A few years ago a motivational speaker brought out a smart little book called Legacy: What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life. Everyone wanted to know how a tiny country miles from anywhere could dominate the world’s hardest team sport for so long. A lot of it, the book said, boiled down to humility, believing in the collective, going the extra yard, and, crucially, ‘no dickheads’. Better people make better All Blacks, was the message.
Now the world is trying to learn from the Leicester City playbook. The key factors in the Foxes’ triumph were a strong, well-balanced squad; a tough but charming manager; a well-run scouting policy (paying particular attention to the financially stretched French leagues); two powerful, resolute central defenders who took it as a personal affront if an attacker got past, backed up by perhaps the best goalie in England; great team spirit (pizza and all that); and going out of the FA and League Cups early so they didn’t have too many games to play (it won’t be like that next season). Any side in the world can try to replicate most of those (and you can bet your last slice of pizza that the owners of the top Premier League clubs are asking their managers: ‘If Leicester can spend £60 million and win, why am I giving you £350 million to finish sixth?’) But what was unique this season was that all Leicester’s rivals were so terrible: Chelsea in turmoil; Arsenal fiddling about as always; United all over the place; and Man City, who should have cruised the Premier League, playing as if they couldn’t be bothered. What are the odds of all that happening again?
So the Lawn Tennis Association wants to rebrand itself as British Tennis. For once this might not be entirely a deckchair-moving operation — does anybody even call it lawn tennis any more? But we should be careful: people think Britain is a tennis-playing nation because of Wimbledon, but we are not. We had our own summer sport, cricket, long before big-time tennis came along. France and Spain didn’t, which is why their tennis is so much better organised. But do well-drilled organisations produce great champions? I don’t think so: players like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, the Williams sisters, even Sharapova, come through raw genius and batty parents, or a bit of both. So by all means, roll out British Tennis, but don’t expect too much. Though the main question for the next few weeks is this: was Murray’s split with Amelie Mauresmo just the shot in the arm the Brexit campaign needs?
Some of the more bracing scenes of spring were at Cheltenham racecourse. Footballers urinating into a glass on a balcony. ‘Glamour’ models flashing the lot from a hospitality box. But now Cheltenham has had enough. ‘After one or two unsavoury incidents,’ says course director Ian Renton, ‘we feel it is very important to crack down. We do not want this showpiece event to be linked with any thought of a drunken culture.’ Well OK, Ian. Sound stuff and all that. But if you’re going to clamp down on drinkers, will there be anyone left?
It is going to be a tough summer of cricket. How easy a sell will Sri Lanka (can you name four of their Test squad?) and Pakistan be after a year of Ashes, a tour of South Africa and an epic World T20? England will have to play some destructive cricket and come to their own party, as Mattie ‘Haydos’ Hayden would say. Alastair Cook might have to belt a few Yes Bank Maximums (what we used to call a ‘six’), while Anderson and Broad will have to develop mystery deliveries like that Bangledeshi quickie with the tricky name, Mustafizur (The Fizz) Rahman. Fearless cricket might not be enough for England this summer — they’re going to have to offer something else.