Having not written anything substantial for quite some time, I thought I might collate some general thoughts on the sporting world into a sort of mixed bag column to get me started again. If I enjoy it enough and there’s any interest in it I may make it a regular thing, perhaps with someone else along for the ride. Well then...
The English Premiership Title Race This time last year, who would have thought that we would ever again see a title race go right down to the wire? Even two months ago, it looked as if there was no catching Manchester United as, led by newly-crowned PFA Player and PFA Young Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, surged towards a well-deserved Premiership trophy. Over the past several weeks however, Chelsea have closed the gap with a relentless string of victories while Man Utd have struggled.
Not the least of the problems facing Man Utd has been the crippling injury list. The loss of Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and most recently Rio Ferdinand has seen Sir Alex call upon midfielders Darren Fletcher and Kieran Richardson as makeshift defenders, while the absence of a consistent strike partner to Wayne Rooney has seen much of the goalscoring burden fall on the midfielders.
Chelsea by contrast have seemed to gain strength as the season has progressed, and it may prove that the larger squad at Mourinho’s disposal has given him the edge for the final weeks. Injuries to players like Arjen Robben have been offset by the returns of others such as Joe Cole and, central defensive issues aside, Mourinho finds himself almost injury-free as the season draws to a close.
Chelsea’s insipid performance at Newcastle on Sunday may have let United off for their slip-up against Middlesbrough, but only a very brave man would be writing the Blues off yet. Excitement has returned to the Premiership and the footballing community watches with baited breath to see how this saga resolves itself.
Anyone who knows me is well aware of the extreme reverence I have for this man. For me he is unquestionably the greatest footballer of all time. I admire Pele and others as much as anyone else, but for me there has never been anyone who could touch Maradona. Some of my earliest football memories are of watching him lead a weak Argentinian side to the 1990 World Cup final, while his performance in dragging a lacklustre Argentina past Australia and into the 1994 World Cup will live long in my mind.
It is with a far greater sadness than most then that I observe his current situation. After seeming to have put his cocaine and weight problems behind him no more than 18 months ago, his addictions have once again taken hold of him – this time it’s alcohol – and he once again finds himself fighting to regain his health inside a hospital bed. So saddening it is, to see someone of Maradona’s ilk reduced to the fate of a mere mortal by an apparent inability to conquer his inner demons.
With the footballing world having prematurely lost another troubled genius in George Best little over a year ago, I pray that Maradona does not suffer the same fate. If God decides it is time to take him from us, I hope that he will remembered not as the overweight drug user of his latter years but as the truly unique talent who captivated millions worldwide and stole the heart of a young Australian boy.
The Cricket World Cup
Like many other sports fans around the world, I was filled with excitement leading up to this tournament. Australia had enjoyed an extraordinary home victory in the Ashes series, but had then been humbled home and away in the one day arena by both England and New Zealand. South Africa’s continued success in the shorter form of the game allowed them to overtake Australia and enter the tournament with the world number one ranking. As hosts, the West Indies would surely want to make this a successful campaign, notwithstanding the impending retirement of all-time great Brian Lara and his desire to go out on a high. The sub-continental teams were also predicting big tournaments, with the unearthing of new talent like Sri Lanka’s Malinga and India’s Donghi. Surely all the signs were there for an exhilarating tournament.
What has transpired over the past two months has been underwhelming to say the least. The Australians, even without key players like Brett Lee and uncharacteristically poor performances from stalwarts like Adam Gilchrist and Mike Hussey, have predictably swept all before them. So far all but South Africa have fallen before the might of the Australians, with captain Ricky Ponting and particularly Matthew Hayden showing utter contempt for the opposing bowlers. With the bat Australia have been peerless and their bowling and fielding has backed this up. Shane Watson finally appears to be developing into the player many thought he could be while Brad Hogg has finally stepped out of the shadow of Warne and made his own mark on the side.
The weak efforts of Pakistan and India and the tragic death of Bob Woolmer after the Pakistani exit have removed more than half the viewing population for the tournament, costing the organisations an enormous amount in lost television revenue, while the increasingly poor displays of the English and West Indians was only slightly offset by their incredible final Super 8’s match.
In all, the tournament has again proved to be far less than the sum of its parts and it appears there is no stopping Australia as they march toward their third successive World Cup. Perhaps 2011 will offer something better.
The Return Of AFL Football
Although I’ve never been a fan of this bizarre sport, it is hard to avoid the pandemonium and fanfare that surrounds the beginning of a new season. This year though has been somewhat different, as the drug controversy at the West Coast Eagles continues to overshadow the on-field action. Former Brownlow medallist and All-Australian representative Ben Cousins has been indefinitely suspended from the club for failing to attend training sessions and has since checked himself into rehabilitation to treat a cocaine addiction.
Since his public admission, numerous sources have stepped forward to claim that it is a problem that is rife in the AFL community but particularly endemic at West Coast. This is perhaps to be somewhat expected, given the rapid rise to fortune and celebrity that comes from success in the AFL arena and the past history of players being unable to deal with this. Confronted with everything they’ve ever wanted, it seems that many players forget how and why they got there in the first place and too often this is the end result.
Perhaps the AFL community needs a long, hard look at the effects that drug and alcohol abuse have had in the football world.
The Rugby Sevens World Cup
I had the pleasure of attending the Rugby Sevens World Cup in Adelaide earlier this month and it was one of the most enjoyable sporting events I can recall. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Sevens is very similar to 15-a-side Rugby Union except there are only seven players on each team. It utilises all the union staples, such as scrums and line-outs as well as rucks and mauls. Five points are awarded for a try and conversions are by way of drop kick. Seven-minute halves are played and this, along with the space afforded by the smaller number of players on a normal-sized playing field, makes for some exhilarating running rugby.
Teams from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Tonga, Samoa, Scotland and Wales joined some smaller nations over two days of competition (Saturday was comprised of the group/pool games, while Sunday was the quarter finals, semi finals and final) and Adelaide absolutely lapped it up. Perhaps the greatest part of Sevens is the carnival like atmosphere it seems to generate in the supporters. Two days of competition passed between fierce rivals and yet no crowd trouble took place and a great time was had by all.
For me, this was a perfect example of what sport is all about. Great action on the field, friends and family having a wonderful time together off it. If only it was all like this.