Spectator sport

Mason Greenwood and football’s obsession with prodigies

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

Well, there’s a surprise: Nike have cancelled their sponsorship of the Manchester United and England footballer Mason Greenwood, who is engulfed by a series of very unpleasant allegations involving an 18-year-old girl.

There’s a lot that can’t be discussed about this distressing saga but one aspect that’s worth looking at is the fact that Greenwood, like so many prodigies, was snapped up by a Premier League club at an extraordinarily young age, in his case just six. But in its obsession with signing up talent that has only just learned to walk, is football missing a trick?

How many hidden gems are there in the lower leagues who were passed over by scouts because they weren’t good enough then, but are easily good enough now? Look at great late bloomers like Ian Wright, Jamie Vardy or Tyrone Mings. Turned down by Bristol Rovers among others, Mings worked as a mortgage adviser before hitting the big time with Aston Villa and England. Could it be that he became the player he is because of his time working in the real world, unlike Greenwood et al, who have known nothing but football? As C.L.R James might have said, what do they know of football who only football know?

It seems to be the job that no one wants, running English cricket. Now that my choices, Sir Andrew Strauss and Surrey’s Richard Thompson, have reportedly ruled themselves out of contention for the chairmanship of the England and Wales Cricket Board, let’s see who else fits the bill. They’ll need judgment, experience, leadership ability and huge respect within the game. How about Michael Atherton, of the Times and Sky? It’s a long shot, but he would be ideal.

So English rugby seems to have become another unfunny episode of Alas Smith and Jones. These two names, the epitome of ordinariness if you like, are the anything-but-ordinary axis around which England’s Six Nations fortunes seem likely to revolve. The continuing story of Eddie Jones’s ability to make a pig’s ear out of a silk purse is troubling. Marcus Smith was easing England to victory over Scotland when he was pulled off to make way for his understudy. Someone please explain that. Still, it was good news for this columnist who had invested in the Scots at an appealing 10-1 for the Championship.

But other questions Jones might like to ponder: was Joe Marler’s lineout throw one of the dumbest things ever seen on a rugby field? And what was hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie doing on the wing and failing to defend a brilliant crossfield kick from Finn Russell that turned the match on its head? Maybe Jones should spend less time trying to outpsyche the opposition and more on preparing the team, without obsessing about his ‘finishers’. It seems reasonable to expect the key players to go the full 80 minutes.

The Saudis are on a mission to transform golf via a souped-up Asian tour. They might be spraying money around like a demented fire hose, but they won’t win. The problem Asia has is geography: people prefer sport when Europe and America are awake. And events that matter: golf majors matter, as do the big tournaments on the PGA and the DP World Tour. The FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai are still relatively obscure, because golf is about tournaments. Money lists matter but not as much as wins in the majors. The PGA and the European tours only need to align on the big events and the Saudis are in trouble. And they have the Ryder Cup. Everyone knows what that is, but who cares about the President’s Cup? Still, any bunch that’s prepared to sling tens of millions at Ian Poulter is ready for anything.

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