The FIFA Club World Cup. Sounds like it should be kind of a big deal, doesn't it? After all, just four letters distinguish it from the infinitely important FIFA World Cup, and those four letters would seem to suggest an improvement on the formula: It’s the World Cup, but with club teams! Considering those clubs are competing to be crowned soccer’s world champions, surely that’s got to be an enormously important and popular competition, highly prized by elite football teams across the globe?
January is nearly upon us! Or at least it feels that way if you spend any time reading the words of the soothsayers who try to predict what will happen when European football’s transfer window reopens on January 1, 2013. Speculation is particularly rife in England, and it mainly centers on two clubs: Chelsea and Liverpool. Both teams find themselves low on firepower, and as a result, they’ve been linked with every available forward in European club football. Two players in particular have been singled out as possible signings in the new year: Athletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao, and Schalke’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Huntelaar, who is supposedly packing his bags in preparation for a move to Liverpool, has scored 32 goals in 42 league games for Schalke FC since the start of last season. Falcao, who is rumored to soon join Juan Mata and Eden Hazard at Chelsea, scored 34 goals in 43 league games for Athletico Madrid over the same period. And yet these two players, with almost identical league goal-scoring records, are valued rather differently. Chelsea will be required to trigger Falcao’s minimum-fee release clause — which stands at a cool $70 million — to get their man, whereas Liverpool can expect to pay no more than $10 million to sign Huntelaar, who is available at a knock-down price thanks to the imminent expiry of his contract with Schalke.
The international break can be a difficult time for star players from smaller nations. Footballers who are accustomed to domestic glory suddenly find themselves thrust into squads with far smaller ambitions. The contrast can be jarring, as can the transition from being one star among many to the solitary hero tasked by an expectant nation with leading your talentless team to improbable victories. This is something to which Tottenham’s Gareth Bale is having to grow accustomed whenever he plays for Wales, as seen in the buildup to last week’s World Cup qualifier with Croatia, in which the pre-match spotlight fell squarely on his shoulders. This was largely because Wales has no realistic chance of qualifying for the World Cup, and their main ambition for the qualifying campaign is to finish higher than Scotland, whom Bale had single-handedly defeated the week before, so by the time the Welsh squad landed in Zagreb, the pundits quickly dispensed with the small talk and moved on to the pressing business of trying to predict Gareth Bale’s future.
The Titans are trailing by 25 points, deep in the third quarter, when they score a touchdown. The extra point is converted, the onside kick is well-executed, and the opposing team flubs the catch. Players fling themselves at the loose ball from all directions, and it is quickly lost under a pile of bodies. Two referees arrive on the scene, take a moment to sort through the melee, stand up, and point in opposite directions. The referee who had originally signaled against Tennessee realizes that there is dissent in the zebra ranks, and swiftly defers to his colleague, swapping arms to rule in favor of the Titans. Unfortunately, his colleague’s desire for conformity is just as strong, and as one right arm falls, another rises, and once again, the two officials point in opposite directions. The pair of them look less like referees and more like a novelty two-man dance troupe on America’s Got Talent, possibly called “Flip-Flop, Don’t Stop”.
My personal quest to discover precisely how much of a fool I am (and whether my foolishness is of the greater or lesser variety) has gotten off to a flying start, and I now have a much clearer idea of my failings as a tipster, and indeed as a human. Last week, I posted five picks; three losers, a push, and a tip that won’t be resolved until next May (and is definitely going to win at long odds, just you watch). Now, my hopes and dreams lie in ashes around me, but this week, I intend to rise from those ashes like the Green Bay Packers.
That was originally supposed to read “like a phoenix,” but it seemed inappropriate given that the Cardinals aren’t just undefeated, but also one of the best teams in the NFL, according to the British Conkers System, the origin point for all known sport ranking systems. The Conkers System is Britain’s gift to the world (along with computing, the World Wide Web, and One Direction; you’re very welcome), but I have opted to use restraint and forsake my patriotic duty to use it to make all my picks, and will instead be relying on a combination of cack-handed statistical analysis, poorly understood intuition, and my oft-touted blend of self-delusion and ego. After all, the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” fails to offer any advice on what to do if it is, in fact, broken, so in the absence of any further clichéd guidance, I’m opting to continue as before, although I intend to proceed in a slightly more cautious fashion. So, here are five really solid NFL picks, one blindingly obvious trap bet that only a fool would pick (hello!), and — just to keep you interested to the very end — a value-tastic soccer tip that I would definitely be lumping huge sums on, had I any huge sums left to lump following last week’s escapades.
See if you can detect a theme in these picks, as well as spot the obvious/costly mistake.
"The greater fool is ... a patsy. For the rest of us to profit, we need a greater fool, someone who will buy long and sell short. Most people spend their lives trying not to be the greater fool; we toss in the hot potato, we dive for his seat when the music stops. The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools."
— Sloan Sabbith, The Newsroom
Hey! She’s talking about me! While I’m pretty sure that I didn’t help to build America, I certainly exhibit the other qualities outlined by Aaron Sorkin’s all-seeing econ-o-vixen. Or at least I think I do; if I’m truly such a great fool, my judgment can’t be trusted, on account of all that ego and self-delusion. Maybe I’m not the fool after all? It’s so confusing. Meta-cognitive awareness really is a minefield.
Now, the greater-fool theory applies to all economic markets, but my personal foolishness is localized to betting. I fare better than most with the bookmaker, but it’s also true to say that I don't always choose my bets wisely. I've yet to find a betting market where I didn’t fancy myself to have some form of edge over the mob, and this means I am prone to gamble on everything from reality television shows to sumo wrestling, with wildly varying levels of success. Over the years, this overweening confidence in my own abilities has led me to take on the markets in the NFL and NBA. I believe I have a solid understanding of both these sports, but that's probably just the perfect blend of ego and self-delusion talking.
If you’re incautious enough to spend any period of time looking at online gambling forums, two things will probably occur. Firstly, your faith in humanity will quickly disappear, and secondly, you’ll be amazed by how gullible people can be. Any online claim of extraordinary betting prowess will immediately be met with the challenge “pics or it didn’t happen,” but if you add a photo of a betting slip, the natural skepticism of the Internet’s gamblers will disappear immediately. Have these people never heard of Photoshop? However, there’s one gambler who never needs to be prompted to post a photo of his winning bets, and his bankroll is so huge that there’s no reason to suspect foul play: I refer, of course, to boxing’s undefeated quintuple world champion, Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr.
Mayweather is famous for his enormous bets, largely because he’s been tirelessly promoting himself on Twitter as boxing’s answer to Nick the Greek. By my count, between August 2010 (when he began tweeting his slips) and February 2012, Mayweather tweeted photographs of 46 betting slips, totaling $3,890,833 worth of bets, and every single one of them was a winner, netting the fighter a cool $3,938,722 (and 87 cents) in winnings on those bets. Losing betting slips have been conspicuous by their absence. When asked about his losing slips, Floyd responded, “Why would I ever show a losing ticket when I’m 41-0.”
The Olympics and Paralympics have been a dream come true for advertisers. The London Games have been short on scandal and long on inspiration, generating a feel-good factor in Great Britain that has been eagerly co-opted by companies seeking to bask in the reflected glow of Olympian glory. An endless stream of British athletes walking out of the arenas with gold medals around their necks has provided the advertisers with plenty of fodder for their campaigns, but up until Sunday night, it was Oscar Pistorius that they really wanted selling their wares. Pistorius was perfect, straddling both the Olympics and Paralympics with his personal story of triumph over adversity, unbroken record of success, and admirable humility. Then this happened:
Today's the day, folks; the Paralympic murderball tournament has begun, and I'm about to tell you why you should be watching, but first of all, we need to clear one thing up. The governing body of the sport may have changed the official name of murderball to "wheelchair rugby," to make it sound more palatable to corporate sponsors, but this is a wildly inaccurate description of the sport. I’m sticking with the original name. Murderball is fast-paced, free-flowing, high-scoring, and exciting to watch; in other words, all of the things that rugby is not. It’s more accurate to think of murderball as a cross between basketball and a demolition derby, and if that doesn’t sound to you like a recipe for one of the best spectator sports ever, then fair enough, but before you decide to pass on watching murderball, I just want to make sure that you know what you’re missing. Observe:
The Paralympics have begun, and that means that there will be several hundred hours of sports being streamed live on the official Paralympic website. The likelihood is that most of these events will be unfamiliar to you, and there’s no way that you can watch them all, so to help you prioritize your viewing we’ve narrowed the field down to the five sports you can’t afford to miss.
One of the surprise success stories of the able-bodied Olympics was handball, a sport that didn’t get much attention in the days before multi-channel streaming allowed us to pick and choose what we watched. It turns out that handball’s an awesome spectator sport, and the same is true of the Paralympic version, goalball, a three-a-side variant played by blind competitors. Each side alternates on offense and defense, with a striker hurling the ball as hard as possible at the opponent’s goal. It’s a simple sport, but when you see it being performed by players like China’s Chen Liangliang, you get a sense of the skill involved; his whirling-dervish approach to shooting made him a star of the 2008 Beijing games, where he fired the host nation to gold:
A new English Premier League season starts tomorrow, unless your name is Joey Barton, in which case it starts in mid-November. Barton picked up a 12-match ban after trying to start a fight with half of Manchester at the end of last season, and as a result he’s going to be pretty quiet for the next three months. If your name really is Joey Barton, then take some advice. Don’t go to Marseille! You really won’t like it there. Stay home, retweet some Nietzsche, and play EPL fantasy football!
And if your name isn’t Joey Barton, here’s some more useful advice; do not pick Joey Barton for your fantasy football team. But you should definitely pick a fantasy football team on the EPL’s website, because it’s free, there are some decent prizes to be won, and because you clearly have plenty of time on your hands, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. So, here’s your handy guide to Fantasy Soccer success:
Another Olympics has come to a close, and we've had the usual barrage of doping controversies to mull over, varying from scurrilous insinuations about 16-year-old girls to justified concern over rehabilitated (and unrepentant) ex-dopers winning medals. So, what else is new? Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this Olympics is how comfortable we’ve become with drug use in sport. It’s reached the stage where news of an athletics gold medalist testing positive for steroids barely merits the jaded raise of an eyebrow. Yet Nadzeya Ostapchuk is the only Olympian (so far) to have been stripped of a medal in 2012, which compares favorably with five medalists in Beijing, nine in Athens, and eight in Sydney. This has either been the cleanest Olympics this century, or, if you’re of a more suspicious frame of mind, the one with the least effective drug testing. Some people certainly suspect the latter; witness this extraordinary article on Ye Shiwen from the host nation’s most popular non-tabloid newspaper. But let’s put talk of genetically modified swimbots aside, and look at what’s actually happened in the world of swimming, because it’s certainly been noteworthy.
Here in the U.K., everybody’s going crazy over Britain’s Olympic Heroes, and with good reason. But Team GB’s performance wasn’t that surprising; they won slightly more golds than predicted, but a few fewer medals overall. A tremendous performance, but not an unexpected one.
So, which nations did pull off a shock? Who exceeded their supposed limitations, and more important, who completely screwed up? We jammed three sets of predictions (from Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and Sports Myriad) into a spreadsheet, worked out the averages, then compared them to COLD, HARD REALITY. Each nation was then assigned a Grantland Scientific Prediction Versus Reality Score (or GSPVRS). You can see the results here. As is right and proper, gold medals carry twice the weight of lesser baubles.
Marathons are always run on Sunday mornings. Race organizers will tell you that’s the most convenient time to close down the center of a major city, but last time I checked, the streets aren’t too crowded at 5 a.m. on a Thursday. Could it be that the real reason marathons take place on Sundays is so that ordinary, hung-over people sitting at home are guilt-tripped into buying pointless sporting equipment that will only be used once? Maybe it’s just me, but my attic looks like a gym’s locker room after the fire alarm has gone off. Only dustier.
So last Sunday, as I settled down with my bacon and Alka-Seltzer sandwich to watch the women’s marathon, I swore to myself: no more badminton racquets. And then, a brilliant idea hit me — why don’t I do the marathon? Or rather, the marathon course, for it’s only 10 miles long; the runners do three eight-mile laps, plus a two-mile loop around St. James’s Park. No need to run the whole thing. I’ll just do a lap, right? And I can write it up, as I hear that NBC’s commentators aren’t the best tour guides, and may struggle to accurately identify race landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral. I can provide a guide to the course and get fit at the same time. Win-win, I think to myself, and plot the route of the course into a handy Google Map.