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Kelly: UEFA Hires a DJ, But it Can’t Dance Around Soccer’s Issues



On the eve of Euro 2016, the power brokers of European soccer assembled to mark the occasion. Mostly, they let the DJ do the talking.

The DJ is David Guetta, an international superstar you will not recognize, but whose music has been the unbearable soundtrack of bad patio bars and low-rent outlet malls for years now.

Guetta is responsible for Euro’s “official” track – This One’s For You – that will infect this tournament like an aural contagion and ruin many lives.

I assumed he was here at the introductory press conference to take responsibility for this crime against art, and ask forgiveness. Apparently not. In fact, he looked outrageously pleased with himself.

You will have heard that soccer’s had some administrative trouble recently. Nothing serious. Just a little bit of widespread graft, corruption on a global scale, money laundering, dozens of arrests and scorching of bureaucratic earth.

UEFA – which stages the Euro – is currently without a president because the man in charge, Michel Platini, has been banned from the game as part of that larger scandal within the world governing body, FIFA.

Fair to say, there’s a lot to talk about. And here were the sort of grey men to do it.

So, of course, the first canned question was lobbed up at Guetta. “How would you describe the passion people have for football?” the moderator wondered, while Guetta swivelled around in his chair delightedly.

Guetta seems like a nice, wealthy fellow, the sort we used to call Eurotrash. Reed thin. Long, lank hair. Odd, pan-continental accent. He has the mien of a Starbucks barista who is just a little too into fair-trade coffee and would like to talk to you about it until the sun collapses in on itself and life on this planet ends.

He went on for quite some time. My favourite line: “I have seen the passion in stadiums [meaningful pause] I also play stadiums!”

That is some unassailable logic right there.

No one understood what Guetta was going on about and made no effort to disguise that fact. Each of his verbal crescendos was greeted by a couple of hundred journalists with complete silence.

Alongside him sat legendary referee Pierluigi Collina, current head of UEFA officiating. Collina, an affable Italian, had the soft, panicked look of a man just realizing he’s sat down on the subway beside a lunatic in mid-rave.

“You’re not my usual crowd,” Guetta said, a nervous edge creeping into his voice. “I would love you to have a glass of champagne. Maybe two glasses.”

Guetta laughed hard at his own joke. No one else did. Don’t offer us champagne if there’s no champagne, pal.

You were starting to feel sorry for this poor weirdo. It was only just occurring to him that no one cared what he had to say. He’d only been invited to delay the real questions for as long as possible.

This was before they brought out the horrifying mascot of this event – a leering, hydrocephalic child named Super Victor – to upstage him.

I’m not sure if Guetta was meant to leave early, but when he popped up mid-presser and fairly sprinted off the stage, it felt like an escape.

Then the familiar piffle began. Whether it’s FIFA or UEFA, it is amazing how little these people can say while filling so much airtime.

Most of it was left to the head of the organizing committee, a droning fossil named Jacques Lambert. He went on at excruciating length about administrative minutiae. Whenever he got a question he didn’t like, he kicked it over to an aide.

His leading contribution: “We have considered every hypothesis possible.”

All of them? This sounds quite expansive. Volcanoes? Alien invasions? Mole people?

When someone asked a double-barrelled question about security and Platini, Lambert fell to Guetta-esque joshing.

“Whether Michel is there or not, I don’t think it will have any effect on terrorism,” Lambert drawled.

A UEFA hack sitting in front of me – a young woman in the vaguely fascistic blue uniform suit of that organization – tittered. She was the only one.

It was left to interim UEFA boss Theodore Theodoridis to announce that “just as we entered the press conference,” it had been decided that Platini would be allowed to attend the event in his home nation, despite his ban.

Everybody in the room perked up. Some news. And decided just as they walked in. A talking point that will distract from any grimness. How incredibly convenient for every single person involved!

All the rest of the questions were variations on “What if someone blows this tournament up? What then?”

These practised operators droned through every one. Nothing of substance was revealed. They already knew all takes would be Platini-based.

That was the limit of their PR aspiration hours before the start of the best football tournament in the world.

That’s when you thought to yourself, man, do they ever need a win.

FIFA’s troubles aren’t going away. The new president, Gianni Infantino, is beginning to behave like a nascent Sepp Blatter, hiring and firing at leisure and whining about receiving a $3-million salary to do essentially nothing.

All the same issues trickle down to UEFA, which Platini ran like it was his own political party. Key problem – he wasn’t much of a politician.

The Copa America, which is currently under way in the United States, is a shambles. Here’s something nobody could possibly have seen coming – Americans don’t want to pay to see South Americans they’ve never heard of play soccer.

For the establishment that remains in control of the game, the Euro is now the final fig leaf. In order to maintain any sense that they know how to do their only real job – stage international tournaments – this must be error-free.

If it goes sideways on the ground or – heaven forfend – is interrupted by a terror outrage, it puts the whole global enterprise at further risk.

Someone’s reputation is on the line at every major tournament. This may be the first in a long while where it can be said that everyone’s reputation is riding on it.

One day to go. And then we’ll get to see what sort of act they’re putting on beside the musical opener.

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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