Spectator sport

Pep and Klopp, kings of England

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

It’s a game for the ages all right, City againstLiverpool on Sunday as the Premier League moves to its most exciting climax inyears: two magnificent managers, two awe-inspiring collections of players. Bothteams are so far in front that the rest are nowhere.

There’s more to come as they face each otherthe following weekend at Wembley in the FA Cup. And both are involved inChampions League quarter-finals. The money must be a help, but still we areblessed to have Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp here, both at the height oftheir powers. But for how much longer? Anyone who loves football will bedreading the day either of them decides to move on.

Klopp seems to be here for the long haul: he’salmost a Scouser. He clearly gets the place, and it loves him back. Perhaps thechill wind off the Mersey might in time drive him abroad to revive one of thelanguishing Spanish giants. That would be a challenge. Guardiola will move onto some sort of project: either in football or politics in Catalunya. If Citywin the Champions League he could be off, perhaps to Barcelona or maybe to turnGirona into another Catalan powerhouse. The club is owned by the City FootballGroup: worth a thought.

Of the twomen, Klopp probably had the hardest job at the start. Only James Milner andJordan Henderson were in place, but look at the stunning football side he hasbuilt. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson on the flanks; the bestdefender in the world, Virgil van Dijk, in the back line; and a sensationalforward trio that is replenishing itself with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz. Pepinherited a very strong City squad, with Raheem Sterling, Fernandinho and KevinDe Bruyne, the best in Europe, in place – as well as the brilliant and nowdeparted Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero and David Silva. Guardiola has done abrilliant job shepherding a nerveless Phil Foden into the very big time.

Sadly City have always been slightlyunfashionable, overshadowed by the obsessive interest in their once-triumphant,now shambolic neighbours. And they haven’t really had a big European moment likeLiverpool winning in Istanbul, or United sealing the treble in 1999. Maybethese next few weeks will change all that.

Golf mightbe full of people you wouldn’t want to spend time with but let’s hope thisMasters is fun. You know: a ton of players sticking it in the water at AmenCorner, someone breaking a putter over his knee, someone else blowing asix-shot lead. And let’s hope someone flamboyant wins, and not any of theAmericans in the world’s top 20, who are brilliant in a boring way. If you weresitting next to Scottie Scheffler, would you know it? And he’s the world’s No1. If you want a long shot, try Norway’s Viktor Hovland, young and fearless. Ialso like Spain’s Jon Rahm, who doesn’t look like a modern golfer but someonewho should be working in an abattoir.

Nat Sciver’swonderful 148 not out in a losing cause as England were beaten in the Women’sWorld Cup final by the all-conquering Aussies could be one of the greatperformances of the year. Women’s cricket is fascinating in a way men’s isn’t:more guile is needed to work the ball through the gaps instead of just blastingit into the next county. Personally I’d like to see a special mixed-genderAshes with Australia’s women taking on England’s men. Could be interesting.

And certainly more interesting than theopening rounds of the County Championship being played in a four-sweaterblizzard. Games at Durham and Derby in April are the equivalent of SASselection. Presumably it’s part of that much vaunted red ball ‘reset’ to makeour young cricketers play in conditions as closely related to Test cricket as Iam to a door knocker.

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