You've had your time, Shane. Don't fight the dimming of the light…
23:07 GMT, 9 December 2012
Alan Mullery tells a story of his last appearance in an England shirt. It came several years after he retired from football, in a match abroad, for the press team. Mullery says he got roped in as a favour for a journalist friend, much against his better judgment. He was no longer at a professional level of fitness and wore glasses, which he had to keep on during the match. Prior to kick-off, he told his less-than-athletic team-mates that they would have to deal with any balls in the air.
Then it started to rain. Mullery had no choice but to play on, wiping his lenses with the back of a hand during lulls in the action. At which point, the opposition got a corner. As the ball swung in, a career spanning close to 800 games told Mullery that there was no way a single colleague had read the play well enough to clear. This was his ball, glasses or no glasses.
He rose, a class above the rest even in his dotage, won the header and the ball flew clear. Unfortunately, his spectacles travelled with equal ferocity in the opposite direction, leaving him blearily without vision. As the play moved upfield, there was Mullery, 35 caps and a former captain of England, on his hands and knees groping blindly in the mud in the penalty area.
Some comeback: Shane Warne drops a catch off Faf Du Plessis during his Big Bash return in Melbourne
Some England fans who had been passing were gathered behind the goal. ‘Look at that silly old sod,’ said one. ‘What does he think he’s doing’ Mullery never played football again. Not even for very good mates.
So Shane Warne should think carefully — very carefully — having last week declared his readiness to come out of retirement to help Australia regain the Ashes this summer.
The day after this grand pronouncement, Warne played his first game for Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League — Australia’s equivalent of the Indian Premier League — against Melbourne Renegades. /12/09/article-0-1665434C000005DC-952_306x423.jpg” width=”306″ height=”423″ alt=”Warne bowls” class=”blkBorder” />
Half the bowler he used to be: Warne's couple of overs suggest he's better off spending more time with Elizabeth Hurley than making a comeback for Australia during the Ashes series in England next summer
Warne, who is captain of the Stars, won the toss and elected to bat. It was pretty much all downhill from there. Chasing an underwhelming target of 167-5, the Renegades set about their rivals’ bowling, until Warne introduced himself in the seventh over. Seven balls, including a wide, and 19 runs later, he withdrew. It had not gone well.
One of the Big Bash gimmicks is that Warne, as a captain and local legend, is wired for sound and can talk to the commentators during play. Having been steadily milked for three balls, he announced prior to his fourth that facing batsman Aaron Finch was not a good sweeper. The result: six runs. From the following ball: six again. At the end of a sobering over, Warne retreated to mid-wicket where he promptly dropped a dolly catch from Faf du Plessis.
It was the 14th over before Warne felt confident enough to return to bowl. This time, he went for 22. When the Renegades won with 10 balls to spare, with that lousy sweeper Finch unbeaten on 111, Warne’s figures read: 2-0-41-0.
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Where did it all go wrong Martin O'Neill
Ordinary life on Wearside is O’Neill’s dream
The day Martin O’Neill arrived on Wearside, he set out his aims. ‘I hope I can help Sunderland to a very successful period,’ he said.
Ellis Short, the owner, clarified the terms of this success. ‘During his time at Aston Villa, Martin established the club firmly in the top 10 of the Premier League year-on-year,’ he said. ‘This is something we are striving to achieve at Sunderland.’
A year on, his club sit forlornly in the bottom three. Turns out, ordinary is not as easy as it looks. Mediocre is pretty damn difficult, actually, because there is a glass ceiling above but a bottomless pit below. It is almost impossible for O’Neill to overshoot at Sunderland, but very easy for him to fall short and tumble into oblivion.
As a Premier League manager, he has been cursed by positions at clubs who are big enough to enjoy significant levels of expectation, but not so big that they can challenge the established elite. He was better off at Leicester City where 10th truly was an achievement and a relegation battle came with the territory. At Aston Villa, and now Sunderland, he can take the club only so far and once the players know it, vital momentum is lost.
Villa’s owner, Randy Lerner, pulled the plug on O’Neill’s previous project, calculating that his outlay to take the club to sixth would have to be spent again to reach fourth and then repeated to challenge for the title. Lerner began selling to recoup instead and O’Neill’s resignation pre-empted the inevitable decline. At Sunderland, he has not even got that far. This is a big club but without big resources and players quickly comprehend the limits of ambition. If the club are coasting, then they coast, too. Form slips, and the easy mid-table life quickly becomes a struggle for survival.
O’Neill’s position is now under threat, which seems unfair as there is hardly a queue of better candidates hustling for the job. Against that, without major investment, sometimes only a change of manager provides fresh motivation. O’Neill arrived, his usual whirlwind, but this time, there was a governor on the accelerator.
Short’s hope for consistent top-10 finishes told the story. Nothing wrong with executive realism, but it harbours its own problems. How does the pre-season address go at a club who are aiming for 10th ‘You were ordinary last year, lads — keep it up.’
AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT…
Blackburn fans should be careful what they wish for
Bryan Gunn was a hero to the supporters of Norwich City. When he was appointed manager in January 2009, the reaction was euphoric. Gunn surrounded himself with other local heroes, Ian Crook and John Deehan, and won his first game against Barnsley 4-0. At the end of that season, however, Norwich lost three straight games and were relegated.
The next campaign began with a 7-1 home defeat by Colchester United. Gunn was sacked six days later. Paul Lambert, whose playing career had never brought him closer to Norwich than the 363 miles separating the city from Motherwell, then took over, winning successive promotions and surviving a first season in the Premier League. Be careful what you wish for.
Plenty to ponder: Henning Berg has endured a torrid start to life as Blackburn manager
Henning Berg was a legend at Blackburn Rovers, too. A member of the team who won the title under Kenny Dalglish, his appointment as successor to Steve Kean was a populist move by unpopular owners Venky’s and their preposterous Global Adviser, Shebby Singh. Berg’s track record in management hardly made him the stand-out candidate.
Yet he was welcomed after the hated Kean, and took charge of his first game on November 3. Blackburn Rovers began that day in fifth position, having fallen from third in the month since Kean quit. With local hero Berg in charge, they have sunk to 13th. Berg has taken six points from eight matches, with just a single win against Peterborough United, the bottom club. The lowest crowd at Ewood Park for 19 years saw a 4-1 home defeat by Cardiff City on Friday, giving Berg the worst start of a Blackburn manager in 34 years.
Yet fans countrywide still persist in believing that the ideal manager is a club stalwart with 500 appearances and history coursing through his veins. Here’s another novel idea, one that Blackburn are yet to try: get someone in who knows how to run a football club. Oh, and ditch the Global Adviser. He’s plainly an idiot.
Smiling again: Chelsea's Fernando Torres
week, it was only Nordsjaelland — now it is only Sunderland. People are
forgetting Fernando Torres looked like he could not score against any
opponent until Rafael Benitez turned up. This may say as much about a
self-absorbed player as it does about the methods of the interim
manager, but as the only real change is the presence of Benitez, credit
where it is due.
Buck stops at home for banned Bradford
Bradford City are to appeal against their expulsion from the FA Cup, for fielding an ineligible player in their second-round tie with Brentford. ‘The error was of an administrative, technical nature and not one to intentionally break competition rules,’ said a club statement. No matter.
Allow this, and ineligible players could appear in every tie, with the club blaming hapless administrative staff. Who can tell, with any certainty, a genuine mistake from an attempt to swing the lead The FA stance has to be black and white. It is the job of the club to get their house in order — the buck stops there.