Thursday, February 3, 2011

The year of the Rabbit

I missed the modern calendar New Year. Far too busy.

I also missed the Julian calendar New Year. Still too busy.

Well now we’ve come to the Chinese New Year...and I can’t keep using the busy excuse. So it’s time to look back and review the highs and lows of 2010, and preview some of what’s to come in 2011 – all in very condensed point form. After all, I am very f#cken busy.

We’ll start with the most recent events. The Ashes, and the Australian Open:

1. Ole, ole, Nole: Now a two time Grand Slam champion, Novak Djokovic has well and truly arrived. Nole burst onto the scene as a gangly teen with a ripper backcourt game, fantastic sense of humour and fragile temperament. He won a Slam in 2008, won the fans over with his impersonations and was seemingly on his way to winning just about everything. Then the Nole express stalled. A series of high profile melt downs had everyone questioning his mental and physical abilities to compete at the highest levels. Those questions have now been emphatically answered. The dismantling of a hapless and hopeless Andy Murray, on the back of a three set drubbing of the Fed-Express (Editors note: why doesn’t Fed-Ex sponsor Federer...isn’t it a match made in heaven?) in the semi final, have put to rest any lingering doubts about Nole’s status as a champion. Two Slams, Davis Cup Champion, Olympic medallist, several Masters Series titles. And only 23 years of age. The big two is now a big three, with Rafa and Roger looking over their shoulders as the Djoker bears down upon them. And not only is he great on court, he has also become a fantastic spokesperson of it. An intelligent and insightful interview, Nole is always well spoken and presentable, and does the Serbian nation proud. Napred Nole!!!

2. Aussie Kim?!?: Congratulations to Kim Clijsters on adding yet another Slam to what is an extremely cluttered trophy cabinet. You’ve proved yourself a class above the rest of the field, and I sincerely hope you play on for many years to come. However...there’s always a however...what is going on with the local media’s fascination with calling her ‘Aussie Kim’? You’ve got to be kidding me! She dated Lleyton Hewitt many, many, many moons ago. So they made out in the back of his dad’s Commodore on Rundle Street. And she probably used to say ‘G’day’ when she was in the country. She may have even tried one of Adelaide’s famous pie floaters. Kim is now married...not to Lleyton. She also has kids...not Lleyton’s. Meanwhile Hewitt has his own family. When is this obsession going to end? Honestly. I can’t imagine the Mayor of Brussels calling Lleyton to invite him over to open a new chocolate factory in the town centre. I don’t think their local media calls him Belgium’s favourite adopted son. I can’t even imagine Hewitt choosing a Belgian beer over a VB. Tom Cruise isn’t Aussie Tom because he was with Nicole Kidman. And they were married for crying out loud. So message to the media, forget the Aussie Kim crap. COME ON!

3. ASHES TO ASHES: One of my first blog posts was about the declining fortunes of the Australian cricket team. This followed the Ashes defeat in 2008. Three years on and everything is still relevant. Suffice to say that there are some serious issues in Australian cricket, which can no longer be masked by the greatness of immortal players like Waugh, Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist. Sheffield Shield is no longer a nursery for players ready for the unique requirements of Test cricket. T20 and ODI’s are destroying the subtleties required of a true Test cricketer. Many years ago Aussie batsmen used to use their feet at the crease. Now young bucks like Dave Warner, Phil Hughes etc. just try to stand and deliver. That doesn’t work in the long form of the game. And Mitchell Johnson is still angry that his mum doesn’t like his girlfriend!

4. And the winner is...QATAR: FIFA delivered a real sh#t sandwich to the football world when Qatar was announced host of the 2022 World Cup. Why doesn’t Sepp Blatter just post the hosting rights on eBay and ask for interested parties to bid for the rights? Because at the end of the day that’s exactly what has happened. At least with the eBay scenario there would be a semblance of transparency to the process. would be great to see a live auction. Imagine cash rich oil countries bidding billions of dollars online, and then having to enter in their Black American Express details to verify the transaction. Classic. After the initial shock of the announcement people started asking legitimate questions about the weather (from stinking hot to unbearably stinking hot), the size of the country (like Sydney...only much smaller), the ban on now we’ve got a situation where Mein Fuhrer Blatter is calling for a World Cup to be hosted in the European winter, along with UEFA head Michel Platini proposing a Gulf World Cup. WTF?!?! Are these people normal? How is it possible that the World Game is run by such buffoons? In hindsight Frank Lowy and the Aussie bid team should have told Mark Arbib to stay home, called over Elle, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, asked them to perform a private striptease for all of the voters while Frank opened up is cheque book and asked ‘How much?’. Stories are started to gather steam about the mismanagement of the Asia Cup final in Qatar, where thousands of ticket holders were locked out of the stadium with no explanation from the organisers. Blatter please take note.

5. Those damned vuvuzela’s: I can still hear them in my sleep. Like flashbacks from a troubled childhood. I close my eyes and that annoying buzz that was the trademark of the 2010 World Cup starts to dominate my thoughts. Overall the World Cup in South Africa was a huge disappointment. Fours years of clock watching for very little inspiration. This isn’t a knock on the host country or the organisation of the event. By all accounts it ran very smoothly .Rather it was on the football field where the trouble lay. The stars of club football just didn’t turn up. Kaka, Ronaldo, Messi, Rooney, Torres, Drogba to name a few ranged from ok (Messi) to totally, inexcusably insipid (Rooney). There was no spark. No story. No va-va-voom. Just those damned vuvuzela’s.

6. F1: What an amazing season for the peak classification of motorsport. Five quality drivers were still vying for the championship with a handful of races to run. Hat’s off to Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Hamilton and Button for providing phenomenal drama throughout the course of the season. All too often F1 has been a one or at best a two-horse race. This is thankfully no longer the case. The Red Bull team obviously has had the faster car, but Ferrari and McLaren have proven champions driving them into contention. Let’s hope 2011 can deliver more of the same.

7. Independence Day: For the past couple of years the debate has raged with the world of rugby league. Do we need an independent commission to run our game? The AFL model, so successful in establishing Aussie Rules as the nation’s premier football code, has been looked on with envy by many on the Eastern seaboard. Now as the 2011 season approaches it looks like the league boys are finally going to smarten up, remove the layers within the organisational structure of the game, streamline the bureaucracy and deliver a better product to the clubs, the players and the fans. It will be interesting to see who the commissioners are. Let’s hope it isn’t the same group of faces that have been part of the game for the past few decades. If the NRL is serious about its growth and viability, new faces and ideas are required.

8. Taking my talents to South Beach: When LeBron James hosted an hour long, nationally televised program on ESPN (The Decision) to announce that he would be joining Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade at the Miami Heat – and in the same process effectively killing basketball as a sport in the city of Cleveland – he changed the power structure in the NBA. These three young rivals decided to join forces rather than battle one another, and create a dynasty for themselves. Owners, team presidents and coaches were bypassed. The players had the power and were calling the shots. Since the formation of the Heatles, NBA experts have been speculating about which other players are looking to create Heat 2.0. When Chris Paul toasted Carmelo Anthony at his wedding, and joked about joining forces in New York, the owner of the Denver Nuggets threw up in his mouth. And with the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire, its fun and games for the NBA. Expect a long and divisive lock out before this one gets resolved.

9. 70-68: Without doubt my favourite sporting moment of 2010. To say that John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played out a marathon tennis match at Wimbledon is like saying the Titanic hit an ice cube. Just doesn’t do it justice. The score in the fifth set was 70-68!!! The set lasted longer than most matches. If you played out a five setter where each set went to tie break you’d play 65 games. This one set had 138 games! WOW. This is one of the greatest achievements in sports history. No kidding. If this match were played out by two more high profile names the story would still be circulating. As it stood, little known journeyman Mahut played against up and coming giant Isner in a match that will never, ever be replicated.

10. Did you hear the one about the Englishman who could kick a ball?: The recent flurry in transfer activity in the Premier League was as exciting as it was astonishing. First and foremost, Europe is supposedly still in the midst of economic ruin, yet two teams (Chelsea and Liverpool), proceed to shell out tens of millions of pounds on a couple of players. Although this is puzzling, it is nowhere near as head scratching as the transfer values placed on Darren Bent and Andy Carroll. Both are good players, but it seems that any time an Englishman can kick a ball in a straight line one of the major English clubs will pay well in excess of any reasonable sum of money. This isn’t a knock on Bent or Carroll. It’s not their fault. But there’s no way in hell either of them come close to David Villa, who was priced at thirty odd million when he was bought by Barcelona. Based on that value, I wouldn’t pay more than 10 million for Bent or Carroll. They’re not the only ones of course. Shaun Wright Phillips is a prime example of an overpriced English footballer. He’s quick, has scored a goal or two from the wing. Let’s pay twenty million. Michael Carrick. He can pass the ball from side to side (in reality he doesn’t even do that too much). He’s worth twenty million. It’s crazy, and symptomatic of the problem with English football. They overvalue their own talent so much, that they really believe that they can compete on the world stage. The total transfer value of the English football team would overshadow almost every other team in the world, which obviously increases the level of expectation. Unfortunately the level of skill isn’t at the same level. Most clubs on the continent must look on with bemusement.

11. The Incredibles: Not many teams have ever gone through an entire season and remained undefeated. Regardless of the sport, it’s a tough task and an amazing achievement. Yet once in a while a team will flourish and defeat all comers before them. This year Manchester United are looking to following in the footsteps of Arsenal’s Invincibles. Unlike the Londoners though, Man U aren’t defeating all comers...they are drawing against most of them. Should that form continue it will be enough to remain undefeated, and will more than likely to help clinch a record 19th Premiership. I don’t think though that I’ve ever seen a poorer team with a better record. The goal scorers are sporadic. The midfield is reliant on an over the hill winger who has no pace. The goalkeeper is close to pension age. Only the defenders can stack up and say they are performing at a high level. Yet they still continue to churn our results, nab late goals to secure unwarranted draws, or in some cases, unwarranted wins. Not that I care. If title number nineteen makes its way to Old Trafford keep the drab play coming. Glory, glory Man United.

12. Cheaters never prosper: Without a doubt the biggest story in local sports was the Melbourne Storm salary cap drama. After systematically rorting the system for a number of years, and collecting a number of premierships in the process, the NRL got wise to the Storms double book keeping and found that several players had payments that weren’t registered with League HQ. I’m not going to point the finger at the Storm and whine about their accounting skills. I’m of the belief that several, if not all, NRL clubs get a little creative with their book keeping. It’s the salary cap that needs to be looked at. Although the cap does achieve one goal in keeping the talent pool fairly equitable throughout the league, it doesn’t reward success, longevity or junior development. There is no incentive to create a long term plan, when after a couple of seasons you are forced to sell off players to stay under the cap. Over the past five years player turnover has been massive, and its all cap related. The first challenge for the Independent Commission is to create a new system which is fair, equitable and rewards success.

Happy New Year folks...and welcome to the year of the Rabbit.

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