x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A sporting year for scandal and 'tiki-taka' but few heroes

In a World Cup year, football hardly needed any help, yet other sports seemed be doing their best to implode leaving the Beautiful Game to conquer all.

It was the year of tiki-taka. The year it finally conquered all. The year... what's that? What do you mean, you don't know what tiki-taka is? OK, more on that later.

It was the year that the world of sport almost self-destructed. The year sport news moved from the back pages to the front. The year sport stories resembled Hollywood scandals. In a World Cup year, football hardly needed any help, yet other sports seemed be doing their best to implode leaving the Beautiful Game to conquer all.

The Winter Olympics in Vancouver were soured by the death of the Georgian bobsledder Nodar Kumaritashvili hours before the opening ceremony, while the farce in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi cast a serious doubt over future events. And cricket's story of the year remains, by a long way, spot-fixing allegations against Pakistan.

Tiger Woods committed, if not career suicide on the scale of Mel Gibson, then at least serious self-harm. His fall from grace trumped Europe's Ryder Cup win as golf's story of the year. But there was also a tail of redemption: American football's New Orleans Saints lifted the Lombardi Trophy for the first time, and lifted the spirits of a city still ravaged by the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

In tennis, expected breakthroughs for Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic did not materialise, leaving Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer to dominate yet another year. Wimbledon offered the longest match in history when the American 23rd seed Hohn Isner defeated the French qualifier Nicolas Mahut in an epic encounter that lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days. But really, nobody wants to watch 11 hours of anything, never mind tennis.

All this would be fine, if football too wasn't trying to devour itself.

John Terry abdicated his captaincy of the England team over an extra-marital affair that took place five years ago. At Liverpool, the long-running takeover soap opera had more twists and turns than an episode of Lost, which incidentally is what the team did consistently throughout 2010. The reign of George Gillet and Bill Hicks came to ignominious end in October thanks to a combination of spectacular incompetence, fan power and an 11th-hour bid by New England Sporting Ventures. Hicks, delaying the inevitable, called the takeover an "epic swindle". Given the financial squeeze he put on the club, Alanis Morissette may consider changing the lyrics of her famous song Ironic.

Wayne Rooney, like a young Luke Skywalker confronting Darth Vader, took on Sir Alex Ferguson in a game of brinkmanship at Manchester United. A resolution was reached and both sides claimed victory, with Rooney winning a fabulous new contract and a warm reception from the club's fans.

The World Cup in South Africa was generally duller than a Woody Allen film, with traditional powers like England, Italy and France exiting in embarrassing circumstances. "We feel like a small footballing nation and it hurts," the French captain Patrice Evra said. Papua New Guinea, San Marino and Djibouti should be insulted.

And so back to tiki-taka: the irreverent name given to the style of football, perfected by Barcelona, which relies on short, incisive passing and long periods of possession, starving the other team of the ball. When performed effectively, the system is unbeatable and a joy to watch. Sadly, that did not happen at the World Cup. Still, along with the swashbuckling young Germans, Spain provided the best football of the tournament and beat Holland in the final with an Andres Iniesta finish cooler than Steve McQueen.

Tiki-taka would eventually have its day. Namely, November 29. Inspired by Xavi, Iniesta and Lionel Messi, Barcelona destroyed its hated rival Real Madrid 5-0 in what is already being hailed as one of football's greatest exhibitions. It was sweet revenge against the Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, whose Inter Milan had defeated Barca on the way to winning the Champions League in May.

The naming of host cities for the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) World Cups, meanwhile, was a cliffhanger, with England and Australia crying foul.

The end of the year saw the eyes of the sporting world turn to the UAE. Abu Dhabi held its second Formula One Grand Prix, and for the first time four drivers were still in the hunt on the final day. After a race that had fewer overtakings than a trip from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, the 23-year-old German Sebastian Vettel became the youngest F1 champion, while Red Bull walked away with the constructors' title.

Finally in December, the World Club Championship came to the capital, where Inter Milan's triumph was still not enough to save manager Rafa Benitez's job. Less than a month after his greatest ever humiliation to tiki-taka, that would have put a smile on Mourinho's face.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae