A[nother] sports story

November 7, 2011


by Tola Adenle



In spite of the fact that this column does not officially get reader reactions, there are readers who know me and offer such from time to time.  Some of the reactions have even inspired me about other areas that I could write on but from these informal feedbacks, it seems readers are almost evenly split along gender line on sports essays:  the women generally not  that interested and the men loving it, albeit often condescendingly.  I hope female readers will therefore pardon this but can still find it entertaining like the guys, this day of rest.

The state of football in Europe (England in particular) today shows that the stratified (class) society is alive and very well, thank you very much, and in the continent it is, in my opinion, affecting the game.  This essay may sound contradictory to an earlier one [Whatever happened to all-star Real Madrid], an essay that showed that in spite of the all-star cast that the team assembled last year, the team failed to win a single trophy  - in Spain or on the continent.  On the other hand, I am trying to argue in this piece that the big  rich clubs (in England) are killing off other teams and I hasten to state that there exists no contradiction in the two essays.

Real Madrid’s problems did not and still do not include lack of potential but have a lot to do with too many big egos, too many stars who are (sort of) their own managers, coaches, trainers, etc.  A situation that calls for a Beckam starting out a game on the bench is a waste of human resources if not a disgrace.  If some stars need to start the game on the bench, Ronaldo is a prime candidate so that he will know he has to lose weight; ditto Figo, both of whom are milking past glories and I say this in spite of the fact that Ronaldo still produces goals.  As for Zidane (current world player of the year) I say why give an award that belonged to Henry to a player who did not show the form nor produce the effort to lift his team last year? I cast my vote in a piece about a year ago in “‘King’ Henry, bring on the crown”; then as now, he was runner up to ‘King’ Zidane. 

The situation in European football generally right now is that there are a handful or less of really good (read ‘rich’) teams in each league: English Premier, Scottish, La Liga, Serie A, etcetera and more than a dozen teams each that are hardly better than the much lower sides.  To make matters worse, the so-called good clubs tend to dumb down their games to meet the standards of the lower leagues.  Meanwhile, everybody plays the ostrich pretending, for example, that one of the top three in English Premier, Manchester United is super when all it could do in the hands of Exeter of the English non-League (ninety-plus positions below, we were imperially informed) was hang on to dear life for a 1-0 win in a crucial quarter-final game of one of the much-ballyhooed cups.  Pray, how did such a lowly team get to the quarter-finals? Because the so-called good teams, especially in the English Premier League do not play up but down.  ‘Dumbing down’ is Americana for the method of setting cheap questions so that most students in a school district can meet a set standard but what of the kids that are damaged by this method? 

It amazes me that a team, Chelsea of the English Premier League, can get accolades simply for being owned by a major beneficiary of the economic chaos of post-Soviet Russia as owner has reportedly pumped over two hundred million pounds into the club in the last one year.  I think his club paid Marseille of the French league over forty million pounds for the right to have Ivorien Drogba play for Chelsea while there are teams in the same league that cannot dream of paying a fraction of that.  Ditto ManU, the richest football club in the world.

How did Everton lose Wayne Rooney and after relegation at the end of last season, how come Leeds could not keep its stadium but still play at the same venue for the lower league in a funny arrangement I  understand not?  The rich clubs have all the money and they poach the poorer clubs of any talents or budding talents they may have.  When a team is relegated, the best talents there are poached by the rich ones thereby making any quick come-back to the big league near impossible.  Refereeing is also done in ways to suggest babysitting to preferred clubs.

I believe the Football Association (FA) under its brand new leadership has a lot to do to restore sanity to English football because it is the bellwether for other football associations in the world.  Even though the quality of play is not better than other leagues, everybody looks to England because it is the land of the game’s birth and the country that has the most professional football clubs than any other country in the world.

I think I like the way sports are generally run in the States even though there are also aspects of these I may not agree with. I wrote two essays about Emeka Okafor, the Nigerian-American basketball sensation last year, including one in which I introduced him and opined he should go in for the NBA draft rather than wait for his senior year of college (university).  I explained in that same essay that I did not (still do not) see the need for a kid to have to attend university before qualifying to play professional sport and that it was really a sort of bottleneck created to keep some out of the very lucrative NBA.  Very good sportsmen and women, I mentioned, do not really learn much in college, their professors merely babysitting them to meet ‘academic eligibility’. 

I think, though, that English football can still learn from the order that reigns to a great extent in professional sports in the States.  I know a lot about basketball and American football.  If the club and agent-driven market for sportsmen obtained in the USA as in England, imagine how much money L.A. Lakers could have dangled at Chicago Bulls by the time ‘His Airness’ Michael Jordan started to show his great form.  The Bulls, which won three consecutive championships and later, another two with Jordan, would never have become the great team it did.  It would have always been Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York dominating the NBA.

How do they do it?  The weakest teams pick the best players in any draft, (American) football and basketball so those teams can build.  Jordan could not cut and run from Chicago until the full length of the contract he signed with the Bulls when he left the University of North Carolina had expired and these are generally several years.  There may be occasional exceptions to this but the general rule is that you run out your contract and you then become a free agent.

Finally, another aspect of American management of sports that I think the new F.A. boss should examine is rendering of financial assistance to poorer teams by rich ones.  I must confess I do not know the real situation but I have a feeling from what I read that it’s sort of each to its own in matters of finance.  Many teams that are currently doing well in the NBA would have gone under if not for the sharing of NBA wealth by ALL teams.  Teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento, Dallas, etcetera were, for many years, in the basement of the NBA: poor performance, low game attendance by fans and other woes but the NBA supported them and now, these teams are doing well while some great teams of the past are moving towards the basement till their numbers come up again.  The organization assures that every team has a chance, given the right coaches.  For example, come May and the team with theworst record will get to pick the best player available during the NBA draft unless it had earlier traded its position. 

Coaches/managers can then actually coach and nurture to produce talents.  A level playing field will encourage players and, possibly bring in more fans who would enjoy seeing competitiveness in the league.

The Comet on Sunday, February  ‘05

TOMORROW, “Emeka Okafor’s big dance to the basketball draft, 2004.



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