Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Dancing In The Dark

Andy Murray came through last night's fourth round match but little Stan pushed him all the way. In the end, he won the fifth set and went through to the quarter-final after ten o'clock.

The late finish was facilitated by the new Centre Court roof, erected ostensibly to allow play to continue through the rain, but with a happy side-effect of allowing matches to continue beyond the twilight hours.

The first time the roof had been deployed in anger, you could be forgiven for thinking that the All England Club had invented electricity for the fuss made by the BBC.

Prime time tennis bumping Eastenders to BBC2 would not be possible without the twin assets of that roof and the most credible British player for a generation. But oh my lord, they did go on about it.
There were countless shots of the dark London skyline, and the working class people on Henman Hill. There were crow barred ad-libbed platitudes: "The city has shut up shop for the night, but here on Centre Court we're still very much open for business." There were incredulous statements of the obvious: "It's dark on the hill, but no-one's leaving. Who'd have thought we'd see the day..."

These unprecedented circumstances didn't stop John McEnroe criticising people for leaving early. Empty seats at the death were condemned as disgraceful, but I doubt he even knows where Leeds is, much less the train timetable for getting there after a day at the Tennis. I dare say he got back to his hotel with time to spare for a G&T before getting his head down.

At the end of the action, there was the most brilliantly sycophantic leading question I've ever heard as Gary Richardson stuffed his microphone under Andy Murray's nose: "What about playing under the roof and the atmosphere generally? It was FANtastic wasn't it?" What the hell was he expecting him to say?

The thing is that pretty much every other tournament in the world has a floodlit show court. Believe it or not, evening tennis is not that big a deal outside the gilded lawns of Wimbledon, but that wasn't going to stop the BBC from milking it.

Incidentally, I'm not sure what is added to the coverage by the super slow-motion replays of Judy Murray punching the air, face contorted with aggression and adrenaline. Frankly, it's terrifying - she looks like a ginger cyborg.

See you in the Quarters.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Monday, 29 June 2009

Wimbledon Tales

As Andy Murray broke the serve of Stanislas Wawrinka in the second set to bring himself right back into today’s fourth round match, a small red flash at the bottom of the screen told us everything we needed to know about how Britain has taken young Murray to its collective heart… “Eastenders is on BBC Two.”

When you are relegating Ricky and Bianca to the second channel, you know you’ve arrived. As with most sporting events, the television coverage is what fascinates me most and the BBC have really thickened the gloss on their presentation.

There are ultra-slow motion replays of feet skipping across the court that almost audibly scream at you to buy an HD television, there are all the red-button shenanigans that make the four remaining analogue TV watchers shudder with fear, there are the first rate roster of presenters – from the fragrant Sue Barker to the grizzled John Inverdale. And then there are the pundits.

The BBC have not scrimped on their pundit pulling this year. As well as the impeccable John McEnroe, still sharing his time between the beeb and the American broadcaster ABC, there is the return of Tim Henman after last year’s largely forgettable debut. On the radio they have Michael Stich, alpha-maling Simon Mayo around the studio and flattening his Teutonic vowels across the action.

Post match discussion appears to be conducted on some exotic roof garden high above the union flag-clad morons, and, despite all the logical reasons ranged against it, continues to involve Pat Cash.

Cash, even at the age of 44, is still persisting with that ridiculous cross dangling from his left ear. I suppose to get rid of it now would be an admission of guilt and, since he shed his trademark chequered headband, he’s probably worried that no-one would recognise him without the Bryan Adams hair cut and the Limahl ear ring.

On Five Live, they are dragging way too much mileage from a shoddy feature called Tarango and Cash – see what they’ve done there? This involves Jeff Tarango and Pat Cash generally being loud and obnoxious and talking to the public whilst I put on a CD. Quite a stroke of luck for Tarango though – best known for forfeiting a match at Wimbledon for continuous, unrelenting and sustained swearing, you wouldn’t have thought that would have been the perfect CV for a career in broadcasting. But Pat Cash is a champion, he’s already on the payroll, and a clever-sounding name trumps content. Ladies and gentlemen, Tarango and Cash.

Greg Rusedski, who is still maintaining this charade of being British despite now being allowed to speak. When he was playing he could get away with it as we could suspend reality and take him to our bosom, but as soon as he opens his mouth I just want to throw an ice skate at him. To be honest, it’s hard not to like him. Knocking Rusedski is like shooting a baby deer. When he’s asked his opinion, he looks like a kid who has been given a lolly. With his toothy grin and big eyes, he seems to have no other thought in his head.

With all these former champions in the commentary box, and Tim Henman, I find myself annoyed by the inferior players who have the nerve to give their opinion. It’s curious that I am quite happy to listen to the opinions of a journalist on the exploits of top sportsmen, and yet I have such contempt for so-called expert pundits whose expertise never got beyond being ranked inside the top 200 in the world.

When I hear Andrew Castle suggest what might be going through Andy Murray’s head in a pressure situation, I do wonder what the hell he knows about pressure situations. The closest he ever came to a pressure situation was trying to get out of the way of Pete Sampras’ serves in the first round at Wimbledon.

As I finish this blog, Murray is two sets to one up and looking strong.

“Panorama is on BBC Two.”

Sunday, 21 June 2009

British Grand Prix

For reasons that are not particularly important, I found myself on the road during the build-up to today's Grand Prix. When this has happened in the past, I have harnessed the power of Sky Plus and observed radio silence until I have got myself up to date. Today, however, as we were in the car for a couple of hours, I decided to listen to the pre-race nonsense and the race commentary on BBC Radio Five Live.

As it's our home Grand Prix, the BBC had pulled out all the stops and sent Eleanor Oldroyd onto the pit lane, from where she would anchor the afternoon's broadcast. I like Oldroyd – she has experience and ability, and is very well regarded – but she sounded a little overwhelmed as she mingled with the drivers and the celebrities, and presumably avoided Martin Brundle.

I lost count of the times she told us about the accreditation she had which allowed her access to "the paddock, the garages, the very grid itself." I appreciate that this is her first time down there, but when compared to the insouciant Brundle, she came over as a bit of a giddy schoolgirl.

The odd thing about Five Live’s coverage is that they are also paying lip service to other sports so, unlike the television coverage, there were occasional distracting trips to Lord’s to catch up on the women’s cricket.

When the race started, David Croft did a very good job of relating the action and keeping the audience updated with what was going on. When you consider the fantastic amount of data swirling across the screen, not to mention the action itself, it is no mean feat to keep a listener informed. I was impressed.

As was predicted during yesterday's qualifying session, this was a race dominated by Red Bull. More specifically, their young driver Sebastian Vettel bestrode the weekend with a complete performance that invited comparisons with Michael Schumacher.

Starting from pole position, he got to turn one ahead of Rubens Barrichello and led all the way to the chequered flag. His teammate Mark Webber finished second, fifteen seconds back, although he might have given Vettel more of a challenge had he not been held up by Barrichello for the first twenty laps. By the end of the race, a further twenty-six seconds separated Webber from Barrichello in third place.

Jenson Button started poorly and found himself stuck behind the heavier car of Jarno Trulli. He eventually pulled himself to a sixth pace finish but was never in contention. Despite Barrichello’s performance, there has definitely been a transfer of dominant status from Brawn to Red Bull this weekend. What will be interesting now will be Brawn’s ability to react, and, if that fails, whether or not Button has done enough in the first half of the season to hold off the challenge of Vettel.

McLaren's bad run continued as Lewis Hamilton could only finish sixteenth, and Heikki Kovalainen failed to get to the end of the race. The BBC seemed desperate to make the point that, despite the relative failure of the two British drivers, the Silverstone crowd were indefatigable. Praise was given for the standing ovation afforded to the brilliant Vettel as he completed his lap of honour.

I find this more than a little patronising, albeit unsurprising from the BBC. They expect British fans to support British sportspeople to the total exclusion of any appreciation of sporting excellence. This belief is betrayed across their sporting broadcasting – from World Cup football, where half-time of a Spain-Italy game is seen as a good opportunity to have a report from England’s training camp; to the woefully jingoistic Olympic coverage where British medal performances are looped endlessly across the network, and other astounding performances are ignored because they have no impact on our sceptred isle.

Much discussion also, across the BBC, of the imminent departure of the British Grand Prix from the historical site of Silverstone. Next year’s race is due to happen at Donington, but Ecclestone yesterday revealed that Silverstone was on stand-by, should the extensive (and expensive) renovations at Donington fail to be completed on time. The fact that he has acknowledged this so publicly suggests that his faith in Donington is on the wane. Last year, when he made the decision to move to Donington, he said very clearly that there would be no British Grand Prix if Donington weren’t ready on time.

This is a perfect example of the fluid relationship that Formula One’s bosses have with decisions. There are no such things as definites in this game. That’s why I don’t think there will be a breakaway championship next year. The teams have clearly decided that they want a bigger share of the money and are flexing their muscles, but ultimately, everyone will be better off together.

The British Grand Prix this year was a pretty one-sided affair, but from my perspective, it was a novelty. Despite my enjoyment of the radio experience, I do feel somewhat empty without getting my fix of Brundle doorstepping Chief Engineers and Heads of State. In fact, by the end of the race, I had made it to a television and enjoyed the usual back-slapping of the post-race interviews.

I observed with some interest Rubens Barrichello grinning from beneath a goatee beard. Am I the only one that thinks this gives him a disturbing similarity to David Brent?

Saturday, 20 June 2009

British Grand Prix Qualifying

The politics of this sport are starting to get out of hand – “meltdown” appears to be the word de jour. Over the last few weeks, it has seemed that every time the teams try to make a conciliatory gesture towards the FIA, its President Max Mosley dug his heels in even deeper and refused to budge. Finally this week, the teams called his bluff in spectacular style.

I wonder if Mosley takes this approach when negotiating with sado-masochistic prostitutes. "I will be paying £1000 for the full whipping service but there will be absolutely no Nazi symbolism. You prostitutes are perfectly at liberty to pursue your own Nazi sex games, but, if you are participating in my dungeon, then there are rules to which you must adhere." Very strict rules I presume.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that, after Williams defected from the official line of the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA) line and signed up for 2010, the other teams followed, albeit with the condition that they might withdraw if they were unhappy with the final regulations.

Of course this meant that they had not really signed up at all, and Mosley insisted that all teams give an unconditional assurance that they will race next year by Friday – coincidentally the first day of practice at Silverstone.

In response, five of the most militant teams – McLaren, Renault, Brawn, Toyota and BMW – initially went over Mosley's head and wrote to the FIA Senate (I swear I'm not making this up), asking them to calm down their man. Last weekend, the President of Ferrari Luca di Montezemolo ostentatiously appeared at Le Mans last weekend, acting as official starter of the Twenty-Four Hour Race and, by his presence, dropping a broad hint that there could be life beyond F1 for Ferrari.

Mosley reiterated his position on the £40m budget-cap, offering a conciliatory “stepping-stone” budget of £86m in 2010. On Thursday, in response to this lack of movement, FOTA dropped their bombshell by announcing their plans to set up their own rival series of races. Eight teams – all of the current grid except Force India and Williams (who have signed up unconditionally for 2010) – have withdrawn their conditional entries, and are now moving forward with their separatist plans.

The general feeling within the sport appears to be that the warring factions will eventually be brought together, but plenty of opportunities for compromise have already been spurned, and the opinion is forming that only Bernie Ecclestone has the influence to bring things together.

Ignoring the imminent meltdown of their sport, the BBC kicked off with some expensively shot VT of Jake Humphrey and Eddie Jordan in a hot air balloon, overflying Silverstone. Jordan let it slip that his kids had gone to nearby Stowe school – I’ll bet they loved him there. I mean, he’s not real money is he? The don’t really like his sort – he’s Irish, mouthy, oikish and steadfastly refuses to call himself Edward. They probably blame his kids for the Swine Flu outbreak.

Jake has had a busy week – as well as his hot air balloon experience, he also took Jenson Button around the Silverstone track in a 4x4. Like an excited child, Jake managed to put the car onto the grass, much to Button’s evident terror. I don’t know how much the BBC are paying for their F1 coverage, but I hope their insurance covers the claim that would follow their presenter driving the World Championship leader into a tyre wall.

Finally, we got a microphone under the nose of Bernie Ecclestone. The man gives the most bizarre interview. He greets every question with a combination of straight-bat bemusement, and surreal pauses. Eventually he warmed up, with a little help from a fulminating Eddie Jordan, insisting that Bernie should “bang heads together.”

For what its worth, I reckon he will do just that. Money talks, and he’s the one that hands it out.

On the track, Brundle seemed to hint that Brawn could be on the rack this weekend – the feeling was that the other teams had done a lot of hard work to make up the gap over the last few weeks and the challenge to their dominance would be strong.

The evidence of the qualifying session seemed to back that up as the Brawn cars struggled in the early sessions, whilst Red Bull in particular, looked very strong. We are told they are using a new nose cone and rear diffuser. Whatever it was, it did the trick, as Sebastian Vettel won his second consecutive pole position.

Rubens Barrichello kept up the Brawn end though by finishing on the front row. Mark Webber took the other Red Bull to third, but Jenson Button could only manage sixth. The Williams cars, the scabs of the paddock, did very well too, challenging in each session and, in the end, Nakajima and Rosberg finished fifth and seventh respectively.

At the other end of the grid, Lewis Hamilton once again failed to get out of the first qualifying session. He was a little unlucky as an Adrian Sutil crash effectively curtailed the session whilst he was on his qualifying lap, but he was in that position because his earlier effort had been so poor. His team mate Heikki Kovalainen could only manage thirteenth on the grid, so the conclusion is not that Hamilton has suddenly become a bad driver, but that the McLaren has suddenly become a bad car. On board camera footage showed both drivers struggling to keep the car on the road through corners.

Ferrari were still off the pace with Felipe Massa failing to make the top ten, and Kimi Raikkonen finishing ninth.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Mogga’s Coming Home

Yesterday the Premiership and Football League released their fixture lists for next season. Every year, the BBC and Sky Sport News go nuts for this administrative slice of data. It never ceases to amaze me how many hours can be wasted on the basic information of every team in the Premiership playing all the other teams.

“Champions Manchester United start the defence of their campaign against Birmingham.” How can this really be breaking news – especially when the even itself is in nine weeks’ time?

Meanwhile, in actual football news is the revalation that Tony Mowbray is to become the new manager of Celtic. It is a savage indictment of the Scottish Premier League that the man whose team finished bottom of the English Premier League last season, has been poached (at a fee of £2m, if reports are to be believed) to manage one of Scotland’s two biggest clubs.

Mowbray always comes across a nice enough chap but seems to be a grey cardigan of a man. Having played for Celtic, and had a little success as manager of Hibs, he is well regarded in the Scottish game.

I’m sure he’ll do a grand job, but when Celtic take a man who couldn’t even stir his team to finish above Newcastle last season, and install him as their man of the moment, I think they are admitting that maybe their league is a bit crap.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Purple Ronnie

Today, Real Madrid had an £80m offer for Cristiano Ronaldo accepted by Manchester United. United fans seem to have accepted this with equanimity and, after a couple of Summers of feverish speculation, I think we are all rather pleased it is over with.

Most of the bemusement seems to have come from the fact that, in the middle of a global recession, and a week after spending £56m on Kack, Real Madrid appear to have found this much loose change behind the cushions of the settee. Although they have a reputation of being the government’s football club, well-earned during the Franco era, and quietly maintained in more recent years, there is no scenario where £136m is easy to find.

Real make more money than Manchester United from their global television rights – whereas the Premiership negotiate collectively and give Portsmouth the same money as Chelsea, Real can negotiate their own terms and leave Getafe and Oviedo to fight for table scraps. The Spanish club also rest easy in the knowledge that any bank would balk at the prospect of foreclosing on a Real Madrid loan – putting the King’s club out of business would be their final act as a going concern.

Footballing finance is in the news over here too – Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe has recently written to the Premier League expressing concerns about the financial sustainability of the game. The correct answer to this, of course, is, "Gerry who?" The idea of the Government questioning anyone over their fiscal affairs is like King Herod launching a campaign for more women to breast feed their children.

It will certainly be interesting to see how much of that fee Alex Ferguson is allowed to spend. Manchester United’s owners are £500m in debt, and their American bankers will have no compunction in closing the club down as soon as they start missing payments.

But, back to Real, and specifically, how are they going to recoup their £80m? They will sell a hell of a lot of shirts in the Far East, but there’s still a huge Ronnie-revenue gap. Here are my top five ideas for bridging that gap in the club shop.

1.“Broken Ronnie Weebles.” Based on the popular child’s toy, these weebles, emblazoned with the spotty face of Real’s new star, will wobble and ALWAYS fall down.

2.“Cristiano’s Plasma Hair Gel.” For that Just Been Born look.

3.A branded range of Clearasil with a big picture of Don Ronaldo on the side. Slogan: “Because he’s a spotty twat. Just like you.”

4.“Rocket Ronnies.” A series of fireworks which leave people open-mouthed in wonder at their pyrotechnic beauty. But cost a fortune, and smell odd.

5.A series of “Where’s Ronnie?” books. Based on the popular “Where’s Wally?” books, but rather than searching for a bobble-hatted speccy goon in a busy cityscape, these books will be a series of still photographs taken at recent Champions’ League knockout games and Portugal international matches. The challenge will be to find the winger who has, as is his custom, gone missing.

* Thanks to everyone for their contributions on Facebook today, especially to Wilkes, Lucy, Dobbie and Brear.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Turkish Grand Prix

The fuss made about Turn Eight was extraordinary. The facts are that it is a seven second hurl around a constant turn which puts the driver’s neck under pressure of 5g and is physically the toughest corner in the year. Obviously, that’s hard work, but from the BBC coverage, you would be forgiven for thinking that the track was designed by Darth Vader. Following yesterday’s gym-based neck exercises with Lewis Hamilton, today the evil corner was invoked in just about every pre-race interview. The angle of drivers’ helmets as they went round was analysed at some length.

Out in the pit lane, Jake was a little skittish as this is an anticlockwise course meaning that, like an American tourist on Oxford Street, he was almost killed on several occasions.

He quickly handed over to Brundle for his pit walk. Seeking to add a little housewife’s favourite glamour, he took Coulthard with him this week and, sure enough, the big man seemed to open a few doors with no-one refusing to speak to them this week. Even Naomi Campbell was persuaded to give her half-baked, monosyllabic, ignorant opinion.

Jenson Button gave the appearance of being incredibly relaxed. It is extraordinary really that any of the drivers are willing to chat with media and VIPs so soon before the race, but Button was (literally) chilling in his ice vest and laughing and joking – the relaxed air of a winner.

I would have expected the BBC to have had Eddie Jordan interviewing the Turkish Prime Minister and asking him pointed questions about the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Sadly though, Eddie sycophantic interview of the week didn’t happen today.

At the start, Rubens Barrichello got moving about as fast as my grandmother and lost about ten places, whilst Sebastian Vettel went wide on the exit of turn ten during the first lap to give Jenson Button the lead. Button subsequently started to set record laps and it seemed that another procession was on the cards.

After the first pit stops, however, Vettel came back at him, lapping three quarters of a second faster, catching him, and then crawling over the back end of Button’s Brawn but he couldn’t get past and, when he pitted for a second time, he left the race wide open for Button.

The real drama of the race came with Jenson’s team mate, Barrichello. Having had such a terrible start, he dropped to thirteenth then went kamikaze, bumping Sutil and falling to seventeenth, then bumping Piquet and having to go into the pits for a new front wing. I would have been quite happy to watch Barrichello all day rampaging his way around the back markers. Eventually, as he tussled for fourteenth place, the fact that he had lost seventh gear became too much to bear, and he discreetly withdrew.

Also there was a great tussle down the field between Lewis Hamilton and Nelson Piquet. Nelsinho, as Jake insists on calling him is having a very bad season. Apart from his burdensome name, he has crashed more times than he’s finished, he’s continuously performed badly in qualifying and he has scored no points. Compared to team mate Fernando Alonso’s eleven points, he is coming under increasing pressure to perform.

To make matters worse, he works for Flavio Briatore – the Renault team boss is not afraid to criticise his drivers in public, and not averse to sacking them half way through a season. Having been overtaken by Hamilton, he ultimately finished sixteenth of eighteen finishers. It’s hard to see where the first point will come from.

The next race is in two weeks at Silverstone. Button will be hoping to add to the six Grands Prix he has under his belt this year by winning his home race. Expect there to be much speculation over the Donington future of the race, and, I am hoping, the return to form of Eddie Jordan.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Turkish GP Qualifying

Since Monte Carlo, the teams have been trying to show some solidarity against Max Mosley. Their exclusive little club, FOTA, had universally rallied around Ferrari’s militant position in opposition to Mosley’s proposed budget cap. Unfortunately, the fa├žade crumbled when Frank Williams broke ranks and signed up for the 2010 season, in direct opposition to the agreed FOTA line.

I realise that FOTA is hardly the National Union of Mineworkers, but a scab is a scab, and Williams were promptly chucked out of FOTA. The damage was done though, and the other teams went on to sign up for 2010, albeit conditional on the negotiations which still continue.

Mosley has received ten applications from new teams to compete under new budget cap rules so, in theory at least, a championship could go ahead next year without the FOTA teams. But it would be a weak championship for being without all the big names of the grid. The danger then comes from a rival series where the FOTA teams set up an alternative championship. This is a very real possibility as this struggle for power at the top of F1 unfolds.

As the teams reconvened in Turkey, Flavio Briatore spoke in an uncharacteristically conciliatory tone. “We do not want a war,” said the Renault boss, “we want governance, the F1 Commission, a Concorde Agreement and stability. We want cost-cutting.”

Back on the track, Felipe Massa had already conceded the world championships before we reached Turkey. Admitting that Brawn were uncatchable may well be acknowledging the truth, but it would probably have been helpful to Ferrari team morale if he had kept his mouth shut, at least until after the half way point of the season. The irony of his timing was that all the pundits seemed to think the Turkish track suited Ferrari, and that they would have a good weekend.

For qualifying, Jake and the boys were safely back in pit lane, having been rescued from their Monte Carlo yacht exile. Although there was a feature with Jake in the gym being beasted by a supremely fit Lewis Hamilton.

Eddie Jordan seemed supremely confident that all would be well with the wrangling at the top of the sport, whilst Coulthard wanted to move the conversation on, and talk about how brilliant Jenson Button is.

When Q1 got started, the supremely fit Lewis Hamilton failed to get in the top fifteen for the second race in a row. The second consecutive race that he has comprehensively failed to even give himself a chance of points. I know he’s the World Champion, but he is driving around like a nervous schoolgirl in qualifying. In fairness to him, his teammate Heikki Kovalainen only managed to qualify in fourteenth so the McLaren car is performing like one of their push chairs.

In the end, the session was dominated once again by Red Bull and Brawn. Their young stars Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button qualifying first and second respectively, with their older team mates Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber starting behind them.

By out-qualifying Button, Vettel has given himself an opportunity to really give the championship favourite a race. Turkey is a great track for racing, and I am looking forward to a good race tomorrow.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Trente Quinze

If the French have taught us anything, is that it is not necessary to have toilets which flush at service stations. If they have taught us a second thing, it is that language is a precious commodity, easily diluted, and to be guarded fiercely. Speaking as an avowed advocate of the apostrophe, and a slave to the semi-colon, I can respect their defence of their language.

This occurred to me yesterday as I was watching Andy Murray (English-speaking Scot) and Fernando Gonzalez (Spanish-speaking Chilean) playing in the French Open.

The lingua franca of world tennis is indisputably English. Press conferences are conducted in English, publicity materials are prepared in English, and all the players speak English (although often with a suspiciously American accent).

Specifically, if you were to watch an ATP tournament in Kazakhstan or Kuala Lumpur, all the scoring would be reported in English. No matter where you are in the world, and from wherever the umpire hails, he or she will continue to rattle out “fifteens” and “thirties” in whatever thick accent they may have, but always in English.

Except in France.

The most peculiar of the grand slam tournaments, the French Open has, throughout the years, thrown up far more surprise champions than the other three. Pete Sampras never won there, Roger Federer has never won there. The recent dominance of Rafa Nadal aside, there have also been several surprise winners in recent years – people who never managed to win elsewhere: Gaston Gaudio, Albert Costa, Carlos Moya, Gustavo Kuerten.

It is the only Grand Slam tournament played on the orange clay surface, which appears to make a huge difference to players’ ability to play their game. People who know more about this than I do tell me that the ball bounces higher which lessens the impact of more powerful players and big servers. When you see the players sliding around on it, it becomes apparent that it is certainly a different proposition.

Not only the surface, but it is also the language which marks out this tournament as different. In their usual way, the French have point blank refused to bend to the overwhelming influence of the English language, and the scores continue to be read from the chair in glorious francais.

I like the way the French do this – the Academie francais is the body which protects the language, feverishly condemning the anglicised invasion of words like weekend and email, and ensuring that all Hollywood films are dubbed rather than subtitled, lest French viewers should have their enjoyment spoiled by hearing the accursed and filthy English tongue.

And so, at the tennis, they continue to give the score in French and declare, “jeu, Murray,” or rather more pertinently, “jeu, Gonzalez,” at the end of each game. Rather splendidly, they use the word "egalite" for deuce. This conjures up revolutionary ideas of comradeship, and distracts attention from the fact that "deuce" is actually a French word.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Latest In The Hot Seat

The appointment of Carlo Ancelotti to the vacant manager’s position at Chelsea betrays Roman Abramovich’s single minded search for success in Europe.

To his credit, Ancelotti brings two Champions’ League victories as manager of Milan, but when you look beyond that, there is not a great deal else to recommend him.

He has managed the mighty Milan for eight seasons and, in all that time, has only won the Italian Championship once, and that was five years ago. Far from building a dynastic legacy at Milan, such as those of Ferguson or Wenger, he has simply allowed his team to grow old and failed miserably to bring in any younger talent. The honourable exception to this is the Brazilian Alex Pato, although the truth is that even that deal was brokered by their Brazilian “ambassador” Leonardo – the man who will now replace Ancelotti.

There are those in Italy who say he has just got out in time, the house of cards about to collapse. I, on the other hand, look at the fact that they finished third, fifth and fourth in the last three years, and suggest he’s a couple of years too late.

Let’s face it, Abramovich does not have a track record of allowing his managers to build a generation of players – six managers in his six years in charge is almost as unstable as Tottenham Hotspur – so his choice of Ancelotti is revealing. He has picked a man not for long term development but for short-term success in Europe.

Despite the fact Ancelotti’s Milan have not even reached a quarter-final in the two seasons since their 2007 Champions’ League victory, the implication is clear. Either he delivers in Europe, or he will be on his way.