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To Make Sense of England’s European Experiment Failure, Look at Football



Several hours into Britain’s post-Brexit DTs, an Englishman stepped forward to provide context and calm the nation.

“I’ve not really thought too much about it yet,” said striker Harry Kane. “I’m focused on the Euros. I will wait and see what happens.”

There you go. He hasn’t thought much about it yet (as if “thought” was something that required two weeks off and immersion in a lead-lined sensory deprivation chamber). He’s going to wait and see what happens.

Brexit: The latest developments, how it happened and what’s next

People will like that answer. It is reassuring and vague, and the guy saying it is a 22-year-old multimillioinaire with no formal education, so he must be right.

Britain needs that kind of wisdom now. Football wisdom.

Having won (i.e. lost) the most pointless game of political chicken in recent memory, the Vote Leave side has a small problem: Everyone hates them – even the people who sided with them.

The cheap chicanery of their arguments – “We’re all gonna be rich!” – has already collapsed. They need good news and spokespeople who don’t inspire a lustful desire among the mob for revenge.

The only guys who tick both boxes are here in France, playing Iceland on Monday.

In the coming hours, we’re going to hear a whole lot of nonsense about the England team wrapping its arms around Europe in what might be its last chance to do so.

If Prime Minister David Cameron is no longer in a position to reassure anyone, I’m sure Wayne Rooney can manage it with a hearty “We will miss all you foreign swine more than you can know. Except the Germans.”

Once this happens (as it must, for the most important reasons of all – marketing and schmaltz), John Bull may find himself wondering, “Where were these guys when they could’ve made a difference?”

They were doing what everyone in their position does when there is no financial incentive: nothing. No guy making millions working in his shorts ever lost a shoe sponsor for saying nothing.

While England is pushing the football team out as a damp, conciliatory handshake to the continent, the irony will be too delicious to ignore. When you want to understand why England’s European experiment failed, look at football.

If they didn’t quite invent it, England first codified the game. Then they worked very hard to keep it to themselves. The history of football in Britain is one of curious isolationism and deep suspicion of their neighbours.

Britain’s football associations would not join FIFA when it was first created, even though they were to be given the primary place. They changed their minds. Then they quit because Germany and her allies were included in the post-First World War period. They rejoined, quit again and finally joined for good after the Second World War.

England didn’t play in its first World Cup until 1950. Up to that point, they considered themselves far and away the best in the world at football. Now they had to prove it. It was a humiliating failure, including a 1-0 loss to the United States. The United States wouldn’t win another game at a World Cup for 44 years.

Not having learned their lesson, England & Co. also opted out of the first European championship. They must have realized football was slipping away from them.

They won a World Cup at home in 1966, then went off a competitive cliff at the international level.

In the early 1970s, the United Kingdom’s union with Europe was formalized. You’d expect a grand sense of openness and community might suffuse all national institutions. Not football. This was the moment when the English game became synonymous with thuggery – both in the stands and on the pitch.

They no longer controlled the sport. It is difficult not to see their reaction as a temper tantrum. If the Brazilians and Germans were going to make it beautiful, England would make it ugly.

In the decades since, they have continued to produce a very specific type of star – tough, athletic, but rarely refined or technically gifted. Whenever they think they’ve found that sort of player – Michael Owen leaps to mind – he is exposed as soon as he crosses the Channel.

Unlike top players from every other country in the world, the typical English star doesn’t want to leave England. No amount of money can convince him. He’d have to learn another language! Whenever he does take a chance, he almost always fails.

The sport continued to be defined by teams on the continent – Barcelona, Bayern Munich, AC Milan. Though it didn’t produce the best sides, the Premier League became the most cosmopolitan during England’s Cool Britannia phase.

But they couldn’t enjoy it. Every two years, they’d be reminded how far the national team had fallen. The Premiership and its surplus of foreign players were always the scapegoat. EU law prevented a complete return to parochialism.

In a few years, we should expect the “Premier League for Britons first!” movement to catch hold. And when it does, I will miss the Premier League.

That creeping animus, that resentfulness at having had something that was theirs taken away from them, never left English football.

It was evident here in France – and not just in the riots down south.

One night, I was sitting in a Paris pub talking to a couple of guys from Wales. There were Germans, Irish and Swedes in the bar. It was a lovely, tipsy pastiche of the tournament.

Then the English showed up. Seven or eight of them. Young. Affluent. Blind drunk. Shrieking at the top of their lungs. Singing through a game their team wasn’t in and other people were trying to watch. As they tend to do, it was rudeness for the sake of rudeness, a thumb in the eye of their neighbours. You see it everywhere the English go in their great, masculine clumps.

One of the Welsh guys, Ben, was watching them and shaking his head. He turned to me and said ruefully, “The English.”

Everyone who follows football knows what that means. And while those people may not be happy to see Britain go, I’m sure they’re not surprised.

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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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