World Cup without screwy Luis loses its bite

How pleased? How impressed? How hopeful? How disappointed?

World Cup without screwy Luis loses its bite

Maybe guys like Geoff Shreeves deserve the big bucks. You listen to them after games and the questions sound a bit mundane. And you wonder, sometimes, if you were ever on the receiving end, would you eventually start giving smart answers.

“How disappointed am I? About a five, Geoff.”

Who knows, that might be Geoff’s dream. It took many years to settle on the top, top, top, top scale of footballer evaluation, even if there is still some debate about a fifth top. There are certainly other areas where a similar ability to quantify things would be useful.

We could have done with a Shreevesian Scale this week for Suarez.

How disgusted? How appalled? How shocked?

Hard reading to get. At one extreme, the excitable, the hypocritical, the attention-seeking and the genuinely alarmed were bursting the mercury with talk of lifetime bans and jail sentences.

While a loose coalition of Uruguayans, Liverpool fans, armchair psychologists, stirrers and the genuinely soft-hearted wouldn’t even have awarded a free-kick, just invited the ref to have a chat with Luis about how things are at home.

As football wrung its hands, the episode caused a frisson of excitement at Wimbledon, where they must have fondly recalled more dangerous times.

They tut-tutted, naturally, and coaxed Andy Murray into mild disapproval. But pragmatic men like Goran Ivanisevic knew the score. “I think they should ban him, but if I was Liverpool I would keep him forever. But just don’t bite. Score the goals.”

Just score the goals. You suspect they’d secretly all love to have him out there on centre court too, his worst excesses maybe corralled by the net, but the madness beguiling them, like McEnroe in the glory days.

They had been having a good old think about morality anyway, in SW19, after Superbrat himself came up with the idea of getting rid of umpires and line judges and allowing the players make their own calls.

Interestingly, he didn’t make the suggestion in the hope that sportsmanship would prevail. Quite the opposite; he was enthusiastic about new, intriguing opportunities for chicanery.

“If you thought the other guy was blatantly cheating, you could challenge it. Then the fans would boo him and people would get way more into it. It would be unbelievable for tennis, I promise you. You want a little edge,” concluded the man who once provided it. Football takes the edge for granted, until someone goes over.

McEnroe wasn’t keen on the Suarez comparisons, when it was put to him. “In all my days, I never did anything as crazy as that.”

But when he explored his own madness in his book Serious, McEnroe mentioned a couple of things that might help us with our Shreevesian verdicts.

A little perplexed at some of the tolerance of his own antics, he remembers hearing that Bjorn Borg once threw his racket, aged nine. He also heard that Borg’s father took it off him for six months and he never threw it again.

McEnroe quickly realised, when nobody took his racket, there was another scale in play here. “I noticed that the better I got, and the more money I made [for myself and for the events that were selling tickets and TV rights], the more that linesmen, umpires, referees, and tournament organisers had to put up with from me.”

Uruguay’s manager Óscar Tabárez scoffed at ‘cheap morality’ this week. Gordon Strachan was closer to the mark when he assured us morality was too expensive for football to consider. Not much point tying ourselves in knots, then, measuring up our outrage, when nobody’s buying.

What else might Shreevesy want to know? Of course; how much will we miss him?

Here we turn to McEnroe again, who has devised his own metric to assess the promise that lies in his cheats charter. “I guarantee you tennis would be 30% more interesting.”

Sounds about right.

A World Cup without Suarez might just be 30% less.

Early days but signs are promising

The early days at Wimbledon usually belong to plucky Brits. And so it is this year, as a man presented himself on a tennis court, in broad daylight, having been told what to do by a woman.

More than that, the woman wasn’t his mother, this time. We’ve seen that one with Jimmy Connors too and nowadays Denis Istomin.

Incredibly, unlike world No 50 Mikhail Kukushkin, the other current top 100 player to chance such a shocking arrangement, the woman wasn’t even his wife. Naturally, this development was a lot to digest for some among a skittish people who dissolve into helpless mirth if a ball becomes lodged in the net.

Veronica Wade presumed Andy Murray was “messing with everyone” when he named Amélie Mauresmo as his coach. Fred Stolle thought it was “a joke”.

Ordinarily, Mauresmo might be feeling the pressure, but having been called a man through her career for hitting the ball hard, maybe a fuss about her being a women is a pleasant change.

If a French woman has moved things along in the struggle, back home there was a setback, with the departure of the much heralded Helena Costa from Clermont Foot, before a ball has been kicked.

Yet here too, there seems to have been some pluck, as Costa declined to be window dressing while others pulled the strings. There are a few high-profile male coaches in work who can’t claim that much.

Finding root of moral decline

Once a World Cup staple; there is disappointingly little amusement to be had at the expense of Americans these days. They’ve even imported Ian Darke to commentate on their matches, so there are no PK rejections and infield attritionals and overtime head gains.

At least reliable, conservative polemicist Ann Coulter popped up to tell us that “any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay” and that “no American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer”.

That is more like the kind of thing we are looking for, even if she is only saying it for effect.

Of course, there would be more scope for derision if so many of us hadn’t spent last Sunday evening writing off the World Cup as a spectacle, after Kilkenny took the foot off the pedal in Tullamore.

Not that there isn’t a time and place for sportupmanship, but surely we know, by now, the true sign, maybe cause, of this nation’s moral decline. In that regard, we must look to our own great polemicist Dunphy, who successfully diverted the Suarez biting spotlight into a glare at the gouging, stamping and rooting commonplace in rugby.

Heroes & villains


Bjorn Borg: Best Borg story from Serious; 5-5 in the third set, McEnroe going ape, Borg beckons him up to the net. “Oh, God , what’s he going to do? Is he going to tell me I’m the biggest jerk of all time?” But Borg puts an arm on his shoulder and says: ‘It’s OK. Just relax. It’s a great game.” Alas, a gesture probably not replicated very often among World Cup centre halves.


Corporate hypocrites: Any companies shunning Suarez after bite three are simply cashing in their PR chips.

Daniele De Rossi: Only started hitting easy targets when it was too late for Italy.

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