THE BEST AND WORST SPORTING DECISIONS OF 2016
By Tom Allnutt, Press Association Sport
Here, Starsport takes a look at the five best and worst sporting decisions of 2016.
FIVE OF THE BEST
1. Murray reunites with Lendl
Andy Murray’s stupendous year actually only began in June. After splitting from previous coach Amelie Mauresmo, Murray entered the grass-court season without a grand slam triumph in three years and as clear second-best in a non-rivalry with Novak Djokovic. Enter Lendl. Whether the Czech’s impact was tactical, technical or psychological, Murray won Queen’s, Wimbledon, Olympic gold and five ATP titles in a row, including most recently the World Tour Finals, where he ousted Djokovic to finish the year as world number one. Lendl’s re-appointment has proven a masterstroke.
2. Brownlee chooses brother over chance for glory
Neither of them won the race but the Brownlee brothers made a permanent nestling place in British hearts after a tear-jerking end to the Triathlon World Series in Mexico. Jonny had led with 700 metres to go but in hot and humid conditions, fatigue suddenly took hold and he began wobbling to the side of the road. Not far behind, Alistair had the chance to overtake but instead went over to his brother, allowing South African Henri Schoeman to run through and win. Alistair propped Jonny up under his arm and carried him over the finishing line, pushing him over for second place in one of the year’s most heart-warming displays of sportsmanship.
3. Newcastle convince Rafa Benitez to stay
Newcastle were in all sorts of disarray when Rafa Benitez took over from Steve McClaren in March. They were a point from safety with 10 games left. The club was on a downward spiral and the former Real Madrid and Liverpool manager was unable to keep them in the Premier League. But the stroke of genius came in May when the Magpies board convinced the Spaniard to stay at St. James’ Park in May. From then on, the trajectory has only gone up and Newcastle are sitting at the top of the Championship with nine points more than Reading who sit in third. Surely the Magpies will go up in 2017 and who knows where the future will lead?
4. Jones proves excellent choice for England
Sure, Eddie Jones was officially appointed head coach in November last year but his first match in charge came in February and his brilliant start as England boss certainly belongs to 2016. Their 37-21 victory over Australia at Twickenham this month equalled the team’s record of 14 consecutive Test wins, last achieved between 2002 and 2003 as England then built up to winning the World Cup. Jones has injected a confidence and swagger back into England’s players, who 12 months ago were still licking their wounds from a humiliating World Cup exit on home soil. They are a team transformed since then. Jones has turned the tide.
5. Chelsea re-sign and reform Luiz
Few expressed approval when Chelsea forked out £34m to sign David Luiz on the last day of the transfer window. Chelsea had sold Luiz to Paris Saint-German only two years previous after deeming him too error-prone and the defender had done little for either Brazil or his new club to suggest he could change. Under new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, however, and with the additional cover of the Italian’s central back three, Luiz has been superb. Chelsea conceded two goals in 10 games between September and December and as rivals appear desperately short of assurance in defence, Luiz could prove the key to the Blues’ title challenge.
FIVE OF THE WORST
1. Hodgson changes six and kills England’s momentum
Sam Allardyce sitting down with under-cover reporters could certainly have made this list, but on the pitch his predecessor Roy Hodgson oversaw England losing to Iceland in one of this country’s worst ever defeats at a major tournament. England’s Euro 2016 campaign arguably turned on Hodgson’s decision to make six changes for their final group game against Slovakia, against whom they drew 0-0 and therefore failed to finish to go through as group winners. England had just beaten Wales in thrilling fashion but Hodgson’s changes quickly burst their bubble and Iceland completed another miserable exit.
2. Rangers sign Joey Barton
What else can we say about this? It was a complete disaster from day one. Barton said he would prove he was better than Celtic midfielder Scott Brown when he signed in May, leaving Burnley. The 34-year-old wasn’t great on the pitch and did not play since early September when he was banned for breaching club discipline after a row with Mark Warburton and Andy Halliday. After spending more than a month out he returned to training before being immediately signed off again with stress. He then left Rangers in November before joining Burnley in December. He now faces an FA ban over betting charges. Not a good year for Joey.
3. Conlan launches into foul-mouthed rant after Olympic defeat
Ireland’s Michael Conlan did not hold back after he was unanimously judged to have lost to his Russian opponent Vladimir Nikitin in the bantamweight quarter-finals at the Olympics. Conlan branded the judges “f****** cheats” and said “amateur boxing stinks from the core right to the top”. After standing in the ring and sticking up both his middle fingers towards the judges, Conlan added he would never box again for the International Boxing Association. Later he aimed a tweet at Russian president Vladimir Putin saying: Hey Vlad, How much did they charge you bro?”
4. Willett fires up “imbecile” Americans
Drama teacher Peter Willett, and brother of Danny Willett of Europe’s Ryder Cup team, may not have predicted the attention his scathing article on the behaviour of American golf fans would receive. Labelling them “a braying mob of imbeciles” and “an angry, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm”, Peter Willett called on Europe to “smash the obnoxious dads, with their shiny teeth, Lego man hair, medicated ex-wivess and resentful children”. Danny Willett had to apologise for his brother’s comments, although later agreed with them after Europe had been soundly beaten. The Americans had the last laugh.
5. Russians banned from the Olympics but not completely
The IOC’s decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russian competitors at the Olympic Games, instead referring the choice to individual federations, was impractical, inconsistent and passed up a golden opportunity to send out a resounding message that cheats will not be tolerated. This, after the World Anti-Doping Agency had recommended a total ban on Russian athletes as punishment for a systematic and state-sponsored doping programme launched after a disappointing Russian return at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Instead, 271 Russian athletes were cleared to compete in Rio and another chance to make a powerful stand was missed.