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THE FASTEST MEN ON TURF; Speed kings Owen and Overmars will set the pace in the championship race.

IT IS absurdly early to start talking about the race for the championship, but at Anfield today, football's most enduring cliche is made flesh.

Liverpool's Michael Owen comes face to face with Arsenal's Marc Overmars. Both could test the patience of a traffic cop in a built-up area as they threaten the speed limit.

A hamstring injury restricted Overmars's World Cup contribution with Holland while the confused thinking of England coach Glenn Hoddle did for Owen.

Suitably undertaxed, the pair have made flying starts to the season, hitting the deciding goals in their club's opening fixtures.

Doubtless both will have central roles this afternoon with the Lancashire land speed record coming under serious threat.

Ade Mafe, former athlete and Chelsea sprinting coach, is as impressed as the rest of us and believes both would have made the 100 metres semi- finals at the European Championships in Budapest this week.

"They are exceptional athletes in their own right," said Mafe, who details the secrets of his success in his book Football Fitness.

"Their speed over 30 metres is phenomenal, quick enough to avoid embarrassment in an Olympic final."

To keep matters in perspective, Mafe added that the challenge to Linford Christie and Co would end there, but the point is made.

He added: "They are genetically blessed. Both are short men with a beneficial weight to power ratio. Having short legs, or levers, as we say, enables them to get off the mark quickly.

"Someone like Linford takes much longer to get into his stride, so he would struggle to keep up over a short distance.

"He would be level by 30 metres and almost a second ahead at the finish. But even that is no disgrace. hey would both beat most club sprinters."

Mafe believes Owen has the edge, but only just. "He is probably a 10.8 seconds man. Overmars probably 10.9. There's not much in it."

Speed is not a new phenomenon, of course, especially at Anfield where Billy Liddell once scorched the turf to such thrilling effect.

And people still talk in hallowed terms about Stanley Matthews, who dazzled with the best of them despite carting half a ton of metal in the toe- cap of his boots.

More recently Franz Carr and Terry Phelan have impressed over short distances. If the game was about running in straight lines both would have been world-beaters.

The problems for them often began with the ball. No such difficulties present themselves to Overmars and Owen, who, like Matthews and Liddell, have never been hampered by possession.

"The thing that marks these two out is their ability to apply pace when it matters. Timing is crucial.

"Lots of guys are quick, but not intelligent enough to use pace properly," said Mafe, who conceded that he might have made the grade himself were speed all that mattered.

"When you are as skilful as they are and as rapid, you have a distinct advantage over the opposition."

Manchester United can testify to that. Alex Ferguson saw both hit the net at Old Trafford last season in crucial matches United failed to win.

David May must still have sleepless nights after watching Overmars pass him on the way to goal.

And Gary Pallister faired little better against Owen, when a moment's hesitation allowed the jet-heeled teenager in for goal.

If there is an advantage today it probably rests with Arsenal, who can call on the services of Nicolas Anelka while Overmars is catching his breath.

According to team-mate Emmanuel Petit, Anelka is the quicker man over distance and he said: "Nicholas was an outstanding schoolboy athlete in his own right, and ran the 100 metres regularly under 11 seconds.

"He is different to Overmars and Owen. They are both quick off the mark, where Anelka's pace is outstanding over the longer distances. All three are hell to mark. I'm grateful two are on my side.

"In training he never tries to win when Arsene Wenger devises any races by way of speed work - because he knows, and we all know, he is the fastest thing on two legs at Arsenal. He saves that extra yard of pace for the games themselves.

"Owen and Overmars are lightning fast over short distances, and Nottingham Forest's new striker Jean-Claude Darcheville proved at Highbury on Monday night that he is no slouch, either.

"But when he gets into his stride, Nicolas has the power and pace to make his speed tell over the longer distances. What makes Anelka and Owen special is their ability to maintain such close control, usually under pressure from defenders, with a ball at their feet.

"Overmars is a slightly different kettle of fish because his strength lies in pushing the ball beyond his marker and darting past him into space to deliver crosses."

"It is understandable that so many eyes will be on those players this afternoon, but for me Liverpool's strength does not begin and end with Owen - they look the best-equipped side in the country to take our title off us.

"It is irrelevant that we lost to them twice last season. At Highbury we were weakened by injury and suspension, and our visit to Anfield came three days after we had clinched the Premiership."

Whatever your persuasion, blink this afternoon at your peril.

WHO'D WIN PREMIERSHIP

SPRINT TITLE?

THIS is where we think the Premiership's top speedsters

would finish in a straight dash over 100 metres - all trailing in behind Michael Owen

2ND

OVERMARS

Arsenal

7TH

LAZARIDIS

West Ham

5TH

GILLESPIE

Newcastle

4TH

COLE

Man Utd

1ST

OWEN

Liverpool

6TH

STURRIDGE

Derby County

10TH

DARCHEVILLE

N. Forest

9TH

JOACHIM

Aston Villa

6TH

HUCKERBY

Coventry

3RD

ANELKA

Arsenal
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Garside, Kevin
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 22, 1998
Words:948
Previous Article:IT'S A STEEL FOR DERBY.
Next Article:Tiss is no problem - Jones.


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