How Kirk Cousins became the top-earning NFL player in Forbes’ 2020 rankings

Kirk Cousins was blessed with the perfect amount of talent. 

He’s a good quarterback, but few will anoint him as being great. In his first four years as a full-time starter, Cousins finished each season within one game of a .500 record. He’s one of two active quarterbacks with multiple ties in his career. The other is Andy Dalton.

He’s been to the Pro Bowl twice and, believe it or not, has the second-highest career completion percentage in NFL history. Sure, other quarterbacks have more talent than Cousins, but that’s not the discussion. 

If anything, Cousins is great at being good, but not too good. And that’s exactly how he became the highest-ranked NFL player on Forbes’ 2020 list of the highest-paid athletes in the world. 

Cousins collected $28 million from the Vikings in 2019 salary. He then signed a two year, $66 million extension this offseason with a $30 million signing bonus due as soon as the ink dried on the contract. Adding in endorsements, Forbes estimates Cousins brought in $60.5 million in the last 12 months, the ninth-most of any athlete in the world, one slot behind a fella named Tiger Woods. 

He benefits in these rankings by essentially getting paid for two seasons within the same 12-month period, but it’s more than just a fluke. He ranks so highly as a result of successfully betting on himself. If you’ll remember, Cousins took over for Robert Griffin III as the Redskins’ starter in 2015, the final year of his rookie contract. 

Cousins led Washington to an NFC East division title and a playoff berth in his first year as the full-time starter, while also leading the league in completion percentage. The Redskins weren’t ready to commit long term, so they placed the franchise tag on him. He made the Pro Bowl in 2016, but the sides still couldn’t agree to a long-term deal, so the Redskins placed the franchise tag on him again, this time at 120 percent of his previous salary. 

Finally, in 2017, Cousins’ ability to be good, but not great, shined. The team missed the playoffs with a 7-9 record. After three seasons, it was clear Cousins was good enough to have success, but not good enough to elevate a team to greatness without a talented supporting cast. A third consecutive franchise tag would have cost Washington more than $34 million for 2018 and made Cousins the highest-paid player in the league. The Redskins declined and a 29-year-old Cousins hit free agency for the first time. 

A legitimate starting quarterback hitting the open market in recent memory is as common as Ben Simmons hitting a 3-pointer: it has happened twice. Peyton Manning went to the Broncos in 2012 and Drew Brees went to the Saints in 2006, but both of those guys were coming off injuries. Cousins was healthy and relatively young and had all the leverage in the world, which he used to his advantage. 

In 2018, he signed a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract with the Vikings, the first fully guaranteed contract in NFL history.

In the NBA and MLB, you don’t hear things like “a $90 million contract with $50 million guaranteed” because almost all of those contracts are fully guaranteed. The NBA is a star-driven league where the players have leverage. The NFL is different, with the exception of the quarterback, the most important position in all of sports. NFL teams need good quarterbacks to win (duh), so they’ll do whatever they need to do to get them.

It was thought Cousins’ contract could possibly start a trend, but no other players have signed a fully guaranteed deal since. If Patrick Mahomes or Russell Wilson or even Dak Prescott were to hit the open market, that would likely change. But if an NFL team has a great quarterback, it’s likely to do whatever it can to lock them into a long-term deal, and quarterbacks are likely to sign those deals thanks to the certainty and security they provide. Cousins had to risk playing in a contract year for three consecutive seasons, but he was rewarded.

In Washington, Cousins fell just shy of the threshold that made him impossible to lose for the Redskins. It turns out Cousins’ incredible ability to be a good-but-not-great quarterback might be a reason he’s the highest-compensated player in the NFL. If people out there are aiming to be great, then here’s a reminder that being good is OK, too. You might even end up as the ninth highest-paid athlete in the world. 

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SPECIAL REPORT: How Guardiola turned Barca into the greatest side EVER

Scotland was the unlikely setting for the revelation of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona blueprint… and after defusing a row with new ‘false nine’ Lionel Messi, he transformed them into the greatest club side EVER (and inspired ‘a lot of love-making’!)

  • Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona reign began with a pre-season camp in Scotland
  • There, Lionel Messi was unhappy because he was made to miss the Olympics 
  • But Guardiola cleverly inspired his star man, as well as Thierry Henry 
  • Samuel Eto’o won Guardiola over – the new boss had originally wanted rid of him 
  • All his hard work culminated in glory – and a generation of ‘Iniesta babies’! 
  • READ: PART ONE of Sportsmail’s Special report on Pep’s greatest Barcelona side 

There have been countless attempts at copying what Barcelona did from 2008 to 2012 under Pep Guardiola. Almost always, this dream of a brave new world misses one key point: before the passing there has to come the pressing.

In an interview in 2012 Dani Alves, one of Guardiola’s first and most important signings, spoke about Barcelona’s unmatchable work rate. ‘I never thought that a team could press the ball for 95 minutes as we do here,’ he said.

‘That is the thing that most surprised me. That is the way that Pep makes Barcelona play. He convinces great players that they have to play with this high tempo. It’s his greatest virtue.’

Pep Guardiola laid out the blueprint for his Barcelona team at a training camp in St Andrews

Guardiola made clear how he expected the entire team to put in the hard yards to play his pressing game – but the likes of Thierry Henry (centre) bought into his vision despite the graft

Much of that convincing took place at St Andrews in Scotland on the team’s pre-season training camp.

Barcelona were a side of brilliant players who had already won top prizes and yet Guardiola convinced them to run as if their careers were stretched out in front of them with everything to prove.

The legendary ‘five-second rule’ of winning the ball back as soon as it was lost, was implanted on those bright July days in Scotland in 2008.

Guardiola wanted the pitch squeezed. He wanted opposing teams pinned into their defensive third. For that to happen, the Barcelona defence had to sit high. And for the defence to sit high, the forwards had to be high too, stretching the opposition and forcing them back. 

The five-second rule only mattered if you were winning the ball back in your opponents’ defensive third. The forwards were key.

‘The first person to apply the pressure is our best player, Messi,’ said Alves. ‘That pressure is the starting point for an entire concept: to be a great team you need to have everybody willing to go hunting for the ball. And you do it for each other.’

Messi arrived at the training camp in Scotland feeling unhappy about missing the Olympics

Messi had since admitted that he was moping around the training camp due to his displeasure

Perhaps the battle to persuade Messi to run like never before was won by Pep when he fought for the Argentine teenager to go to the Olympics that same summer.

The Games began on August 8 in Beijing. Messi’s participation meant he would not be available for Barcelona’s Champions League qualifier against Wisla Krakow.

At first, it looked grim for Messi. President Joan Laporta fought the Argentine Football Association and with the help of the Court of Arbitraion in Sport won his battle – Messi would not go.

Feeling like he was missing the opportunity of a lifetime, Messi moped around pre-season training. ‘I was unbearable, letting them know if I couldn’t go this would be how I was going to be’, he has said in subsequent interviews.

He was in constant contact with his international team-mates already in China, telling them not to give up hope that he would be able to join them. Finally he was granted permission, all thanks to Guardiola.

He tells TyC Sports in Argentina: ‘Everyone said that it was so special and different and it really was a beautiful experience. Guardiola was phenomenal with me.

‘No one wanted me to go; he was the one that gave me permission after a [pre-season] friendly against Fiorentina.

He said to me: ‘You want to go don’t you? Well you’ve got my permission. The only condition is that a member of our staff goes with you to look after you’.’

Guardiola had won Olympic gold himself at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. He knew how it important it could be. Messi accepted the chaperone deal and off he went, coming back with gold and raring to go for the season’s start.

Another forward who would be especially important in the pressing game that Guardiola wanted was Samuel Eto’o – one of three players Pep had told Laporta he would prefer to be sold.

The other two, Deco and Ronaldinho, had gone but Eto’o had the pre-season of his life, determined to make a point and after some lobbying from two team captains in Carles Puyol and Xavi, Guardiola changed his mind.

But Guardiola fought Messi’s corner – he went to Beijing and won Olympic gold with Argentina

Guardiola (second left) understood the allure of the Olympics – he won gold back in 1992

Graham Hunter reports in his book, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World: ‘Guardiola sat Eto’o down and told him: “I like your work-rate. I value your pressing. If you play and train like you have been then you stay.”

So on the opening day of the 2008-09 league campaign Guardiola had Messi happy, Eto’o fired-up, and Thierry Henry also ready to embrace the demands on the front three.

But with all three in the team Barcelona lost their opening game of the season 1-0 to Numancia and then drew 1-1 at home to Racing Santander. One point from a possible six had supporters doubting and put Laporta under pressure for having gambled on inexperience.

Not everyone panicked. Laporta kept his head, doubtless further encouraged to do so by Cruyff, his great friend and at the time a columnist for Catalan paper El Periodico.

He wrote after the second game: ‘I don’t know which game you saw, but I saw one of the best Barcelona performances I had seen for years.

Cruyff had been offered the chance to mentor Guardiola before the start of the season, effectively managing while the younger man coached and learned the ropes. He had defiantly declined insisting that Guardiola was ready. He still believed.

After a shaky beginning in LaLiga, Guardiola received valuable backing from Andres Iniesta

Guardiola was won over by Samuel Eto’o as well – he initially wanted to get rid of the striker

Andres Iniesta was another who never thought for a moment the magical pre-season, in which the Spain internationals returning from having won the Euros were blown away by the transformation in Barca’s training, would not lead to a superb campaign.

Writing in Iniesta’s biography: ‘The Artist’, Guardiola recalled being sat in his basement office at the Nou Camp after the disappointment of the Racing draw when ‘a small figure poked his head around the door, and spoke calmly. “Don’t worry boss, We’ll win it all. We’re on the right path. Carry on like this, okay.”‘

Iniesta’s intervention stunned Guardiola. The quiet man of the Barcelona dressing room added: ‘We’re in f***ing great shape, we’re playing brilliantly. This year we’re going to steamroller them all.’

In the lead up to Barcelona’s 6-2 epoch-defining win over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in Guardiola’s first season, there were doubts.

It was all well and good playing the best football anyone had seen in Spain for years but could it be sustained over the course of a season?

The gung-ho ‘you score three, we’ll score four’ approach had come unstuck at the start of March when it was Atletico Madrid who scored four, beating Barcelona 4-3.

That result, coupled with Real Madrid’s win over Espanyol the same weekend, meant that Barca’s lead at the top was cut to just four points. It had been 12 points, back when Bernd Schuster was sacked after 14 games and Juande Ramos put in charge at Madrid.

In May 2009, Barcelona recorded a landmark result in a 6-2 triumph at Real Madrid

It was the first time that Messi had been deployed in the ‘false nine’ role under Guardiola

The new coach had set Madrid on a fine 18-game unbeaten run. They were still clashing cymbals and clanging gongs compared with the Barca orchestra, but they were getting results, and a home win in the second Clasico of the season would cut that gap at the top to one point.

The game was sandwiched between two Champions League semi-final legs. At the Nou Camp Barcelona had already drawn 0-0 with Chelsea and just four days after this meeting with Real Madrid they would have to play the second leg at Stamford Bridge.

There can be a fine line between all and nothing in Spanish football. So often Clasicos make or break seasons in 90 minutes. On a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon Barcelona became the first team in 50 years to put six past Real Madrid at home and the doubts disappeared.

They moved into a seven-point lead with four games left. La Liga was in the bag and they could focus on Chelsea. But it was more significant still because it marked a key moment for Messi.

When the team-sheets were passed along the rows of reporters in the Bernabeu press box there didn’t seem anything unexpected about Guardiola’s XI. Victor Valdes in goal behind Dani Alves, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Eric Abidal. Yaya Toure in midfield flanked by Xavi and Andres Iniesta. And Thierry Henry alongside Samuel Eto’o and Messi up front.

Messi’s position and movement caused havoc for Real, who didn’t know how to track him

Messi scored twice in the match as Barcelona recorded an emphatic win over their rivals

But from the first kick it was clear Messi was playing as a No 9, or ‘false nine’ as it would be known. ‘Fake nine’, Henry liked to call it. The greatest player in the world had been brought in from the right flank, his usual starting position, and played in a central withdrawn position between Henry and Eto’o – two of the greatest centre-forwards in recent history displaced to accommodate a new chapter in Messi’s evolution.

‘Pep called me the day before the Clasico and told me to come to the training ground,’ Messi explains in the documentary ‘Take The Ball, Pass The Ball’. 

Messi had often drifted in-field in games and Henry and Eto’o were no strangers to running the channels, but now it was the game plan, not a variation.

Real Madrid were certainly not expecting it. With Eto’o and Henry running between the Real Madrid centre-backs and the Real Madrid full-backs, they were occupying the back four and Messi was, in effect, free to play just in front of them.

The centre-backs did not know whether to come out and close him down or let him have the ball. They tried the first of those options on 14 minutes and he played in Henry who ran in behind Sergio Ramos and scored.

Henry scored twice, Messi twice and centre-backs Pique and Puyol, while not able to prevent Madrid scoring from two headers, did both get goals themselves.

Henry was man-of-the-match. The brace took him to 26 goals in all competitions. He had embraced the Guardiola way even when it meant giving up what he had been for the best years of his career – the nine who led the line.

It was Thierry Henry who was the man-of-the-match – he scored twice from the flanks

But the game is remembered for Messi’s performance in a new position Guardiola devised

‘That team had a lot of guys who were kings in their country,’ Henry says in Take The Ball, Pass The Ball, explaining the audacity of telling a player who is used to being the focal point of the team to spend 90 minutes making runs to open up space for other players. That is what he and Eto’o were now doing. Their sacrifice brought the best out of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi. And he loved doing it.

‘The ref was blowing the whistle and I was like: “Already?” I didn’t want the game to end,’ he says of the way playing for Pep made him feel.

Barcelona drew their next game at home to Villarreal but it didn’t matter. The 6-2 had destroyed Real Madrid. They lost their next two and Barcelona were crowned champions.

What had started in defeat – that 1-0 to Numancia – was ending in style. It demonstrated that this Barcelona side were getting better and that no rival, and no stage, would stop their march to domination. They had travelled a long way from the 4-1 defeat a year before. 

This story should really end in Rome at the Champions League final with Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Manchester United and a thumping Messi header to seal the game and the La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble. 

Instead it will end in a small apartment in Barcelona during lockdown this month and a video call. Ignacio, 10 years old, is the surprise recipient of that call. For Ignacio owes his life, in some ways, to Andres Iniesta.

Amidst all the euphoric highs experienced that year, as Barcelona were moulded into Guardiola’s image, one stands out in club folklore. It is Iniesta’s Champions League semi-final goal at Stamford Bridge. To recap, the first leg at the Nou Camp was 0-0. At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea took an early lead through Michael Essien. Then came the controversy. 

Two reasonably clear penalties for Chelsea were dismissed by referee Tom Henning Ovrebo. Then Eric Abidal was sent off on 66 minutes. Another penalty claim, a seemingly clear handball by Gerard Pique was denied. Barca were merely hanging on and on their way out when Dani Alves surged down the right in the third minute of injury time. His cross was flicked away by John Terry. 

That should have been enough, but Essien slightly mis-controlled a clearance out and the ball fell to Messi. Suddenly the ground was understandably alive with fear. Messi, on the edge of the area, slipped the ball to the incoming Iniesta, who drove it into the top corner.

Iniesta sparked wild scenes in London and Barcelona with a late goal against Chelsea

Iniesta’s strike sent Barca into the Champions League final and caused a baby boom

Pandemonium broke out. Led by a prancing Guardiola, the Barca bench cleared out to the corner flag to join the celebrations. Iniesta, initially twirling his yellow shirt above his head, was now buried underneath a pile of bodies. 

In the cramped press box, Catalan radio commentators were on their feet screeching: ‘GOL! GOL! GOL! GOL! GOL!’ Unfortunately for them the media area is located alongside Chelsea fans, some of whom were now trying to get in to administer their own retribution. 

Police became involved and wanted to caution the commentator until a robust intervention by a veteran British journalist reminded them of the law and who was actually breaking it. Even after that there was time for another penalty call for Chelsea, unreasonably denied.

That goal perhaps symbolises the joy of that season more than any other. It also illustrates the thin line there still was between being the world’s greatest team or just a very good one. Over two legs against Chelsea, they were tested to the full. 

In Rome, against United, other than the opening nine minutes, they were utterly dominant and growing into their identity as something almost sublime.

The 2009 Champions League final win over Man United is remembered for Messi’s header

Messi pictured in jubilant celebrations with Guardiola after their Champions League triumph

Two years later at Wembley, the extraordinary manner in which they took United apart in 3-1 win at the 2011 Champions League final would confirm their status. 

‘How much have you simply come up against one of the all-time great teams?’ Sir Alex Ferguson was asked as his first question in the press conference after the 2011 Wembley game. 

‘I think that’s obvious,’ said the man who had stood on the terraces at Hampden Park to watch Alfredo Di Stefano’s Real Madrid demolish Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in 1960 to win their fifth successive European Cup, perhaps the previous zenith of club football.

By 2011 Barca had fully matured into their role as world’s greatest team and were virtually unplayable. In 2009, there were still growing pains. A penalty award or closer control by Essien might have stunted their development.

Maybe that is why the Iniesta goal has its own moment in Barca history and its own name: El Iniestazo.

Two years later, Guardiola was celebrating another Champions League win over United

It was an extraordinary night in Barcelona. Crowds flocked to the Caneletes fountain on Las Ramblas in an outpouring of euphoria. This was a time when the 2008 economic crisis was devastating Spain. In the post-match celebrations, Pique joked: ‘There will be a lot of love made in Barcelona tonight.’

It turned out he was right. Nine months on from that night, there was a spike in the birth rate in Catalonia. ‘We are up from an average of nine to 10 births a day to 15 a day’ said Mercedes Rodriguez, head midwife for the city’s Quiron Hospital in 2010. The babies were known as Iniesta’s children.

So earlier this month, on the anniversary of that goal, May 6, Iniesta, now living in Kobe, Japan, wanted to acknowledge his surrogate children and made some calls to two 10-year-olds, Ignacio and Josep Enric, both apparently conceived in the celebrations of that night.

‘Has your mum shown you the goal?’ Iniesta asks Ignacio, born on 18 January 2010. ‘Of course!’ said a delighted and star-struck Ignacio.

Ignacio’s mother, Andrea Barri, discovered she was pregnant just before travelling to Rome to watch the Champions League final but didn’t tell her family until they were on the flight, in case they tried to dissuade her from going. 

In Rome, the treble would be secured. The Spanish Super Cup and the UEFA Super Cup would be won in August. And in December they added the World Club Cup, a sextuple in Abu Dhabi. 

In tears, Guardiola would dedicate that trophy to Evarist Murtra. ‘He was the one who insisted to the directors that I should get the job,’ said Guardiola. 

But in truth, there were a number of midwives to the birth of the greatest team.

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‘The Match 2’ purse: How much money will Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Phil Mickelson win for charity?

Four iconic athletes, two revered rivalries, one great cause. 

Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady will join forces on Sunday for “The Match 2: Champions for Charity.” Woods and Manning will compete as a pair against the team of Mickelson and Brady in an 18-hole round of golf. Scores will be kept, but the biggest victory will be the millions of dollars donated to coronavirus (COVID-19) relief. 

MANNING VS. BRADY: Who’s the better golfer?

Mickelson beat Woods in “The Match” 18 months ago for a $9 million payday. For the rematch, former NFL rivals Manning and Brady have joined the event, bringing charisma and excitement with them. All four will be mic’d up and nobody else will be around (no caddies or fans allowed), so viewers will get front-row access to the match. 

Here’s what you need to know about “The Match 2” from the financial side of things. 

‘The Match’ purse: How much money will be donated to charity?

The four participants and WarnerMedia will donate a combined $10 million to benefit COVID-19 relief. Additional fundraising will come from a partnership with the All In Challenge.

Those who donate will have chances to win “once-in-a-lifetime experiences” in the realms of sports, music and entertainment. Other prizes are also available via auction, including golfing with Manning in the winner’s hometown and going to the Buccaneers’ home opener and having dinner with Brady. 

How much will the winner make?

In 2018, the first installment of “The Match” took place between just Woods and Mickelson with a prize of $9 million on the line. This year, it’s all for charity. 

Bragging rights are also on the line, which could prove more valuable than traditional prize money. 

What is the All In Challenge?

The All In Challenge is a digital fundraising effort started by Michael Rubin, the part-owner of the 76ers and founder of Fanatics. Its focus is fighting food insecurity enhanced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challenge aims to raise tens of millions of dollars, which will all go toward Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, World Central Kitchen and No Kid Hungry. 

Tiger Woods net worth

Woods’ dominance on the golf course has led to more than $120 million in prize money during a professional career that spans a quarter-century, but he’s earned much more off the course. Sponsors like Nike have contributed to career earnings of over $1.4 billion, according to Forbes.

In total, Forbes estimated in 2018 that Woods had a net worth of $800 million.

Peyton Manning net worth

Manning brought home a cool $248 million in salary during his 18 years in the NFL. At the time of his retirement in 2016, Manning had made more than $150 million from endorsements, according to Forbes.

The endorsements have continued rolling in since his playing days. Manning has also been apart of programming on ESPN+. 

Tom Brady net worth

Brady ended his run in New England with $235 million in career earnings from the Patriots. He’s had fewer endorsement deals than Woods and Manning, but his consistent ranking as one of the top-selling jerseys in the NFL has helped bring in an estimated $115 million off the field, according to Forbes. 

Brady signed a two-year, $50 million deal with the Buccaneers in March. 

Phil Mickelson net worth

Mickelson has made $91 million in career prize money, according to Forbes, the second-most ever behind Tiger Woods. Off the course, the 49-year-old has earned $700 million from endorsements.

Forbes estimated his net worth in 2016 to be north of $375 million.

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Harry Redknapp explains how he pulled strings to get Frank Lampard the Derby job

Harry Redknapp has a wide array of contacts in English football and he used his influence to get his nephew Frank Lampard his first job in management at Derby County.

Lampard was looking to take his first steps as a manager in 2018 and was waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

Clearly the former Chelsea and England midfielder is a huge name in football, but his uncle who took his first job in management in 1983, is more savvy in the ways of Football League owners and chairmen.

Redknapp quickly set up Lampard with a job at Ipswich, but not really fancying that role, he then engineered his nephew the Derby job.

The former West Ham, Spurs and Portsmouth boss told Sky Sports the story: ‘I got him the job at Ipswich with Marcus Evans. I phoned Marcus Evans I said, “listen you need a manager, Frank Lampard’s your man.” He met him, loved him, offered him the job

‘Frank said “Harry, they’ve got no budget, it’s difficult there, I can’t bring any players in, what can I do?”

‘I said, “it’s a great club Ipswich, Frank, but you’re going to need a bit of help, you haven’t got a magic wand.”

‘I made a meeting for them the next day, I rung Frank. They had a meeting at 7 o’clock, he rung me at half-past-eight.

‘He said: “Oh my God Harry, he’s blown me away, I’ve given him the job.”

‘That was it, I had no doubts he’d be a success. He’s a clever, bright lad, his work ethic is incredible, he knows the game, he’s been brought up with the game he’ll be amazing.’

Lampard would have just one season at Derby, guiding the Rams to the Championship play-off final where they narrowly lost out to Aston Villa.

The impressive first season earned him the huge step to return to former club Chelsea, where he is fighting for a top four place in the Premier League during his first campaign as a top flight boss.

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Last Dance quiz: How much do you now know about Michael Jordan?

With all 10 episodes of The Last Dance now available, how much have you learned about Michael Jordan over the course of the series? Test your MJ knowledge with our quiz.

Jordan's Last Dance on Sky Q

Watch The Last Dance, a 10-part documentary on the 1997-98 Bulls, on Netflix via your Sky Q box

Six NBA championship, six Finals MVPs, five NBA Finals MVPs, an Olympic gold medal, 14 All-Star selections and 10 single-season scoring titles – there isn’t much that Michael Jordan didn’t accomplish in his iconic NBA career.

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How Gerrard defied cramp to score an equaliser that saw Liverpool win

Steven Gerrard’s ‘superhuman’ performance in the 2006 FA Cup final seemed scripted from a comic book… how the Liverpool legend defied cramp to score a thunderous equaliser and set up an incredible victory

  • Saturday would have been the FA Cup final at Wembley if it wasn’t for Covid-19
  • Sportsmail go back to 2006 & Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard-inspired win in Cardiff
  • Gerrard overcame cramp to score an incredible equaliser that defined his career
  • Peter Crouch even called his midfield team-mate’s performance ‘superhuman’ 

This Saturday it should have been the FA Cup final at Wembley. With the future of this season’s competition up in the air, we are recalling some of the classic finals.

In the first of our series, DOMINIC KING takes us back to 2006 and Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard-inspired victory…

Before we can recall the goal, the penalties and the meeting with royalty, we must first discuss the cramp and the throw-in.

Back in 2006 Steven Gerrard inspired Liverpool to an incredible win over West Ham 

He overcame cramp to score an incredible equaliser that immortalised him as Super Stevie

The 2006 FA Cup final — the last of six staged at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium — was contested by Liverpool and West Ham but it now belongs to Steven Gerrard, in the same way that the 1953 final is synonymous with Sir Stanley Matthews.

Peter Crouch called his midfield team-mate’s performance ‘superhuman’; Jamie Carragher went one step further, saying Gerrard ‘put his Superman cape on and got me out of jail!’ after Carragher had scored an early own goal.

History, however, would look very different had it not been for a sequence of events in the 91st minute.

With West Ham leading 3-2 and on the brink of a remarkable upset, Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse was stricken with cramp and fell to the floor. Lionel Scaloni, West Ham’s right back, rolled the ball into touch.

It was a sporting gesture but, in those high-pressure moments, it pays to be streetwise.

Peter Crouch even called his midfield team-mate’s stunning performance ‘superhuman’

Gerrard was suffering with cramp when the ball sat up nicely for him to smash home

‘Why didn’t he smash it up the pitch?’ Carragher asked. ‘It’s the last minute!’ Cisse was not alone in suffering. Gerrard was trying to loosen his muscles, bending his legs to stop the spasms. He was loitering close to the halfway line.

‘I’d already been substituted,’ Crouch says. ‘Rafa (Benitez, Liverpool manager) had made all three changes. People on our bench were shouting whether Stevie could continue. He could barely move.’

Losing would have been an ignominy, 12 months on from winning the Champions League. Gerrard said: ‘I’m not sure I would ever have got over it.’

West Ham, searching for a first trophy since 1980, were almost home. ‘I looked at Rafa and knew he thought they had given it their all and it wasn’t going to happen,’ recalls Hammers boss Alan Pardew. ‘I thought they were a spent force and my assistant Peter Grant said to me, ‘Only Gerrard can get them out of it’.’

Play restarted. Liverpool took the throw-in and gave it straight to Scaloni. His clearance went only as far as Gerrard, who laid the ball to John Arne Riise.

Gerrard lifts the trophy with manager Rafa Benitez after 120 minutes of tension in Cardiff

‘Surely we are not going to get another goal in normal time?’ John Motson wondered in his BBC commentary. In the blink of an eye, Motson had his answer.

Riise’s ball into the area was half-cleared, 30 yards from goal. What followed was one of the great goals, a pure strike that flew like an arrow past West Ham goalkeeper Shaka Hislop.

‘I was scared at 3-2,’ Gerrard said. ‘I could see others were getting tired and I was tired myself. It was dead hot, the pitch was massive and I honestly didn’t think we were getting back into it. Then I heard the (stadium) announcer saying, ‘There will be a minimum of four minutes’.

‘Loads of times in that situation, a ball doesn’t sit up right, it bounces too high or it goes on your left foot. When it is set like that, it is an absolute dream.

‘As soon as I saw it falling, I wasn’t thinking of anyone else. I was hitting it.’

There have been many last-gasp goals in FA Cup finals but this was something different.

Gerrard scored twice in the 90 minutes and scored his penalty in the shootout

The Liverpool captain salutes Reds fans inside the Millennium Stadium after his equaliser

‘I honestly don’t know how he did it,’ Crouch says. ‘For most players who have severe cramp, if you asked them to jump, you wouldn’t get a cigarette paper under their feet.

‘So, to go from that state to producing that moment was unreal. It would have broken our hearts to lose that final. Those final minutes were horrific, sitting on the bench. I thought we’d blown it.’

Motson called it the best final in modern times — impossible to dispute. West Ham did not deserve to leave Wales with their hearts broken, having led 2-0 inside 28 minutes, and then lost 3-1 on penalties.

‘We were devastated,’ said Pardew. ‘The equaliser flew in, he caught it perfectly and in that moment you just can’t believe your luck.

‘You’ve been the better side, you’re minutes away.’

 Pepe Reina is mobbed by team-mates after saving three of West Ham’s penalty kicks

It was their misfortune they met Gerrard in such form. He set up Liverpool’s first with a 40-yard pass to Cisse and also scored in the shootout.

Gerrard’s performance — commended by Prince William, who presented the trophy — seemed scripted from a comic book.

‘The whole occasion was incredible,’ Crouch recalls. ‘I’ve never been as nervous before a match as before that. You get told to treat it as just another game but it’s the FA Cup final, we grew up on it as kids.

‘I remember everything about it. I still think about the goal I had disallowed.

‘I’ve thought more, though, about Stevie’s. The quality is unreal. That’s what makes the big players.’

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How the heavyweight calendar could look post-coronavirus lockdown

Anthony Joshua vs Kubrat Pulev in China? Dillian Whyte fighting in Eddie Hearn’s backyard? And two all-British blockbusters for the undisputed title… how the heavyweight calendar could look post-coronavirus lockdown

  • The lockdown couldn’t have come at a worse time for the heavyweight division
  • Tyson Fury had just sealed one of the most memorable comebacks in boxing
  • Anthony Joshua, meanwhile, was set for a glorious return to these shores
  • British fans could look forward to Whyte vs Povetkin and Chisora vs Usyk
  • However, the heavyweight division is now up in the air following lockdown 
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

For boxing’s blue-riband division, the coronavirus lockdown could hardly have come at a worse time.

Tyson Fury had just battered Deontay Wilder to take his WBC title – and complete one of the most memorable comebacks in heavyweight history.

Anthony Joshua, meanwhile, was set for a glorious return to these shores. Fresh from winning his WBA, WBO and IBF belts back from Andy Ruiz Jnr in the Saudi desert, AJ was set to christen the new Tottenham stadium against Kubrat Pulev. The path was clear towards an all-British blockbuster to crown boxing’s undisputed king.

Elsewhere, British fans could look forward to the bruising clash between Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin, as well as Derek Chisora’s battle with Oleksandr Usyk.

Now, though, the future of the division is up in the air. Only when lockdown passes will the dust begin to settle.

So how could the boxing calendar look over the next 12 months? Sportsmail has a look…

Tyson Fury sealed a remarkable comeback after beating heavyweight rival Deontay Wilder

Anthony Joshua was set for a glorious return to the UK after beating Andy Ruiz Jr


The hope among British boxing chiefs is that boxing can return – behind closed doors – from perhaps July, pending assurances that the health authorities will not be overburdened.

Initially, the plan is to stage slimline shows featuring boxers from the lower tiers to ease the logjam suffocating the sport.

But big fights must – and will – follow close behind. The first of these is likely to be Whyte vs Povetkin. The Brixton heavyweight has been out in Portugal and does not want a full training camp to go to waste, even if that means missing out on support from the Manchester Arena – where they were first due to meet on May 2.

The fight was pushed back to July 4 but whenever it falls, fans will almost certainly be barred.

Sportsmail reported on Friday that Hearn has revealed his extraordinary plan to bring elite boxing back to Britain – by staging championship fights in his back garden.

The stakes could hardly be higher for Dillian Whyte when he takes on Alexander Povetkin

Matchroom’s HQ in Brentwood, Essex, will be used to host four weeks of boxing from July – with plans to stage Whyte’s fight with Povetkin in the first or second Saturday in August

The promoter has exclusively disclosed to Sportsmail his intention to stage fight nights on four consecutive Saturdays in the 15-acre grounds of his Matchroom headquarters in Brentwood, Essex.

His £1million plan is to open with the all-Brit world title clash between Terri Harper and Natasha Jonas in mid-July, before closing with Whyte’s WBC interim heavyweight title fight against Povetkin in the first or second Saturday in August.

The stakes could hardly be higher for Whyte. He is the mandatory challenger to WBC champion Fury and is due his shot at the title by February 2021. Defeat by the ageing Povetkin could derail those plans – and delay his world title chances even further.

Usyk vs Chisora would likely be next. Should ‘WAR’ upset the brilliant Ukrainian, a former cruiserweight king, he will be the mandatory challenger to AJ’s WBO crown.

The fight was slated for May 23 at the O2 Arena but now, like Whyte, Chisora has said he is ready to fight without fans. Eddie Hearn said the fight could move abroad, with other countries keen to bring sport back this summer.

Should Dereck Chisora beat Oleksandr Usyk, he’d be mandatory challenger to AJ’s WBO crown


As reported by Sportsmail on Thursday, late 2020 is when the wheels on the heavyweight division should begin to gather pace.

Eddie Hearn has confirmed that AJ and Pulev’s heavyweight clash is likely to take place between October and December. Though AJ has previously said he would be willing to fight in an empty venue, doing so would cost everyone millions in lost revenue.

So, too, could paying Pulev to step aside and clear the path for a Battle of Britain with Fury.

For that to materialise, Wilder would need to do the same.

Recent reports suggested that the Bronze Bomber would accept £10million to side-step a third fight but Fury insisted this week: ‘I’m not paying him no money to step aside. I’d rather take his scalp again.’

The former WBC champion has already triggered his rematch clause following a first career defeat in February.

That third fight has been pushed back from the summer to the autumn. Now, it’s claimed November and December is most likely.

Where these fights take place remains up in the air.

Fury-Wilder III was headed for Vegas, Joshua-Pulev for London. There is obvious reluctance to hold these money spinners behind closed doors but the longer the ongoing shutdown drags on, the more likely that becomes.

Joshua is set to face Kubrat Pulev in a heavyweight clash between October and December 

Pulev’s promoter Bob Arum recently talked down a fight in the UK, and Hearn confirmed that if crowds couldn’t return to UK venues this year ‘we will take the fight elsewhere.

‘We have had a number of approaches from the Middle East, China, and Croatia,’ he told Sky.

The extortionate site fees in somewhere like Saudi Arabia would certainly soften the financial blow of coronavirus.

Elsewhere, Whyte could take a second risky fight of 2020. Hearn playfully told the Brixton heavyweight this week that he wants a clash with Ruiz Jnr to follow (victory over) Povetkin. Then would come his long-awaited world title tilt.

Whyte and Ruiz have shared a war of words in recent months over a lucrative offer to the Mexican-American. But the Briton said: ‘I want Joshua or Tyson Fury after Povetkin. Forget Andy Ruiz. Andy Ruiz has got a big fight with diabetes at the minute.’

What of those further down the heavyweight ladder? Former WBO champion Joseph Parker, for example, will want to return to the mix, rather than just entertain Twitter with his acting skills.

Then there are Joe Joyce and Daniel Dubois – two British heavyweights scheduled to meet in London on July 11. Frank Warren has already said he does not want the fight to go behind closed doors, which may mean late 2020 or even 2021 is more likely.

Wilder has triggered his rematch with Fury clause following his first career defeat in February


Should all go to plan, early next year is when the truly mega fights should come into view.

The hope is big stadium fights will be back on the agenda, and both Fury and AJ will still be on course for an undisputed clash.

As Hearn suggested this week, preliminary talks over two unification fights have taken place between the two camps. One at either end of 2021? It’s the stuff of dreams. But boxing fans have been burnt too many times to count their chickens.

There are so many hurdles to overcome – will Hearn, Arum, Warren, Sky, BT, ESPN, DAZN and the two fighters be able to agree terms?

What about Whyte? The WBC have said they will not order any mandatory challenges until it is safe. Could this could see Whyte’s deadline of February 2021 pushed back?

Would the sanctioning body want to get in the way of the biggest fight in boxing?

What about the WBO’s challenger – the winner of Usyk-Chisora – what of Ruiz, Parker and the other contenders fighting for a piece of the pie?

So many questions. Only time will tell whether boxing has the answers.

Eddie Hearn suggested preliminary talks over two unification fights have taken place between Joshua and Fury’s camps

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How BT Sport are bringing the Bundesliga to TV this weekend

Commentators calling games from home (including one in Northern Ireland!), producers dotted around the country and a socially distanced studio set-up… how BT Sport are bringing the Bundesliga to TV – and why new system might be the future

  • The Bundesliga will be the first major league back when it kicks off this weekend with a full schedule of games
  • BT Sport are the exclusive rights holders and will be showing every game live throughout the United Kingdom
  • Sportsmail has been given an insight into the new systems that will be in place as BT Sport produce the action
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Fußball’s coming home – and the route it’s taking has never been travelled down before.

The Bundesliga is back this weekend, the first major action since the coronavirus pandemic spread across Europe. And it will be beamed into houses across the United Kingdom on BT Sport.

Yet this will not be a normal broadcast. Sure, those watching from the couch might not notice the difference. But behind the scenes, the channel are producing the show in a way that has never been seen for live sport in this country before.

A map showing where BT Sport’s production team will be based throughout Saturday’s live Bundesliga action 

A remote set-up, allowing members of the BT Sport team to work from home as they produce football coverage

They will be covering the return of the Bundesliga – including Borussia Dortmund – this weekend in a similar fashion

There will be a pre- and post-show, hosted by a social distancing James Richardson and Raphael Honigstein in the studio. There will be a small crew in Stratford – where BT Sport are based – working there.

Those are the only normal elements, though. Take the commentators for the Ruhr derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke, for example.

Jamie Hindhaugh, chief operating operator at BT Sport, told Sportsmail: ‘Our team will be commentating from their homes.

‘We have Paul Dempsey, who is main comms, who lives in Northern Ireland, and the co-commentator is Steve McManaman. He will be doing co-comms at his house.

The usual studio will be used for the games this weekend but with a much smaller team on-site in Stratford for the matches

‘They’re sat in different parts of the UK, broadcasting on a feed driven from other people’s homes, going out live.’

The same will be the case for the 5.30pm kick-off, with Martin Keown taking over from McManaman for the clash between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Monchengladbach.

BT Sport sent people to work from home a week before the government announced lockdown and have been pulling together new shows – like Early Kick-Off – and covering events like last weekend’s UFC in that time. They are confident it will work.

When the sheer scale of what they will be managing remotely is explained, though, it is staggering. On Saturday at 2.30pm, they will be showing five games live and the Bundesliga’s Goals Show feed. That usually requires around 70 people at the studio. That number will be slashed in favour of production happening from homes.

Bundesliga is the first major league to return amid the coronavirus crisis and it is on BT Sport throughout the weekend

Hindhaugh continued: ‘Everybody works from home, fully set up from compiling schedules to creating content. We built virtual galleries – we deconstructed a gallery, a physical gallery, and put it in different people’s houses.

‘The director, the producer, the graphic artist will all be wherever they live. The best way to think about it is it’s driving a car but it’s as if the driver is in a simulator at his home.

‘Games two and three will not have a studio wrap but they will be produced and directed from two people’s homes. We have what is called a gallery in a box.

‘The replays, the graphics, everything will be done by two people in separate homes working together.

The channel will be broadcasting every one of the division’s games – which includes RB Leipzig – this weekend live

‘The only other person involved will be a commentator also working from home. The final two games will be the world feed from Bundesliga with English comms going to air. We’re putting out five games with just 10 people physically there.’

The company have actually been demonstrating remote production for some time and Hindhaugh admits that the current situation has brought forward a long-term plan by a few years. But BT Sport are unlikely to revert to the norm when the world is back to normal.

‘I see it viable as of now. Where do you start? It enables you to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce, you can employ single parents, carers, people who can’t travel part time.

‘If you think about a lot of what we do around live events, it’s travelling to events or the studio.

‘It enhances creativity, if you think about the time taken up with commuting, you have the tools and the time to be more creative.

Eintracht Frankfurt will take part in the late game on Saturday with Borussia Monchengladbach, also live on BT Sport

‘That flexibility and agility… the big one for us as well is sustainability. We start becoming, truly, a much greener operation.

‘You could have a panel of seven pundits and not have to ferry people around everywhere. You can bring them in.’

Asked whether it could mean an unscheduled appearance from former referee Peter Walton to review a contentious decision, he said: ‘Yeah, you just dial him in! That is a really good usage case to be honest.

‘At the moment we sit him in the corner of a gallery with a backdrop and you think why does he need to be in Stratford.’

The commentary of the games will take place from locations across the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland

After going from a full team in one location to having production dotted around London and the United Kingdom, BT Sport will be at the forefront of what can be done this weekend. As Jadon Sancho dribbles past his marker or Erling Haaland pings a shot in the top corner, the action will be brought to the nation from across the nation.

Hindhaugh is pleased: ‘It shows that if you use innovation and approach things positively, and learn things as you go along, it works. I’ll be proud as punch when it all goes out on Saturday.

‘People are still wary of going back to normal, I don’t want to put anyone in that position.

‘If you show what is possible and it is as good as it can possibly be, then this is obviously something that will continue.’

BT Sport is the home of the German Bundesliga with coverage of every game. This weekend, watch every match live, from 2pm on Saturday. Watch on TV, the app or with the BT Sport Monthly pass 

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Heatcheck: How will the Golden State Warriors approach the 2020 Draft?

With a high pick guaranteed in the 2020 Draft, will the Golden State Warriors take a top prospect or package their pick in a trade for a superstar player?

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The Warriors’ current campaign was derailed as far back as last season’s NBA Finals where two of their superstars – Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant – were struck down by long-term injuries. Durant then left to join the Brooklyn Nets and, when the 2019-20 season got underway, franchise star Stephen Curry broke his hand four games in against the Phoenix Suns.

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'How is that pea ahead of me!?': McGregor FUMES at latest UFC rankings

‘How is that pea ahead of me!?’: Conor McGregor FUMES at latest UFC rankings before deleting tweet as old foe Dustin Poirier hits back with ‘because I’ve been fighting real contenders’ jibe

  • Conor McGregor has taken aim at UFC rankings with Dustin Poirer ahead of him
  • McGregor, ranked 3rd in lightweight, tweeted ‘how is that pea ahead of me?’ 
  • The Irishman beat Poirier back in 2014 with a first round knockout at UFC 178
  • Poirier responded to McGregor’s tweet saying he fights ‘real contenders’  

Conor McGregor took aim at the UFC in a now-deleted tweet as it appeared he stood 3rd in the lightweight rankings behind Dustin Poirier. 

McGregor beat Poirier back in 2014 at UFC 178 with a first round knockout inside the opening 90 seconds but has now dropped below his former opponent in the rankings. 

‘How is that pea ahead of me in the rankings?’ the Irishman wrote in a since-deleted tweet aimed at the UFC and Poirier. 

Conor McGregor has taken aim at the UFC rankings as he is ranked third in lightweight division

Dustin Poirier (left) is ranked 2nd in the lightweight division whilst McGregor (right) is third

McGregor referred to the American as a ‘pea head’ before their UFC 178 bout in which the 31-year-old handed Poirier his first defeat by TKO. 

‘I sparked him in 90 seconds. Went further against most recent foe, plus took a round. After two year layoff partying and or in jail/court.’ 

He continued: ‘What a weird little game you guys play. But I’ll bide my time for now but watch this space. All bums.’

McGregor called Poirier a ‘pea’ as he recalled his victory over the American at UFC 178

Despite McGregor’s success since their first in becoming a two-weight champion, Poirier bounced back to claim victories over Justin Gaethje, Eddie Alvarez and Max Holloway. 

The American responded to McGregor on Twitter, saying: ‘Because I’ve been fighting real contenders and you’ve been hand picking opponents.’

Poirier has been trying to instigate a rematch with McGregor and this latest feud could help him secure a meeting with the Irishman inside the octagon.  

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