ALTHOUGH the Premier League is regarded as the most exciting in the world, it is perhaps not insignificant that the two men who seem to be exerting most influence over the English game at the moment are both Italian.
Fabio Capello has instilled a discipline and air of self confidence that was certainly not prevalent under Steve McClaren, while Carlo Ancelotti has coaxed a cutting edge hitherto missing from Chelsea’s game.
To be honest I’ve never been a great lover of Italian football, especially the suffocating Serie A, but I had to admit that one of the reasons Italy won the 2006 World Cup was because every one of their squad played in that highly competitive league.
Maybe even signors Capello and Ancelotti, successful as they were, felt restricted by the stereotype Italian game which demands 1-0 wins ahead of flamboyant performance.
Capello spread his wings first, flying the nest and settling at Real Madrid with whom he landed the La Liga title.
Now Ancelotti appears to be spearheading a similar assault at Stamford Bridge.
Recent thrashings of Atletico Madrid and Bolton twice, accumulating a dozen goals along the way, suggest the former AC Milan coach is getting his message across no matter how broken his English may be, and while Didier Drogba is a man re-invented, it is the improved form of the likes of Florent Malouda, Deco and Salomon Kalou that bears even greater testimony to his promptings (regardless of the result last night in Madrid).
I am still convinced Manchester United’s star is on the wane, they certainly can’t afford Wayne Rooney to get injured, and with Liverpool fragile it could yet be left to Arsenal to pose the greatest threat to their London neighbours.
By the way, congratulations to Wayne and Colleen on the birth of their first child.
A LOT of people questioned FIFA’s decision to bring a tournament to Nigeria with it’s problems of safety, health and poor infrastructure.
Also, despite the fact Nigerian television is celebrating it’s 60th anniversary, from what I’ve seen not a lot of progress has been made in that time.
Power cuts are frequent, pictures wobbly over weak signals, and coverage unpredictable.
For example, I was astonished to hear my commentary of Italy’s game with the Korean Republic being transmitted over pictures of USA v Malawi.
One man though has no doubt it has been a smart move by football’s governing body to bless Africa with such a prestigious event.
Yorkshire-based referee Howard Webb has enjoyed “one of the most memorable fortnight’s of my life.”
And that includes the longest match.
A torrential downpour in Enugu forced him to take the players of New Zealand and Burkina Faso off the pitch for 90 minutes.
“It was the most bizarre situation I’ve ever encountered. We were drenched almost instantly, but incredibly the pitch which rose two millimetres and resembled an undulating golf course, recovered in time for us to finish the game. From first whistle to last was three hours 33 minutes.”
Webb has been astonished by the numbers of Nigerians who’ve recognised him from Premier League coverage in Africa.
“I’ve been trying to sell Rotherham United to them but they only want to know about Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United,” he told me.
KADUNA Golf Club doesn’t feature in the book of the world’s top 100 golf courses – it probably wouldn’t scrape into the top million.
But it provided my TV colleagues and myself with an unforgettable day off during the Under 17 World Cup in Nigeria.
To start with, FIFA security demanded the 14 of us who ventured out had to be accompanied by two armed guards and the head of the local police force – from first tee shot to final putt.
We were provided with 14 balls – not much room for error there then! – and six tee pegs.
The fairways were so rough that the caddies – who are supposed to earn $2.50 for the privilege – tee your ball up by squeezing tufts together for every shot.
A man goes up ahead to signal the line you’re supposed to take, and stands in the middle of the green for the final approach shot.
Actually, that should read black because that’s the colour of the greens.
And the afore-mentioned helper sweeps the surface with a long cloth on a pole before you putt across and through the treacle.
Incredibly there are two holes romantically called ‘Pan Lions Den’ and ‘Roscom.Net’ which demand you to hit directly across a main road.
Yip, you read that right.
There’s a tee shot with a 100-yard carry over or between buses, cars, motorbikes, tractors and stray cows.
And having dodged the traffic on your stroll to the ball, two holes later you have to repeat your act of faith, prayer and no little technique with an even more dangerous shot – on a par five over the road on which dozens of unsuspecting travellers must have been killed by hackers like us down the years.