The Last Word: Henry punches in the winner as world goes mad
Our crystal ball reveals that sleazy Tiger is a winner again but Rafa and Johnno are the big losers of 2010
Sunday 27 December 2009
Christmas is firmly behind us and we should all just be relieved that the Manchester City board aren't. This is quite plainly the time to look forward and with the blessed uncertainty of sport more uncertain than ever, that is no easy task.
Have the pursuits we love ever existed in such a state of flux? When the world's richest football club is in £700m of debt and the world's richest sportsman is in £300m of marital trouble, the answer is obvious.
These are unprecedented times in sport and the next 12 months could be critical to its upward progression. We need our heroes and heroines to reassert their magnificence and thrust their deeds into the headlines ahead of all the controversy. Yet as The Independent on Sunday's crystal ball will show, that reclamation will be anything but straightforward.
Liverpool crash out of the FA Cup at Reading. "There's still so much to play for," says Rafa Benitez. "Except the Champions' League, Carling Cup, FA Cup and Premier League title race." England take the final Test in Johannesburg to clinch a 1-0 series win over South Africa. Centuries come from Strauss (born in Johannesburg), Pietersen (Maritzburg), Trott (Cape Town) and Prior (Johannesburg). "What a day for our country," says an ever-more desperate Gordon Brown. "It wasn't exactly a bad one for ours," counters President Zuma.
In Six Nations opener, England beaten 25-9 (Wilkinson three drop-goals) by Wales at Twickenham. Martin Johnson refuses to be despondent. "There were actually positives to take," he claims. "For starters, I thought our national anthem went better than theirs. And the Welsh boys can really sing." Manchester City win first notable silverware in 29 years when beating Aston Villa in the Carling Cup final 3-1.
Denman, the 2008 champion, and Kauto Star, the 2007 and 2009 champion, do battle in the greatest Gold Cup ever staged at Cheltenham. The stablemates link horseshoes on the run-in and trot over the line together. "Life's not all about winning," says the Irish-bred Denman. "We'll leave that to Thierry Henry." Andy Robinson leads Scotland to their first Six Nations crown. "I would like to dedicate this to Rob Andrew," says the former England coach. "I would not be here if it wasn't for him." "Neither would I," says Johnson, clutching the wooden spoon.
Tiger Woods misses his first Masters in 16 years, although things are looking up for the world No 1 – no mistresses have come forward in the last two weeks. Man City, standing in third place in the League, sack Roberto Mancini and bring in Manuel Pellegrini. "We've re-evaluated our ambitions for this season – we want a top-two finish now, not top four," says Garry Cook, the increasingly popular chief executive. Later, Cook confesses to first speaking to Pellegrini on the way to Wembley in February.
Chelsea win the League and Champions' League. Roman Abramovich faces the press in tears. "All those Middle Eastern billionaires buying up our teams as vanity projects..." splutters the Russian. "What a victory for the little man!" Disaster for England, however, as Wayne Rooney breaks his second metatarsal, heralding a spookily familiar "will he make it?" countdown. With Defoe, Crouch, Heskey, Cole, Bent, Agbonlahor and Zamora also fighting injury, Fabio Capello plainly has a striking problem. "At this rate I'll have to pick Michael Owen," mutters the Italian.
Owen named as England's captain for World Cup finals. "He's always been my number one," enthuses Capello. The Three Lions stroll through their group before beating Ghana 3-0 (Owen hat-trick) in second round. Alas, they lose in quarters to Argentina on penalties. Capello resigns. "You lot are bloody jinxed," he says. "Either that or there could be a very slim chance you're not as good as you think you are." At Wimbledon, Roger Federer beats Rafael Nadal in an epic final that finishes at 2.32am. Only the Duke of Kent and Amy Winehouse are still awake.
France beat Brazil to win the World Cup as Henry punches the ball into the net in the 119th minute. "It was instinctive – Fifa should order a replay," he says, five months later. Tiger Woods announces his return at St Andrews for The Open and also reveals he has a new caddie – his wife Elin. "When it comes to clubbing me, nobody's her equal," says Woods. R&A bends its rules to allow Elin to use a distance-finder. Says a spokesman: "Elin has assured us it isn't for yardages but just to ensure her husband is never out of her sight."
Liverpool win first five matches of the season. Benitez sacked. "We had to wait until it was an attractive enough job again for someone to accept," explains co-owner Tom Hicks. Woods wins USPGA by 10 shots. "He's even better than before," says Phil Mickelson. "He seems to have so much more energy."
Usain Bolt becomes the first human to jump more than 9 metres in his first ever long-jump event. "Er, I was going so fast I didn't even see the board," says the Jamaican. "No, I didn't jump. That's just my stride."
Europe wins Ryder Cup, although Colin Montgomerie's moment of glory is cheapened by Woods' non-appearance. "I'm taking an indefinite seven-day break from golf," said this lover of the team format, the week previous.
Martin Johnson quits as England coach after Autumn Tests. Andy Robinson declines Rob Andrew's offer of a return. Andrew takes over. "It was me or Dean Richards," is his defence.
England win Third and Fourth Tests in Perth and Melbourne to take a winning 2-0 lead. So the Ashes are retained for the first time in three decades. In Britain, David Cameron, announces a national day's holiday. "Cricket is our new national sport," declares the PM. Man City resign from the Premier League and join the County Championship.
Letter of the week
What a pity that the otherwise excellent coverage of Gareth Thomas' declaration of his homosexuality should be spoiled by James Corrigan's use of the term "admitting he is gay". David Flatman managed to get it right when he wrote of Gareth Thomas' announcement. Incidentally, I am very much in agreement with the thrust of James Corrigan's article, but then I have always found that most openly gay men are a courageous lot.
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