The Tour Championship’s new format: Engaging or Enraging?

As a racing enthusiast, the PGA Tour’s new system for their series finale has encouraged me to take a closer look at the world of golf.

For those unfamiliar, the Tour Championship is now staggered to reward those who have performed to their best at crucial points during the season. The leader of the season-long FedEx Cup, which dishes out points depending on the strength and necessity of the tournament, starts at the top of the leaderboard while the chasing pack have to close over the course of the four days.

This ensures it is more transparent as to who has claimed victory. Last season, Tiger Woods, before his emotional Masters triumph, claimed the tournament win at East Lake to crown an incredible comeback. However, for those watching without guidance, he had not triumphed in the overall FedEx Cup. He had too many points to make up on eventual winner Justin Rose, who had finished in a share of fourth at this particular event.

The new format does away with confusion. If you are at the top of the East Lake leaderboard at the end of the week, you have won both the tournament and the FedEx Cup. No need for calculators to tally cumulative points and determine whether victory is enough given so-and-so is in fifth place.

As such, Justin Thomas, the FedEx Cup’s leader, begins the week at -10 and holds a two shot advantage from the off. The impetus on those behind is immediately to chase, which should, in theory make things more exciting. Second place begins at -8, third at -7, and so on until sixth position. Those between six and ten in the standings will start at -4, 11-15 at -3, 16-20 at -2, 21-25 at -1 and 26-30 at even par, just as they would an ordinary week. Only the top 30 qualify for a position in the field at East Lake and those who have snuck in must work even harder for the $15 million (yes, 15 million) prize money for the champion.

The format works like a handicap would in racing, which enthrals me immediately. It’s a slightly crooked handicap: for example, Brooks Koepka, the no.1 player in the world, starts in third with only three shots to make up, whereas, in a handicapper’s paradise, he’d be at the bottom of the pyramid having to forge his way up.

Koepka’s position in the standings raises two issues. The first being that the likes of Charles Howell III and Jason Kokrak, who just about qualified and must open their first rounds at level par, are almost out of the equation for victory from the beginning. With the greatest of respect, it is doubtful they can make up seven shots on the world’s current best, let alone any number of shots on 25 of the 30-strong field.

Psychologically, there is a negative impact on those who between 26th and 30th in the FedEx standings. Last year, though they would have been up against it to claim overall victory, the journey to do so would have felt less daunting, with a simple, overall triumph being all they could do to get close, or, with luck falling their way, win the Cup themselves. This year, the tax of closing ten shots may appear insurmountable from the very first tee.

The second problem with Koepka’s position is that he has been indisputably golf’s best player of the year and yet he is only third. He has won three times, twice on tour alongside his major triumph in the PGA. Thomas, atop the standings, has won just once, that being this weekend at the BMW Championship.

Once again, the uninitiated can only be baffled by this bizarre arrangement. The BMW is a prestigious tournament, but no major and it is the only title Thomas has claimed in the 2018/19 season. Yet, because it is a FedEx Cup playoff event, the points awarded are far greater than in a regular season event, or even a major title, in order to encourage competition for the final few spots in the field and to continue form throughout the year.

Nevertheless, there is an awkward skew and the likes of Matt Kuchar and Rory Mcilroy, who have played admirably and consistently since the beginning of the year, find themselves adrift of Patrick Reed, who has only won one event, like Thomas, in the playoffs, and Patrick Cantlay, whose runner-up finish to Thomas promoted him to second in the FedEx Cup. This is clearly unfair and the playoffs, at least, don’t seem necessary.

This alone does not diminish the Tour Championship’s format, however, although the aforementioned psychological effects are even more intriguing when it comes to scoring. Some players thrive upon protecting leads: Thomas, for instance, has won seven of the ten tournaments he has won when holding a lead going into the final round. Others, meanwhile, enjoy the thrill of the chase, hunting down those boasting a lead by playing aggressive golf.

If you are one of those at -1 or -2, say, you have to go out and attack pins, wherever they are positioned, from the outset in order to claw back the artificial deficit. If this does not suit your game, or if you make an early mistake, you can almost be ruled out from the very start, which potentially lowers the competition before it has even really begun.

Alternatively, those from -5 upwards may consider approaching the opening stages more conservatively in the knowledge that they have been blessed with an advantage. Again, this could work negatively for someone like Rory Mcilroy, who is at his best when asserting from the outset.

As long as Thomas does not get away too quickly, the handicap-esque format could prove a hugely exciting watch. It could, however, lead to a spread-eagled field and drama involving only a handful of players. It is a grand idea, though and I hope for the PGA’s sake that it is a success.

Sports Personality: Is a rename needed and why I feel for Chris Froome

The BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award has once more courted controversy despite not doing a whole lot wrong. Notwithstanding a couple of errors on the night (cutting Helen Rollason award winner Billy Monger short during his speech to make way for Baddiel and Skinner to wail their way through Three Lion was tactless, so too was ignoring the tragic death of trainer Richard Woollacott), the evening celebrated a fabulous year in style and crowned a deserving winner in Geraint Thomas.

In fairness, the other five nominees all had claims to the title but Thomas’ Tour De France victory, having supported both Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins for so long, was fittingly rewarded and recognised by those who voted. However, for Froome, who outwardly supported a vote for Thomas on his Twitter account, it must have been an internally harrowing evening.

In bare numbers, the voting public has never done justice to Froome’s achievements. He has won four Tour de France’s, only four men in history have won more. That’s twice as many as Thomas and Wiggins put together. Yet that pair each have a SPOTY trophy in their cabinets. Froome has never even featured in the top three.

Both Wiggins and Thomas have an immediate likeability factor and have endeared themselves to a wider public than Froome has. This may seem harsh and Froome has never done anything to harm his personal image. Drug taking accusations may well have put paid to his chances and he is unlucky insofar as those that have dogged Wiggins in recent years came after he’d already won the award. Then again, they didn’t stop Mo Farah last year.

Froome would be a deserving winner if he were to ever take the prize. Saying that, how does one come to deserve the SPOTY award?

There has been a debate, certainly over the last decade, as to what SPOTY actually commemorates. In 2009 and 2010, victories for Ryan Giggs and Sir AP McCoy were wins for longevity, celebrating two stellar careers. However, in their respective years Giggs wasn’t even the best performer at Manchester United and McCoy’s 195 winners were fewer than in ten of his twenty seasons as champion. He won the Grand National yes and to the public who are less knowledgeable about racing, this is probably seen as the pinnacle. Nevertheless, McCoy did not win because he excelled himself more than usual.

Andy Murray has won the award three times in recent years but won no majors in 2015 when taking it for the second time. He is, however, a personality and an increasingly cherished character in our sporting world. Such is the name of the award, that you can hardly baulk at his haul.

Therefore, is there a merit to a renaming of the BBC’s sporting showpiece? Sportsperson of the Year is broad enough that there would be no required criteria but success, whether sustained or sensational. There would be no drama about the winner lacking persona or that they win in a year they shouldn’t have.

Similarly, do away with the shortlist. Those who genuinely care enough to vote seriously will know enough about the past twelve months’ action to make up their minds. All the shortlist did this year was cut two thoroughly deserving sportsmen from the line-up in Tyson Fury and Ronnie O’Sullivan. Both have achieved  their goals late in the calendar and so recency bias could have aided them unfairly but the show itself is there to remind the audience of what has been and gone.

It is an excellent award and the roll of honour is an outstanding one, a testament to British sport. Let’s hope the BBC ensure it stays that way. Fingers crossed for Froome and let’s hope there’s a racing nominee in twelve months time (Bryony Frost anyone?).

Superheroes vs Superegos: The tale of the 2018 Ryder Cup

On paper, Le Golf National was to be a grand triumph for the invading Americans, suavely showing up in their Aviator shades and smooth navy blazers. They played host to a Tiger Woods back to his peak, Brooks Koepka, a dual major winner, the world number one Dustin Johnson and reigning Masters champion and Captain America Patrick Reed. Throw in Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth from elsewhere in the OWGR top 10 and this was a side brimming with not just talent but swagger as well.

Yet the Europeans did not just beat them but banished them from Paris with tails firmly between legs, exposing the previously invisible cracks in their glistening armour. Since their defeat, Reed has criticised his teammates and captain Jim Furyk, Woods has admitted to not showing up (not for the first time at a Ryder Cup) and an inquest be demanded by a fiercely expectant American media.

So where do the problems lie exactly? It cannot be the ability of the personnel but attitude certainly seemed to be an issue. Was it Jim Furyk’s captaincy? Or were Europe just too darn good?

The latter should be addressed first. Thomas Bjorn got things spot on from the afternoon session of day one. All twelve members of his playing staff got an opportunity and he was rewarded with an exceptional display in the foursomes. Pairing Francesco Molinari, a player with a sketchy record in past Ryder Cups, and Tommy Fleetwood, a rookie having his first taste of the team event, was bold but paid off with aplomb. They won all four matches together, sparking a love-in for the duo on social media. In turn, Molinari won his singles match to be the first European ever to win all five matches. He hadn’t won any of his first six.

Bjorn’s captain’s picks worked wonders too. Sergio Garcia has had a wretched season but became Europe’s all-time leading points scorer with victory over Fowler in the singles. Henrik Stenson won all three of the matches he played, Paul Casey managed a highly impressive half with player of the year Koepka on the Sunday and Ian Poulter lived up to his perennial role of postman by defeating the best player in the world in Johnson.

Compare that to the American picks. Only Tony Finau managed any points at all. He was brilliant throughout and annihilated the undefeated Fleetwood in the singles. Woods, Phil Mickelson and DeChambeau, however, did not bring home a single point between them. Every member of the European team, meanwhile, secured at least a point.

This is not necessarily Jim Furyk’s fault. There’d have been outrage if he’d ignored a seemingly rejuvenated Tiger and DeChambeau cemented a deserved place after back-to-back victories in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Mickelson was a risk at 47 years of age, having slipped well below his usual standards recently but with ten editions of the Ryder Cup under his belt, it would have been equally as bold to have left him at home.

There are only two errors that I can pin to Furyk. The first came when he switched up the groups on the Friday afternoon having been close to a whitewash in the morning. Instead of keeping the victorious Koepka and Finau he brought in the truly disastrous combo of Mickelson and DeChambeau who went seven down by the turn in their game. Similarly, it is apparent with hindsight that dropping Woods and Reed, who had done battle with the dream team of Molinari and Fleetwood and lost narrowly, may have dented the confidence of both. Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson failed to fire when called upon as replacements.

I would say that Furyk got it spot on in the singles. For most of the final day the US were projected to lose by a much smaller margin than the 17 1/2- 10 1/2 they succumbed to. Thomas, Finau and Simpson beat arguably Europe’s strongest trio in Rory Mcilroy, Fleetwood and Justin Rose. As soon as it became apparent that Europe were doing enough in the later matches, however, the US completely lost their way.

Unusually for such a patriotic nation, they appeared to lose their pride. Instead of forging on tenaciously in defeat, the likes of DeChambeau, Fowler and Watson let their standards slip far below the usual. DeChambeau was in control of his match against Alex Noren for the majority of the afternoon yet fell to defeat on the final hole. Fowler could easily have prevented defeat against an ailing Garcia but went in the water at both the 15th and 16th holes.

That is the second issue with Furyk’s leadership. He didn’t unite the egos. The likes of Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Fowler are exempted from this as they are reliable types and unlikely to have fallen out with members of their own team. However, Reed and DeChambeau are fiery and Woods may have reached the summit again at the wrong time.

While Ian Poulter, Rory Mcilroy and Paul Casey are outspoken in their own time, they never fail to unite when Europe calls them. On the contrary, other than Thomas and Finau, no American can go back with his head held high.

The entire European team became superheroes in the eyes of those who had the privilege to spectate. The same cannot be said of the US.

Their group of superegos was miles ahead on paper but as far behind in reality.

Sarriball, Montpellier and Chelsea’s rule of two: The enigma of Stamford Bridge

I had the misfortune of watching West Ham and Chelsea draw in the least memorable stalemate so far this season. It was, however, thought provoking and led me to question Chelsea as a concept as much as a club.

Why is it, that they cannot settle on a long-term manager despite sustained success? How can they go from runaway champions one season to missing out on the Champions League the year after? Perhaps, more pressingly, how do they expect to win a league title with Olivier Giroud leading the line?

Alvaro Morata has not fired on all cylinders since his arrival from Juventus and Giroud does have a moment of brilliance in him every twenty games or so. However, barring Montpellier’s astonishing title victory in France in 2012, a club side featuring the big Frenchman has not mounted a damaging assault on the top.

His way of playing as a centre-forward is not conducive to thirty-eight game football. It can work wonders in the odd game and he links up play significantly better than many players of his type. It even suits Chelsea’s new obsession with Sarriball and passmaster Jorginho. Yet, ultimately, he relies on consistent service, an old fashioned striking bully who silently demands more goals than his teammates.

France managed to avoid this problem by fielding so many alternatives that they virtually bypassed Giroud entirely. I must make it clear that I do not dislike Giroud this fervently as a footballer. It does strike me though, that Chelsea have enough options either side to replicate France if they were bold enough.

Against West Ham, Chelsea played so centrally, trying to intricately work their way through the lines before inevitably losing out to a bruising Hammers tackle on the edge of the box. Only in the last ten minutes did Willian receive some amount of freedom to express down the wings and this was when Chelsea were at their most effective all game. In the first half, when Giroud was on, any time the ball went wide it either went immediately back whence it came or aimlessly into the middle hoping that Giroud would outmuscle his man without support.

He succeeded on some occasions but not regularly enough nor effectively enough and West Ham quickly came up with a plan to shield goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski without too much alteration to their strategy . This, in turn, highlights a problem with the fabled “Sarriball.”

It is almost too similar to tiki-taka to be distinguished. There is a midfield fulcrum, Jorginho, who is allowed as many touches as the opposition combined and can play a ten yard pass with his eyes closed. There are wingers who can carry the ball at will and full-backs and other assorted playmakers who can be called upon when required. Even N’Golo Kante now darts into the box without restraint.

It sounds a lot like Manchester City, right? The difference? Every City player looks like they want to score, all the time. Chelsea’s XI still seem a little tentative or would prefer to simply create than to poach. They don’t possess the intensity of thirst that the likes of Sterling, Sane and the Silvas perform upon. Theirs is quenched merely by helping and playing a part. There is no I in team but every team relies on selfish individuals now and again.

Against West Ham, Chelsea toiled tirelessly but lacked the willingness to sacrifice positional organisation for greater chances to score. Indeed, Sunday’s game at the Olympic Stadium was not the only one in which Chelsea failed to switch through the gears. It took them until the final twenty minutes to break down Bournemouth and they were 1-0 down at home to Cardiff with just ten minutes left of the first period.

Their lack of raw, uninhibited ruthlessness is likely why Chelsea have become the top 6’s yoyo club. One season, they’re brilliant, a new manager able to unleash the best out of his players once the confidence starts to roll. As soon as the honeymoon period finishes, however, it seems the playing staff lose the will to extend the success, content in the knowledge that a league title delivered is job done. That false sense of accomplishment led to Chelsea finishing a combined 14 places off the top in the two seasons following their Premier League titles.

Like Mourinho and Conte before him, Sarri has taken the reins, admittedly with fewer days in which to get things organised, and got Chelsea’s mojo back. But it isn’t as simple as replenishing the evaporated swagger of old. Sarriball, while flowery and easy on the eye, is not a system of itself, certainly not something to be relied on to deliver a consistent stream of trophies. He needs to create another Stamford Bridge identity, like Mourinho’s punishing counter attacks or Conte’s three-at-the-back.

The Blues’ blues have been replaced by a spot of Sarri sunshine for now though caution is best heeded. Even if Chelsea go on to win their third consecutive alternate-year, odd-numbered title, that would be just the beginning for the chainsmoking Italian and his staff. To quote Alex Turner, “Don’t believe the hype.”

Believe in success, sustainability and Sarri.

2018/19 Season Preview

Yes, I am aware it started yesterday (TOP OF THE LEAGUE!!!). However, I don’t think one game should alter the credibility of these predictions. It’ll take at least a weekend before they start to look ridiculous.

By way of introduction, here is my prediction of what the final table will be in nine months time:

1. Manchester City
2. Liverpool
3. Tottenham
4. Arsenal
5. Manchester United
6. Chelsea
7. Wolves
8. West Ham
9. Everton
10. Crystal Palace
11. Fulham
12. Leicester
13. Southampton
14. Newcastle
15. Bournemouth
16. Burnley
17. Brighton
18. Watford
19. Cardiff
20. Huddersfield

The Summer Transfer Window recently behind us, the top six, naturally, take the opening spotlight. As naturally, it is Manchester City who take the premier spot in the middle after their implausible successes of last season. 100 points, 103 goals, a 19-point winning margin and if anything, they’ve simply got stronger over the off-season. Riyad Mahrez, a much-maligned signing on social media due to the wealth of attackers already enrolled on City’s books, could prove a shrewd acquisition, more of a match-winner than Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva with enough flair to get fans off their seats. Let’s be honest, City didn’t need anyone and in spite of Liverpool’s impressive transfer business, I can’t see anyone catching up with them.

That said the Premier League has become notoriously difficult to defend. The last three defending champions have finished tenth, twelfth and fifth and Manchester United were the last team to go back-to-back in 2009. Liverpool look placed to go closest. Their goalkeeping issue should be sorted with Alisson having initially broken the world record fee for a goalkeeper before Chelsea gazumped them late on. Naby Keita, Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri may all improve the squad in their respexctive positions but they may just leak too many goals again to usurp City.

While Liverpool have fired their way into closest contention via their transfer dealings, the same cannot be said of Tottenham, who became the first team in the history of the transfer window to not sign a single player. That said, they’ve also kept the key personnel. Harry Kane will fire again as he always does but though Spurs don’t look like title winners, a top four berth has been under lock and key for the last few seasons.
The other spot in the top four is up for grabs. There could be a surprise in Unai Emery’s Arsenal. His managerial career has been at its most fruitful when in the role of underdog, a position he finds himself in at the Emirates. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang preparing for his first full season, having scored ten in just thirteen opportunities in the second half of last season, Arsenal could be poised to leave the previous few “banter era” seasons behind them. Manchester United’s dire pre-season and humiliating deadline day could be signs of what is ahead. If they don’t start well, Mourinho may be out the door by Christmas and the post-Fergie blues could be set to return in force.

I have nothing against Maurizio Sarri by the way, nor the fact that Eden Hazard has stayed and promising midfielders Jorginho and Kovacic have been brought in. However, their record purchase, Kepa the keeper, is very young and will have to adapt to life in England very quickly. With a similar profile to David De Gea, a little caution and patience may go a long way. Sarri may rebuild Chelsea successfully but it might take longer than one season.

The rest of the division is fascinating to call. All of Everton, West Ham and Leicester have spent lavishly over the summer and yet find themselves in as competitive a race for Europe as ever. That has been aided by the promotion of Wolves and Fulham, whose business has been as extraordinary financially, the latter having become the first promoted club to spend over £100 million. However, it is the former I’m backing to climb into the final European spot. Ruben Neves was possibly the best player to ever grace the Championship. He became known for his stunning long-range efforts lasts season and will feel as at home now that countrymen Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho have joined up with the squad. Throw in experienced marksman Raul Jimenez on loan from Benfica and Wolves have quality from front to back.

West Ham and Everton were both subjects of fan protest last season and though eighth and ninth may not satiate their infamously demanding fanbases, the hierarchy at both clubs are off the naught step for now. Napoli’s Felipe Anderson and Barcelona’s Yerry Mina are the most intriguing incomings in London and on Merseyside respectively.

Fulham have not only spent big but kept hold of the vital components, Ryan Sessegnon and Tom Cairney in particular. They were arguable the best footballing side in the second tier after the turn of the calendar year and the likes of Jean-Michel Seri and Andre Schurrle have the potential to be incredible signings. Their spot in the top half may be snatched away by Roy Hodgson’s Crystal Palace, however, who, after the worst start in Premier League history, showed form that would have taken them into Europe had it been shown across all 38 games. If Wilfried Zaha shines, it will likely be his last season in a Palace shirt but his form will be key to their finishing position this.

Leicester’s loss of Mahrez might prove vital in important mid-table clashes and they may fall back into the bottom half as a result while the rest are all under threat of relegation. I predict a fall from grace for Burnley as if they remain in the Europa League, the balancing act is never easy and Sean Dyche worked miracles with a side who were still very goal shy last season. They must remain robust at the back if they’re to avoid the dogfight while Southampton should have had too much quality to be in the trouble they were at the back end of last season. Danny Ings may be the striker they need to fire them back up the table.

Mike Ashley’s purchase of House of Fraser has Newcastle fans wondering why the same cannot be spent on their club as football business was poor for yet another summer. Rafa Benitez can only do so much though Bournemouth will pull their usual jokers act, pretending at some point mid-season that they’re in danger of the drop before Howe and his merry men pull safely enough clear. Brighton were fortunate that so many opponents were so poor last season as it meant they were safe long before the otherwise might have been. I can’t see them avoiding a battle this season but Watford may be in even greater trouble. Gerard Deulofeu may be a great signing from Barcelona but they’ve been stationary since Marco Silva’s departure and Javi Gracia is at a crossroads. On one side is comfortable safety but the other, wider path shows relegation.

Cardiff and Neil Warnock will entertain even if their football does not but we might only receive them for a season while Huddersfield and David Wagner have been enjoyable companions too but their stay looks seriously endangered in a stronger Premier League than last season.

None of this will happen, of course. That’s the charm of the Premier League, it’s unpredictability and as a Manchester United fan myself, I can’t wait to hopefully be proven very wrong indeed.

The Weekend in Review: Molinari and Mesut make the headlines

Credit where credit is due. Francesco Molinari fully deserved to win the Open. Mesut Ozil is a sublimely talented footballer.

However, the events involving the two aforementioned have come under serious media scrutiny over a pulsating weekend of sporting action. ( A quick word on the exciting Sea Of Class, who’s Irish Oaks victory hinted that she could well follow in her sire, Sea The Stars’, footsteps.)

I’ll start with the Open Championship. It was an incredible final day, as never have I remembered so many different names being in contention. At the start, the American triumvirate of Xander Schauffele, Kevin Kisner and the defending champion, Jordan Spieth, led the field by two. One by one they surrendered shots, allowing the chasing pack to close. Rory Mcilroy, having started five shots back, briefly led will Englishmen Justin Rose and Eddie Pepperell, who would have harboured merely pipe dreams at the beginning of the day’s play, started to look dangerous from within the warmth of the clubhouse.

More Americans, indeed nine in the top sixteen finishers, begun to challenge, yet all seemed to forfeit them at the crucial time. Kevin Chappell and Tony Finau were always blessing the upper echelons of the leaderboard but lacked the cutting edge. Then, there was Tiger.

Most sporting fans my age should discard him as a glorious has-been. He has not won a major for ten years and had been absent from the PGA Tour for three years prior to his comeback this season. Putting his golfing achievements aside, Woods’ media profile has taken two massive knocks, firstly when falling from public grace after an infidelity scandal landed him on the front pages rather than the back and secondly when, last year, he was charged with drink-driving while he was still supposedly in recuperation from surgery.

Somehow, Woods retains an infallibly popular edge. Carnoustie wanted him to win. America wanted him to. In fact, probably everyone outside of Italy wished in part that it was he, not the brilliant Molinari, who took the lead with a birdie at the last. Myself included.

The fifteenth Woods major has become an entity of its own right. He had fourteen at the age of 32. No one could have predicted that his tally would be unchanged a decade on.

It is great for the game of golf that he is back, not least because it could give rise to the support of a whole new generation of players. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, aside from being best friends off the course as well as superb technicians on it, are likeable professionals who deserve as much credit and following as Woods. The likes of Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick are excellent players, flying the English flag as passionately as any footballer, cricketer or rugby player. But while Tiger has been out of the game, golf has struggled to attract the attention of wider public imagination. That may now change.

I must dedicate a section to the genius of Molinari over the Carnoustie weekend. On a course set up to punish the most fractional errors, particularly on the Sunday, the Italian was unmoved and focused as if in a trance. He didn’t drop a single shot in his final thirty-seven holes. Just over two rounds went by without Carnoustie landing a blow despite packing the fieriest of punches.

Eight birdies in that time was a decent return as well and there is no doubt he saved the Open from becoming one of those rare farcical majors which no one seemingly wants to win. When it needed a champion, Francesco came to the fore, two late birdies plundered after an admirably consistent thirteen successive pars to open his card. What’s more, he’s currently the best golfer on the planet finishing in the top two in five of his last six events, winning three of those. It’s phenomenal form and he can look forward to the final major of the year, the PGA Championship, full of confidence.


The more pressing political sports headline occurred over Sunday night when Mesut Ozil provided us with an powerful and deeply intriguing statement:

“I am German when we win but I am an immigrant when we lose.”

That is to paraphrase the Arsenal playmaker’s words but the central essence remains regardless. Put simply, he accused not just German fans but German football as a whole of racism and disrespect towards and his national service.

Critics of Ozil point towards the unfortunate photo taken during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the UK. He is seen smiling with his arms round President Erdogan’s shoulders. Given he represents a country that has condemned the President’s actions within his own borders, it was not the wisest move especially as Erdogan rolled out the photos during his campaign for re-election which was duly successful.

The bandwagon was given ample ammunition should Ozil fail to deliver during the World Cup though despite creating plenty of chances against South Korea in Germany’s must win encounter, he largely failed to fire as his country flopped to the bottom of Group F.

He is only 29 but time has been called on his international career based on the hate campaign which followed Germany’s exit. There were twenty-two other members of the squad but Ozil was highlighted as the sacrificial scapegoat and the death threats soon arrived. Completely uncalled for and completely unnecessary but such is the cut-throat nature of modern sport in which everything is magnified by TV’s microscope that someone was always likely to lash out.

What Ozil likely has up his sleeve, however, is that this probably isn’t a knee-jerk reaction based purely on the events of the previous month. This may well have been brewing for a long time.

I refer back to his core statement. It is not specific to certain moments in which Germany won or lost. It is sweeping, signifying the power of glory and the threat of dejection. Ozil suggests that every defeat comes with its own personal dangers. Every game is fraught not just with the outcome of win or lose but with the emotional reward of love or hate, relief or reprimand.

Football fans will argue that Ozil does himself no favours by appearing lackadaisical on the pitch. But as a footballer you can’t do everything and relentless pressing is not Ozil’s game nor is it really his job. At Arsenal he has the speedy energy of Aubameyang and Lacazette to work the opposition defence off the ball while he can rely on the tireless Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka in less advanced areas of the pitch. With Germany at the World Cup he had the likes of Timo Werner and Marco Reus in front of him with Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos behind, all of whom play in positions in which it pays to work harder.

We mustn’t forget just how superb Mesut Ozil can be on his day. He broke the record for the fastest player to fifty assists in the Premier League and provided the most assists in every season he played at Real Madrid. He is matched by a very select few when it comes to an eye for a pass and appreciation of his talent may only come in retrospect.

In Germany, opinion on Ozil is divided. I am firmly on his side. I believe that this is a common feeling international footballers may share when it comes to representing their country, especially when it is not the country of their birth or when they are of a minority faith within it. Ozil is both and he may have spoken some of the most important words of his career. They hint at an issue that spans a significantly greater distance than Mesut Ozil’s international career.

They hint at institutionalised racism in German and worldwide football. I don’t think any single member of the German Football Association is a racist nor even that they deliberately hold any objectionable views (the same goes for our own Football Association, though the Rooney Rule debate is one for another day). However, put them all together and they will favour the German born boy of German born parents. In England, we will favour the English born boy of English born parents;

Ozil’s words have given football the hint. Football must take it.

The $100 Million Copy: Is Ed Sheeran guilty of plagiarism?

$100 million is a lot of money. But is it really the fair cost of plagiarism?

It is the amount Ed Sheeran is being sued for after Structured Asset Sales (they’ll be known as SAS for the remainder of this article because who has the time?), part owners of Marvin Gaye’s classic hit Let’s Get It On, alleged that Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud was too similar to Gaye’s song as to be mere coincidence.

Firstly, in discussing Sheeran himself, I must note that I have nothing against his music. Its fine. Inoffensive, ineffectual. Fine.

The perfect background music in fact. My brother, who knows significantly more about music than I do, claims that, while he actively dislikes Sheeran’s releases, he has struck the perfect balance in terms of making music that appeals to all generations.

Thinking Out Loud is one such song, a lyrical ballad in millennial form, a slow jam en vogue. It is, however, incredibly similar to Gaye’s song virtually throughout.

The most notably similar aspect is beat and tempo, although SAS claim that Sheeran’s track copies well, everything: “melody, rhythms, harmonies, drums, bass line, backing chorus, tempo, syncopation and looping.”


Its a fairly damning condemnation of Sheeran’s songwriting. Supposedly, nothing about his song is original in comparison to Gaye’s and if, truly, all of those aspects have been snatched directly from the original work, Sheeran should surely have to pay a price.

$100 million, though? Absolutely not.

Many artists now claim that it is almost impossible to write an entirely original track. There is too much musical and cultural history that a modern writer must tread on someone’s toes to find the perfect chord sequence, the ideal melody.

Indeed, the reliance on technology, more specifically, synthetic beats, within 21st Century pop, hip-hop, grime even rock, has led to what Gavin Haynes called, in a 2016 Guardian article, the “Millennial Whoop,” i.e. the hook that artists rely on to draw people in. I, as much as it pains me to admit it (not really), am one of those cynical, secretly middle-aged grouches who think it all sounds the same.

Of course, there is nuance. Artistic design ensures some of it is better than others. But deep down, in the murky, unseen hollow within, they rely upon the same fundamental elements required to make a song a hit.

Ultimately, this brings us back to Gaye’s song. Soul is one of Blues’ most successful and sultry descendants and Let’s Get It On is no exception to its family’s trait. Smooth, silky, funky and most crucially, a massive worldwide bestseller, why shouldn’t Sheeran be influenced by it?

Influence is a key word here. Every band or artist is influenced by someone. It is impossible not to be. If you are not influenced by any musician or their work, there can be no desire to write one’s own music as you have nothing to work with or base it on.

Sheeran did not intend to write a modern day Let’s Get It On. His song is altogether different in tone. Gaye’s tune is one of the sexiest ever written. Sheeran’s, however, is nothing of the sort, intended instead to be a crisp, romantic ode to a loved one.

It may have been seen differently in the 1970s but that simply hits upon another factor in defence of Sheeran. If Gaye were to release Let’s Get It On now, it would spark little to no controversy. In the seventies, however, the overt, sexually suggestive lyrics garnered shock among its premiere audience.

Ed Sheeran, meanwhile, is one of the least controversial men in the world. Thinking Out Loud would barely be less controversial but for these claims of plagiarism.

That is not to say that this will not happen again, nor even that it hasn’t happened before. Sheeran has already been sued for this song by the family of one of Let’s get It On’s songwriters (that case was dropped in 2017) and has had to settle a $20 million lawsuit with writers Thomas Leonard and Martin Harrington after it was found that another of his hit singles, Photograph, was unerringly similar to atheir ditty, entitled Amazing, sung by X Factor winner Matt Cardle.

Those two songs are proverbial “peas in a pod,” so twinned musically that even I’d assume it couldn’t be incidental. Perhaps, the difference between Leonard and Harrington’s issue and SAS’, is that their song was a commercial flop while Sheeran’s, inevitably, stormed the charts.

SAS have no support in that respect. Let’s Get It On is one of the most instantly recognisable songs of all time so must they moan and groan that another successful song is crafted from the same mould?

I’m not suggesting Sheeran could not have rewritten it more subtly given his own outstanding musical pedigree. But I hardly think its stolen. If it were appropriated word for word from an unknown scribe’s hands and published as if purely his own, then $100 million would not be far fetched.

Yet I doubt Sheeran would refute the likeness. However, his success since 2014 is such that he could release a cover of Agadoo and people would go barmy (see Taylor Swift’s stomach-lurchingly, eyeball-scratchingly terrible rendition of Earth Wind and Fire’s September for reference).

Thinking Out Loud and Let’s Get It On are step-siblings that don’t quite see eye-to-eye. The success of the former is not down to its comparability to the latter. People don’t listen to it because they crave a pseudo shot of Gaye. They listen to it because its Ed Sheeran. Make of that what you will.