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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019

Serie A stagnation, the Caribbean in Dublin and the wonder of Stevie G: the week's best sportswriting

Get the kettle on and enjoy this lot.

Sports Illustrated recreated an iconic Larry Bird cover this week ahead of March Madness.
Sports Illustrated recreated an iconic Larry Bird cover this week ahead of March Madness.

1. ”Twenty years ago AC Milan beat Barcelona 4-0 in a Champions League final in Athens. At the time, Italy’s premier football league, Serie A, was in its pomp, with Italian clubs winning the continent’s top club trophy six times in a 12-year period. International stars flocked to play in Italy, and top matches were broadcast around the globe. Now Milan is the only Italian survivor in the last 16 of the Champions League, compared with four German, four English, and three Spanish clubs still in the competition.

So why has Italian “calcio” dropped behind these other nations?”

BBC business journalist Bill Wilson examines the stagnation in Italian football. 

2. ”A man not suited to the city, he lives north of Dublin in the sleepy seaside town of Malahide while his wife and three children are based in London. It is the easy pace of Irish life, and an affinity in outlook, which gives Simmons a sense of belonging.

‘There’s a feeling of relaxation here and the Irish attitude of enjoying life to the full is similar to that in the Caribbean,’ said Simmons.”

Malahide is basically Kingston according Ireland cricket coach, Phil Simmons in this Alvin McCaig piece.

3. ”Gerrard was never really a general. Deep down, he’s always been a star. In 2009, he scored twice as Liverpool beat Real Madrid 4-0, prompting Zinedine Zidane to comment: “Is he the best in the world? He might not get the attention of Messi and Ronaldo, but yes, I think he just might be. If you don’t have a player like Steven Gerrard, who is the engine room, it can affect the whole team. When we were winning league titles and European Cups at Real, I always said Claude Makélélé was our most important player. There is no way myself, Figo, or Raúl would have been able to do what we did without Claude. The same goes for Liverpool and Gerrard.”

Zidane’s praise inadvertently betrayed that he actually knew very little about Gerrard. Sure, Gerrard ran more than most players and had a dynamic energy, but he was not the ‘engine room’ in the way that Makélélé was at Real Madrid. In fact, it’s difficult to think of a midfielder less like Gerrard than Makélélé.”

Ken Early wrote this great piece on the Liverpool skipper for Eight by Eight magazine, which was republished on the Guardian this week.  

4.  ”A firestorm ensued in late February when Rondo chose to stay in Los Angeles to celebrate his 28th birthday with friends and family rather than travel with the team to Sacramento to attend a game in which he wasn’t scheduled to play. Rondo’s commitment was doubted, his leadership questioned.”

Rajon Rondo is the Boston Celtic’s talisman. But all is not well this year. 

5. “I cannot vouch for the authenticity of all I am about to tell you. The incredible ordeal I endured, combined with the heat and a foolishly chosen mayonnaise-and-shrimp sandwich from a street vendor, addled my mind to a state from which I am only now recovering. But I remember that it began with my walking into the boss’s office, asking to go to the Olympics and walking out with the worst assignment in the history of journalism.

I was to see if it was possible to go to every single sport at the Olympics without a ticket, for under $2,000—hotel, meals, scalped tickets and bail money included. No reservations, no press credentials, no press buses. I was to see at least one competition in all 28 full-medal sports: archery, badminton, baseball, basketball, boxing, canoeing, cycling, diving, equestrian, fencing, held hockey, gymnastics, handball, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, shooting, soccer, swimming, synchronized swimming, table tennis, tennis, track and field (counts as one, dammit), volleyball, water polo, weightlifting, wrestling and yachting; plus the three demonstration sports: roller hockey, taekwondo and pelota. I was to do it in 13 days. I was to keep a diary as I went along, and take my own photographs to prove I did it. I was to go out of my mind.”

A personal favourite. In the week the in which Rick Reilly is phased out of full-time ESPN journalism, this Sports Illustrated piece on his Barcelona Olympics reminds us of the writer he was before the money got in the way. Pure gold. 

6. “Of these three great Barcelona players it is — perhaps unexpectedly — Xavi who stands out above all, an astonishingly relentless, unexpectedly definitive presence who, all things considered, has been the best player in the world for the last five years, and whose broader influence probably matches that of any player in any era.”

The Guardian’s Barney Ronay pays tribute to Xavi, after he produced another influential display as Barcelona knocked Man City out of the Champions League. 

7. “In the seasons that have followed, that rosy-cheeked kid in the baggy green shirt came to define the tournament. More Six Nations games than anyone else, more minutes played; most tries, most games as captain. No-one could lay a hand on him at the Stade de France that afternoon. No-one has been able to touch him since.”

Tom Fordyce is on form and his piece stands out among the many articles paying tribute to Brian O’Driscoll this week.

8. “And then we played a lot of baseball, because that’s what you played down South, was baseball. Basketball was really a sport that I fell in love with, but, you know, our ball didn’t bounce so it wasn’t really that exciting because we didn’t have enough money to buy that basketball that we always wanted, that big Voit basketball. We played with a sack that my mother had made, a brown ball out of cotton. She made this ball out of that, and we were supposed to take two bounces and make the pass or take the shot.”

If ever there was an article in which the headline reels you in, it’s this one — ‘Why I Thought About Murdering My NBA Coach (And Why I Didn’t Do It)’. 

Analysis: Ireland’s midfield holds the key to unlocking French defence

70 brilliant pictures of Brian O’Driscoll’s internationals on home soil>

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