I was just browsing through the weekend’s sports sections. Food for thought as always. Here are some random, probably incoherent, thoughts.
Australia have thrashed the Windies by an innings in Hobart. Good. It will lull them into a false sense of security. The Windies are absolutely terrible. Victories against them at home are nothing more than a glorified net.
Easy wins like this simply paper over Australia’s cracks. Adam Voges, who I really hope plays in the next Ashes, scored an unbeaten 269. He now has two test hundreds against the Windies – which is one less than Ravi Bopara. That pretty much sums up how much his runs were worth.
No side in world cricket demonstrates the dominance of home teams like Australia. They’re an unstoppable juggernaut at home but travel very, very badly. The ease of their victories in their own backyard is almost boring. It must be hard for their fans to get excited. Surely they just want to see a bit of a contest?
Now to some football. Those who read TFT will know that I’m an elapsed club football fan. I used to love the domestic game but grew tired of its predictability. You could basically predict the league table every year based on a team’s wealth. However, this year is finally producing some interesting storylines.
The fact that Leicester, a rugby town, are sitting proudly atop the Premiership is astounding. It’s even more remarkable because their manager is the largely discredited tinkerman, Claudio Ranieri.
We’ve seen smaller clubs do really well in the first half of the season before. My own team, Aston Villa (no sniggering at the back please) were top, or near the top, at Christmas in 1998. We were also in the champions league places at this time of year a couple of times under Martin O’Neill.
The problem, of course, is having the resources to stay in contention for a whole season. The major clubs have bigger and more talented squads. The test for Leicester will come when injuries bite and fatigue sets in. O’Neill’s Villa always fell away in March. I expect the same to happen to Ranieri’s team, although I hope I’m wrong.
Meanwhile, I had to chuckle at Louis Van Gaal’s comments about Manchester United the other day. Apparently Utd fans simply have to get used to mediocrity – even though the club recently spent £250 million on players! That’s more than Harry Redknapp can stuff down his trousers.
I have no sympathy for Van Gaal whatsoever. He’s so aloof and inhabits a different planet. He used a recent press conference to argue that it’s harder to be successful in the premier league these days because the gap between the elite and the chasing pack has narrowed.
Anyone with half a brain knows the opposite is actually true. This year’s premier league is painfully short of top quality teams. Man City are still inconsistent, Chelsea are self-destructing and Arsenal are, well, Arsenal. If Van Gaal bothered to look at the table he’d see that Leicester are top – a team with a fraction of Utd’s budget and a stadium half the size of Old Trafford.
Meanwhile, the huge sums of money generated by the Champions League continue to line the pockets of the established big guns and make it even harder for the minnows to catch up. The disingenuously named Financial Fair Play is also designed to keep ambitious smaller clubs in their place – effectively imposing a salary cap that varies according to one’s current financial wellbeing. It’s impossible to conceive of a more inequitable arrangement.
The whole way club football works stinks to high heaven. Van Gaal couldn’t be in a more advantageous position if he’d designed the status quo himself – and yet he still complains that success is hard to come by. I’m sorry Louis, but you’re kidding no one. Nobody’s heart is bleeding for Manchester United.
Meanwhile, on a more positive and joyous note, Europe retained the Mosconi Cup – an event they’ve now won six times in a row – in Las Vegas on Thursday. It’s a fantastic achievement.
For those of you who haven’t heard of this gem of our tournament, the Mosconi Cup is the Ryder Cup of nine-ball pool. It’s played every year, just before Christmas, between the best players in the USA and Europe. It’s always dramatic, fun and incredibly entertaining.
Nine-ball pool is a bit like the T20 version of snooker. Racks (or frames) take about ten minutes to play, and the first player to win five racks wins their particular match. The Mosconi Cup is won by the first team to win eleven matches.
Just like the Ryder Cup, the matches consist of a series of singles and doubles matches. The crowds are vociferous and go absolutely wild whenever anything remotely exciting happens. Because each rack is short, every shot is absolutely crucial.
Unlike snooker, which is extremely serious, pool is full of razzmatazz and the crowd are encouraged to go bonkers. The players are given stupid nicknames, as if they’re wrestlers, and they always come across as normal people rather than sport stars – which makes their nicknames even more amusing.
In the past the United States dominated the event with all-time great players like Earl ‘The Pearl’ Strickland and Johnny ‘The Scorpion’ Archer. Europe had to draft in snooker players like Steve Davis and Jimmy White just to be competitive.
It’s all change now though. Europe have a plethora of brilliant pool specialists. The spiritual leaders of the team are Niels ‘The Terminator’ Feijan and Darren ‘Dynamite’ Appleton. Europe also seem to unearth brilliant rookies every year. The decisive match on Thursday was won by 25 year old Albin Ouschan who, in my estimation anyway, has replaced Arnold Schwarzenegger as the greatest living Austrian.
If you haven’t seen the Mosconi Cup before, look out for it next year. It’s by far by favourite niche sport. The event is growing in popularity every year, so it might not be niche for much longer.
James ‘The Magician’ Morgan