Alex McLeish sacked after 2 defeats in just 67 days in charge of Zamalek!

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Alex McLeish might just have been part of one of the most bizarre sackings in recent history.

The former Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Rangers manager took charge of just 10 matches in all competitions, leading Zamalek to the group stages of the CAF Champions League, with an overall record of six wins, two draws and two losses.

You are reading that correctly, he only lost 2 games in his time at the club.

He becomes the 4th manager to be sacked by the club this season after  Jesualdo Ferreira, Marcus Paqueta and Ahmed Hossam ‘Mido’. Former Spurs player Mido was given the chop a mere 37 days into his reign with the soon to be dethroned Egyptian Champions.

McLeish has seen Al Ahly, managed by ex-Tottenham boss Martin Jol stretch the gap at the top of the league to 11 points following a run of 2 wins and 2 draws during his final four matches in charge. That’s right he had only lost once in the month leading up to his sacking, winning six and drawing two in the interim.

The board are set to announce his successor with Mohamed Helmy taking charge of the team as interim-manager until then.

He will reportedly receive $60,000 in compensation for the termination. Only in Egyptian football could a team have 6 managers in a single season and expect to challenge for honours.

7 of the biggest Sporting Shocks of all-time

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The whole reason we tune into watch different sports week on week is to see the best in the world excel at what they do. 

But there is no better viewing in the sport than seeing an underdog triumph over a bigger, wealthier, more world renowned rival, especially if it is done over the course of a Championship or season as opposed to a one off game.

Leicester have achieved the ultimate coup in the 2015/16 Premier League season that will be difficult to ever top, beating 5000/1 odds to lift the trophy.

Here are 7 of the best sporting underdog stories as chosen by me.

Greece (Euro 2004)

Aside from Denmark in 1992, this is the biggest upset in the history of the European Championships. 150/1 outsiders at the start of the tournament, Greece emerged from a group  containing hosts Portugal, favourites Spain and minnows Latvia and from then on there was no looking back.

They went on to defeat France in the quarter-final, the Czech Republic in the semi-final and secure a 1-0 victory over Portugal in the final to cap off what was an amazing achievement in only the country’s 2nd ever appearance at the Finals.

All the more remarkable given the team had no superstars, only 8 players who played outside of the Greek league and a coach, Otto Rehhagel who masterminded another great underdog story in leading Kaiserslautern to the Bundesliga 7 years previously.

 

Phil Taylor (BDO World Championship 1990)

Many of you will know Phil “The Power” Taylor as the most decorated player in the history of professional Darts. What you might not know is that he was a 125/1 unseeded outsider when he won his first of 16 World Championships in 1990.

Entering the tournament having only won the Canadian Open in 1988 and being sponsored by friends and fellow players to travel round to tournaments before this. Taylor only dropped 3 sets in 4 matches en route to the final, where he would play mentor and number 1 seed, Eric Bristow. “The Power” destroyed his fellow Englishman 6-1 to kick-off one of the most dominant runs in the history of any professional sport.

In one of the last unified darts World Championships before what is now known as the PDC split from the BDO, Taylor became the biggest under-dog story of the darting world. A fitting triumph for a place in this list.

 

Goran Ivanisevic (Wimbledon Singles Champion 2001)

Arguably the biggest shock at a Grand Slam in Tennis history, the Croat stunned the world by becoming the first wild card to win the biggest tournament in the game.

Ivanisevic was ranked 125th at the beginning of the event and at odds of 300/1, it was inconceivable that he would be lifting the trophy. But victories over seeds Carlos Moya, Marat Safin, Tim Henman and Pat Rafter in a thrilling 5 set final clinched his only career Grand Slam in what would be his only career singles final at a Grand Slam.

Currently he is the coach of Croat Marian Cilic whom he has led to his only Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2014.

Foinavon (1967 Grand National Winner)

As many people will know, the 40 runner marathon contest at Aintree can turn up some big priced winners, just look at fellow 100-1 winner Mon Mome in 2009.

Foinaven however was the original Cinderella story back in 1967 in one of the most famous renewal’s in history. A 23 horse pile up at the smallest fence on the course (there after named Foinaven in his honour) allowed jockey John Buckingham, who only missed the pile up as they were so far behind, to steer his horse clear of the carnage and go on to win the race at a canter.

The owner, Cyril Watkins had so little faith in the horse, he hadn’t even bothered to go to the track to watch him run. It is one of the most iconic moments in the history of the place and the fact that there’s only been one 100/1 shot win the race since, he takes his place on the list.

Ben Curtis (Open Champion 2003)

Ben Curtis might be the biggest single underdog story in sport if you consider his achievements before and after his major win. Ranked 396th in the World at the time, he has only ever won 5 golf tournaments in his professional career to date.

He entered The Open as a 300/1 shot and carded a final round 69 to come from 2 behind and beat Thomas Bjorn and Vijay Singh by one shot. In doing so he became the first player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to win his maiden major tournament and he is still the lowest ranked winner of a major since the ranking system began.

Curtis turned professional in 2000 and his highest finish in a major aside from this win was a T-2 in the 2008 PGA Championship. He has currently slipped down to a ranking of 527th having risen as high as 35th following his triumph at Royal St. George’s.

 

Kaiserslautern (Bundesliga Champions 1997/98)

The original Leicester City occurred almost 20 years ago in the German Bundesliga. FC Kaiserslautern, only promoted from the 2.Bundesliga the previous season, won the league by 2 points from defending Champions Bayern Munich.

Unlike Leicester however, they had splashed a bit of cash following their promotion. They signed Ciriaco Sforza from Internazionale in a great coup for the side along with Bulgarian international Marian Hristov, German winger Andreas Buck, and a young talent called Michael Ballack.

Manager Otto Rahhagel (remember him?)  popularized the phrase “kontrollierte Offensive” or controlled offence. He prefers a grass-roots approach to football, stressing the importance of at least two but mostly three big, strong headers in central defence. This defensive solidity saw them take top spot on on the 4th weekend of the season and never relinquished it. They remain the only club in the history of German football to win promotion to the top tier and follow that up by winning the league and given Bayern Munich’s domestic dominance, it doesn’t look likely that this record will ever be equaled.

St. Louis Rams (Superbowl Winners 1999)

The NFL prides itself on its “draft” system where by the worst team from the previous season gets the choice of the best players coming out of college, theoretically giving them the best chance to win next season.

This very rarely comes to fruition however as much like in football, in takes players time to adapt to the professional game, especially at the skilled positions. The 1999 Rams, their offense dubbed “the greatest show on turf” with Kurt Warner at Quarter-back proved why the motto “any given Sunday” rings true in the NFL. They went into the season projected to be the worst team in the League in previews, even worse than that years expansion team the Cleveland Browns.

They duly went 13-3 in the regular season securing their first playoff appearance since 1989 when the team was in Los Angeles. The Rams and it has turned out to be its one and only Super Bowl win to date. Wins over Minnesota and Tampa Bay brought them to the show and a 23-16 victory over Tennessee gave the 400/1 team at the start of the season, one of the biggest shocks in the history of the NFL.

Ireland’s Identity struggles not Players to blame for Qualification issues..#COYBIG

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One line that I am sick of reading is that this is a poor Irish squad and we simply do not have technically good enough players to compete with the top teams in World football.

This is an easy options for pundits and coaches alike to use whenever the question is raised of why we have been struggling recently. The reality is that since Martin O’Neill has taken over, we have been experimenting and in transition tactically so it is no wonder that the team has struggled to put together a string of consistent performances.

This is no fault of O’Neill’s. He was brought in on the remit of getting Ireland to play possession football and attack opponents more than his Italian predecessor, as demanded by the fans. Tactical issues like this take time to achieve and have two weeks with players every four months is not conducive to tactical fluidity at the best of times.

THE NUMBERS

Addressing the argument about the standard of player available for selection. Here we will look at the clubs represented in the starting eleven of each of the home nations (excluding England on the grounds that they are superior to the rest) and Ireland over the weekend.

IRELAND: Aston Villa, Everton x2, Sunderland, Stoke x3, Hull, Derby,Norwich, Ipswich. SUBS USED: Wigan, LA Galaxy, Southampton.

SCOTLAND: Cardiff, Aston Villa, Derby, Norwich, Celtic x2, Chicago Fire, West Brom, Sunderland, Everton, Bournemouth. SUBS USED: Watford, Crystal Palace, Ipswich.

WALES: Crystal Palace x2 (Reserve keeper), Reading x2, Swansea x3, Hull, Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid. SUBS USED: Burnley, Leceister.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Hamilton Academical, Fleetwood Town, Manchester United, West Brom x2, Unattached, Southampton, Reading, Norwich, Brentford, Derby. SUBS USED: Watford, Blackburn.

As you can see aside from Wales who had 9 players playing at the top level including a Liverpool, Arsenal and Real Madrid player in their team (Joe Allen barely counts as a Liverpool player), Ireland had the next highest representation of players playing football in the top flight at 8 of the starting 11. Scotland are next with 6, albeit two of those are in the Scottish top flight and finally Northern Ireland who have just 4 and only 2 of those play regularly for their clubs.

When you get down to the nitty gritty of the statistics, a falsehood about Irish soccer is dispelled immediately. The idea that most of our players are not first choice at their respective clubs. As it turns out (taking the starting sides into account), Ireland’s players appeared in 84% of the league games played by their clubs this season (329/393) this is almost 10% ahead of Scotland who come next with 75% (345/458). Wales rock up third with 65% (291/442) and unsurprisingly Northern Ireland fare worst in this category with 63% (303/476).

Ireland were the oldest and most experienced team over the weekend at 29 years and an average of 41 caps between them. This however is largely contributed to by Shay Given and John O’Shea and if you were to take those players out and replace them with the probables (Westwood and Clark) then we become the most inexperienced team with an average of 23 caps apiece. The old hands can hide that this is a developing Irish side who have yet to find a style of their own to get used to. We are caught somewhere in between the defensive, long ball philosophy of Trappattoni and the swashbuckling, wing-play and multiple crosses of O’Neill’s preferred style and this is unfortunately going to take time to develop.

IDENTITY

There in lies the difference between this Irish team and their counterparts. Wales with averages of 26 years old and 35 caps, have an identity. They know that their game plan is all based around getting the ball to Ramsey and Bale on the counter attack and the rest of the players being tough to break down in the initial phases of play. They form two solid banks of four and allow the opposition to pass the ball in front of them, waiting for the opportune moment to strike, which suits the players available and makes it easier to see why the top sides like Belgium are struggling to deal with their game-plan right now.

Gareth Bale is the main man in Wales' gameplan..

Gareth Bale is the main man in Wales’ gameplan..

While Wales’ game is based around the talents of the individual, Scotland’s is very much a team pressing game. Much like Ireland they do not have any World Class players to hang their hat on and Gordon Strachan has acted accordingly by instilling a high pressing, high work-rate game into this side. Again though this is their identity and all of the players have bought what he is selling. The fans get right behind the team because of the energy the display around the park and in turn the players are feeding off the fans passion and atmosphere to raise their levels to places which on paper are far beyond them.

Strachan has instilled belief in a very average Scottish side...

Strachan has instilled belief in a very average Scottish side…

This is what having an identity can do for a team. We’ve seen it ourselves in all the great moments in Irish soccer. Jack Charlton had the “put them under pressure” philosophy to start it all off, Mick McCarthy brought the “little and large”, Quinn and Keane tactic to Japan in 2002 and even though the tournament itself was a wash-out, we had the Italian defensive identity under Trappattoni. That has been the difference at the key moments in our history. We’ve never had the star players lining our starting teams but we have always had a plan and an identity in our successful times and this is what is currently lacking in this qualifying campaign.

The fans demand possession, forward, incisive passing, passion and goals. It takes more than 6 games and 16 weeks combined training to do instill that in a team that has been taught the complete opposite for the last 8 years.

Ireland fans can be a demanding bunch!

Ireland fans can be a demanding bunch!

Euro 2016 may not be our time, it looks almost certain that we will now miss out, but if we can continue to develop our game and more importantly our identity and philosophy in the remaining games, then we can once again return to the top competitions on the World stage and show the top sides that a trip to Dublin is no easy task in the next campaigns.

It is not all doom and gloom as many would have you believe. Look what little Wales have done with a work ethic and a clear identity .We can do the same in the campaigns to come.