x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

McIlroy remarks should encourage more to attack with verbal bayonet

Rory McIlroy's retort to the television pundit Jay Townsend following his criticism of the Northern Irishman and his caddie during the Irish Open is not only justified, but should be encouraged.

Rory McIlroy, right, and JP Fitzgerald, left, his caddie, endured a miserable time at the Irish Open earlier this week, prompting television pundit Jay Townsend to critcise the Northern Irishman on Twitter.
Rory McIlroy, right, and JP Fitzgerald, left, his caddie, endured a miserable time at the Irish Open earlier this week, prompting television pundit Jay Townsend to critcise the Northern Irishman on Twitter.

There is a popular myth that one is allowed to bait with impunity the guards outside Buckingham Palace, who must allegedly remain impassive to all forms of mockery, insults and general boorishness.

It is not true. Come too close, or push your luck too far, and the man in red is entitled to show you the business end of his bayonet and scream: "Stand clear of the Queen's Guard!"

He is also entitled, and probably more than willing, to use physical force.

On this issue, I am entirely on the guard's side - and not just because he is the one with the gun. Why should anyone have to put up with such nonsense from cheeky scamps and class clowns? It is only fair that he should be allowed to reassert the basic facts of the relationship, in this case: "Me trained killer with loaded rifle, you chubby tourist with camera."

And yet a similar myth appears to have sprung up around professional athletes, and particularly golfers.

Rory McIlroy caused a furore this week when he dared to show his verbal bayonet to the television pundit Jay Townsend, following a disappointing round at the Irish Open.

Townsend wrote on Twitter that McIlroy should get a new caddie, as JP Fitzgerald's course management was "shocking". He then wrote that McIlroy and Fitzgerald had displayed "some of the worst course management I have ever seen beyond under 10s boys' golf".

McIlroy snapped back: "Shut up. You're a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing."

This was shocking and wrong, according to many other pundits - every one of them, by complete coincidence, also an inferior golfer to McIlroy.

Clearly, I understand the logic that inferior athletes, or even non-athletes, must be allowed to criticise superior ones, otherwise the world of sport would be a very quiet one.

However, when that criticism is designed to goad, the athlete should be allowed to respond with whatever is in their arsenal - including the very reasonable point that, if pundits like Townsend know so much about golf, why were they not more successful at playing it?

Make no mistake, Townsend's comments were designed to goad. If he simply wanted to chat with golf fans, why include McIlroy's Twitter user name in his comment, ensuring the Northern Irishman would see it?

And, while McIlroy's course management was certainly poor, was it really worse than anything beyond boys' golf, or was Townsend deliberately overstating the case for maximum impact?

Like the guard outside Buckingham Palace, McIlroy had simply had enough and decided to reassert the basic facts: "Me major winner with PGA ranking of four, you former European Tour also-ran."

Frankly, I admire McIlroy, not only for defending himself and his caddie, but for actually engaging in a debate, albeit a rather short one, with a critic.

This stands him in contrast to his countryman Darren Clarke, who said this week that critics of his lengthy, alcohol-fuelled British Open celebrations should "talk about more important things" like the terrible events in Norway.

That argument is not only lame - there are always more "important" things to talk about than sport - but also, I believe, rather shameful. And yet he caused no furore whatsoever.

In golf, apparently, it is more noble to deflect criticism by pointing to teenage murder victims than to simply step forward and scream: "Stand clear of the world's fourth best golfer!"

Aguero remarks revolutionising the old boring football cliches

“I’m the Che Guevara of modern soccer."

As introductory statements go, Sergio Aguero’s bombshell upon joining Manchester City this week was a game changer.

Never again should a player be allowed to turn up and mumble the usual anodyne cliches about “dream come true” and “always followed this club as a boy”.

No, claiming to be the world’s most iconic Marxist revolutionary deploys a level of bombast which makes even Jose Mourinho’s “I am the Special One” claim seem rather tepid.

Exactly what being the Che Guevara of football entails remains shrouded in mystery. Hopefully it will involve playing in a beret (you may laugh, but didn’t the idea of playing in gloves once seem ridiculous?), travelling to all away games on a 500cc Norton motorcycle, and embarking upon a shocking voyage of discovery concerning the inequalities between rich and poor.

“How can it be that Shaun Wright-Philips, born into football aristocracy, luxuriates in a £200,000 Rolls-Royce Ghost while the hard-working immigrant Mario Balotelli must humiliate himself in a humble Maserati? This cannot be right ...”

Or perhaps he just wants to sell a lot of T-shirts and posters to people who know almost nothing about him. The world does not have many iconic revolutionaries, so other players should try to grab the best ones while they still can.

How about: I am the Nelson Mandela of football. Bit of trouble in my youth, rather quiet mid-career but flourished in my later years. (Recommended for: Lee Bowyer.)

I am the Vladimir Lenin of football. Bald. Had a tumultuous October but calmed down later. (Recommended for: Wayne Rooney).

I am the Malcolm X of football. Quiet a prickly character, rather unpopular with the American authorities. (Recommended for: Joey Barton.)

I am the Fidel Castro of football. Probably more famous for my beard than anything else. (Recommended for: Abel Xavier and Alexi Lalas in his playing days.)