Spectator sport

I love this Pep-mania, but don’t forget Klopp

21 April 2018

9:00 AM

21 April 2018

9:00 AM

Fittingly, it took a dire performance from a dismal and dreary United against the worst team in the Premier League to push Guardiola’s magnificent project over the line. And fittingly, too, Mourinho greeted it with one his most awful displays: lashing out at his players and painfully recalling his own record of title wins as well as his defeat of City. It marked a new low for José’s gracelessness and that’s quite a crowded field.

There’s nothing not to admire about Pep: from his golf swing to his ability to fill a grey rollneck to the fact that he liked to shoot the breeze over lunch with Johan Cruyff at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli restaurant in Barcelona (quite a surfeit of excellence, but you wouldn’t half like to be there). Oh and he has also produced a sublime football team, the best we have ever seen. Probably.

But amid all this Pep-mania, don’t forget that other great foreign manager working in England — Jürgen Klopp, King of the Kop, and not a man to let the opportunity for some massive overexcitement ever go to waste. Klopp deserves a special place not just in the hearts of the red half of Merseyside, but of anyone who likes to see the English game flourish.

Not only has he guided Liverpool to the semis of the world’s premier club competition, but he has done it with heroic performances from two players considered superfluous at rival clubs. Take a bow James Milner, formerly of Man City, and ex-Gunner Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. What a pity Milner seems adamant he’s not available for the World Cup. The Ox must have made a case for being in Gareth Southgate’s starting line-up in Russia — which is quite a turnaround for someone mocked by one of our leading sportswriters as ‘the ultimate premier mediocre player’. Harsh words and not a bit true.

As an exercise in getting England’s aspiring cricket players ready for two Test series this summer, the first round of county championship matches was a farce yet again. April is the daftest month for preparing future international players — pudding pitches that make stroke play a lottery and give swing and seam bowlers a towering advantage. James Harris took nine for 48 in Middlesex’s win over Northants at Lord’s; only slightly fewer than he took for the county in the whole of last season.

For real gut-busting excitement you need the Indian Premier League: too big, too rich, too brash. Cars, tyres, cement, phones and everything else that makes the modern world work are all pouring in big money. Plus they have Virat, MSD, all the Aussie legends, the Afghan upstarts and the biffing Brits. Look on and admire… and when it is done we put on our whites and play on the Downs and the Dales, but never pretend we can match the IPL, because it has gone and done what the Premier League set out to do in football — just done it better and faster.

Team spirit of the year was at the Commonwealth Games when England’s girls won netball gold. A brilliant photo of the victory pile-on summed up what it meant —and how often do you get netball on the front of the Daily Telegraph and on spreads in the Daily Mail and the Times? The event was not diluted by the Commonwealth Games factor — all the top teams were there, so it was effectively the Olympics and the World Championships as well. Women of all ages have been taking up netball, and the best result would be for women and girls to realise the brilliance of team sports. We are cricket world champions, Olympic hockey champions and now Commonwealth netball champions. So much more fun than pulling on some overpriced leggings and heading for the gym. Being part of a team increases enjoyment tenfold.


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