Clive Woodward to manage England’s football team? I admit he is a fantastic coach, and maybe needs a new challenge. Just for a minute, let us suppose that he does get Sven’s job. What could Sir Clive expect?<br /><br />1. A whole new problem of ego management. So far, the England rugby team is generally a joy to manage. Where are the egos? Two of the best players, Wilkinson and Robinson, barely touch alcohol, and behave impeccably. The team generally avoid the star circuit. In terms of behaviour, the only England football player of recent years who can compare is Paul Scholes, and he has just retired.<br /><br />2. A Club vs Country nightmare. The Zurich Premiership rugby clubs took a long-term view that if England did well, they would reap the benefits later. They understood that players make their reputations on the international stage, and sacrificed their squads for the World Cup. Can you really see the big footie clubs doing that? The squad barely has any time for a proper get-together before internationals.<br /><br />3. Zero respect. Footie players generally respect other footballers, and their hobbies are football and birds. Let’s face it, it’s all they know. Hoddle was a joke after the Eileen Drury faith-healer situation. The players don’t mind Sven having a bit on the side, but they would laugh him out of the job if he brought in a Feng Shui expert to the team hotel. Clive likes to use things like a vision-coach. Any new methods could backfire horribly.<br /><br />4. Less intelligent raw material. Footballers run on fitness and instinct and being shouted at. Rugby players can memorise up to 200 different line-out calls. Need I say more?<br /><br />5. Rubbish injuries. Rugby players have to be dragged off the pitch. Most play with injuries that would sideline a footballer for months. If a footballer plays on with a bandage over a cut, he is a hero (c.f. Terry Butcher, Paul Ince). If a rugby player does, it’s a Saturday. Could Sir Clive really tolerate some limping tosser in an aliceband driving a Ferrari?<br /><br />If he can put up with all that, good luck to the man.
Just seen on the US Open website: <br /><br />”Top seed Roger Federer’s quest for the only Grand Slam title he’s never won began in sterling fashion…”<br /><br />Funny – I don’t remember him winning the French Open. Or even getting to the semis, in fact. Wakey wakey. These facts are hardly difficult to check.
The US Open starts today, and it’s prediction time. First, the men (i’ll review the womens event another time.)<br /><br />Most are going for Federer or Roddick, which makes sense given the last year. Both are very comfortable in big events, and are hard to beat. But I am going with Lleyton Hewitt for several reasons.<br /><br />a) He hasn’t been over to the Olympics, so his preparation has been far better than the other top guys.<br />b) He has won 2 of the warm up events in Washington and Long Island, as well as runner up in Cincinnati.<br />c) He won the US Open in 2001, so he knows what to do.<br />d) He is really motivated this year<br />e) He has a good draw.<br />I feel it’s his time again.<br /><br />A possible 1/4 final line up:<br />Federer-Agassi, Srichapan-Henman, Nalbandian-Hewitt, Ferrero-Roddick. The big questions are whether Roddick can beat Safin in the 4th round, and if Henman can wake up to his potential. I don’t fancy Moya to do much, he seems distracted, so that section is Srichapan’s. But, as in other years, there will be some unknown surprise player to knock out one of the big guns. It always happens. Ferrero’s section looks like anybody’s. Andre will be hard to beat if he gets momentum, given that it is one of his last chances for a big title.<br /><br />Some great first round matches:<br />Federer-Costa<br />Dent-El Aynaoui<br />Agassi-Ginepri<br />Henman-Karlovic<br />Hewitt-Ferreira<br />Safin-Enqvist<br />plus a possible R2 Grosjean-Haas.<br /><br />Dangerous unseeded floaters: Philippoussis (as usual), Karlovic (a semi awaits if he can beat Henman), Haas, Youzhny.<br /><br />For the final, it will be the winner of the Agassi-Federer quarter vs Hewitt. (Or not, but you have to have a go.)
Kelly Holmes will be the UK face of the games, and rightly so. She ran 2 perfect finals, but also had the focus to qualify for the 1500 when she could have been celebrating the 800. Wonderful effort. <br /><br />Somebody please take that Irish priest’s passport away. Having run amok at Silvertsone, he ruined the marathon for that Brazilian runner. Shocking. He should be locked up (again). However, any criticism of the organisers about security is nonsense. How can you secure a 26 mile course on both sides? You have to accept that this might happen again, and with more serious consequences.<br /><br />The 4×100 relay was superb entertainment, and worth staying in for. All of the US team had run under 10 seconds for the 100m this year. But mess up the baton change, and it counts for nothing (or in this case, silver).
Paula Radcliffe dropped out of the Olympic 10,000 with 8 laps to go. This looks bad for a couple of reasons. Apparently she had felt fine in training, and the doctors said there was nothing wrong with her. So being so far off the pace is very puzzling. And now she has lost any psychological advantage she may have had over her rivals. <br /><br />She also said she couldn’t watch and think “what if.” This is closer to the truth. She wanted to win, but clearly wasn’t recovered from the marathon.<br /><br />But the real problem is her naivete. She runs bad races because she seems unable to work out what her opponents are doing, as they consistently drop and raise the pace. Her training and preparation also look naive. The winner of the marathon had run the full course in the run up to Athens. Paula didn’t. Why not? <br /><br />Despite all this, pundits still plod on trying to persuade us and themselves that she is a winner and a champion. “She is still the best marathon runner in the world” blustered one on Radio5. At the risk of repeating myself, no she isn’t. Commentators are guilty of double standards. They all agree that El Guerrouj winning the 1500 was essential to confirm his status as the best middle distance runner of the last decade. It is the medal his career both deserved and required. But for Radcliffe, any failure is OK because by some criteria other than major titles she is deemed to be the best. Sorry, but it’s bullshit.<br /><br />I agree that Paula’s Olympics has been a disaster and it’s a shame. I don’t want to detract from the fact that she is a great runner, and has achieved lots in the sport. But don’t call her the best when on the day, in the big events, she has come up woefully short.<br /><br />Cheer on Kelly Holmes instead. She has a chance of winning the 800-1500 double tonight, and if she gets any medal to go with the 800 gold, she should (and I stress SHOULD) be a shoo-in for the spots personality of the year. But some football geezer will probably get it.
Poor old Brendan Foster. He clearly can’t do crisis commentary. Expecting another chance to eulogise about “our” Paula, he was clearly confused about her breakdown at the 36k point. Somehow, the race just wasn’t fair. “This race doesn’t show who is the best marathon runner in the world,” he spluttered, “it just shows who is best on this day in these conditions.” Er, yes, that’s the point. Otherwise, we would just give Paula the gold for turning up with the world record. <br /><br />Foster went on and on about how vicious the course was. Would he have complained if Radcliffe had won? To use another cliche, it’s the same course for everyone. If Paula couldn’t cut it in the heat, then bad luck. Actually, it’s nothing to do with luck. The marathon wasn’t supposed to be easy. We could put all the runners on a treadmill in a nice air-conditioned room and see who does the distance fastest. Is that what Foster wants?<br /><br />After the event, Foster seemed very confused. “No one deserves gold. All these women deserve gold,” he said to Sue Barker, who looked remarkably calm in the face of this nonsense. Actually, Brendan, the winner deserved gold. Everyone else deserves our admiration. Clearly what he wanted to say was that Paula Radcliffe deserved the gold. But she didn’t. She couldn’t finish, and it speaks volumes about her mental state.<br /><br />Also worrying was Fosters thinly veiled racism in the face of the Japanese winner, Noguchi. Clearly peturbed by the fact that another Japanese runner, Takahashi, won in Sydney, Foster blatantly didn’t want her to win, and seemed delighted as her running became a little wobbly towards the end.<br /><br />p.s. Kenza Wahbi of Morocco had to stop to throw up, but still finished the race in 30th. Just behind Tracey Morris, who only took up running seriously last year. Perhaps Paula should remember – it’s not just the winning, it’s also the taking part. In this case, finishing the bloody race.<br /><br />Another note on some comments made in the aftermath: London race director David Bedford said last night: “She is still the greatest women’s distance runner ever.” No, she isn’t. Where are the medals? Tactless fool.<br /><br />Steve Cram: “She isn’t a quitter but she was visibly struggling.” Hmm. Looks like she quit to me.
Well done Nicolas Massu. Singles and Doubles (with Gonzales) winner in Athens is a big achivement. Good for Chile as well. Now go and perform in a grandslam so this whole tournament doesn’t seem like a big abberation.<br /><br />Respect for Andy Roddick for staying in Athens to cheer on Mardy Fish. He really should be in the US preparing to defend the US Open title.<br /><br />As I hoped, Justine H-H and Amelie Mauresmo got to the women’s final. Pity it wasn’t a closer match.<br /><br />Shame on the BBC for hardly mentioning, let alone showing, the tennis in their Olympic coverage once Henman was out.
For tennis at the Olympics to gain in stature, a few big names were needed to get to the final stages. Sadly, that won’t happen. The quarters line-up for the men was pretty depleted. Moya was the only player left with grandslam pedigree, and he’s just gone out. Fernando Gonzales vs Taylor Dent? Hardly has the same cachet as Thorpe vs Phelps, does it?<br /><br />On the womens side, it’s not much better. A Mauresmo / Henin-Hardenne final would be welcome, but any other matchup will lack gravitas.<br /><br />It’s not the organisers fault. The stadium looks fine, but no-one has turned up. The Olympics is too close to the US Open, so several names have pulled out. The injuries on the womens list can’t be helped. Big names lose early. I hate to say it, but the whole thing sucks.<br /><br />Overall, the long-term future for tennis at the games needs a big blockbuser of an event. If this is all we are going to get they might as well forget it. Which most people probably would rather anyway.<br /><br />Does tennis need the Olympics? Does the Olympics need tennis? Answer to both: not really. Can we all go home now please?
Pub quiz: What do tennis players Roger Federer, Claudine Schaul, Paradorn Srichaphan and Abdo Abdallah all have in common? <br />Answer: they all carried the flag for their country at the Athens Olympics. (The countries are Switzerland, Luxembourg, Thailand and Djibouti respectively).<br /><br />The only other player I remember carrying the flag was Goran Ivanisevic. Was it Atlanta? Anyway, there must be some others.<br /><br />In other news, Nadal won his first tour title in Poland, beating Acasuso in the final 6-3, 6-4. Certainly the first of many titles.
In case anyone cares, the previous winners and runners up of the Olympics tennis are: <br /><br />1988 <br />winner: Miloslav Mecir (TCH) runner up: Timothy Mayotte (USA) <br />winner: Steffi Graf (FRG) runner up: Gabriela Sabatini (ARG) <br /><br />1992 <br />winner: Marc Rosset (SUI) runner up: Jordi Arrese (ESP) <br />winner: Jennifer Capriati (USA) runner up: Steffi Graf (GER) <br /><br />1996 <br />winner: Andre Agassi (USA) runner up: Sergi Bruguera (ESP) <br />winner: Lindsay Davenport (USA) runner up: Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (ESP) <br /><br />2000 <br />winner: Yevgeny Kafelnikov (RUS) runner up: Tommy Haas (GER) <br />winner: Venus Williams (USA) runner up: Elena Dementieva (RUS) <br /><br />Today Serena W has pulled out – bit of a blow, given 2 days ago Capriati pulled out. It is a pity – she could have won the title 12 years after winning as a teenager. Actually, the women winners have a more impressive look than the mens, given that Rosset, Arrese, Mecir and Mayotte never won a slam. But the last 2 mens events have a better pedigree, with 3 out of 4 slam winners (plus Haas is no slouch).