GRACE AND GRACELESSENESS UNDER PRESSURE

The past week in world sport has presented leading players, coaches and teams in a fascinating array of lights and reminds us of why we react to the sporting performances with such emotion and passion.  Of particular interest has been the way a number of champions have handled the limelight, adversity and pressure and what this says about their humanity and the nature of “champions”.  Not all of it is admirable, but pleasingly, there have been some examples of sporting justice.

Exhibit A is Tiger Woods.  Enough words have been written about Woods’ misdemeanors without a further analysis.  The significant point for me is that Woods has been able to resume golf in one of the world’s most famous tournaments seemingly without any rustiness or nerves despite the enormous scrutiny of his every move.  Like Shane Warne, Woods seems to have an astonishing capacity to dissociate the professional from the personal sides of his life.

From a purely sporting perspective, this is the essence of a champion.  It is also the reason why Woods has received, in my view, unduly high levels of support from the crowds at Augusta this week.  It is only natural for ordinary folk to marvel at someone who can defy the sort of public pressure that would crush the rest of us.  Remarkable as this is and, granted, Woods has made all the right public noises about being repentant, it seems to me there is a disturbing level of shamelessness on display here.  If the absence of an appropriately awkward return to top-level golf by Woods and an equally hesitant crowd response wasn’t enough, the now infamous Nike advertisement summed it up.  Truly professional sport is adopting the cliché of “moving forward” with unseemly haste with what little opportunity there is for people to reflect on the faults of their sporting heroes already packaged up into another branding exercise.

Exhibit B is Lionel Messi. The Argentinian striker thrilled soccer fans around the world by scoring all four goals for Barcelona against Arsenal in the European Champions League Quarter Finals this week.  I profess to know little if anything about Messi as an individual and perhaps that in itself speaks volumes for a seemingly undemonstrative, humble champion, a refreshing sight in top level football these days.  That he plays at Barcelona, which, among the world’s leading football clubs, is one of the few that still seems to stick to worthy principles of nurturing its local talent and fostering youth rather than just cherry picking the best players that others have spent time and money developing, is, to me, a fitting match.  His performance during the week was a great one, happily untarnished by any controversy, and one to be savored for its pure skill and class.

Exhibit C is Sir Alex Ferguson. More than any of the array of star players that have graced the preposterously-named “Theatre of Dreams” (aka Old Trafford), long-term manager Sir Alex epitomizes Manchester United in the way Kevin Sheedy did at Essendon.  For all that he has achieved great things with the Red Devils, he remains to me one of the most graceless leaders in world sport.  This season, in which United have lost more than their usual quota of matches, has highlighted his churlishness as his post-match comments following losses have been, without exception, a litany of blame directed at referees, linesmen and opposition players.  His “typical Germans” tirade following United’s shock loss to Bayern Munich in which they had a man sent off and squandered a two goal advantage, was the worst of the lot.  There was no credit to the winners, no acknowledgment of any faults by his own team nor any tactical errors on his part.  Merely an outburst by a sore loser that sounded like it had been uttered by a spoilt five year old rather than an astute professional whose experience and achievements in the game once warranted someone to bestow on him a knighthood.

Exhibit D is St Kilda. Until the Saints hoist that elusive premiership cup aloft, they can’t really be given the “champion” tag, but Friday night’s win over Collingwood was a pretty special example of triumph in the face of adversity.  I have to admit that the “sporting justice” line plays a part in my reflection as well, as I have little liking for the current manifestation of Collingwood, the team, the organization and the personnel and was mightily pleased to see them lose a game that appeared theirs for the taking at half time.

Apart from the alleged “verbal outbursts” that are the subject of a formal complaint by St Kilda, Collingwood appeared to take an overly physical approach into the game, which St Kilda weathered well.  Their defensively-oriented game is not for the purists, but there is an unflappable method and poise about them that is impressive.  That it was strong enough to defy the intense pressure of the game and the potentially catastrophic injuries that they suffered speaks volumes about their resolve.  Based on the strength of will on show during the second half, it may even be that the Saints can remain a premiership contender with Riewoldt on the sidelines.  That would indeed by a champion performance.

Exhibit E is Geelong. The Cats’ win over Hawthorn on Easter Monday was also a very impressive display, again achieved under great pressure from a worthy opponent and in the face of physical adversity.  Unlike St Kilda, Geelong have genuinely earned champion status and their unflappable approach to overcoming a sizeable deficit was an outstanding example of self-belief and discipline.  Halfway through the final quarter Lance Franklin booted a trademark 55 metre goal from near the boundary line.  It put Hawthorn 2 goals ahead, a seemingly decisive response to Geelong which had grabbed the lead for the first time all day early in the quarter.  Geelong responded with the last three goals of the match and ended up winning with the “whip put away”.  Enough said.

About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships. After 30 September 2017, his mum is now officially his favourite person.

Comments

  1. Superb, Sam.

    I think the word “graceless” was invented with Alex Ferguson in mind. He is a shocker.

  2. Richard Naco says:

    Man Ure through and through – by word and deed.

  3. But remember how Sharkie would get ridiculed with his munificence in defeat?

  4. John Butler says:

    You’re on to something there Crio.

    Fickle bunch us sports fans.

  5. Richard Jones says:

    HE might be graceless old Sir of Old Trafford, but he gets the job done Daff.

    After accounting for the poncy crosstown, sky blue boys of Man City at the weekend, the mighty Man Yoo warriors are just the 1 EPL point behind Chelski. They couldn’t handle fellow Londoners Spurs which was a delight to me, I must say.

    And I’m not one of your recent jump-aboard the Red Devils’ bandwagon, either. Been following United since 1952, BEFORE the Munich air disaster.
    Saw them trounce Stoke City 5-zip at Old Trafford in Nov. 2008. The crowd chanting with audible obscenities makes Essendon (even Collingwood) supporters seem angelic.

  6. Daff wasn’t contested his skills, probably most remarkably with Aberdeen. But character?

  7. Richard Jones says:

    DON’T care, Crio.
    I don’t have to live with him, alongside him or even within spitting distance of him. I hear constant carping from our English family members who all support London-based teams. West Ham is one such. Spurs another favorite from a middle-aged English family member.

    Just as long as he shepherds Man U to yet another piece of silverware — and finishes above ChelSki and Arsenal, into the bargain — I’m not concerned about Sir’s (alleged) gracelessness, crassness or even downright boorishness.

    He’s not there to win popularity contests, and certainly not the good wishes of far flung antipodean critics.

  8. Different topic Richard.

Leave a Comment

*