The last day of any season can be a bit of a nail-biter, especially when there’s everything still to play for. Back at the end of the 2002-03 Scottish Premier League season, with a single game to play, Celtic and Rangers were tied on 94 points. The clubs also had a tied goal difference of plus 68. It became a last day shoot-out as to who could win their last game by the largest margin and take the title. Celtic travelled to Kilmarnock and won 4-0. At the same time however, Rangers entertained Dunfermline and secured a 6-1 victory. It was a result that also brought the title back to Ibrox by the slimmest of margins. In the end, it had come down to an injury-time penalty, coolly slotted home by Mikel Arteta to give Rangers the round half-dozen, and stymy Celtic’s effort by a single goal.
Although the two Glasgow giants rattled in a total of ten goals between them, whilst conceding a single strike, there was precious little talk of any underhand skulduggery or anything less than scrupulously contested games. After all, despite the two defeated cubs finishing the league in fourth and fifth positions respectively, Kilmarnock trailed the top two by no less forty points, and the gap to Dunfermline was over fifty points. The results therefore were not that much out of kilter, especially with the Glasgow clubs having so much to play for, and the other two teams comparatively little. A few years later, another last day battle took place between two clubs tied on points and battling for big wins to sway goal difference advantage and gain promotion to the top echelon of their domestic league structure. If the ‘Old Firm’ battle offered no hint of controversy though, this one differed on that particular count. Continue reading →
For the French public, the Tour de France is a matter of national pride, and to deliver the home nation success in the three-week event is almost a guarantee of acclaim, regardless of other misdemeanours. In 1983, Bernard Tapie provided the finance and teamed up with disgruntled French hero Bernard Hinault to form the La Vie Claire cycling team named after Tapie’s chain of health stores. ‘The Badger’ had suffered an acrimonious split from Renault-Elf-Gitane team and in in him Tapie saw a man smarting for revenge who could deliver the prestige he so desired. This would be no ‘easy ride’ however, Tapie demonstrated the character to not only contain Hinalut’s fury, but also added the maverick American rider Greg LeMond. In 1985 the team won the Tour with Hinault, and reprised the result the year after with LeMond. Tapie’s finance had created the team, but his dynamism, will to win and ability to hone disparate parts into a cohesive unit had made it triumphant. To his nation, Tapie was a hero. Continue reading →
Last weekend, led by their new manager Marcelo Bielsa, Marseille defeated St Ettienne in Le Classique to go two points clear of Bordeaux at the head of Ligue 1 and a full five points in front of oil-rich PSG. After two games without a win, OM have now recorded six straight victories and look a solid contender for Le Championnat.
When Pep Guardiola was considering taking up coaching, he sought out the advice of the man he described as ‘the best manager in the world.’ A man often nicknamed ‘El Loco.’ Undertaking an 11 hour journey to South America seemed very much worthwhile however, as the two men sat and talked long into the night. The apprentice was told of the effects of the job and folklore has it that he was asked “Do you really like blood that much?” It may have seemed an extreme way of warning the younger man of what lay ahead. A few years later, after three league titles, two Champions Leagues and two World Club Cups, when a drained Guardiola exited Barcelona, he understood. The wisdom was borne out. It’s somewhat ironic then that Guardiola’s last match in charge of the Blaugrana was against Athletic Bilbao, managed by El Loco himself, Marcello Bielsa.