The Breakfast Club

VegemiteBoof: [cracks open a tinny] Good morning, gentlemen. Thanks for meeting me for breakfast this morning. I know you’ll have today’s game on your minds but before we get to the ground I think it’s important we thrash out a few of the issues that have come up these past couple of days.

Pup: No worries, coach. You know I respect you as a man, as a leader and as a humanitarian. I’m at your beck and call.

Watto: [looks up from his organic bircher muesli] There’s a game today?

Boof: Yup, a rather big one, Shane. Don’t worry, you’re opening the batting.

Watto: I should bloody well hope so. Don’t think I dobbed in Davey boy for no good reason. I only had the team in mind, you know; my capacity to reach 40 before loosely nicking off far exceeds his ability to race to 30 before doing likewise.

Boof: I know, I know. We’re all very grateful. Aren’t we, Michael?

Pup: Oh yes, coach! Anything you say, coach!

Boof: Call me Boof.

Pup: Of course! Sorry about that!

Watto: What exactly is a ‘Boof’ anyway?

Boof: Back to what I was saying, the media have been having a bit of a merry old time with you two over the last 48 hours. We need to get this sorted right away…

Pup: Permission to speak, boss.

Boof: [sighs and slumps into his seat] Granted.

Pup: Look, I was just thinking that, what with everything’s that happened, maybe it would be for the best if, well… what I mean is that… you know… Watto – great guy and all – heck, he is a bit of cancer on the team, isn’t he?

Watto: This is what I’m talking about! He’s always had it in for me! Everyone else thinks I’m great, why does he not like me?! I just want to be liked! [sobs into goji berry and roasted partridge semen smoothie]

Boof: The way I see it, you two are the best chance we’ve got of beating the Poms and for us all to return to the colony as heroes. There are 22 million Australian men, women and children imploring you to put aside your differences and focus on what matters – wiping that smug look off Broady’s irritating face.

Pup: Now you’re talking, boss! That Stuart Broad is the real enemy. Why, when he refused to walk in the first Test I was so angry that I stomped so hard I almost crooked my back up. Of course, when I referred my caught behind decision you must understand I really didn’t think I edged it.

Boof: I don’t care about that, Michael. In fact, if you ever walk without being given out I’ll not only strip you of the captaincy, I’ll also make sure you never wear the hallowed baggy green again and are forever forced to carry Warnie’s bag around depressingly cavernous casinos. Is that clear?

Pup: Yes, got it. Am I allowed to apologise for not walking on my Twitter account though? That got me over 5,000 retweets during the Adelaide Test in 2010.

Boof: Absolutely not!

Watto: You know I’d never tweet, Boof. I prefer to say what I have to say behind someone’s back! [cackles]

Boof: Look, we’ve got to leave for the ground soon. I need both of you to look me in the eyes and tell me these issues are all behind you.

Pup: Everything’s fine, boss.

Watto: I’ve forgotten what we were fighting about.

Boof: Good.

Watto: I mean it, what was the problem again?

Boof: Shake hands, both of you.

[Pup extends his hand, Watto puts down his hairbrush and shakes it]

Boof: See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Watto: No, surprisingly soft and tender actually. Like shaking a limp orchid.

Boof: Great. That’s a load off. I really feel we’re shaping up quite nicely to give those Poms a good buggering now. There’s just one more thing I need to resolve before we set off.

Pup: Can I help with that, boss? Please let me help.

Boof: Actually, yes you can, Michael. Go over to Eddie’s table and tell him he’s cut.

Pup: I’d do anything for love, boss. But I won’t do that. I mean, look at his sad little eyes. It’s cruel.

Watto: [grins and rises from table] Leave it with me. It’ll be a pleasure.

*Advertise Here*

Give me something I can sell

Give me something I can sell

Branding. It’s a word heavy with meaning in sport. To those in club boardrooms it’s the lucrative differentiation of their product. For fans, its invocation evokes a weary response laden with the growing detachment many feel with the teams upon which they invest so heavily (emotionally and financially).

When Luis Suarez was caught in his race storm with Patrice Evra last year, Liverpool FC instinctively rushed to his defence. Kenny Dalglish stated it was “bang out of order” to suggest he had done anything wrong. In the aftermath, it was recognised by the American owners that the club had botched their response, resulting in significant PR damage. Dalglish was fired a few months later. When Suarez lost his head against Chelsea this season, Liverpool’s support for their player was notably more nuanced.

In the pursuit of more fans – and more of their disposable incomes – teams will go to great lengths to appeal to the masses. Every Premier League team has a community foundation funding local projects and arranges copious hospital and school visits by its players. They hire ex-pros as “Ambassadors” to tour the globe reciting the virtues of their great club. These initiatives undoubtedly have an impact on the balance sheet. The clubs’ commercial departments must be telling them so.

But, in an arena where everyone’s looking for an edge, are there any shortcuts to success?

It was instructive to hear one ABC sports reporter this morning lament why his young son had turned his back on his local AFL team. Who doesn’t think supporting the Lions is more exciting than cheering on the Magpies? Whereas Collingwood won the flag in 2010, the lad still chose mediocre Brisbane to barrack (or should that be roar?) for.

The ‘4 Ps of Marketing’ are Product, Price, Promotion and Place. Get these four elements right, the marketing gurus will tell you, and you can watch the profits roll in. In sport, perhaps ‘silly nicknames’ should be added to the mix. To call the Australian national football/soccer team the ‘Socceroos’ seems to make absolutely no sense unless a highly paid FFA suit has robust data stating it will attract more young fans to the sport.

I’m talking about official team names rather than individual’s nicknames. Though, it has to be acknowledged, in a highly competitive field, darts has produced some standouts in this regard*: Mark “Frosty the Throw Man” Frost, Scott “Scotty 2 Hotty” Waites and, who could forget… Steve “The Bronzed Adonis” Beaton.

An unlikely villain

To my mind, this whole sorry business is the fault of Emilio Estevez. The National Hockey League had teams boasting some great nicknames – New York Devils, Los Angeles Kings and the Montreal Canadiens – then, in 1993, on the back of Disney’s hugely successful Mighty Ducks movie (one that genuinely made me cry at the end), the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were born. The ridiculously-monikered Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild subsequently joined the league. It’s almost enough to remove all the credit Estevez had in the bank for Young Guns.

If there’s any semblance of moral integrity to that episode it is that the Mighty Ducks venture occurred after the release of the film so at least it wasn’t predicated on hawking cinema tickets (I’m conveniently forgetting about the disappointing sequel, D2: The Mighty Ducks, as anyone who’s seen it must). Sadly, there are examples of sports teams who have merrily adopted a new name so as to promote the wares of a third party. The New South Wales one-day cricket side are now known as the ‘Speed-Blitz Blues’, and the New York MetroStars MLS team now only answer to the ‘New York Red Bulls’ (but, like the F1 team, as a result of a takeover).

If you’re finding this all a bit disheartening, fear not. To find evidence of the enduring Corinthian spirit that draws us to sport in the first place, one must look, as ever, to the grassroots. Look, for example, at Centennial Park this Sunday to find the CACC Metrosexuals continue their unstoppable march towards the Sydney Morning Cricket Association winter title (Division 6)!

*It’s almost as if the less athletic the individual pursuit is, the more likely its protagonists are to adopt an entertaining nickname. See also, golf and snooker. Perhaps this correlation can be explored in another article, thereby providing a simple means of categorising ‘games’ and ‘sports’. For instance, the International Olympic Committee could employ a simple formula when deciding upon the merits of a sporting body’s application for membership; if, say, over half of their professional players have stupid nicknames: no dice.

Crystal Balls-up

I didn't see it coming either, Bob

I didn’t see it coming either, Bob

Nine months ago, your correspondent boldly/stupidly made his predictions for the upcoming Premier League season.

Among the pearls of wisdom was that City would comfortably win the league (finished eleven points behind United), Big Sam would be the first manager to lose his job (just been given a new contract) and Swansea would fall apart (top ten finish and League Cup winners).

Good job!

Only one prediction came to pass; but it hardly took the skills of Nostradamus to foresee Wigan would struggle this year – although they did, of course, win the FA Cup.

Thank goodness I didn’t put in print that I believed QPR would be pushing for a European place.

All this leads me to confidently state that Australia will definitely win the Ashes.

Simian Qualities

Why I'm not a graphic designer

Why I’m not a graphic designer

In mid-February, this blog posted a piece which, at the time, seemed mildly provocative, but born out of what appeared to be undeniable reality: Spurs were in danger of being overly reliant on Gareth Bale. The piece was carried by the Fighting Cock and drew predictable criticism from readers for its supposed overly negative aspersions on Spurs’ season.

Nevertheless, when Bale scored twice to help sink West Ham 3-2 on 25 February, The Sun (and others) well and truly hitched themselves to the one-man-team bandwagon.

All football fans think that the media – tabloids, in particular – are intent upon dragging down their club. The theory goes that in the competitive pursuit of sales headlines and stories become boiled down to their most sensationalist and extreme. For the most part, fans are right; the press do oversimplify; though any paranoia that suggests it happens more to their club than their rivals is, of course, a delusion.

What is also true is that the broadsheets watch what the tabloids do and then gleefully revel in haughty contrariness. If the tabloids say 2 + 2 = 5, then the broadsheets work with a more opaque formula (something like √(2 + 2 + 1) = 2.24?).

The deal you make when you read the sports pages of ‘quality’ papers is that you willingly fuel this conceit, as it is mutually beneficial; you feel intellectually superior to the red-top reading white van man, and the failed lawyers and stockbrokers who today make up the football news rooms of The Guardian and Telegraph can feel they’ve found their place in society.

So it was that the likes of The Guardian almost instantly started tearing at the prevailing narrative that had built up around Spurs and Bale. The football tactics critic (probably not his real job title) wrote a typical piece which, as far as I can claim to understand, asserts that without the team setting itself up to maximise Bale’s many strengths – “he is quick and powerful, technically gifted and can strike the ball ferociously with his left foot” – they would fail to get the best out of him. His boss, Sean Ingle then followed up with a Moneyball-type explanation of the editorial line.

Football is clearly a team game. I’m sure even the perceived knuckle-draggers a The Sun would agree with that. Stick Bale in the Andorra team, or in the, er, Wales XI, and you would see less match-winning brilliance.

But just sometimes hyperbole has its place in sport. Sometimes a sportsperson comes along who is so obviously superior (in form or consistent quality) to his/her immediate peers that eulogies must be colourfully made. The Guardian, at last, came close to acknowledging this when in its report of last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Southampton – where Bale AGAIN scored a decisive goal – it was stated that Bale “appears to be on a one-man mission to drag [Spurs] into the Champions League”.

In that spirit, I’m going to go further than two months ago. The recently crowned PFA and FWA Player of the Year is so far ahead of anyone else in this country that he’d materially improve any team in the world.

The Littlest Mourinho

Coming to a Premier League ground near you

Coming to a Premier League ground near you

He is managerial Marmite but Ball Control is an avowed apostle to the Cult of José. As a sporting pantomime villain, Luis Suarez is a mere understudy.

Even as his Real Madrid crashed out of the competition that provides his and their raisons d’être, all thoughts turned to Mourinho’s future, and where he would attempt to win an unprecedented third Champions League at a third club. The great demagogue, as ever, relished the limelight and gave a deliciously thinly veiled response to the inevitable questions re his next port of call; all but confirming that he’ll be back at Chelsea next season.

That he is expected to leave Real after only three seasons – to the apparent relief of many associated with the club – continues a pattern of nomadic adventure across Europe. Having previously moved from Porto (after just over two seasons; left a hero) to Chelsea (three and a bit; drummed out by the megalomaniac owner after losing an internal power struggle) and then Internazionale (two seasons; alienated the entire Italian press corps) we can look back on a trail of increasingly intense assignments, progressively culminating in implosion and rancorous recrimination.

With that history behind him, it took no benefit of hindsight to know that when he arrived at the Bernabeu José’s need for to be at the core of club affairs was always going to clash with the culture of Real Madrid. At Los Blancos Presidents are elected by the socios to act as modern day Caesars; providing chaotic melodrama for the masses, often by assembling and empowering an expensively acquired, short-term-focussed playing staff.

A manager of two halves

To this blog, grandstanding is the very currency of sport; in this, Jose delivers in droves. He also delivers success, which is why his stock remains high in the instant gratification era of modern football. To capitalise on the second element of his management you must therefore make peace with the more distasteful parts of his nature (such as this).

There are very few clubs around that would not countenance making that pact, though many in the upper echelon might think more than twice. Barcelona is one obvious example. The soon-to-be Pepped Bayern Munich is another. Manchester United, too, in the increasingly melancholic form of Sir Bobby Charlton, protest their morals to be too pure for what Mourinho would bring to the club.

Amongst Europe’s elite that largely leaves the cabal of nouveau riche, petrodollar-funded clubs such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain as seemingly natural bedfellows for the chequebook manager par excellence. The crucial difference between these two clubs and their precursor of Chelsea is that they are owned by Middle Eastern barons whose stated aim is to promote their region. In short, they want to buy trophies as well as the halos worn by the likes of Barça. Neither of them, then, would be keen on having their ‘project’ hijacked and ‘brand’ tarnished by a man who enters every club acting as if he is bigger than the whole operation.

It may be that Roman Abramovich is willing to relax the reins he has gripped so tight in the past few seasons (with moderate success) if it means more silverware – it’s hard to see Jose coming back without any guarantees of this sort. What we’re constantly told by the media is that the notoriously taciturn owner demands trophies to be delivered with style and panache.

Doesn’t sound very Mourinho, does it? But delusion reigns at Stamford Bridge. Why else would they believe they could foist a hated enemy like Rafa Benitez on the club’s supporters?

It may be then that José returns from his Chelsea exile and successfully exploits the deep pockets of Roman to bring more championships (and perhaps even European glory) to the Bridge. Once the relationships become strained, as they surely must in such an ego-rich environment, the hobo will be off again.

Who’s to say his destination after that wouldn’t be United? José’s eulogising of the 71-year-old Sir Alex Ferguson this season has been as nauseous as it has been transparent in its purposes. He clearly covets the top job in England and, with a debt of £359.7m to service, the ravenous Glaziers would surely be only too happy to put the principles of a club legend like Charlton to one side and throw their lot in with a man who always brings success, as well as acrimony.

Young people, spoiling our fun

RIP

RIP

Could Sevens be to rugby what T20 is to cricket? The parallels are clear: a faster-paced, quick-scoring version of the longer format designed to appeal to the short attention spans of Gen’ Y-ers.

But while T20 has helped to reinvigorate the interest of cricket amongst established playing nations, rugby sevens (which has been around for yonks) has recently expanded into new territories. One simple explanation for this is that it will debut at the 2016 Rio Olympics (after its inclusion in the last four Commonwealth Games).

A glance at the current Sevens World Series Standings, updated after Fiji’s recent win in the Hong Kong tournament, shows that Kenya are fifth and Portugal are on an upward curve in 13th. The top ten isn’t that different to what you might expect from the full rugby union world rankings – the All Blacks are streets ahead at the top, and the traditional rugby powers are in the top 10 (except Australia in eleventh) – but, the USA and Canada are ploughing more resources into the game, and even El Salvador and Guatemala lobbying for inclusion in the World Series.

To some, the opening question will carry the malign implication that sevens could be detrimental to the 15-a-side game, in the same way as T20 is often accused of subjugating Test cricket. They will remember the promises of T20 bringing a new and vibrant audience to all forms of cricket and grumble that, in actuality, the new fans have taken over the joint, with administrators and advertisers have pandered to them at the expense of ‘traditional’ fans.

It’s hard to see an IPL-style league developing in, say, Australia or the USA; poaching the best 15(or 13)-a-side rugby talent for months of the year. Consider though that the cross-code (league and union – and boxing!) superstar Sonny Bill Williams has expressed an interest in competing at the Rio Olympics. If money were to pour into the game then players already wary of the physical tolls league and union have on their bodies could switch sides, at least for portions of the season.

In recent years cricket traditionalists have bemoaned the advent of T20 specialists – pejoratively titled ‘guns for hire’, as if the likes of Lasith Malinga are mercenaries out to destroy Test cricket. In rugby, the sevens players are almost exclusively just that: players of sevens rugby only. The skills between sevens and fifteens [sic] are clearly largely transferable, so long as you are a fleet-of-foot back. The rugby versions of cricketing plodders like Ed Cowan and Jonathan Trott would be the lumbering forwards. Would they too become a dying breed as their unique skillsets are deemed obsolete in a modern rugby culture?

 

It was just a bad dream, after all

Who among us has never made a mistake?

Who among us has never made a mistake?

This is a mea culpa. Ball Control, too, relied on a single source for its recent piece on the scam ‘Dream Football League’. The exclusive in The Times was taken at face value though, in hindsight, the satirical nature of the mooted 24-team league lay barely below the surface of the story; seen most obviously in the almost-comedic title of the non-event.

A retraction has finally been elicited from Rupert Murdoch’s august organ and Ball Control strongly feels it is right to do likewise. I AM TRULY SORRY.

So, while our source moves on to rebuild its reputation (and justify its online paywall), their source is (rightly) being hounded out of football altogether. The other man at the centre of the storm, The Times’ Chief Football Correspondent Oliver Kay, recently resurfaced on social media and, given the circumstances, has been given a fairly easy and sympathetic ride – consider, for instance, that his first tweet accompanying the report suggested he had doubts as to its veracity at the time: Often, when you write a big story, you’re desperate for it to come off so you “look good”. Not so sure this time.

The ire of the keyboard warriors has been focused not so much on the botched research of the story/reporter, but in the newspaper’s vehement denials of malpractice when it was all too clear that details of the DFL (including the logo used in The Times’ report) had been previously published as a work of fiction by Cahiers du Football. This seemed to many observers like the haughty actions of a professional media class unconditioned to admitting mistakes. Add to that the closed ranks of other journalists eager to defend one’s own so soon after the Leveson report and you get ample fuel for the fire.

The battleground of choice

The battleground of choice

Predictably, the guerrilla army of amateur bloggers were swift to pounce. Driven by jealousy towards those who are paid to do what they do for free, and buoyed by what they see as an arrogant ‘old media’ reeling in its death throes, the soldiers of the WordPress and Blogspot brigades trained their guns on Fleet Street. Whenever a journo popped their head above the parapet they were caught in the crosshairs.

Thanks heavens Ball Control will never garner the scrutiny that comes with monetisation (and/or a readership). If my actions at work were under the same level of public interest I would be a quivering wreck, rocking back and forth in my ergonomic office chair.

Instead, dear reader, you get to read this guff with no means of redress whatsoever.

As ever, comments welcome below the line.