To say Piers Morgan doesn't pull punches is a bit like saying Rocky hasn't taken any.
After all, the eminent and, at times, downright divisive broadcaster hasn't achieved his success by pandering to sensitivity. So you know the cause better be good on the rare occasion he doesn't put up a fight…
"When Beefy calls and asks you to do something, the simplest response is to agree," Morgan says down the phone line from St. Kitts, where, at the behest of Sir Ian Botham, he's captaining a team of cricketing legends in a charity match against a side headed by Brian Lara ahead of the Limacol Caribbean Premier League final this Saturday - no pressure then.
But the likes of Botham and Lara aren't the kinds of sporting heroes we've called Morgan to discuss. No, we asked him to pick some sporting folk who he believes have been either undervalued or underrated. Or both.
Piers Morgan is one of the names featuring in the event which is raising funds for St. Kitts and Nevis charities; Cplt20.com
"At the moment there’s a debate going on about whether Ian Poulter should be in the Ryder Cup team. Well, to me, he is the Ryder Cup. He’s the bloke who, during the Miracle Of Medina, bailed our backsides out. I’m always drawn to flair players, those who are flamboyant and can back it up with ability, and there’s going to be a moment when we need a Poulter to increase the tempo and excitement of the tournament. He’s a brilliant golfer but happens to be playing in a time when there a lot of fantastic players at the top. He’ll win a major, I’ve no doubt."
"I don’t like boring footballers, boring golfers and boring cricketers - Alastair Cook is a lovely bloke but has there ever been a duller man in the England cricket team? Of course he can’t deal with players like Kevin Pietersen. Because Pietersen is a charismatic, tough character who likes to win and we need a tough captain. It’s endemic in British sport that we’re not choosing the right kind of players. KP wouldn’t be undervalued in his own mind, of course, he’d value himself highly, and he’s every right to. But the fact is that he’s been one of the most poorly treated legends in English cricket – the idea of this happening to someone in the West Indies or Australia is just unthinkable for a player of his quality. He’s a great entertainer and I don’t give a damn how the team get on in the dressing room. Why should we care that they’re not all best buddies? In 1999, Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole didn’t exchange a word with each other on or off the pitch for the entire season with Manchester United, not one word, and yet they won the treble. KP’s the most exciting batsman we’ve got, I’d put him in that team tomorrow."
"I’ve nothing against Arsenal’s best remembered players being flair players, particularly when referring to the fabulous Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. But look at players such as Martin Keown, David Rocastle, Paul Merson – they’re the unsung heroes who by comparison were massive stars for Arsenal, who’ve had the heartbeat of the club running through their veins and just don’t get the same praise. Ray Parlour is the major example. He’s one of the best midfielders we’ve ever had, and a fantastic servant to the club. You wouldn’t see him in many people’s all-time team but he deserves a place, he was one of the greats. Parlour was brilliant, never looking out of place alongside the dainty-footed Robert Pires but never letting the team down either."
"Some of my cricketing heroes are the ones who never got a fair chance or where overlooked. Mark Ramprakash is probably one of the best technical batsmen England have had in my lifetime and he, like Graham Hick, had the misfortune to come up against the most ferocious West Indies pace attack I’ve ever seen, and as a result they kept being dropped from the team and not getting a consistent run. If we had kept the pair together and said you’ve got three years together without being dropped they’d have probably become the two highest run scorers in history. Ramprakash was such an intense cricketer, and sometimes that intensity probably affected him. Another worthy omission is Ashley Giles. Back in the ’05 Ashes series, while KP, Freddie Flintoff and Michael Vaughn got the plaudits, who was that whirling away at one end while the fast bowlers could take a break and get some wickets? Ashley Giles, who did such a fantastic job in keeping one end tight and putting pressure on the Australians while his teammates rested."
"Personally, I would have liked to see him stay at Arsenal as he’s a very good player and a loyal footballer. Saying that, he’s got a great deal for himself at Barcelona and good luck to him. It’s a template to how you leave a club on good terms - I’ve no issue with players like Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas going abroad having given us years of loyal service. That’s perfectly natural. I do, however, have a problem when they go to play for one of our immediate rivals after kissing the Arsenal badge for so long, like Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor – that’s just treachery, an insult to the fans. These guys think they can toy with the crowd. The thought of Van Persie becoming Arsenal captain then defecting to our main domestic rivals, winning the league and then gloating about it makes me puke."
[Images: Rex, Cplt20]