IT’S BEEN a tumultuous sporting year that has veered wildly from the sublime, Lionel Messi’s slaloming brilliance, to the ridiculous, English rugby players throwing dwarves and jumping off ferries. So we’ve sieved the gold from the muck and come up with BT Vision’s heroes and villains of 2011.
Luke Donald is number one in the US and Europe, Rory McIlroy has immense hair that’s as unpredictable and joyous to watch as his golf, but good ol’ Clarke really captured the golfing imagination in 2011. His form was so wayward it practically took up residence in the long grass, but then, miraculously, he stormed through the field to win The Open and then celebrated with 58 pints of Guinness.
When Australian cricketers look at the cherubic features of the England opener they probably think a couple of well-placed sledges will soon have him lying in a pool of tears, his confidence crushed. But behind the rosy cheeks lies a will of steel, which helped him lay the foundations for England’s epic Test match year featuring an Ashes win and a thrashing of India. He averaged 84.27 and didn’t appear to sweat once.
Wales rugby team
New Zealand might have won the World Cup but it was Wales that got people’s hearts pumping. The men in red merged backs and forwards to create a style of total rugby that probably had Gareth Edwards drooling into his roast lamb. And in Sam Warburton they unearthed an inspiring captain, too. So he got sent off at the crucial moment, so they lost three games. Trivial details.
No one has dominated Formula 1 so comprehensively since Michael Schumacher was in his pomp and annoying everybody. Vettel won two World Championships in a row and he’ll win a third in 2012 unless someone swaps his car for a Morris Marina. And unlike Schumacher and that Lewis Hamilton, he smiles a lot.
Fawning over the Catalan giants has become a competitive sport, but you can’t argue with their success and no matter how much you try to resist, just 10 minutes watching them play will have you mesmerised. They are officially the greatest team ever to play football. Ever. And with Iniesta, Xavi and Messi among the players it’s not hard to see why.
England rugby team
They are the yang to Wales’s ying. A team awash with money and talent but overcome by arrogance. Not even Martin Johnson and his monobrow could control them. They arrived at the World Cup with an expectant nation believing they had a chance, but returned home in shame having mistaken their trip to New Zealand as a lads’ holiday with a bit of rugby on the side.
Mancini has his work cut out at Man City, dealing with a dressing room brimming with egos, and credit where credit’s due – he’s somehow managed to almost-tame Balotelli. Sadly, he couldn’t work similar alchemy on Carlos Tevez, as the richly talented striker decided to place himself ahead of his employers by refusing to budge from the bench in a Champions League clash against Bayern Munich. Now on eternal “gardening leave” unless another club proves bonkers enough to sign him, he is what’s known in the trade as “a selfish man”.
Undoubtedly the best British player for decades, Murray made it to the final of the Australian Open, and the semi-finals of the French Open, US Open, and Wimbledon. If he was Tim Henman, we’d all be dead chuffed. But he isn’t. He’s actually capable of winning one of these things, but he persists in teasing the nation, before crumbling at the last. Pull your finger out, Andy.