republican candidate most likely to garner votes with independents in those swing states, he is not a nominee who will encourage the hard-line Republicans to get out and vote. Should he have a good campaign, I think President Obama will end up being a two-term President – hopefully with a Democratic Congress for the next four years.