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The Big Story
The death of Sir Bobby Robson was marked by a number of tributes from players, managers and fans that spoke of a man we might not see the likes of again in today’s football world. A manager who won major trophies in four different countries as well as taking England to within penalty kicks of the World Cup final, he was deeply respected for his achievements, but even more so, appreciated and loved for his dignity, kindness and class.
Nothing quite became Robson as his calm reaction to the way England went out of the 1986 World Cup to Argentina when they lost to Diego Maradona’s fiendish handball and quite outrageous prance through the best part of an entire team. When any losing manager could have been forgiven for spitting blood Robson kept his cool although he was to reflect later that “it wasn’t the Hand of God, it was the hand of a rascal. God had nothing to do with it”.
Joe Lovejoy of the Sunday Times 0nce said “Bobby will give you a telling off at 12pm but by 1pm he’ll be taking you out to lunch.” The English press had not always been so close with Bobby. England’s struggles under him at the 1988 European Championships and the growing intrusiveness and hysteria of the English tabloid press made him the first England manager to be subjected to what has become routine abuse.
It was at the 1990 World Cup finals that Robson made the biggest decision of his life, one that rescued his reputation as England manager and simultaneously opened up an English game afraid of tactical innovation. Following England’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Ireland to open the tournament, Robson adjusted the lineup against Holland to move Mark Wright to sweeper, a rare sight in the English game.
There remains some debate over whether the decision was down to player revolt or not, but Pete Davies’ All Played Out, written inside the England camp, is definitive: “He played a sweeper against Holland because, I have no doubt, he was scared of Van Basten and Kieft ripping through his flat back four.” Ironically, Robson’s defensive move opened up England offensively as well: now with the security of Wright sweeping, full-backs Stuart Pearce and Paul Parker felt free to push up, and in turn, the midfielders felt freer to roam aggressively. England started to play football again.
England’s progress to the semi-finals, albeit based on some fortune against Belgium and Cameroon, transformed the English game on and off the field. Robson’s continued commitment to nurturing talent and managing with class in the next two decades are why so many remember him so fondly.
- Adrian Mutu’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over a Fifa order that he pay Chelsea £14.5m for breach of contract has been rejected. Mutu tested positive for cocaine in 2004 and was fired by Chelsea, who then successfully argued to Fifa that they should be compensated by Mutu for the loss of value to them, with the order made last year the biggest fine a footballer had ever received. Fifa’s compensation award to Chelsea (of all clubs!) in the first place seemed curious; their decision to immediately fire him was in their own words based on principle and “was more important than the major financial considerations to the company.” Yet Chelsea then doggedly pursued Mutu for these financial considerations; instead of working Mutu through his problems or firing him and accepting their loss, they pursed the best of both worlds, which may well encourage more clubs to fire players with problems confident they can make their money back in court.
- You may have heard that Tranmere Rovers of League One were put up for sale on eBay. Seriously. What’s even odder is that the owner who put the club up for sale is furious about it. Peter Johnson, who is trying to sell his 60% share in the club, was apparently shocked to find that the broker he’d hired for the job, Dornoch Capital, had listed Tranmere on there at a starting price of $10 million for a club with “significant potential for promotion to the second division or potentially the Premiership”. The listing was removed yesterday.
- The summer transfer rumours go on: Ribery to Real Madrid? An interesting comment on the endless blather comes from Simon Chadwick, who looks at research into the science of rumours. They have three characteristics, he writes: they are “improvised news” never confirmed; they spring from collective concerns; and they are differentiated from mere gossip because they fill a gap in knowledge (”Gossip is a tasty hors d’oeuvre savored at a cocktail party; rumor is a morsel hungrily eaten amid an information famine’). Chadwick asks, “To what extent would an understanding of the science of rumours help fans, players, club officials, commercial partners and the media get to grips with what is going on in this summer’s player transfer market?”
- Darren Bent is the latest pro-athlete to tweet his way into trouble, with an apparent rant about his continued transfer limbo aimed at Tottenham’s chief executive Daniel Levy. Twitter is changing the landscape for communications in sports and it’s only going to become a bigger and bigger issue.
- The Red Bulls survived all my pre-game taunting to earn a valuable 2-2 draw away at W-Connection in the CONCACAF Champions League. A pair of deflected goals certainly helped them.
- There’s upheaval in WPS, as New Jersey are on their third coach of the season following Kelly Lindsey’s resignation and replacement by player-coach Christie Rampone. Lindsey apparently quit without saying anything to Sky Blue CEO and president Thomas Hofstetter. Bizarre.
- Not sure if this should go under ‘Americas’ or ‘Europe’, but there’s an interesting piece at the Guardian on ESPN’s foray into the UK market with the impending launch of their new sports channel there. They are at pains to portray themselves as respectful of British traditions and as a partner of Sky rather than a competitor, but the mentioned launch of SportsCentre UK suggests they are in for the long-haul and will bring some of their style to the UK.
- Miami fans are continuing their campaign for MLS to return to the city, with a new season ticket pledge drive. A smart move, but it’s still a long road ahead after the previous failures in Florida.
- Grant Wahl has an interview with Oguchi Onyewu. Milan’s new centre-back has had a pre-season he’ll want to forget, and fast.
- The Offside has a good piece on the excellent Street Soccer USA Cup, as homeless teams from across the country play to qualify for the Homeless World Cup in Milan later this year.