The Way To Go
Written by The Final Ball on 04/01/2021
Welcome to The Final Ball Blog! This is where we’ll have weekly a weekly detailed insight into the last week of sport for those of you who just couldn’t live by only listening to us for an hour a week!
And first, we celebrate the victories of Lebron James & Naomi Osaka, winning the AP athlete of the year award. For LeBron, this is number 4, giving him the join most along with Tiger Woods in the male division, whereas Naomi receives her first placing her with greats like Steffi Graf as non-American females from tennis to win the award. Both of their victories were comprehensive and rightly so, for both on & off the court contributions.
And following on from that, the fast-paced start of the NBA has provided great entertainment for everyone over the Christmas period, although it’s starting to feel like it’s at the expense of the health of the players. Big games every single day seems to be taking its toll on the best players and compromising the quality that we’ve come to expect. The concept of seeing the Nets play sounds great on the surface, but when it means KD & Kyrie Irving get rested, the prospect becomes very different. You can already see a lethargy to the play of the Lakers and the Clippers and a lack of invention from the players that aren’t considered as “All-Stars”. It makes me start to understand why Luka Doncic does next to no defending and approaches the field at walking pace. Conserving energy and avoiding injury might be the way to go, which is what Ja Morant was probably thinking as he was wheeled away from the court nursing his ankle.
And the same could be said for football, as a combination of injuries and a new covid outbreak seems to be crippling teams and complicating a season that already feels crazier than usual. It is great that the Premier League is able to act accordingly when required and cancel games at the request of clubs suffering from outbreaks (which is more than what can be said for the Italian Serie A), but with the schedule already tight enough, where will these fixtures go? Will Aston Villa trek from Newcastle to Manchester in 24 hours? Will Manchester United go to Burnley on a cold Tuesday night before popping to the Basque country (I assume there’s all sorts of covid protocols that will have to meet on the way to Spain) to face Real Soceidad? Squads are built for a reason and the bigger teams will always be able to accommodate for such circumstances, but you always feel like the detriment will fall at the feet of the national teams when it comes to the summer.
One solution that a lot of teams seem to look towards is the development of youth, something that the league has been calling out for (and Brexit) for a number of years. Most teams are leaning on their academy products more often than not and reaping the benefits. From Curtis Jones at Liverpool, Jacob Ramsey at Villa, even the Arsenal youngsters are finally getting given the chance. The only team that feels like there’s alarming lack of futuristic planning going on is on the other side of North London in Tottenham. It is all well & good having the best striker in the league in Kane, and the attacking threat of Heung-Min Son and the dominance of Tanguy Ndombele is finally coming to fruition. But it feels like that’s all they have to work with. Bamidele feels very much like he’s secured the “outkast” role in this chapter of the “Mourinho story”, and considering Spurs have a new stadium with top training facilities and can lay claim to being the second best team in London; why haven’t they produced the same numbers of academy prospects as some of their London counterparts? Crystal Palace are slowly revamping their side to be younger and more exciting, West Ham have always be known to throw in “one of our own” into the deep end, and even the Fulham side looks young and somewhat entertaining (still going down though). Tottenham just feels like they’ve put everything into the Gareth Bale pipe dream and missed the boat that everyone across the country has jumped on, integrating young talents, either from your own academy or the remains that slip through the net (mainly from Chelsea & Arsenal). At the moment they can claim to be performing at the high expectations that Jose will have set them, but without something extra and unexpected to add to this team down the line, once the glass ceiling has been hit (kinda already feel like we might have hit it), they’ll end up falling back to reality.