The nonsense of Bielsa’s ‘Spygate’, Andy Murray’s life on Earth, and the week’s best sportswriting

Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa gives a PowerPoint presentation to the media during a press conference at Thorp Arch, Leeds.

Source: PA Wire/PA Images

1. So where, then, has the outrage come from? Largely, it’s been imagined and invented. Both by the pundit class, the vast and diseased corpus of professional opinion-formers whose livelihood depends on finding something about which to be outraged every week for money, and by the mind-dustbin of social media, the vast and diseased corpus of amateur opinion-formers whose self-worth depends on finding someone outraged to laugh at every week for likes. For both, the issue of Bielsa’s spying, and even Bielsa himself, has been simply a handy canvas upon which to enact a theatrical masked joust only tangentially connected with reality.

The only thing remarkable about Bielsa’s 70-minute Powerpoint presentation at Thorp Arch on Wednesday wasn’t any of its content, but the fact that Bielsa had chosen to make it public. The research itself – both in its volume and level of detail – would have been fairly familiar to any coach working at a reasonable level. None of which seemed to stymie the predictable consensus on social media that Bielsa had totally stuck it to the gammons , absolutely triggered the proper football men, showed two fingers to Tommy Robinson, fnaw fnaw, please click on this Patreon link to buy my self-published book, etc.

Jonathan Liew proposes that Marcelo Bielsa’s ‘Spygate’ is no more than another tiresome chapter in football’s culture war.

Andy Murray waves to the crowd after being defeated by Roberto Bautista Agut at the Australian Open.

Source: AAP/PA Images

2. He’s one of the most emotionally intense players on the ATP Tour, but he’s also one of the least sentimental, and reliably, when asked a question, he thinks about it and makes an effort to answer honestly. I happen to think this quality is directly related to the way he plays tennis, and that it’s an essential part of what’s made him such a thrilling player to watch for so many years. It also runs directly counter to the demands of the typical star-player-retires story, which calls for exaggeration and wise little lessons and sentiment. I’m afraid that what might be a perfectly nice tribute for most athletes — a smooth description of his return game, a fable about never giving up—would, in Murray’s case, miss everything that’s made him so special, so beloved.

In public, he is wonderfully—and considering his profession, almost freakishly—committed to reality. The world where Roger Federer lives is very beautiful, but Andy Murray lives on Earth. You see this most clearly, of course, in his interviews, which are marked by a kind of dry, sensitive scrupulousness. I’ve been to Murray’s press conferences after big losses; the atmosphere is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in sports. In a way, I’ve learned more from them than I have from expert tennis analysis because Murray—tears still drying in his eyes, voice trailing away at the ends of thoughts—actually takes stock of himself and tells you what he sees. Not because he relishes giving a room full of reporters and photographers intimate access to his brain. Because it isn’t in his nature to prevaricate. No one is better to listen to than a reticent person who sees answering questions thoughtfully as a mark of basic respect.

The Ringer’s Brian Phillips outlines what has always separated Andy Murray from his fellow tennis greats.

Manchester United attacker Juan Mata helped ESPN writer Andy Mitten’s younger brother after the passing of their father.

Source: Carlos Sanchez Martinez

3. I miss my dad every day, but can cherish the best part of 45 years of memories. My 12-year-old brother who has lost his father, his hero, the man who watched him play every week, cannot say the same.

As a football club Manchester United were superb regarding my father’s death. And then on Wednesday night midfielder Juan Mata showed up in the bitter cold at my brother’s training session for his junior team in Wythenshawe, south Manchester. The mother of one of my brother’s teammates knew Mata and his girlfriend, Evelina, as she had previously looked after their dog when they were away. She mentioned to Juan that one of the young players had lost his father and was struggling and wondered if it would be possible to get something signed for him.

Mata agreed and said that he would get a signed shirt — one that he had worn in a game. Evelina heard this and chipped in “if the young boy can wait, maybe you can present it to him in person.” Mata agreed.

That’s why Mata and Evelina drove to Wythenshawe — once Europe’s largest council estate — on Wednesday. Mata wore a hat to thwart the cold and so the boys didn’t recognise him initially. One mentioned that he looked like Juan Mata. The others, suddenly realising it was him, stared at him in disbelief. What on earth was he doing among them?

ESPN’s Andy Mitten explains how Juan Mata came through for his 12-year-old brother during the most difficult time of his young life.

Brid Stack, one of four players to ever have won 11 football All-Irelands, has retired from inter-county duty with Cork.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

4. Last Saturday night in Larry Tompkins pub, they gathered for their now annual catch-up. The reunion of, as Bríd Stack calls them, The Over-30s Who Still Think They’re Under 30 club’. The Cork crew who rewrote the book on Ladies Football. The old yarns spilled out after 3.30am yesterday, beers empty, tongues tired. The little vignettes cropping up time and again.

Like the All-Ireland morning walk.

“That was the emotional thing,” says Stack, who has announced her retirement from inter-county football, bringing an end to an unfathomable 11-All-Ireland, seven All-Star career in red. In doing so, the 2016 player of the year breaks the link to Cork’s first title in 2005, the last to retire from that group of pioneers. She is one of only four Cork girls with 11 All-Ireland medals — Deirdre O’Reilly, Briege Corkery and Rena Buckley the others — and the native of Rockchapel played every minute in each of those Croke Park victories.

“I am talking fierce emotional,” she says of that matchday stroll. “We’d walk down the road from the Red Cow Hotel, and on the way back we’d stop at the same spot. It was nothing, a small patch in front of a mechanic’s yard. A random place. We’d gather in, shoulder to shoulder, and each of the management would say their piece. That was their moment.

Examiner sports editor Tony Leen sits down with the great Brid Stack, who has called time on her illustrious career with Cork.

Prince William and Mesut Ozil attend the graduation ceremony of 30 Young Peace Leaders from Football at London’s Olympic Park.

Source: PA Wire/PA Images

5. Despite being presented as a prime example of successful integration by the DFB, Mesut Özil has remained alien to many football fans in Germany over recent years. He seldom perceived interviews as an opportunity, but rather as a chore. He only reluctantly attended media appointments and even let them fall through from time to time. Too many times was he supposed to justify himself. Why doesn’t he sing the national anthem? Why did he have his picture taken in Mecca? Why the photo in the changing rooms with Angela Merkel in 2010? Why the photo with Erdogan? His former teacher Jochen Herrmann once told the ‘Welt’, that Özil had already been “somewhat autistic” as a child. Another teacher, Christian Krabbe, put it less drastic when speaking to 11FREUNDE: “He was modest and didn’t like to be at the centre of attention. He really only wanted to play football. And that’s remained the same to this day.”

People from Özil’s personal environment offered him help following the photo with Erdogan. They wanted to write a statement for him or find journalists who would conduct a clarifying interview in a relaxed atmosphere. Yet, Özil either didn’t even react or categorically turned down their proposals. He didn’t want to justify himself, didn’t want to apologise.

Some football pros spend years working on their external representation with agents and media coaches. Several grow from shy young players into eloquent leaders. On the other hand, despite a substantial advisory staff, Özil appears to lose control when he leaves the orderly lines of the pitch and has to step into the bright camera lights. Özil has built his world far away from spoken word; a world of social media channels followed by millions of fans. Here he feels secure, just like he does in the company of his family and friends.

The team at 11Freunde explore the curious case of Mesut Özil, who has polarised the nation for whom he played 92 times.

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